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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 below). Schulberg described in a June 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 New York Times 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 September 1956 New York Times 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 Daily Variety 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 below). Lee Remick made her feature film debut in A Face in the Crowd, as did Charles Irving, who was also credited as a special assistant. Hollywood Reporter 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 Variety review commented, "Griffith turns in a performance that can easily skyrocket him to fame" and the Hollywood Reporter 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 December 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.