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Behind the Camera - A Face in the Crowd
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A Face in the Crowd,A Face in the Crowd

Behind the Camera on A FACE IN THE CROWD

Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg spent months researching the advertising world, even gaining access to ad agency meetings, in order to understand the way Madison Avenue approaches and shapes the thinking of the American public. In Kazan on Kazan by Michel Ciment, the director said, "They let us into meetings though they knew we were going to write on it. We saw the product discussions, we saw the charts. Everything that's in that picture, we have an example for. We watched many sessions on the selling of Lipton's tea, the discussions of the word 'brisk' and how to picturise it.....The discussions were really ludicrous: you could hardly keep a straight face at them. But as well as the ridiculous side, you could feel the intense, neurotic pressure they all worked under." In addition to their advertising research, the duo also observed the political arena by going to Washington, D.C., where they interviewed future president Lyndon Johnson, studying the way he walked, talked, and presented himself in private and in public.

A Face in the Crowd was filmed on location in Arkansas, Memphis, and New York City. It was in the Big Apple that the production utilized the old Gold Medal Studio in the Bronx where D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince made many of their pioneering pictures.

In the previously mentioned interview with Michel Ciment, Kazan recalled the Arkansas location filming for A Face in the Crowd: "We became acquainted with a community of strangers - it was not like a work experience, it was a life experience, a thing that affects you very deeply. We became a part of that Arkansas community settling down in new homes there. It was a terrific experience, right from the beginning, the people we met, the insights we got, the privilege we had of being inside a society that otherwise we would never have touched. We met the Governor of Arkansas, we met the mayor of this town, we everybody in this town. Everywhere I walked in Piggott, people were following me. It was like we had the whole town under the reverse of martial law! As though we had liberated the whole town."

When it came to casting, Kazan selected several "people from Nashville; Lonesome Rhodes's friend who twitches his toes, he's from the Grand Ole Opry, a regular comedian there. We went around a lot of clubs, picking up entertainers. I had heard Andy Griffith on record, then I saw him on TV...He was the real native American country boy and that comes over in the picture. I had him drunk all through the last big scene because it was the only way he could be violent - in life he wants to be friends with everybody."

For A Face in the Crowd, Patricia Neal returned to the screen after a four-year absence from Hollywood, an absence that was precipitated by a much-publicized affair with Gary Cooper (who was married at the time), and a subsequent nervous breakdown. In 1953, she married British writer Roald Dahl and raised a family with him. During their marriage, she was struck down by a series of strokes. Her determination to recover is well documented in her biography and the made-for-TV movie, The Patricia Neal Story (1981), starring Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde. Unfortunately, Dahl and Neal divorced in 1983 after the actress discovered that her husband had been having an affair with her good friend.

Elia Kazan chose Neal for the Marcia Jeffries role after seeing her in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a play that he originally directed on Broadway. According to Neal, the production would have been too expensive to film in Hollywood, which necessitated the need for on-location shooting. Neal later revealed in an article for Films and Filming entitled "What Kazan Did For Me": "When seeing one of Kazan's pictures, one will notice his keen and searching eye. It picks up every detail, analyses the character and almost dissects the very soul of the actor. This is Kazan's hallmark...The one important point when working with Kazan is to be honest and to give everything you have to the part."

Neal was also impressed with how Kazan directed her in the climatic scene in A Face in the Crowd when she betrays Lonesome Rhodes by throwing the microphone switch to Live-on-the-air during one of his insulting tirades against his adoring public meant only for the ears of his producers. "For this scene I had to hold onto the switchboard, crying, while about six men had to drag me away. For the first couple of takes I could not register quite what Kazan wanted. He told me to hold on as hard and as long as I could. He left me and went over to the men who were to drag me away. (I was not supposed to hear him tell them to pull me away from the board as quickly as they could!) We did the scene again, my hands bled and I sobbed as the men pulled me away. Gadge had his scene - and the way he wanted it."

Lee Remick, making her film debut as the sexy baton twirler, showed up at the film set three weeks early, so she could train with the local high school's majorettes.

by Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford