A Face in the Crowd (1957)

125-126 or 132 mins | Drama, Satire | June 1957

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HISTORY

The working title for the film was The Arkansas Traveler. The title card reads: "Budd Schulberg's A Face in the Crowd." The scene in which The Lonesome Rhodes Show rises in popularity is depicted through a montage of a ratings thermometer, various “Vitajex” advertisements, a climbing sales chart and a close-up of Andy Griffiths’ laughing mouth. Throughout the film, various contemporary celebrities, including journalist Walter Winchell and newsman Mike Wallace, appear as themselves.
       Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg had previously worked together on 1954’s Academy Award-winning film On the Waterfront (see entry). Schulberg described in a Jun 1957 TV Guide article how, during the summer of 1955, the two developed the film from his short story, "The Arkansas Traveler," by thoroughly researching both Madison Avenue advertising companies and New York television stations. In a modern interview, Kazan recalled that he and Schulberg attended advertising account meetings for Lipton tea, in which the concept of being “brisk” was discussed, and used the popular ad campaign as a basis for the scene in which the advertising executives create the campaign for “Vitajex.” Kazan added in a 1957 NYT article that Schulberg’s main theme in the script was the power that television can hold and how that power can be perverted.
       A Face in the Crowd was produced by Kazan’s own company, Newtown Productions, Inc. According to studio press materials and a Sep 1956 NYT article, location shooting took place in Piggott, AR, various areas of Memphis, TN, and in New York, including in Manhattan, at the Biograph Studio in the Bronx ...

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The working title for the film was The Arkansas Traveler. The title card reads: "Budd Schulberg's A Face in the Crowd." The scene in which The Lonesome Rhodes Show rises in popularity is depicted through a montage of a ratings thermometer, various “Vitajex” advertisements, a climbing sales chart and a close-up of Andy Griffiths’ laughing mouth. Throughout the film, various contemporary celebrities, including journalist Walter Winchell and newsman Mike Wallace, appear as themselves.
       Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg had previously worked together on 1954’s Academy Award-winning film On the Waterfront (see entry). Schulberg described in a Jun 1957 TV Guide article how, during the summer of 1955, the two developed the film from his short story, "The Arkansas Traveler," by thoroughly researching both Madison Avenue advertising companies and New York television stations. In a modern interview, Kazan recalled that he and Schulberg attended advertising account meetings for Lipton tea, in which the concept of being “brisk” was discussed, and used the popular ad campaign as a basis for the scene in which the advertising executives create the campaign for “Vitajex.” Kazan added in a 1957 NYT article that Schulberg’s main theme in the script was the power that television can hold and how that power can be perverted.
       A Face in the Crowd was produced by Kazan’s own company, Newtown Productions, Inc. According to studio press materials and a Sep 1956 NYT article, location shooting took place in Piggott, AR, various areas of Memphis, TN, and in New York, including in Manhattan, at the Biograph Studio in the Bronx and at the New York International Airport in Queens. Modern sources add that some scenes were shot on location at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, CA.
       A May 1957 DV article reported that Kazan had re-edited the film after a sneak preview in New Jersey just weeks before its premiere. That article stated that Schulberg helped Kazan with editing and scoring. Griffith made his feature film debut in A Face in the Crowd. He had previously worked as a stand-up comedian and earned acclaim for his starring role in the Broadway production of No Time for Sergeants, which Warner Bros. subsequently adapted into a film of the same name that also starred Griffith (see entry). Actresses Lois Nettleton (1927--2008) and Lee Remick (1935--1991) made their feature film debuts in A Face in the Crowd, as did actor Charles Irving (1912--1981), who also was credited as a special assistant. HR news items add the following actors to the cast: Sandra Wirth, Lloyd Bergen, Jay Sidney, Eva Vaughn, John McGovern, Kitty Dolan, Sandee Preston, Gus Thorner, Beverly Boatwright, Jane Baier and Gloria Mosolino. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources also add John Bliss, Walter Cartier, Lois Chandler, Harold Jinks, Logan Ramsey, Charles Nelson Reilly, Diana Sands, Granny Sense, Fred Stewart and Vera Walton.
       Griffith received rave reviews for his performance. The Var review commented, “Griffith turns in a performance that can easily skyrocket him to fame” and the HR reviewer called his and Neal’s performances “superlative.” Contemporary sources speculated as to the real person on whom Lonesome was based, intimating a strong resemblance to popular television personality Arthur Godfrey. In a modern source, Kazan confirmed that he and Schulberg had modeled the character on Godfrey, as well as Billy Graham and Huey Long.
       A Dec 1993 LA Life article reported that Schulberg was considering a remake of A Face in the Crowd, to star Whoopi Goldberg, but that production was never realized.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Jun 1957
---
Daily Variety
28 Feb 1955
---
Daily Variety
8 May 1957
---
Daily Variety
15 May 1957
---
Daily Variety
28 May 1957
p. 3
Film Daily
28 May 1957
p. 6
Hollywood Citizen-News
30 May 1957
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 1956
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1956
p. 10
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 1956
p. 13
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 1956
p. 9
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 1956
p. 9
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 1956
p. 9
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1956
p. 7
Hollywood Reporter
11 Sep 1956
p. 9
Hollywood Reporter
12 Sep 1956
p. 7
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1956
p. 9
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 1956
p. 5, 11
Hollywood Reporter
28 May 1957
p. 3
LA Life
14 Dec 1993
---
Los Angeles Times
30 May 1957
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Jun 1957
p. 401
New York Times
30 Sep 1956
---
New York Times
26 May 1957
---
New York Times
29 May 1957
p. 33
Newsweek
3 Jun 1957
---
Time
3 Jun 1957
---
TV Guide
1-7 Jun 1957
---
Variety
29 May 1957
p. 6
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Elia Kazan Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITER
Story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Op cam
Asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Score comp
Mus dir for majorette seq
SOUND
Eddie Johnstone
Sd
Sd ed
MAKEUP
Robert E. Jiras
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Spec asst
Scr and cont
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "Your Arkansas Traveler" by Budd Schulberg in his Some Faces in the Crowd (New York, 1953).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
SONGS
"Free Man in the Morning," "Vitajex Jingle," "Just Plain Folks," "Old Fashioned Marriage" and "Mama Guitar," music by Tom Glazer, lyrics by Budd Schulberg.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Budd Schulberg's A Face in the Crowd
The Arkansas Traveler
Release Date:
June 1957
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 28 May 1957; Los Angeles opening: 29 May 1957
Production Date:
13 Aug--mid Nov 1956
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Newtown Productions, Inc.
1 June 1957
LP11253
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
125-126 or 132
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18562
SYNOPSIS

Martha Jeffries, a reporter for an Arkansas radio station, one day broadcasts her man-in-the-street show, A Face in the Crowd , from the Pickett county jail. There, Sheriff Big Jeff Bess promises an early release to Larry Rhodes, who has been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, if he agrees to sing on air. Marcia, who recognizes the vagrant’s innate vitality and charisma, nicknames him “Lonesome” and surreptitiously records him as he rambles poetically about his hillbilly relations in Riddle, Arkansas, and then sings a blues song with great dynamism. Back at the radio station, owner J. B. Jeffries, Marcia’s uncle, decides to hire Lonesome for his morning show, and when they discover that he has already left town, they drive the roads out of town until they find him hitchhiking. Lonesome rejects their offer until Marcia convinces him of the job’s money-making potential. Although Marcia finds Lonesome’s rakishness and self-confidence alluring, she resists his coarse come-ons. The next morning, his folksy humor, high energy and charming, homespun stories prove an instant hit on air, and soon advertisers are clamoring to sponsor the show. At a bar one night, Lonesome reveals to Marcia that his stories about his family are all tall tales, as in reality he was neglected and ran away from home. His boisterous laughter, while impressive to Marcia, disturbs Big Jeff, who is jealous of Marcia’s attentions to Lonesome. The two men fight, and the next day, Lonesome launches an on-air diatribe against Big Jeff, who is running for mayor, in which he urges the citizens to send him their stray dogs. When within hours Big Jeff’s yard is filled ...

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Martha Jeffries, a reporter for an Arkansas radio station, one day broadcasts her man-in-the-street show, A Face in the Crowd , from the Pickett county jail. There, Sheriff Big Jeff Bess promises an early release to Larry Rhodes, who has been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, if he agrees to sing on air. Marcia, who recognizes the vagrant’s innate vitality and charisma, nicknames him “Lonesome” and surreptitiously records him as he rambles poetically about his hillbilly relations in Riddle, Arkansas, and then sings a blues song with great dynamism. Back at the radio station, owner J. B. Jeffries, Marcia’s uncle, decides to hire Lonesome for his morning show, and when they discover that he has already left town, they drive the roads out of town until they find him hitchhiking. Lonesome rejects their offer until Marcia convinces him of the job’s money-making potential. Although Marcia finds Lonesome’s rakishness and self-confidence alluring, she resists his coarse come-ons. The next morning, his folksy humor, high energy and charming, homespun stories prove an instant hit on air, and soon advertisers are clamoring to sponsor the show. At a bar one night, Lonesome reveals to Marcia that his stories about his family are all tall tales, as in reality he was neglected and ran away from home. His boisterous laughter, while impressive to Marcia, disturbs Big Jeff, who is jealous of Marcia’s attentions to Lonesome. The two men fight, and the next day, Lonesome launches an on-air diatribe against Big Jeff, who is running for mayor, in which he urges the citizens to send him their stray dogs. When within hours Big Jeff’s yard is filled with dogs, Lonesome and Marcia realize with delight the power he now has to marshal his adoring audience. Marcia deflects Lonesome’s advances, but finds herself jealous when she sees the other women he seduces. Proud of his success, she is thrilled to see Lonesome shrewdly manipulate a Memphis television station owner who wants to hire him, negotiating a high salary for both of them. Their departure from Pickett is marked with huge fanfare, and Marcia, who is leaving her hometown for the first time, is shocked when Lonesome charms the crowd but then derides them under his breath. At the Memphis station, Lonesome takes an immediate dislike to Vanderbilt-educated writer Mel Miller, and ignores his scripts in favor of ad-libbing. Lonesome’s fresh approach, in which he speaks directly to the camera and seems to eschew all pretense, fascinates the viewers, who respond to his plea to support a black station employee by sending in thousands of contributions. Mattress maker S. J. Luffler signs on as a sponsor, and although he is infuriated by Lonesome’s refusal to read the scripted ads, his sales soon soar. Finally, however, Luffler threatens to have Lonesome fired unless he tones down his commentary, and Lonesome shows up at Marcia’s door late at night to announce that he is leaving town. Unable to let him go, Marcia kisses Lonesome and leads him into her room for the first time. The next morning outside Luffler’s workplace, fans are picketing Lonesome’s departure, prompting ambitious office boy Joey de Palma to call New York advertising agencies claiming to be Lonesome’s agent, thus securing him his own show on a national network. In New York, the ad agency brings in Lonesome, Joey and Marcia to revitalize a leading client, Vitajex vitamins. Ignoring account manager Macey’s advice to find a dignified approach to their sales pitch, Lonesome boisterously advocates positioning the inert pills as libido boosters. Soon, sales skyrocket, as do the ratings for Lonesome’s show, and Vitajex’s owner, Gen. Hainesworth, calls Lonesome to his estate. There, to Marcia’s repugnance, he explains that in all great societies “the masses had to be guided with a strong hand by a responsible elite,” and therefore he plans to promote Lonesome along with Senator Worthington Fuller, who he hopes will be the next president. With Hainesworth's backing, Lonesome soon graces the cover of Life magazine and becomes a national treasure, hosting telethons and christening ships. Late one night, he calls Marcia and asks her to visit his penthouse apartment, claiming to be lonely. Although she sees one of his girl friends leaving just as she arrives, Marcia responds to Lonesome’s assertion that she is the only person he can trust, and when he proposes, she accepts. The next day, however, a crass woman informs Marcia that she is married to Lonesome and demands a monthly stipend to keep quiet. Marcia is wounded, but Lonesome laughs off the woman's demands, explaining that he obtained a Mexican divorce, which the woman is illegally contesting. He promises to straighten out the situation during his next trip, during which he is to judge a majorette contest back in Pickett. While he is gone, Marcia reveals to Mel, who has also moved to New York, that she plans to marry Lonesome, and despite his disappointment and apprehension, Mel wishes her well and decides to return to Memphis. When Lonesome returns to New York, however, he greets the adoring crowd with his new wife, seventeen-year-old baton twirler Betty Lou Fleckum. He later explains to Marcia that he was afraid to marry her, as he finds her too critical of his crass commercialism, and in reply Marcia demands to be made an equal partner in his business. Over the next months, Lonesome's influence grows, and soon he is able to dominate a roomful of politicos, insisting that Fuller adopt a more approachable, friendly persona. Despite Hainesworth’s dismay at Lonesome’s growing megalomania, he is forced to appease the star and finance a new show in which Lonesome will pontificate about political issues. Lonesome soon promotes Fuller on the show, calling him “Curly,” and delights as the senator’s popularity grows. One night, as Marcia watches from her customary seat in a nearby bar, Mel enters and reveals that he stayed in New York to write an expose of Lonesome entitled “Demigogue in Denim.” Upon realizing that Marcia still loves Lonesome, a saddened Mel chastises her for allowing herself to be exploited. When Lonesome finds Betty Lou with Joey, he tries to fire the cad but Joey informs him that he now owns fifty-one percent of the company. Lonesome arrives on Marcia’s doorstep blithely assuming that she will welcome him into her bed, and after he announces that he is hosting a party during which he will be named U.S. Secretary for National Morale and murmurs “you made me,” she realizes that she must put a stop to his power. The next day, the television program falls into chaos when Marcia fails to show up, and a furious, vitriolic Lonesome berates his staff but pours on the charm to his audience. Marcia stumbles in as the credits are rolling, and, sobbing, secretly turns on Lonesome’s microphone so the audience can hear him deriding them as slobs and fools. By the time Lonesome reaches the lobby, his audience has turned on him and the show’s advertisers have all withdrawn. Mel finds Marcia in the booth, despondent, and insists that she inform Lonesome what she has done in order to get him out of her life for good. When Lonesome calls her from his party to reveal that all of the guests have canceled, Mel escorts her there, where they find the former star raving on a balcony to the sound of pre-recorded applause. Lonesome brightens when he sees Marcia and vows that he can win back his public, but she denounces him and runs out. Following her, Mel tells Lonesome that despite his enormous popularity his fans will soon forget all about him. On the street, Marcia falters when she hears Lonesome screaming for her, but Mel bolsters her by stating that although they were all taken in by Lonesome’s allure, their strength lies in the fact that they can now discern fantasy from reality.

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

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