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Friendly Persuasion

Friendly Persuasion(1956)

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During pre-production, the film briefly had the working title of Mr. Birdwell Goes to Battle. The film's opening credits appear as words stitched onto 19-century needlepoint samplers. Following the names of the principle actors, there is a title card that reads, "also co-starring Marjorie Main, as the Widow Hudspeth."
       Jessamyn West's 1945 book Friendly Persuasion was a collection of short stories she had written in the early 1940s for various popular magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Colliers, Harper's Bazaar, Atlantic Monthly, The Ladies' Home Journal, New Mexico Quarterly and Harper's Magazine. Although the film is set in Pennsylvania, the original stories were set in Indiana.
       The film retained some of the incidents recounted as individual stories in the book, but was more suggestive of the theme and mood of the original stories than a close adaptation. One of the stories in the book, "The Battle of Finney's Ford" provided much of the basis of the film's action surrounding the battle of the local home guard troops against Confederate soldiers and provided the central moral dilemma for the Quaker Birdwell family, who were pacifists. Some characters within the film were not in the book, and many characters within West's short stories were not portrayed in the film, including another Birdwell son, "Labe," who was similar to the character of "Caleb" in the film.
       The adaptation of the book into a motion picture, and credit for the film's screenplay, has been the subject of considerable controversy since the production's completion. Contemporary information reveal the following information about the film's screenplay: According to a Variety news item on September 20, 1956, and a New York Times article on September 21, 1956, Allied Artists became the first studio to invoke a then little-known "anti-Communist" clause inserted into the basic Writers' Guild of America (WGA) agreement in 1952, by deciding to release the film without a screenwriting credit. The decision was made by Allied Artists following arbitration by writer Michael Wilson, who had written a screen adaptation of West's book in 1946. According to information in a April 8, 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item, rights to West's stories were purchased by director Frank Capra for Liberty Films, which Capra co-owned with director William Wyler, George Stevens and Samuel J. Briskin. According to Capra's autobiography, he intended to adapt the stories as a vehicle for Bing Crosby and Jean Arthur.
       In 1951, Wilson became an "un-friendly witness," who refused to testify before the United States House of Representatives Committee for Un-American Activities (HUAC). Wilson was subsequently blacklisted. According to various contemporary news items in 1955, Harry Kleiner was hired to work on a screenplay of Friendly Persuasion, and West herself, as well as Wyler's brother Robert, collaborated on the film's shooting script. Just prior to the film's release, Wilson sought WGA arbitration to have his name included on the film's credits. Although Wilson was awarded sole screenwriting credit by the WGA, Allied Artists released with picture without a screenplay or adaptation credit, with the only writing credit reading "From the book by Jessamyn West." Several modern sources have stated that the completed film reflected the work of Robert Wyler and West's work as much, if not more, than Wilson's. Modern sources postulate that, because of contemporary WGA rules forbidding the inclusion of more than two screenwriters' names on the film's credits, and because of sympathy for Wilson, the WGA determined that Wilson should receive sole screenwriting credit.
       On February 15, 1957, when Academy Award nominations were about to be announced, AMPAS issued a press release headed "Statement to be issued if `Friendly Persuasion' receives a writing nomination as Best Screenplay (Adapted)." The press release noted that at a February 6, 1957 meeting of the AMPAS Board of Governors, a revision of one of the organization's by-laws had been approved. The revision read: "Any person who before any duly constituted Federal legislative committee or body, shall have admitted that he is a member of the Communist Party (and had not since publicly renounced the party) or who shall have refused to answer whether or not he is, or was, a member of the Communist Party, or who shall have refused to respond to a subpoena to appear before such a committee or body, shall be ineligible for any Academy Award so long as he persists in such refusal."
       Although the press release did not specifically name Wilson, it indirectly referred to him as "the writer credited with this achievement by the Writers' Guild of America, West." The picture did earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but Wilson's name was not on the ballot. Instead, the film's title was listed last, with the wording proscribed in the February 15, 1957 AMPAS press release: "Achievement nominated, but writer ineligible for Award under Academy By-Laws." The award that year was given to James Poe, John Farrow and S. J. Perelman, who adapted Around the World in 80 Days. According to modern sources, Wilson sued Allied Artists, Robert and William Wyler, as well as West and others, but the details and disposition of the suit have not been ascertained.
       The film's association with the Hollywood blacklist resulted in further controversy in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan gave a videotape of Friendly Persuasion to then Soviet Premiere Michail Gorbachev. In a toast at a dinner in Moscow's Kremlin, Reagan declared that the film expressed "not just the tragedy of war, but the problem of pacifism, the nobility of patriotism, as well as the love of peace." Newspapers throughout the world reported the story, assailing Reagan's words as sadly ironic. Wilson's credit was officially restored by the WGA in 2001. The print viewed contained a title card designed in the same style as the other credits that read "Screenplay by Michael Wilson, from the book by Jessamyn West." For additional information on HUAC, the Hollywood Blacklist and the 1952 WGA ruling, please consult the entry for the 1947 RKO production Crossfire in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 and see the entry below for the 1952 RKO film The Las Vegas Story.
       Other contemporary sources reveal the following information on the production: Friendly Persuasion was director William Wyler's first film shot in color. Although a May 20, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the picture was to be shot in Pennsylvania and New England, and mid-July 1955 news items noted that Wyler and production assistant Richard Maybery had scouted locations in Indiana and Kentucky, where the film was to be shot, the picture was filmed entirely in California. According to news items and production charts, much of the film was shot in Chico, Triunfo and near Sacramento in Northern California and in Southern California at the Rowland V. Lee Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. A November 2, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the county fair sequence was shot at Republic Studio's Stage 11, as Allied Artists' sound stages were already occupied by other Friendly Persuasion sets. As noted in his article in the April 1956 issue of American Cinematographer, inspirations for cinematographer Ellsworth Fredricks' use of lighting came from the Dutch Master painters of the 17th century, whose works Fredricks viewed with Wyler while on a location scouting trip prior to production.
       According to various Hollywood Reporter news items, Eva Marie Saint was to test for the role of "Eliza" but withdrew. Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed: Stanley Adams, Dorothy Adams, Don Marlowe, Lane Chandler, Dorothy Ford, John Hoyt, Dorothy Phillips, Gertrude Astor, Jean Acker, Rose Ann Fuller and Fern Barry.
       As noted in an April 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, composer Dimitri Tiompkin conducted a benefit performance, with a thirty-piece orchestra, in the grand ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the first public performance of his score for the film. The film's title song (also titled "Thee I Love"), with music by Tiompkin and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, was one of the biggest hits of singer Pat Boone's career. According to a August 29, 1956 Variety article, its predicted popularity caused consternation among several record companies that wanted to have the song officially released prior to the announced 1 September date. Even though the song's publisher, Robbins, Feist and Miller, moved the release date up to 24 Aug, various recordings of the song were sent to disc jockeys and played on the radio prior to its official release date.
       In addition to Academy Award nominations for Best Song and Best Adapted screenplay, the film received nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director (Wyler), Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Perkins) and Sound Recording (Westrex Sound Services, Inc, Gordon R. Glennan, sound director and Samuel Goldwyn Studios Sound Department, Gordon Sawyer, sound director). The film won the top prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, receiving the Palme d'Or for Best Film, and was selected as one of the top ten films of the year by New York Times and the National Board of Review. Samantha, the "Birdwell" family's irrascible pet goose, was given the Patsy award by the American Humane Society for her performance.
       In 1957, Harcourt, Brace published a journal that West had kept during the film's production, discussing her role as technical advisor and writer. That book, entitled To See the Dream, was an expansion of an article on the same subject that appeared in The Ladies' Home Journal in November 1955, around the time of the film's premiere. In 1969, West published a companion volume to her earlier book of stories about the Birdwell family, Except for Me and Thee. A 1975 television movie entitled Friendly Persuasion was based on both of West's books. That version, which retained Tiompkin's popular musical theme, was directed by Joseph Sargent and starred Richard Kiley and Shirley Knight.