Cast & Crew
The Birdwells, a prosperous Pennsylvania Quaker family, try to remain detached from the Civil War that is raging to the south. As the family prepares to go to Sunday meeting, daughter Mattie primps and fantasizes about her sweetheart, Gard Jordan, while older brother Josh plays war with younger brother Little Jess, but warns that their preacher mother Eliza does not like war talk. While father Jess hitches his horse Red Rover to a surrey, he laments to black farm hand Enoch that the horse is not as fast as he appears. On the way to town, Gard's father, neighboring farmer Sam Jordan, rides up alongside the Birdwells, initiating their Sunday racing ritual. Eliza strongly disapproves of racing but is unsuccessful in convincing the amiable Jess to stop. After Sam's horse once again wins, the Birdwells go to their meetinghouse, while Sam and Grad attend Methodist services. A few minutes later, Maj. Harvey of the Union Army enters the meetinghouse to urge the Quaker men to take up arms against the South. Although some men, including Jess and Josh, admit doubts about their pacifist beliefs, Harvey is unable to change anyone's mind. A few days later, Gard, who is an army officer, comes to call on Mattie and ask the family if they plan to go to the county fair. When the excited children lament that Eliza's strictness will prevent their attending, Jess intercedes. At the fair, while Eliza visits a quilting booth, Little Jess enjoys the sideshows, Josh and his friend Caleb watch a wrestling match, Jess and Sam peruse Quigley's organ emporium and Gard convinces Mattie to dance with him on the pavilion. When Eliza sees Mattie dancing, she is shocked and orders her daughter home, despite Gard's plea that he wants to spend his last day of leave with Mattie. Meanwhile, Caleb enters a wrestling match but suddenly quits because he thinks he has hurt the other wrestler. A few men who had bet on Caleb start to intimidate and hit him and Josh, who refuse to hit back. The incident is stopped by Jess, who grabs the most abusive man and pushes him into a rain barrel, in full view of the disapproving Eliza. Soon Jess, who sells nursery stock, leaves on a business trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Josh has never accompanied his father before and looks forward to the adventure, despite Eliza's concerns for their safety. On the last day of their trip, Jess stops at the farm of the Widow Hudspeth, whose three man-hungry daughters are delighted to have the bashful Josh and Jess spend the night. While riding with the widow, Jess is impressed by her ugly mare "Lady," who refuses to let other horses pass her. Because the widow does not want her daughters' potential suitors to be upstaged by Lady, she trades Lady for Red Rover. When Jess and Josh return home, Eliza is delighted that Josh has traded Red Rover for a "good, plain animal," but her happiness turns to anger when Quigley delivers an organ that Jess had purchased without her knowledge. Eliza stands in the doorway and forbids Jess to bring in the organ. Jess, who does not like the word "forbid," moves the organ inside, prompting Eliza to leave for the barn. That night, after the children have gone to bed, Jess goes into the barn and speeds the night there with Eliza. The next morning, as the pair lovingly walks arm-in-arm toward the house, Eliza makes Jess promise that the organ will stay in the attic and not be played on meeting day. On Sunday, Jess makes an excuse to take their smaller carriage to town and hitches up Lady. For the first time, he is able to best Sam in the race, much to Eliza and Sam's chagrin. That night, Gard, who has returned to organize the home guard after sustaining a battle wound, comes to see Mattie. As Mattie, Josh and Little Jess question Gard about his experiences, Josh says that he wants to join the home troops, but Gard asks him to think more about his decision. Later, as Gard and Mattie kiss, Josh and Enoch assist as the family cow gives birth, and Enoch worries when Josh wonders aloud what death would be like. A few days later, Gard comes to visit Mattie, who is at the river with Little Jess. She is angry when she realizes that Gard has overheard her talking aloud about his handsomeness and runs back to the house. Just then, Josh rides home and reports that Confederate soldiers are less than thirty miles away and will overrun their farm by tomorrow. Gard pleads with Jess and Eliza to take the children and hide in the woods, but Eliza says that if it is God's will, there is nothing they can do. Enoch then asks Gard for a gun, confessing that he is a runaway slave and would not have a chance with the Confederates. When Mattie, who is listening from her room, overhears Gard say that he is leaving to join the home guard, she runs after him. They confess their love for each other and promise to marry. The next morning, after talking with Jess, who understands how he feels, and Eliza, who has urged him to pray, Josh takes a shotgun and rides off on Lady to join the home guard. While Josh nervously takes position at the river, where the home guard will try to prevent the Confederates from crossing, Elder Purdy rides to the Birdwell farm and angrily relates that his farm has been looted and his crops burned. Although Jess offers to share what he has, Purdy, who previously had boasted that he would never betray his principles, lashes out at Jess for not taking up arms. His tirade is interrupted when Sam arrives and tells Purdy that he will fight for both himself and Jess and is glad that someone is holding out for a better way of settling differences. When the Confederates start to cross the river, the battle begins. Seeing the killing of a man who had been kind to him, Josh repeatedly loads his shotgun to fire at the approaching Confederates, as tears roll down his cheeks. A short time later, Lady arrives at the farm riderless, causing Eliza to break down, sure that her son is dead. When she sees Jess take his shotgun and ride out, she is hurt but does not try to stop him. Soon some Confederate soldiers arrive at the Birdwell farm, and Eliza surprises them by offering food and hospitality. However, when one of the soldiers grabs Eliza's beloved pet goose Samantha, she becomes hysterical and repeatedly hits the soldier with her broom. The soldier lets Samantha go and apologizes, then departs with the others, leaving an ashamed Eliza, who asks her children not to say anything to their father. Meanwhile, as Jess approaches the river, he encounters the mortally wounded Sam and reminisces about their races before his friend dies. Just then, a lone Confederate soldier takes a shot at Jess, who is only grazed, but pretends to be dead. Concluding that both men are dead, the soldier walks away to reload his rifle, but Jess stands up and struggles with him. Jess has a clear shot at the soldier but, grabbing his gun, tells him that he will not kill him and to walk away. A few minutes later, Jess comes upon the scene of devastation at the river. Among the dead bodies, he finds Josh, alive, but heartsick at having killed. Jess takes his son home, where Eliza welcomes them. Some time later, after the battles are over, Enoch hitches up the surrey for Jess, Josh, Eliza and Little Jess to ride to Sunday meeting as Gard and Mattie ride behind in their carriage.
Samantha, The Goose
William J. Tannen
Robert A. Belcher
Edward A. Biery Jr.
Claude Binyon Jr.
Gordon R. Gelnnan
Richard C. Harris
Edward S. Haworth
Al St. Hilaire
Paul Francis Webster
Allen K. Wood
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
The Essentials - Friendly Persuasion
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 West Cinematography: 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)
Why FRIENDLY PERSUASION is Essential
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
The Essentials - Friendly Persuasion
Pop Culture 101 - Friendly Persuasion
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
Pop Culture 101 - Friendly Persuasion
Trivia - Friendly Persuasion - Trivia & Fun Facts About FRIENDLY PERSUASION
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
Trivia - Friendly Persuasion - Trivia & Fun Facts About FRIENDLY PERSUASION
The Big Idea - Friendly Persuasion
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 ingénue 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
The Big Idea - Friendly Persuasion
Friendly Persuasion (1956)
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 . 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).
by Rob Nixon
Friendly Persuasion (1956)
I'm just his father, Eliza, not his conscience. A man's life ain't worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.- Jess Birdwell
I want you to know, sir, I honor your prejudices---um, uh, convictions.- Prof. Waldo Quigley
Originally released without screenwriting credit due to blacklisting of Michael Wilson (I); credits restored in 1996.
The title is believed by some to signify that the main characters are of the Quaker faith. Quakerism is also referred to as "The Society Of Friends." Thus, the characters can be said to be "of the Friendly persuasion."
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.
Voted Best Actress (McGuire) and One of the Ten Best American Films of the Year by the 1956 National Board of Review.
Voted Best Written American Drama (Wilson) by the 1956 Writer's Guild of America.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1956 New York Times Film Critics.
Voted Outstanding Directorial Achievement (Wyler) by the 1956 Director's Guild of America.
Released in United States Fall November 1956
Released in United States Fall November 1956