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Friendly Persuasion

Friendly Persuasion(1956)

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Friendly Persuasion (1956)


The Birdwell family lives an idyllic life in mid-19th century Indiana, pursuing their Quaker faith with few challenges more upsetting than father Jess's "unholy" purchase of a pump organ, which leads his straitlaced wife, Eliza, to spend a few nights sleeping in the barn. When the Civil War moves into the state, however, it upsets their peaceful existence. Elder son Josh follows his own conscience and signs up for battle. When Josh is injured and an old family friend killed, Jess almost goes to battle himself. Even Eliza takes a broom to a hungry Confederate soldier out to make a meal of the family's pet goose. Their struggle with faith during turbulent times provides a rare insight into one of America's founding religions.Director: William Wyler
Producer: Walter Mirisch, William Wyler
Screenplay: Michael Wilson, Jessamyn West, Robert Wyler
Based on the novel The Friendly Persuasion by WestCinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Editing: Robert Belcher, Edward A. Biery, Robert Swink
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper (Jess Birdwell), Dorothy McGuire (Eliza Birdwell), Anthony Perkins (Josh Birdwell), Richard Eyer (Little Jess Birdwell), Robert Middleton (Sam Jordan), Phyllis Love (Mattie Birdwell), Peter Mark Richman (Gard Jordan), Walter Catlett (Professor Quigley), Richard Hale (Purdy), Marjorie Main (The Widow Hudspeth), Edward Andrews (Soldier), Robert Fuller (Youthful Soldier at Shooting Gallery), Doug McClure (Soldier), William Schallert (Young Husband)


Friendly Persuasion was the first film to cast Gary Cooper as a parent with grown children and gave him one of his best late career roles. The internal conflicts as Jess Birdwell struggles with his son's decision to forsake his Quaker faith to fight in the Civil War and his own urge to avenge a friend's death in battle provided a perfect vehicle for his simple, understated acting style.

The film's conflicts, as the family is torn between the pacifism of their Quaker faith and the gradual encroachment of war, makes it one of director William Wyler's most autobiographical works. Wyler had grown up in the Alsace, a region of Europe whose ownership has passed between Germany and France at various times. During World War I, Wyler and his family were among the many families there faced with conflicting loyalties. The situation inspired a fascination with children of war and families living on the outskirts of war also reflected in Mrs. Miniver (1942).

After a false start in The Actress (1953), Friendly Persuasion made Anthony Perkin a star on the rise.

Friendly Persuasion was Wyler's first fiction film in color (he had also used color for the World War II documentary The Memphis Belle in 1944). He worked tirelessly with cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks to maintain the same use of deep focus he had mastered in his black-and-white films, modeling the picture's look on the Dutch masters.

The film was the first major production for Allied Artists, an offshoot of Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, and helped Production Head Walter Mirisch move into the ranks of top Hollywood producers before leaving the studio to found his own independent company, The Mirisch Corporation.

by Frank Miller

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Friendly Persuasion (1956)

In 1956, Jessamyn West published To See the Dream, her personal account of the making of Friendly Persuasion. The book is dedicated to William Wyler's assistant during filming, Stuart Millar, and the director's brother Robert. The title came from Wyler's daughter, Melanie. West was at Wyler's house to see the rushes when his daughter asked, "Daddy, can I see the dream?" "Seeing the dream" was her way of describing watching the rushes.

As part of publicity for the film, Gary Cooper recorded the song "Marry Me, Marry Me" from the score. It was his only professional recording. At the time, he told the press, "I hope all of this won't ruin my career."

The film's title song, also called "Thee I Love," by Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster, had two hit recordings, one by Pat Boone, who sang it in the movie, and another by The Four Aces. It would also be recorded by Anthony Perkins, Aretha Franklin and Cleo Laine.

William Wyler hired Jessamyn West to work on the script for his next film, The Big Country (1958), another film about a man trying to avoid violence.

Michael Wilson and Wyler would finally work together again, albeit briefly, on The Sandpiper (1965). By that time, Wilson could be credited as screenwriter in pre-production publicity. When production delays forced Wyler to leave the film (he was replaced by Vincente Minnelli), Wilson continued, eventually sharing writing credit with another blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo.

In 1969, West wrote Except for Me and Thee: A Companion to the Friendly Persuasion, a sequel to The Friendly Persuasion relating other incidents in the lives of the Birdwells.

In 1975, ABC aired a television movie called Friendly Persuasion, although it was actually based on West's sequel to the original novel. Richard Kiley played Jess Birdwell, with Shirley Knight as Eliza and Michael O'Keefe as Josh.

During a state visit to Moscow in 1988, President Ronald Reagan presented a copy of the tape as a personal gift to Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev.

by Frank Miller

Jessamyn West, To See the Dream
Stuart M. Kaminsky, Coop: The Life and Legend of Gary Cooper

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Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Friendly Persuasion was made for $3 million. By 1960, it had grossed $8 million.

Jessamyn West was a first cousin of Richard Nixon and even attended Sunday school classes taught by his father.

When William Wyler's assistant, Stuart Millar, first contacted West about working on Friendly Persuasion, she had never even heard of the director. She had, however, seen and admired many of his films. That and the fact that Millar had actually read her novel helped convince her to meet with him to discuss the film version.

One of the film's shooting titles was Mr. Birdwell Goes to Battle, an obvious echo of Gary Cooper's earlier Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).

Although his screen credit read "Introducing Anthony Perkins," Friendly Persuasion was actually the actor's second film. He had had so many problems working with George Cukor on his first film, The Actress (1953), that he hoped his credit here would help erase from public memory his official debut in The Actress.

One of Perkins's best scenes, the battle scene in which he shoots someone for the first time and breaks down in tears, was shot by the second unit. When he asked for a moment to prepare, the assistant director refused for fear of losing the light. The property man, Tommy Plews, stood up for the younger actor, so he got the time he needed to get the performance just right.

Perkins had not yet learned how to drive at the time Friendly Persuasion was shot. Each morning he hitchhiked to the Allied Artists studios, where limousines were waiting to drive the cast to the shooting location. He often told drivers he was the stand-in for a hot young actor named Anthony Perkins, for whom they should watch in upcoming films.

In addition to briefly dating Gary Cooper's daughter, during production Perkins also dated Maila Nurmi, better known as TV horror host Vampira, and started his relationship with actor Tab Hunter.

Memorable Quotes from FRIENDLY PERSUASION

"I want you to know, sir, I honor your prejudices -- um, uh, convictions." -- Walter Catlett, as Prof. Waldo Quigley

"If thee talked as much to the Almighty as thee dost to thy horse, thee'd have a much better understanding." -- Dorothy McGuire, as Eliza Birdwell, to Gary Cooper, as Jess Birdwell.

"A man's life ain't worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his conscience." -- Cooper, as Jess Birdwell

"I don't want to die. I don't think I could kill anyone if I tried. But I have to try, so long as other people have to." -- Cooper, as Jess

Compiled by Frank Miller

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Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Quaker Jessamyn West published The Friendly Persuasion in 1945. Inspired by her childhood in Indiana and stories about her great great grandparents, it consisted of a series of stories about the Birdwells, a family of Quakers living in the Hoosier State during the Civil War era. Although the book did not earn a place on the New York Times Best Seller List for the year, it attracted a devoted fan base, including director William Wyler.

West sold the rights to her novel to Frank Capra's Liberty Films in 1946. He assigned the adaptation to writer Michael Wilson, who completed it later that year. Initially, Capra announced it as a vehicle for Bing Crosby and Jean Arthur. Although he later announced plans to star James Stewart or Spencer Tracy, the film never went into production. Eventually, Paramount bought the rights, which included Wilson's script.

Monogram Pictures, one of Hollywood's most prominent Poverty Row studios, started trying to get into big-budget production in the post-war years. Initially, they created the Allied Artists unit to produce more upscale films in 1946. Then they restructured in 1953, dropping the Monogram name altogether. Although the studio maintained some of the low-budget productions from its Monogram days, producer Walter Mirisch pushed them to strike deals with major filmmakers like William Wyler, John Huston and Billy Wilder.

Wyler was nearing the end of his contract with Paramount Pictures and was considering options when Allied Artists approached him about doing a film. Their offer of profit participation and creative control was more than any other studio would come up with so he went with them. He suggested an adaptation of The Friendly Persuasion, which he had dreamed of filming for eight years, ever since reading Wilson's script while under contract at Paramount. The Civil War was a popular topic in Hollywood at the time, as studios tried to re-capture the magic of Gone with the Wind (1939) to lure back fans lost to television. AA approved the production with an initial budget of $1.5 million, to be shot on location in the novel's setting, Indiana.

By the time Wyler and AA bought the rights to West's novel, Wilson had been blacklisted for refusing to name names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Instead, Wyler convinced West to work on the shooting script with his brother Robert. She would later describe her job as recording "the story of what the camera sees."

Wyler had always thought Gary Cooper the perfect actor to play Jess Birdwell. In fact, Cooper's commitments to other films had kept Wyler from making the film while at Paramount. Although the actor was reluctant to undertake his first father role, he finally gave in after West took him to a Society of Friends prayer meeting. The stillness made him think he could capture the character's spiritual nature.

Wyler's dream casting for Cooper's wife was Katharine Hepburn, but she wasn't available. Vivien Leigh was also committed to other projects, while Ingrid Bergman was not yet ready to return to Hollywood after the scandal created when she left her husband and child for director Roberto Rossellini. Other actresses discussed for the female lead included Margaret Sullavan, Mary Martin, Teresa Wright, Martha Scott, Jane Russell and Eva Marie Saint. Wyler actually tested Maureen O'Hara and Eleanor Parker before casting Dorothy McGuire.

Cooper complained that his fans would be disappointed if his character didn't take up arms in the Civil War. He argued that they would expect him to do something. West suggested, "You will furnish them with the refreshing picture of a strong man refraining."

Wyler also had a problem with both the original novel's and the Wilson screenplay's failure to confront Jess Birdwell with the horrors of the Civil War. He convinced West to make the war more of a plot point in Friendly Persuasion and show Jess tempted to forgo his religious pacifism and enter the battle.

To give Cooper more to do, West gave him a Methodist best friend in the movie with a more worldly approach to life. Wyler cast character actor Robert Middleton, who had just played the most brutish of the three escaped convicts in the director's The Desperate Hours (1955). He also cast the child from that film, Richard Eyer, as the Birdwells' younger son.

After seeing East of Eden (1955), Wyler wanted to cast James Dean as the Birdwells' elder son, but Dean's management would not consider his accepting a supporting role in Friendly Persuasion.

While scouting talent in New York, Wyler saw several young actors for the role of Cooper's conflicted son. Actor John Kerr, who had originated the role of Tom in the Broadway production of Tea and Sympathy, was a frontrunner but his managers convinced him to sign a two-picture deal with MGM instead. Wyler also met with Anthony Perkins, who had only done one previous film, The Actress (1953); he had taken over for Kerr in Tea and Sympathy and had done some television work. Wyler was so impressed with Perkins's insights into the character and his reading that he cast him without bothering to make a screen test.

At the time he went to see Wyler, Perkins was in discussions for the lead in an upcoming Broadway play. He was at an impasse with the producers over the standard clause that allows actors to be fired for any reason during the first two weeks of rehearsal, so he went to read for Wyler. After he was offered the role in Friendly Persuasion, the play's producers gave into his demands, but he went with the film anyway. The play eventually would close before reaching New York.

For the role of the Birdwells' teenaged daughter, Mattie, Wyler tested Susan Strasberg, but then signed Phyllis Love, whose only previous film was the independent juvenile delinquency drama So Young So Bad (1950). She took a leave-of-absence from her role as the ingnue in the Broadway production of William Inge's Bus Stop to make the film. Her love interest, Peter Mark Richman, had appeared on Broadway in End as a Man. (The film version was called The Strange One, 1957.) Friendly Persuasion would mark his screen debut.

Before shooting Friendly Persuasion, Wyler insisted on rehearsing the actors to get the proper sense of family and other relationships. He coached them through several readings of the script, a practice he would continue with individual scenes after shooting started.

by Frank Miller

Jessamyn West, To See the Dream

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teaser Friendly Persuasion (1956)

Producer-director William Wyler had Jessamyn West's novel Friendly Persuasion in mind for eight years before he brought the project to Allied Artists. He had just completed a five-picture deal with Paramount when he was offered a plum from Allied, a company looking to achieve major studio status by signing top directors like Wyler, Billy Wilder, and John Huston. They gave him a $1.5 million budget for his first color film, and shooting was to take place in the story's original southern Indiana locale. By the time it was completed, on a San Fernando Valley estate and at the old Republic studios, the cost had swelled to $3 million. But it turned out to be a popular success, despite its two-hour-seventeen-minute running time and its focus on the unlikely cinematic subject of Quaker values. It brought in $8 million in box-office receipts by 1960 alone.

Friendly Persuasion (1956) focuses on a peaceful family of Quakers who are thrust into the Civil War when a band of Confederates known as Morgan's Raiders threatens their town. The eldest Birdwell son, Josh, hears a plea for young men to help fight off the marauders and begins to question the anti-war, anti-violence values of his religion. His mother is against him going to battle, but his father, a man of moral courage and understanding, recognizes his son's need to work out his conflict and side with a just cause. When Josh is wounded in battle, his father goes into the war zone to save him. What he encounters there tests his faith and a way of life that will never be quite the same.

A large part of the picture's success can be attributed to Gary Cooper, due not only to his considerable box office appeal but his performance in a role that marked something of a transition for the actor. Cooper most often played a man of action, the American Hero, ready to take up arms when necessary (although the part of the Quaker father echoed his Oscar-winning role as the reluctant World War I soldier in Sergeant York, 1941). This was one of the first roles in which he began to expand his range and question his past image. But he had to be convinced. During the scripting process, he expressed reservations to West about the character, saying because "action seems to come natural to me," the father should be shown joining the fight. "There comes a time in a picture of mine when the people watching expect me to do something," he said. West responded he would do something: "Refrain. You will furnish your public with the refreshing picture of a strong man refraining." That's what he did, and he received critical praise for it.

Also scoring strongly in the picture was Anthony Perkins as the son. The young actor had one previous film to his credit, George Cukor's The Actress (1953), when he returned to the New York stage and got great notices for Tea and Sympathy. He was signed to do another play when Wyler approached him about Friendly Persuasion. Torn over the decision, Perkins decided to give Hollywood another try, and the gamble paid off handsomely. The picture made him one of the most sought-after new stars and earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Friendly Persuasion was nominated for five other Academy Awards as well, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Song ("Friendly Persuasion, Thee I Love," which became a hit for Pat Boone), Best Sound Recording, and Best Adapted Screenplay which created something of a controversy. Because writer Michael Wilson had been blacklisted for pleading the Fifth Amendment before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, his name was not listed with the nomination. A week before the nominations for 1956 movies were released, the Academy's Board of Governors passed a rule denying an Oscar to anyone who refused to talk to a Congressional committee. But the new rule was not announced until the nominations came out, displeasing a lot of people, especially members of the Writers Guild, which issued a protest. When the Academy wouldn't budge, the Guild gave Wilson its award for Best Written American Drama. Speaking at the Guild's 1957 awards ceremony, Groucho Marx quipped, "Take, for example, The Ten Commandments [1956]. Original story by Moses. The producers were forced to keep Moses' name off the writing credits because they found out he had once crossed the Red Sea." Wilson won his first Oscar for the adapted screenplay of A Place in the Sun (1951) and another for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). He was awarded that Oscar posthumously, as well as his writing credits for Wyler's film and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Although Friendly Persuasion did not win in any of its categories, its principals racked up more than 40 nominations in their distinguished careers and brought home 12 statuettes. Director William Wyler already possessed two Oscars by the time of this film's release, for the war-themed dramas Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). He later won a third Best Director award for Ben-Hur (1959) and received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966. Wyler was also nominated for shepherding Bette Davis in two of her best roles - The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941) - and for movies as diverse as the Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy Roman Holiday (1953) and the period drama The Heiress (1949), both of which also earned him Best Picture nominations as producer. Gary Cooper was not recognized for his work as the Quaker dad, but he was no stranger to Oscar, having been nominated five times and winning for Sergeant York and High Noon (1952). He also received an honorary award for his long body of work shortly before his death in 1961.

The Oscar champ on the production team, however, was unquestionably Dmitri Tiomkin. In his 40-year career, the Russian-born composer was nominated for his work on 18 motion pictures and won four times - for scoring The Old Man and the Sea (1958), The High and the Mighty (1954), and High Noon, for which he also won a Best Song Oscar ("Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling") shared with lyricist Ned Washington.

Producer/Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Michael Wilson (uncredited until 1996), based on the novel by Jessamyn West
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Editing: Robert Swink, Edward A. Biery, Robert Belcher
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Original Music: Dmitri Tiomkin
Cast: Gary Cooper (Jess Birdwell), Dorothy McGuire (Eliza Birdwell), Anthony Perkins (Josh Birdwell), Richard Eyer (Little Jess), Phyllis Love (Mattie True Birdwell), Marjorie Main (Widow Hudspeth), Robert Middleton (Sam Jordan).
C-138m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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