The Big Idea Behind A FACE IN THE CROWD
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Based on Budd Schulberg's short story "Your Arkansas Traveler," from his book Some Faces in the Crowd, A Face in the Crowd was the second successful collaboration between director Elia Kazan and Schulberg following their Academy Award-winning picture On the Waterfront (1954). Thanks to a strong theatre background, Kazan had solidified his high standing within the acting profession as a highly-regarded "actor's director." For his part, Schulberg had a sharp eye for satire and had written about another media-manufactured monster of the entertainment world in the controversial best-selling novel, What Makes Sammy Run?, based on Hollywood producer Jerry Wald and published in 1941. For the character of Lonesome Rhodes, Schuberg used beloved media personality Arthur Godfrey as the model.
Together, Kazan and Schulberg's combined talents in directing actors and creating memorable characters resulted in a film of considerable impact. Kazan later commented on their creative partnership on A Face in the Crowd: "Budd and I were a perfect team...I dug up research with Budd and helped plan the story structure. Budd rented a place near me in Connecticut, and we spent the summer working together." Kazan basically functioned as the storyteller, even though he did not write a word of the final script. Long known as an adapter of stage plays, Kazan continued his tradition of working with the best writers in the business with A Face in the Crowd. Budd Schulberg said later, "He's been a pioneer, sometimes I think the only pioneer, in treating screenplays with the same respect that he would give a work written for the stage."
Most importantly, what the two shared was a fervent belief in what television would someday do for American politics. Kazan said, "The thing that drove us was our belief in the theme, our anticipation of the power TV would have in the political life of the nation. 'Listen to what the candidate says,' we urged, 'don't be taken in by his charm or his trust-inspiring personality."
by Scott McGee