The Crowning Experience (1960)

98 or 102 mins | Drama | 1960

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HISTORY

Although the film's credits include a 1960 copyright statement for Moral Re-Armament, the film was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. After the opening credits, the film begins with the following written statement: "This story is inspired by the life of Mary McLeod Bethune, who was born of slave parents and rose to become adviser to the President." According to information in the Moral Re-Armament, Inc. Collection at the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division, Moral Re-Armament (MRA) was organized in 1938 in London. A precursor organization, the Oxford Group, began in the early 1920s. MRA's leader was Frank Buchman, originally a Lutheran minister from Pennsylvania, who also has been said to have inspired Alcoholics Anonymous. The group did not align itself with any specific religious denomination, preferring an ecumenical approach and including among its adherents peoples of many faiths.
       Buchman achieved success in converting people to the group's ideas and goals through emotional group confessional techniques. MRA's four core teachings were absolute honesty, purity, love and unselfishness. In 1939, the group advocated efforts to prevent war, and following World War II, it initiated a campaign to offer an alternative to international Communism, concentrating its work in Europe, Japan, Africa, Asia and South America. Critics of the organization have associated it with appeasement in regard to its attitude towards Nazi Germany, and pro-fascism. MRA attracted a number of world leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
       In a souvenir booklet published by Random House for the film's New York premiere, Gandhi is quoted as saying, "Moral Re-Armament is the best thing that ever came from the West to the East." According to ... More Less

Although the film's credits include a 1960 copyright statement for Moral Re-Armament, the film was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. After the opening credits, the film begins with the following written statement: "This story is inspired by the life of Mary McLeod Bethune, who was born of slave parents and rose to become adviser to the President." According to information in the Moral Re-Armament, Inc. Collection at the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division, Moral Re-Armament (MRA) was organized in 1938 in London. A precursor organization, the Oxford Group, began in the early 1920s. MRA's leader was Frank Buchman, originally a Lutheran minister from Pennsylvania, who also has been said to have inspired Alcoholics Anonymous. The group did not align itself with any specific religious denomination, preferring an ecumenical approach and including among its adherents peoples of many faiths.
       Buchman achieved success in converting people to the group's ideas and goals through emotional group confessional techniques. MRA's four core teachings were absolute honesty, purity, love and unselfishness. In 1939, the group advocated efforts to prevent war, and following World War II, it initiated a campaign to offer an alternative to international Communism, concentrating its work in Europe, Japan, Africa, Asia and South America. Critics of the organization have associated it with appeasement in regard to its attitude towards Nazi Germany, and pro-fascism. MRA attracted a number of world leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
       In a souvenir booklet published by Random House for the film's New York premiere, Gandhi is quoted as saying, "Moral Re-Armament is the best thing that ever came from the West to the East." According to the MPD review of the film, the goal of MRA was to "put right what is wrong in the world" by starting with the individual. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, stated MRA's philosophy: "Human nature can be changed--that is the root of the answer. National economies can be changed--that is the fruit of the answer. World history can be changed--that is the destiny of our age."
       As noted in the written prologue, the character of "Emma C. Tremaine" in The Crowning Experience was based on the African-American educator and presidential adviser Mary McLeod Bethune. According to the souvenir booklet, Bethune was born to former slaves in Jul 1875 in Mayesville, SC, the youngest of seventeen children. She was the founder and president of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona, FL; advised Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt; founded the National Council of Negro Women; and was the vice-president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
       According to an unpublished biography of Buchman by MRA's director Ray Foote Purdy, in the Moral Re-Armament, Inc. Collection, after Bethune visited an MRA Assembly, she "lost her passionate protagonism of race and felt she must carry in her heart as a forgiven sinner the compassion for all men everywhere that God imposed upon her." Before she died in 1955, Bethune requested that the following inscription, from a statement she made at an MRA Assembly in Caux, Switzerland, be placed on her tombstone at Bethune-Cookman College: "Moral Re-Armament. To be a part of this great uniting force of our age is the crowning experience of my life."
       The first film produced by MRA was the 1957 film Freedom , produced in Africa (see below). MRA was responsible for the "Up with People" musical programs of the 1960s. Buchman died in 1961, and by 1975, MRA was being phased out as an active organization. According to the Purdy biography, in 1958, African-American actress and singer Muriel Smith (who previously appeared in Carmen Jones and The King and I on Broadway) visited MRA's Assembly at Mackinac Island, MI, where assemblies had been held since 1942, in 1958 and became involved with the group.
       In the souvenir booklet, Smith wrote, "The historical past of my people and their emergence from the bonds of slavery are in the records of history as one of the great miracles of this age. We are equipped to understand the meaning of slavery. We know what is the real meaning of victory through peace. We have been prepared by history for the supreme part in this our nation's task in setting the whole world free." Smith urged that a play based on Bethune's life be written.
       The play, starring Smith and Ann Buckles, who also became involved with MRA and who acts in the film, was presented at Christmas, 1958 in Detroit, and then for four months in Atlanta and seven weeks at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. During the Atlanta run, according to the Purdy biography, Smith received a number of offers from Samuel Goldwyn to star in the film version of Porgy and Bess (see below). Although she acted in The Crowning Experience for no salary, she refused the Goldwyn offer and challenged him instead to make a film version of the play.
       According to the Filmfacts review and the Purdy biography, most of the film was shot on Mackinac Island, with some scenes filmed at the home of Mrs. Francis Crosby on the California coast, south of San Francisco. FD stated that the film was produced with Screen Gems facilities. Joel McCrea narrated a special prologue to the film, which was recorded at Mackinac Island. Sources disagree concerning the film's director. While no director is listed in the onscreen credits, a number of sources, including ads for the film, the Official Screen Credits of AMPAS, the Purdy biography and the souvenir booklet, state that Rickard Tegstr�m (who received an onscreen "Photographed by" credit and also worked on Freedom , "directed and filmed" the picture. Marion Clayton Anderson is credited as director in some reviews; and Harold Schuster is listed as director in the LAMirror review. The contributions of Anderson and Schuster to the final film have not been confirmed. Publicity for the film noted that Tegstr�m, a Swedish documentarist, had made films for Walt Disney.
       Most of the film's cast were non-professionals. Louis Byles, who played "Charlie Winter," was a Jamaican attorney who helped draft the constitution of the West Indies Federation, according to the souvenir booklet. Internationally known MRA adherents appearing in the film included Rajmohan Gandhi, South African revolutionary leader William Nkomo, Chancellor Adenauer, Chief Walking Buffalo of the Stoney (Sioux) Indians, and missile expert Dr. S. Douglas Connell. The film was exhibited for three nights in Hollywood beginning 1 Feb 1960, but had its "official" world premiere in New York on 21 Oct 1960; delegates from over sixty United Nations countries attended, according to HR .
       After New York, the film played in Los Angeles, South Africa, the Congo, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and other European countries, according to HR . Twentieth Century-Fox began negotiations with MRA prior to the New York premiere to handle the worldwide distribution, but the deal did not materialize because Fox insisted that its De Luxe Laboratories get the contract for making prints, and MRA previously had contracted with Technicolor. According to DV , an MRA executive commented, "After all, how would it look if we broke a contract."
       The film was banned from the San Francisco Film Festival because it "embarrasses the Russians," according to Limelight . The National Catholic Legion of Decency issued a statement that the film should be viewed by Catholics with certain reservations, as it "relies too heavily upon emotional argument and because the religious expression which it gives to personal reform is theologically ambiguous," according to Var . In its review, Var commented, "As well-meaning as it is, [this] film is a tepid drama-with-songs, episodic in structure...full of endorsements for the product (MRA), and of the need for it, but which never defines the product except in the most general terms." Var did praise Smith, however, noting, "What vitality the film has comes almost entirely from Miss Smith's warm and dignified performance and in her delivery of about six of the picture's 11 original songs." Var concluded that the film "does provide a pretty (if not profound) picture of the U.S., especially its race relations. Thus it could prove to be of value overseas in the west-east information war." More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Beverly Hills Citizen
4 Feb 1960.
---
Cue
29 Oct 1960.
---
Daily Variety
12 Oct 1960.
---
Daily Variety
24 Oct 60
p. 4.
Film Daily
2 Sep 60
p. 1, 4.
Film Daily
28 Oct 60
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1960
pp. 271-72.
Hollywood Citizen-News
1 Dec 1960.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
27 Apr 1961.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 1960
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 60
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Sep 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 1961.
---
Limelight
27 Oct 1960.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
1 Dec 60
Section 3, p. 18.
Los Angeles Mirror
21 Oct 60
Section II, p. 5.
Los Angeles Mirror
1 Dec 1960.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Dec 1960.
---
Motion Picture Daily
24 Oct 1960.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 Oct 60
p. 901.
New York Times
24 Oct 60
p. 25.
The Exhibitor
7 Dec 60
p. 4775.
Variety
26 Oct 60
p. 6.
Variety
16 Nov 1960.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir [and mus score]
Asst to George Fraser
Asst to George Fraser
Asst to George Fraser
Asst to George Fraser
Asst to George Fraser
Asst to George Fraser
SOUND
Mus rec
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Crowning Experience by Alan Thornhill and Cecil Broadhurst (Detroit, 25 Dec 1958).
SONGS
"Memorizing Song" and "Sweet Potato Pie," words by Cecil Broadhurst, music by Frances Roots Hadden
"Wade Out," words by Alan Thornhill, music by George Fraser
"I Suppose I'm Just an Ordinary Girl," words by Alan Thornhill, music by George Fraser and Herbert Allen
+
SONGS
"Memorizing Song" and "Sweet Potato Pie," words by Cecil Broadhurst, music by Frances Roots Hadden
"Wade Out," words by Alan Thornhill, music by George Fraser
"I Suppose I'm Just an Ordinary Girl," words by Alan Thornhill, music by George Fraser and Herbert Allen
"God Walks These Halls," words by Cecil Broadhurst, music by James Owens
"I've Gotta Get a Scoop," words by Cecil Broadhurst, music by Herbert Allen
"Some Folk Say," words and music by George Fraser
"The A.B.C. of the Answer" and "We Welcome You," words by Alan Thornhill, music by George Fraser and Will Reed
"There's Always Room for One More," words by Alan Thornhill, music by Herbert Allen and John Hopcraft
"The World Walked into My Heart Today," words by Peter Howard, music by George Fraser.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
1960
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 21 October 1960
Los Angeles opening: 1 December 1960
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
98 or 102
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19509
SYNOPSIS

In Washington, D.C., Emma C. Tremaine remembers her past: An African American, Emma teaches small children of her race at an open-air school and hopes one day to have a real college there. Charlie Winter, who cannot read, is brought to the school by police for stealing a pair of shoes. The police are deferential to Sarah Miller Spriggs, a young white woman who is editor of the school paper, and leave Charlie in her care. Charlie is critical of Sarah because her parents have money, and when Emma tries to talk to him, he lashes out that he does not want people to be nice to him and desires revenge because his mother died from not getting enough to eat. Charlie is attracted, though, to Emma's daughter Julie. With the financial backing of Sarah's parents, Emma's dream of a college becomes a reality in ten years, and Charlie and Julie graduate. After the ceremony, Blaney, a white Communist, explains to Charlie and Julie that he is working to bring an end to exploitation. As Emma becomes a voice for education throughout the country, Julie, who has to take care of the college, berates her mother for her seemingly endless rounds of banquets and speeches. When Charlie tells Emma that he and Julie are getting married, and that Blaney, who has been recruiting other students, will set them up in Washington, Emma is angered, but gives them her blessing. When a number of years later Emma is chosen as a guest speaker at the Washington Ladies' Literary Club, the first of her race to be invited, Sarah, now a top reporter, brags she can ... +


In Washington, D.C., Emma C. Tremaine remembers her past: An African American, Emma teaches small children of her race at an open-air school and hopes one day to have a real college there. Charlie Winter, who cannot read, is brought to the school by police for stealing a pair of shoes. The police are deferential to Sarah Miller Spriggs, a young white woman who is editor of the school paper, and leave Charlie in her care. Charlie is critical of Sarah because her parents have money, and when Emma tries to talk to him, he lashes out that he does not want people to be nice to him and desires revenge because his mother died from not getting enough to eat. Charlie is attracted, though, to Emma's daughter Julie. With the financial backing of Sarah's parents, Emma's dream of a college becomes a reality in ten years, and Charlie and Julie graduate. After the ceremony, Blaney, a white Communist, explains to Charlie and Julie that he is working to bring an end to exploitation. As Emma becomes a voice for education throughout the country, Julie, who has to take care of the college, berates her mother for her seemingly endless rounds of banquets and speeches. When Charlie tells Emma that he and Julie are getting married, and that Blaney, who has been recruiting other students, will set them up in Washington, Emma is angered, but gives them her blessing. When a number of years later Emma is chosen as a guest speaker at the Washington Ladies' Literary Club, the first of her race to be invited, Sarah, now a top reporter, brags she can get a scoop. Some of the club members, including Sarah's mother, argue that inviting Emma is a mistake. When she arrives, there is some uneasiness and snubbing, until Emma relates a lesson she learned from her mother: there is always room for one more. Even though she grew up in a three-room shack in a family of sixteen, her mother always made room for friends and neighbors. She then reveals she has received a letter from the President of the United States, who requests that she serve on the National Advisory Board. Back at the college, Emma overhears Charlie criticize her philosophy to a group of students, whom he encourages to join him in a mass rally. Emma refuses to allow it, reminding them of Lincoln's ideal of malice toward none and charity toward all. When the students agree with Charlie, Emma, distraught, prays for God to show her the answer. She then admonishes Julie and Charlie, telling them not to come back until they feel differently. During the next eight years, life is difficult for Julie, who learns that Charlie has become a trained revolutionary. When Sarah's chief sends her to cover a Moral Re-Armament conference on Mackinac Island, Michigan, she invites Emma to join her. At the conference, top-level people from all over the world, representing government, labor and business, try to solve world issues by understanding the roots of human nature. Julie, to whom Emma has not spoken for years, is at the conference also. She tells her mother that when Blaney moved in with her and Charlie, she moved out. Sarah explains to Emma that she felt the need for wisdom greater than her own when she realized that a breakdown in civilization was occurring. Emma agrees that, despite her faith in education, there has been a breakdown in the morals of youth, of which Blaney and thousands like him take advantage. Sarah believes that only an ideology superior to Blaney's can work. Moral Re-Armament, she tells Emma, advises that one should begin with one's self to correct problems in the world. Sarah encourages Emma to write her thoughts about herself, and Emma complies, then reads them to Sarah: that she is full of self-importance and too busy; that she failed Julie; and that she never gave Charlie a purpose big enough for which to live and thus let Blaney take over his life. Meanwhile, although Blaney warns Charlie to forget Julie, Charlie goes to see her at the conference, where he sees participants of all races and peoples. Sarah's mother, who earlier snubbed Emma because of racism, rises out of her wheelchair and confesses that generations have been kept in bondage because of her type of pride. She further declares that she used tolerance and patronage as a balm, and confesses to Emma that in her heart, she refused to meet her as a woman. She asks Emma's forgiveness and they cry together. Emma confesses having an ache still in her heart for a boy she once loved like a son, whom she failed. Charlie listens to voices from his past and realizes that he has never really believed that man is shaped by his economic environment. He feels that if human nature can be changed, as Moral Re-Armament affirms, it is the most revolutionary fact in history and makes Blaney's ideas seem small and outdated. He takes the arms of Emma and Julie and tells them of his decision to stay. People from the conference walk together, and Emma explains that remaking the world by being a part of the great unifying force is the crowning experience of her life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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