A Man Called Peter (1955)

117 or 119 mins | Biography | March 1955

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HISTORY

As noted in the film, Peter Marshall was born in Scotland in 1902. After emigrating to the United States in 1927, Marshall attended college and became an ordained minister. His dynamic speaking style and popularity with a wide variety of parishioners led to his appointment as Senate chaplain on 4 Jan 1947, a position that he held until his death on 26 Jan 1949. Marshall's son Peter was ordained as a minister in 1965.
       In the book, To Live Again (New York, 1957), written by Marshall's wife Catherine, she devotes many pages to an account of her involvement with the production of A Man Called Peter . She relates that Twentieth Century-Fox writer-producer Lamar Trotti, who had recently suffered the loss of a son in an automobile accident, was drawn to the book and made extensive notes on it. However, Trotti was stricken by a fatal heart attack in Aug 1952, and his notes passed into the hands of fellow producer Samuel G. Engel. The studio purchased an option to the book in Nov 1952, and Sylvia Richards was assigned to write the screenplay. Richard Burton and Jean Peters were suggested for the roles of "Peter" and "Catherine Marshall."
       The following summer, the studio exercised its option and purchased the rights to the book for $30,000. In Nov 1953, Eleanore Griffin was given the screenplay assignment, and Catherine Marshall was engaged as technical adviser for the screenplay. In her book, Mrs. Marshall notes that it proved necessary to make a few modifications to the actual events; "For example, in real life Peter and I had spent our honeymoon in New York, not ... More Less

As noted in the film, Peter Marshall was born in Scotland in 1902. After emigrating to the United States in 1927, Marshall attended college and became an ordained minister. His dynamic speaking style and popularity with a wide variety of parishioners led to his appointment as Senate chaplain on 4 Jan 1947, a position that he held until his death on 26 Jan 1949. Marshall's son Peter was ordained as a minister in 1965.
       In the book, To Live Again (New York, 1957), written by Marshall's wife Catherine, she devotes many pages to an account of her involvement with the production of A Man Called Peter . She relates that Twentieth Century-Fox writer-producer Lamar Trotti, who had recently suffered the loss of a son in an automobile accident, was drawn to the book and made extensive notes on it. However, Trotti was stricken by a fatal heart attack in Aug 1952, and his notes passed into the hands of fellow producer Samuel G. Engel. The studio purchased an option to the book in Nov 1952, and Sylvia Richards was assigned to write the screenplay. Richard Burton and Jean Peters were suggested for the roles of "Peter" and "Catherine Marshall."
       The following summer, the studio exercised its option and purchased the rights to the book for $30,000. In Nov 1953, Eleanore Griffin was given the screenplay assignment, and Catherine Marshall was engaged as technical adviser for the screenplay. In her book, Mrs. Marshall notes that it proved necessary to make a few modifications to the actual events; "For example, in real life Peter and I had spent our honeymoon in New York, not on Cape Cod; in the script there was the necessity of introducing Cape Cod early in the story. In real life Peter John was born on January 25, 1940, not in December of 1941. Yet this time shift simplified the Annapolis sequence in the movie.... Changes of this sort did not bother me, because they did no violence to the spirit of the truth."
       In Twentieth Century-Fox publicity material, Engel commented on his decision to include in the film lengthy scenes of Marshall delivering sermons: "The sermons are wonderfully imaginative and interesting and what gives the Marshall character its dimensions. But nobody had ever put as much as 20 minutes of sermons into a film….Mr. [Darryl F.] Zanuck backed me on this 100 percent." Reviews lauded the filmmakers for these scenes. Var commented, "Again and again, the camera picks up Richard Todd as Peter Marshall mounting the pulpit to deliver the sermons for which he was famous and which drew overflow crowds Sunday after Sunday to the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church in Washington. These sermons are things of beauty and [director Henry] Koster and Engel deserve kudos for allowing them to run on for several minutes at a time.... Todd does such a masterful job of preaching the sermons, the camera staying on him most of the time, they're almost the best thing in the picture."
       As Richard Burton proved to be unavailable for the film, the role of Peter Marshall was offered to Richard Todd, who, as he had personal doubts regarding his ability to do the role justice, asked if he might shoot a test of himself delivering one of Marshall's sermons. The test was shot in England, and upon seeing it, studio head Zanuck wrote to Engel saying, "I was simply mesmerized. I couldn't believe this was something on film." Although Jean Peters was originally announced to play Catherine, other actresses including Eva Marie Saint, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, Dorothy McGuire and Donna Reed were considered; Peters was assigned to the part just six days before shooting started.
       According to a 21 May 1954 HR news items, background exteriors were shot on location in Scotland. Actual filming began with second unit work in Atlanta, Decatur and Covington, GA, then moved to Washington, D.C. and later to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, according to HR news items and studio publicity. According to her book, Mrs. Marshall was not present when the film was shot. Although HR news items include Flo Vinson, Stephanie Sidney, Ruby Colman, Jay John Potter and Elizabeth Holmes in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. The following actors appeared in scenes cut before the film's release: Agnes Bartholomew, Rick Kelman, Luis Torres, Jr., Bob Hunter, David Wood, Alex Campbell , Jonathan Hole and Maudie Prickett.
       On 24 Jan 1955, eighty clergymen--Catholic, Jewish and Protestant--saw a rough-cut of the film at a special screening at the studio. Their reaction was overwhelmingly positive. When Catherine Marshall saw the final cut, shortened by about fifteen minutes, at the studio's New York screening room on 7 Mar, she felt that "some memorable scenes had been sacrificed to length," but knew that "whatever small faults the picture had, it was all right." According to a 17 Mar 1955 HR news item, special previews of the picture had been arranged in sixty cities for other clergymen and “opinion makers.”
       Simultaneous world premieres of the film were held on 31 Mar 1955 in Glasgow, New York and London. Catherine Marshall and Todd attended the New York premiere, the proceeds of which went to the Highland Fund of North America and the Caledonian Hospital of Brooklyn. The Glasgow premiere was attended by Marshall’s sister, and approximately 13,000 people attended the three premieres, according to HR . After opening to slow business, word-of-mouth built the film into a box-office success. According to a 10 Jun 1955 HR news item, the studio was predicting that A Man Called Peter was going to become “one of the company’s most profitable pictures.” Life magazine gave the film a six-page spread but criticized the film's promotion which included lines such as: "He was a lovin' kind of guy....He was God's kind of guy."
       While Marshall was a Presbyterian minister, the film's producer and director were Jewish, and the screenplay writer Catholic. In a 19 May 1955 HCN article, Engel stated, "No one [involved in the production] stopped to think whether he was a Christian or a Jew, or whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant. All fell into step because each in his way wanted to have a hand in the making of this picture....Certainly, I never dreamed that the long years devoted to gaining a Hebrew education would stand me in good stead in my professional career....Only in a free country like ours could the son of a poor Jewish immigrant still carry the Star of David in his heart and at the same time be given the opportunity and privilege of bringing the life of one of Christ's foremost disciples to the screens of the world." Alfred Newman's score for the picture includes a reprise of his main theme for the 1939 Twentieth Century-Fox production Young Mr. Lincoln (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). A Man Called Peter was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Mar 1955.
---
Christian Science Monitor
5 Apr 55
p. 11.
Daily Variety
3 Dec 1952.
---
Daily Variety
19 Nov 1953.
---
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1953.
---
Daily Variety
23 Mar 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
23 Mar 55
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
26 Mar 55
p. 50.
Hollywood Citizen-News
19 May 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1953
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Dec 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Sep 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1954
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1954
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1954
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1954
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jun 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 1956
p. 3.
Life
4 Apr 55
pp. 115-120.
Motion Picture Daily
23 Mar 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Mar 55
p. 377.
New York Times
1 Apr 55
p. 22.
The Exhibitor
6 Apr 55
p. 3944.
Variety
23 Mar 55
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Scotland 2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost des
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Dial coach
STAND INS
Stand-in for Jean Peters
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall (New York, 1951).
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1955
Premiere Information:
World premieres in New York, London and Glasgow, Scotland: 31 March 1955
Production Date:
late September--late November 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 April 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4990
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
lenses by Bausch & Lomb
Duration(in mins):
117 or 119
Length(in feet):
10,727
Length(in reels):
13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17246
SYNOPSIS

As a boy in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1915, Peter Marshall makes several attempts to run away to sea from the docks in nearby Glasgow. Peter's stepfather, Mr. Findlay, tells him that he will have to find a job, and he goes to work in the tube mills, but continues his education at night school. Seven years later, while returning from school one night, Peter finds himself on a foggy patch of land. He thinks he hears a voice, then trips and narrowly misses falling into a quarry. Peter feels that it was God's voice and tells his mother that he intends to become a minister and that God is sending him to America. After three years of working double shifts at the mill, Peter saves enough to buy passage to America. With faith and trust in his heart, he arrives and awaits further "orders from the Chief." Peter works in a variety of jobs before he is led by God, he believes, to the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He graduates summa cum laude and is offered two positions, one at a large church in Atlanta, the other in a little town, Covington. Peter asks the Lord for advice and selects Covington, but later moves to the Atlanta church where he encounters an indifferent congregation, encumbered by debt. Peter's stimulating sermons draw large crowds, however, and many young people from nearby colleges attend, among them Catherine Wood, a senior at Agnes Scott College. Catherine attends Sunday service for two years without summoning up the courage to talk with Peter, with whom she has fallen in love. When her college receives an invitation from Peter ... +


As a boy in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1915, Peter Marshall makes several attempts to run away to sea from the docks in nearby Glasgow. Peter's stepfather, Mr. Findlay, tells him that he will have to find a job, and he goes to work in the tube mills, but continues his education at night school. Seven years later, while returning from school one night, Peter finds himself on a foggy patch of land. He thinks he hears a voice, then trips and narrowly misses falling into a quarry. Peter feels that it was God's voice and tells his mother that he intends to become a minister and that God is sending him to America. After three years of working double shifts at the mill, Peter saves enough to buy passage to America. With faith and trust in his heart, he arrives and awaits further "orders from the Chief." Peter works in a variety of jobs before he is led by God, he believes, to the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He graduates summa cum laude and is offered two positions, one at a large church in Atlanta, the other in a little town, Covington. Peter asks the Lord for advice and selects Covington, but later moves to the Atlanta church where he encounters an indifferent congregation, encumbered by debt. Peter's stimulating sermons draw large crowds, however, and many young people from nearby colleges attend, among them Catherine Wood, a senior at Agnes Scott College. Catherine attends Sunday service for two years without summoning up the courage to talk with Peter, with whom she has fallen in love. When her college receives an invitation from Peter to send a student to speak at a temperance youth rally, Catherine is selected. The audience is mostly composed of rowdy young people, but Catherine talks about the role of women in religious and social history, quoting from Peter's sermons, and wins the crowd over. After the rally, Peter drives her back to the college and tells her that he fully expects that the Lord will select his wife for him, but asks if he might see her again. A week later, their date ends with Peter realizing that Catherine is to be his wife and he proposes. That fall, they marry and, during their honeymoon in Cape Cod, Peter tells Catherine that he has accepted a call to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., the church of the presidents. On their arrival, they are invited to a dinner party, given by Col. Evanston Whiting, president of the church's board of trustees, at which they learn that the church's first minister, in the early 1800s, was also a Scot. Peter's first sermon to a half-filled church is not received well, particularly by Miss Laura Fowler, an elderly member of Washington society, who feels that Peter, as an immigrant, has no right to invite "just anybody" to attend the church. However, Peter's blunt, populist approach attracts many young people to the church and his sermons become very well-attended. Four years pass, and Senator Willis K. Harvey, an early supporter of Peter, comes to him with the moral dilemma of being forced by the political machine back home to vote against his conscience on a land bill; however, after talking with Peter, he casts the deciding defeating vote. On 7 December 1941, Catherine gives birth to a son, Peter John. Later that day, after preaching at the Annapolis Naval Academy, Peter hears the news on his car radio of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war years, Peter, with Catherine's and the congregation's help, operates a canteen for the Armed Forces in the church's basement. However, when Miss Fowler discovers a sailor and a girl embracing in Lincoln's parlor, she initiates a campaign to have the canteen closed, as she abhors Peter's apparent disregard for her church's traditions and history. Peter explains that the couple were on their two-hour honeymoon; he had married them earlier that day and the sailor was shipping out that evening. Peter threatens to leave unless the canteen stays open, and he prevails. Later, Catherine learns that she has contracted non-communicable tuberculosis and will have to remain in bed for three or four months. When Catherine does not improve after many months, Peter feels that his relationship with God is failing. He wonders if he has become egotistical, and Catherine feels equally lost and abandoned by God. However, during a radio broadcast of one of Peter's sermons, both become revitalized and Catherine experiences a partial recovery. The doctors recommend continued rest and a change of scenery, so Peter buys a small house on Cape Cod for the summer months. Peter and Peter John build a boat together and the family adopts a puppy, Jeff. Back in Washington, as Peter is delivering a sermon, he collapses, suffering a coronary thrombosis, and is given less than a fighting chance of survival. Many pray for his recovery and the crisis passes. Although the doctors tell him not to preach for at least a year, Peter returns to work immediately. Over the years, Peter has won over Miss Fowler, and after his first service back, she presents him with a family heirloom: a button from the jacket of a another Scottish immigrant, John Paul Jones. On the tenth anniversary of his becoming an American citizen, Peter is invited to become Chaplain to the United States Senate. Catherine and Senator Harvey, fearing the additional strain on him, try to dissuade him from accepting but have to relent. One night, Peter experiences great pain and as he is taken to hospital tells Catherine, "See you darling, see you in the morning." In the morning, Catherine learns that Peter has died. Senator Harvey reads Peter's last prayer to the Senate. In the summer, Catherine, Peter John and Jeff return to Cape Cod where they find solace on the boat Peter John and his father built. +

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

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