Filmsite Movie Review
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)

A Face in the Crowd (1957) is director Elia Kazan's satirical and powerful socio-political drama that illustrated how a jailed, down-home country boy in the late 1950s could be transformed overnight into a media celebrity on the radio, and later become a mean-spirited, opportunistic political demagogue and megalomaniac as a pop TV show icon. [Note: Jailhouse Rock (1957) in the same year was eerily similar - it told about a meteoric rise by a country-hick, guitar-playing singer in jail (Elvis Presley) who became an instant mass-media star and corrupted idol on television.]

Andy Griffith - in his remarkable screen debut - portrayed the vicious, smiling, ambitious, charismatic, but fraudulent and power-hungry hillbilly philosopher/singer Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, who used the influential power of the mass media to seduce the gullible population with an anti-elitist and anti-intellectual message.

[Note: The main character was a composite of a number of different personalities who often used the power of the media, including Louisiana Governor Huey Long, American home-spun humorist Will Rogers, evangelist Billy Graham, TV host-personalities Arthur Godfrey and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and blacklisted 1950s radio personality John Henry Faulk. Some current or recent figures have been compared to 'Lonesome' Rhodes, including President Ronald Reagan, FOX News commentator Glenn Beck, VP candidate Sarah Palin (a female version), and populist President Donald Trump.]

Budd Schulberg’s heavy-handed, Horatio-Alger (rags to riches) 'message' screenplay was based on his own 1953 short story "Your Arkansas Traveler" (found in a collection of stories titled Some Faces in the Crowd). It was the second collaboration between the screenwriter and director Elia Kazan who had previous worked together on On the Waterfront (1954).

Other prescient films that have satirized the corrupting and corrosive power of mass media (usually television or newspapers) to influence celebrity include:

To simulate the political and media landscape, Kazan's film featured cameos by well-known, contemporary TV personalities:

  • Sam Levenson - TV host, humorist, author, journalist
  • John Cameron Swayze - national TV newsman, actor, Timex Watch pitchman
  • Mike Wallace - news correspondent and anchor, CBS-TV's 60 Minutes host, actor
  • Earl Wilson - Broadway theatre gossip columnist for the New York Post
  • Walter Winchell - legendary newspaper journalist, gossip columnist and radio commentator
  • Bennett Cerf - publisher, jokester, and regular panelist on popular TV game show 'What's My Line?' in the 1950s-1960s
  • Faye Emerson - actress, TV interviewer and host (known as "The First Lady of Television")
  • Betty Furness - actress, product promoter and spokesperson, current affairs commentator

Its taglines expressed how power became an opiate for the protagonist:

  • POWER! He loved it! He took it raw in big gulpfuls...he liked the taste, the way it mixed with the bourbon and the sin in his blood!
  • 60 Million People called him Good...till she found out just how bad a man can be!

In addition to filming in New York City at Biograph Studios and in Memphis, TN, a few of the film's sequences (the fair and the baton-twirling competition) were shot on location in Piggott, Arkansas (in Clay County) - the Piggott Mohawk football field, the old Clay County Courthouse (jail scene), and an outdoor swimming pool at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer residence. The film premiered in the small town (simultaneously with its first showing in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles), and the town's motto became "Piggott: Where You're Not Just a Face in the Crowd."

In the opening sequence of the 126 minute cautionary tale, KGRK radio reporter/producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), a recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College returned to the South. In the fictional town of Pickett in northeast Arkansas, she was employed by the local radio station owned by her uncle. She brought her local radio show ("A Face in the Crowd") to the inside of the rural jail-cell, where she came upon a promising interview subject - a smiling, drunken cornpone-spouting, back country homeless man named Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith). He had been incarcerated overnight for being "drunk and disorderly," and opportunistically agreed to be interviewed if promised early release the next morning. She nicknamed him "Lonesome" and became transfixed when she first heard him strumming his bluesy "Mama guitar." She was further transfixed when he ad-libbed and energetically sang the home-spun song "Free Man in the Mornin'."

After appearing on her Pickett morning radio show a few times in town, Rhodes' popularity soared and he was invited by a TV program manager to be brought to Memphis, Tennessee to appear live on TV. There, he was introduced to bookish, well-educated, Vanderbilt-educated TV staff scriptwriter Mel Miller (Walter Matthau). 'Lonesome's' fresh, down-home approach to live TV soon brought him adoring audiences although he was soon mercilessly mocking his commercial sponsor. The Luffler Mattress Company threatened him with being fired, although his irreverent ads had the opposite effect of boosting sales. To her later regret, Marcia also entered into an ill-fated affair with 'Lonesome.' The con-artist/star was further promoted by enterprising, opportunistic, ambitious and slimy mattress company 'office boy' Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa in his film debut). He acquired work with a 'Madison-Avenue type' ad agency for a sponsored NYC TV variety show ("The Vitajex Hour") to make more effective commercial pitches for a useless product known as Vitajex. Rhodes successfully promoted the worthless dietary supplement as a Viagra-like means to increase energy and sexual virility, under the direction and control of wealthy Vitajex-owner/backer General Haynesworth (Percy Waram), and soon acquired his own coast-to-coast show.

In a side story, although Rhodes was secretly married previously but estranged and in the midst of divorce proceedings, he proposed to Marcia, but then immediately scorned her. During a judging competition in Pickett, he became infatuated with teenaged, 17 year-old baton twirler Betty Lou Fleckum (22 year-old Lee Remick in her screen debut) and impulsively eloped with her. Rhodes' power as an influencer was encouraged by Haynesworth - to tutor and support stuffy, right-wing, and dull politician Senator Worthington Fuller (Marshall Neilan) during his bid for the Presidency. On a number of occasions, Rhodes expressed how disrespectful, fraudulent and hypocritical he was. In a revealing scene with Marcia, Rhodes illustrated his disturbing, contemptuous, arrogant and power-hungry beliefs that his audience would sheepishly follow him anywhere, and be directed to wherever he wished:

They're mine. I own 'em. They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the President, and you'll be the power behind me. You made me, Marcia. You made me. I always say that. I owe it all to you. I owe it all to you.

Scandal erupted when he was concluding his national TV show ("Cracker Barrel"), thinking that his microphone had been cut off (although Marcia had turned it back on), and he showed his utter distaste for his mass audience by personally and nastily insulting them in unguarded comments, calling them stupid, gullible, idiotic morons or guinea pigs. Marcia slowly began to see that Lonesome was berating his staff, while hypocritically bashing his loyal followers and seeking political office for himself. She felt compelled to expose his megalomaniacal corruption, since she had discovered him and created his popular persona. And as Dr. Frankenstein had done, she dutifully felt she must destroy or weaken her dangerous white-trash monster. This was her motivation for her betrayal of Rhodes (switching on his microphone), resulting in an embarrassing gaffe and the disillusionment of his base of working-class followers, who quickly were angered by his disrespect and disowned him.

In the stunning conclusion of Rhodes' inevitable melt-down and spectacular downfall, the drunken and delusional rabble-rouser was within his penthouse suite (the top two floors of a swanky New York hotel) for a fancy dinner party of political elites to advance his own political agenda, where he found an empty room attended only by black butlers and servants. When he threatened suicide, Marcia encouraged him, and then confronted him face-to-face and admitted that she had betrayed him and would no longer support him. Although Rhodes was finished for the time being and had alienated all of his audiences and advertisers, Miller predicted that it might only be a temporary setback. Waiting in the wings to take Rhodes' place was DePalma's newest younger 'country' star - Barry Mills (Rip Torn).

The film's budget was extensive at $1.6 million, but unfortunately, the film was originally a box-office failure, although it has become much more praised and critically important in retrospect in more recent years. The half-hour long documentary Facing the Past (2005), filmed with many of the movie's stars, told about the making of the film. The timing of the film's original release was only a few years after the fall of demagogue Joseph McCarthy, who was responsible for the Communist 'Red Scare' sweeping the country (accentuated by the new medium of TV that broadcast the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings) during the early 1950s Cold War era, and it prophetically warned against such a reoccurrence.

Gayne Rescher's great and stirring B/W cinematography, and the superb performances of the trio of Griffth, Neal, and Matthau were unimpressive to AMPAS, and it received no Academy Award nominations.

Plot Synopsis

Opening Titles Sequence:

The textual opening credits were underscored by a whistled version of the blues classic "Sittin’ on Top of the World."

Larry Rhodes in the Pickett County Jail:

In the small-town square of Pickett in rural northeast Arkansas (a fictional place), checkers players, whittlers, and other old-timers sat in the park. Sheriff Big Jeff Bess (as Himself) was summoned from a board game by bubbly KGRK radio reporter/producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), who was driven up in a 1951 Chevrolet Styleline De Luxe Wagon, in preparation for an on-site interview. Her uncle J.B. Jeffries (Howard Smith) owned the radio station in town. The Sheriff promised a good crop of jailed low-level inmates ("a good haul") as prospects, due to the recent 4th of July weekend. The two drove over to the jail house where inside, she was introduced to the incarcerated prisoners available for her radio show. She advertised the show's typical contents: interviews, anecdotes, impromptu songs, or story-telling. She was planning to conduct her informal morning program live on location to find her next "face in the crowd."

[Note: The Sheriff introduced her to the jail of Tomahawk County, a major continuity error. The jail building's cornerstone identified it as in Clay County.]

Marcia Jeffries talked about her small-town radio program - "A Face in the Crowd" - to her listeners. She was searching for human interest stories as a way to highlight local undiscovered talent and boost her own ratings:

Whose face? Why, it could be yours. Or yours, or yours, because people are fascinating wherever you find them. This is Marcia Jeffries, looking for more faces in the crowd. This time from the Tomahawk County Jail.

The Sheriff urged the sole black prisoner (behind bars in a segregated cell) to perform for Marcia, but he refused: "Just because I got black skin, I'm no minstrel man." The Sheriff concluded, with an apology, that the uncooperative inmates were "just an ornery bunch." But then, one of the inmates was suggested - a mean, boisterous and disreputable vagrant with a guitar who was sleeping on the floor. He had been taken in the previous night for being "drunk and disorderly" (and was about to serve a one-week sentence). The back country Arkansas hobo Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith in his film debut) objected to being bothered: "Get away! Get away!...I don't care if the President of the United States is here. A man can't get a little decent sleep in jail..." She stuck a microphone at him and asked him to "sing a song and spin a yarn...Join me in a little back-fence talkin'." In exchange for being released the next morning by the jailer and Sheriff, Rhodes (egotistically calling himself "Me, Myself, and I") was persuaded to participate.

As he prepared for a vocal performance, Marcia Jeffries introduced herself to her listeners:

When I went east to Sarah Lawrence - that's a college - I majored in music. And I learned that the real American music comes from the bottom up. When George Gershwin played in New York, it was black-tie music. But the real beginning of it was in folks who never owned a tie. Now, I just bumped into a fella you never heard of, name of Rhodes.

When he wouldn't give his real name, she nicknamed Rhodes "Lonesome" to his amusement. As he opened his guitar case to take a swig from a bottle of whiskey hidden inside, he bantered: "Give me a chance to lubricate my Adam's apple. Ah! Nothin' like a little snake medicine to put ya in the mood."

[Note: It was highly unlikely that a jailed inmate's guitar case wouldn't have been searched, and his whiskey stash confiscated, especially since he was arrested for being drunk.]

The smiling, cornpone-spouting drifter spoke about his love for his 'Mama Guitar' as he warmed up:

Ain't Mama a beauty? Oh, a guitar beats a woman every time! You know, I never have seen a woman I could trust like this old guitar. I love my Mama guitar.

[Note: Another continuity error - as Rhodes was getting ready to sing, Marcia's tape-recorder was switched on. The tape-to-tape reels were revolving. However, as he extolled his guitar, she reached down to surreptitiously switch on the recorder, but it was already on!]

She's always there waitin' for me to pick her up and hold her. Never asks me for money or goes cheatin' around when I ain't lookin'. And if she gets a little sour, why, I just give her a little twist like so, and we're right back in tune together.

He rambled on about his hillbilly, outcast origins in a small town in Arkansas:

You know, ma'am, whenever a bunch of fellas like us - outcasts, hoboes, nobodies, gentlemen loafers, one-time or all-time losers, call us what you want to. Whenever we get together, we tell our funny stories. Me and Beanie and the rest of these hand-to-mouth tumbleweed boys like you see in here.

(singing) "If whiskey don't get us, then women must. And it looks like I'm never gonna cease my wandering."

But deep down, when we get ready to tuck our heads under our wings and go to sleep, we ain't kiddin' ourselves. We're so low-down lonely, the fella we couldn't stand the sight of this morning, tonight, when the guards get ready to douse the lights and plunge us into darkness, why, that same fella seems like our nearest, dearest buddy.

(singing) "Ten thousand miles away from home. And I don't even know my name. But I ain't cryin'."

No, I ain't cryin', because I'm gonna be a free man in the morning. Ha! You hear that, fellas? A free man! The Sheriff's gonna open up this cage, and I'm gonna be as free as a bird in the morning! Hey, maybe I can try puttin' a couple of rhymes together.

He finally decided to compose and sing "Free Man in the Mornin'" - his immediate fate that he wished for: "I'm gonna sing what I'm gonna be! A free man in the morning."

Free Man in the Mornin'

Oh, goodnight, moon.
Moon, you just fade, fade
Fade, fade away.
Oh, goodnight, moon.
Moon, you just fade away.
And hurry up, Mr. Sun.
Bring on new day

Oh, bring on the Sheriff
With his great big old key
Yeah! Bring on old Big Jeff
The sheriff of Pickett, Arkansas
With his great big, old fat key
To open up this nasty, filthy jailhouse
And make a free man of me

Gonna be a Free man in the morning
Free man in the morning
Free man in the morning

It would mark the beginning of the discovery of his musical talent, plucking him from down-and-out drunkenness and obscurity to fame. When he finished singing, Marcia switched off the recorder.

When the tape was later played for her uncle J.B. Jeffries at the radio station, 'Lonesome' was heard asking on the tape: "You mean you had that thing goin' all the time?" Her uncle agreed with her to hire him for the morning show: "I sure would like to use him on our early-bird show from 7:00 to 8:00." However, when she phoned the Sheriff to locate 'Lonesome,' he had already left town. He cautioned her about falling for 'Lonesome': "You know, that boy may be bashful, Marcia, but he's pretty sweet on you."

Marcia and her uncle drove out of town on the dusty east road to try and find Rhodes, and they found him hitchhiking with his guitar strapped onto his back. He claimed he was heading to Port St. Joe, Florida, hoping to arrive in four to five days to seek employment, where there was "plenty of water and plenty of fishing bridges and snapper boats and tarpon rolling." Marcia's uncle proposed hiring Rhodes for the morning 7-8 am slot on the radio station, but he outright rejected the offer ("It's too much like work, man"), until Marcia convinced him to give it a trial run to make a little money: "How about if you had a plane ticket to Florida? You can put it in your pocket. If you ever wanna go, you just go." They drove Rhodes back to Pickett where they bought him a hotel room to clean up.

The Popularity of Rhodes' Early-Bird Radio Show:

While Rhodes was washing up in his bathroom in the hotel very early the next morning, Marcia inspected his suitcase, where she found a pile of dirty, rumpled clothes (and a dirty bra) and a bottle of whiskey. Reclined onto the bed, the rakish and coarse Rhodes attempted to get fresh with her ("How'd you like to come over here and sort of, uh, get acquainted early in the morning?"), but she resisted his seductive come-ons.

During his hour-long morning radio show, Rhodes was in the recording studio performing when Marcia reminded him (through the window of the adjoining room) that he had only three minutes remaining. He began rambling about his anti-work philosophy ("That's what I got against workin'. It's all tangled up with that word 'hurry'"). And then he supplemented his earlier rant about his upbringing in his hometown of Riddle, Arkansas with another folksy homespun story about hard-working women - to the delight of Marcia and others in the radio station as well - his newly-charmed audience of listeners:

You know, back in my little old town of Riddle, we had a cousin named Harry. We all called him Cousin 'Hurry' because he was always runnin' someplace. Till one day he fell down a flight of steps and broke his fool neck. We put a sign on his grave says: 'He was in such a hurry, he just couldn't wait to get here.'

Shucks, I was getting ready to add on a verse about being a free woman in the morning. I bet a whole lot of you dream about that sometimes with all them breakfast dishes piling up in the sink and them cranky husbands to get off to work. Ain't it a shame the way they get on you about every little old thing just 'cause they ain't got gumption enough to take it out on the boss?...I hate to talk against my own kind, but I never have seen a man yet could appreciate how hard you women has to work. Why, they think runnin' a little water over a dish is all there is to it. They never see you cleanin' the grease out of the sink or wipin' out of the oven the beef gravy or the apple juice that sizzles over the side of the dish onto your grill.

The radio station was soon flooded by letters of support from adoring Southern female listeners, evidenced by one letter read out-loud by Marcia to her relatives: "Dear Lonesome, though I never set eyes on you...I know you must be a saintly-looking man. Only a saint could understand the burdens of a housewife like you do." Meanwhile, Rhodes snored in an adjoining room with his feet on the table. Marcia proudly extolled Rhodes' popularity to her uncle:

They love his voice, they love his guitar, they love his ideas...Listen, there hasn't been mail like this since you started the station.

Radio station owner J.B. Jeffries began to receive phone calls from advertisers, vehemently demanding to sponsor ad spots for Rhodes' show, and was amazed by the windfall: "Advertisers actually calling in to buy time. Looks like this station's liable to make a little money yet." He urged Marcia to keep the money flowing by enticing Rhodes to stay: "Marcia, you found him. Now it's your job to keep him here."

Rhodes With Marcia in the Local Bar:

One night while Marcia and 'Lonesome' sat in a booth in a rowdy country bar, he admitted that his folksy stories about his family in Riddle, Arkansas were very much tall-tales (but still a composite of incidents in his life). He was neglected as a child, due to the fact that his father was a deserter ("a spieler with a two-bit con...Ran off and left us when I was knee-high to a beer barrel"), and his mother was promiscuous with many different men that he called "uncles" ("I wish I had a nickel for every time I fell asleep waitin' for my old lady to come home...Yes, ma'am, my old lady sure was generous about takin' in relatives"). He burst out into boisterous laughter when Marcia called him "happy-go-lucky" despite his deprived and difficult boyhood. He raucously laughed, then asserted he was true to himself, nonetheless:

Marcia, I put my whole self into everything I do.

Nearby, Sheriff Big Jeff was jealously disturbed by Marcia's growing closeness to 'Lonesome.' He approached their booth, chastised Marcia, and called Rhodes a tramp: "You mean you turned down an invite from me to go out with this tramp?", and the two engaged in a fist-fight before the scene faded to black.

'Lonesome's' Growing Radio Popularity:

The next day, 'Lonesome' (with a black eye from the fight the previous evening) took a bite from a slice of apple pie (eaten from his bare hand without a plate or fork), sent in by one of his supportive listeners. He thanked them: "You're gonna spoil me!"

At the end of his on-air show, the spiteful 'Lonesome' took out his vengeful anger against Big Jeff, who had announced his candidacy for mayor of Pickett. In an insulting monologue, he encouraged the town's citizens to send their stray "mutt" dogs over to the Sheriff's yard - implying that he couldn't even be the town's dogcatcher:

The fact he's runnin' for mayor strikes me as kinda funny. You know, back in my little old town of Riddle, the way we elect fellas to office is, we try to figure which fella can best be spared from useful labor. Like, uh, you take, uh, the village half-wit. Now, now, in most places, he's gonna be put on town relief, but, now, in Riddle, why, as economy measure, we make him the dogcatcher. But now, uh, this Sheriff of yours, now, of course, I don't wanna say nothin' agin him, but if you got any mutts around you wanna get rid of, why don't ya just take them over to his place to see if he can handle the job.

Within a short time, Big Jeff's house yard was crowded with barking dogs from townsfolk, and 'Lonesome' pulled up with Marcia, as both delightfully guffawed at the sight and mocked the Sheriff: "Hey, look at that fool!" Marcia realized that Rhodes possessed tremendous power to cause people to act, to command his audiences to do his bidding, and to sway people's opinions:

Marcia: How does it feel?...Just saying anything that comes into your head and being able to sway people like this.
Rhodes: Yeah, I guess I can. (laughter, then in a serious tone) Yeah, I guess I can.

Rhodes' Growing Popularity and Power of Persuasion:

United Press reporter John Cameron Swayze (as himself) broadcast the phenomenon of 'Lonesome's' populist appeal - an example of "grassroot democracy in action":

And now an amusing example of grassroot democracy in action. It seems there's a small-town radio personality called, uh, Lonesome Rhodes out in Arkansas who literally sent a mayoralty candidate to the dogs.

Rhodes' popularity extended to other females in town, including pretty waitress Laureen from the local bar whom he seduced early one morning. Marcia discovered the blonde hurriedly leaving Lonesome's hotel room (pretending she had brought him breakfast) as Marcia escorted Mr. Abe Steiner (Henry Sharp) from Memphis, Tennessee in the room to meet with him. Steiner introduced himself as a theatrical agent who offered to hire Rhodes and make him a "star" in Memphis:

I'm one of the oldest theatrical agents in the Mid-South. I book a lot of acts for the Grand Ole Opry. Now, I discovered Hank Snow and Webb Pierce. And the first morning I heard you, I said to myself, 'Abe Steiner, that man's got power. Not just catchy songs and funny stories. Power.' How would you like to come to Memphis, son?...Mr. Rhodes, you put me in mind of Will Rogers when he first came to Memphis. I can make you a star, boy, if you put yourself in my hands.

'Lonesome's' first reaction was to shrewdly downplay his talent as a good-ol' country boy:

Shucks, mister, I'm just a country boy. I ain't even sure I wanna stay in this danged old radio business.

After they shook hands, Steiner departed, claiming he wasn't a 'high-pressure fella,' and asked for permission to call again. Marcia was impressed that 'Lonesome' had wisely played hard-to-get - until he reminded her that it was a similar tactic to her continuing 'cold-fish' reserved attitude toward him (even though he thought she was inwardly craving sex), while he was hungrily romancing other willing females:

Rhodes: It never hurt none to play hard-to-get. You ought to know about that.
Marcia: You don't seem to be pinin' for lack of company.
Rhodes: I get extra hungry in the morning. You cold-fish respectable girls. Inside, you crave the same thing as the rest of 'em. Tell old Lonesome the truth.

During his early morning show just eight minutes later, Lonesome again demonstrated his persuasiveness by inviting the town's kids to swim in J.B. Jeffries' outdoor swimming pool:

It's so hot this morning, the creek just give up. I mean it was bone dry. So, I think the young 'uns figure they ain't got no place to swin. But my boss, old J.B. Jeffries, he's got a fine swimming pool right here in town. So, why don't all you kids just go on over to his place for a duckin'? J. B. will be proud to have you.

Nearby, while the pool was besieged by youngsters, Rhodes broadcast the event live from outdoors: "You hear 'em splashin' and a-yellin'? That's your curly-headed little darlins enjoyin' J.B. Jeffries' kind hospitality." He was interrupted by an urgent phone call from the program manager of a Memphis TV station - Rhodes manipulatively took the call while still on-the-air: ("I can talk to him right here on the air"), to exert more pressure for a better deal. He refused the first offer, shrewdly negotiated for double the initial proposal ($1,000 a week), and added in expenses for himself and Marcia as his 'gal Friday':

What's that? You want me to come on your TV in Memphis? With this kisser of mine? Ha ha! All I gotta say is, you're a brave man. Five hundred dollars a week, huh?... (whispered to Marcia) We can do better than that.

Partner, leavin' Pickett's like leavin' my own flesh-and-blood kin. Now, if I got to take leave of these good folks, why, I'd rather try it gratis, for nothing, for a couple of weeks. And if you ain't satisfied, or if I get homesick for Arkansas, why, back I come, and nobody gets hurt. But now, if we find we get along, you make it, oh, $1,000 a week. Yeah, you get the idea. Oh, yeah, and transportation for yours truly and my little gal Friday - not to mention Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Marcia Jeffries.

Departing Pickett, Arkansas for Memphis, Tennessee:

As Marcia (who was leaving her hometown for the first time) anxiously departed with Lonesome from the local train station (where a large crowd of adoring admirers had gathered, with signs: "GOOD LUCK IN MEMPHIS," "PICKETT IS PROUD OF YOU," and "SO LONG LONESOME"), she was cautiously bid farewell by her uncle: "Take good care of yourself." Rhodes called out and waved to everyone: "I'll be thinking of you good people," but then moments later, he turned away as the train was beginning to pull away and cruelly and hypocritically derided the "good people" by muttering under his breath to Marcia:

Boy, am I glad to shake that dump. (She turned with dismay and shock toward him) I was only kiddin', honey. You ought to know me better than to believe everything I say. Ha! Bye! Bye! Good-bye and God bless you, good people!

The train picked up speed, as the camera tracked along with the departing train - capturing the incredible adulation that he was receiving from hundreds of onlookers, as he waved at them from the open train stairway. However, after passing the end of the platform where no more people were cheering him, Rhodes was caught in a slightly cynical pose - staring into the dark silence.

Rhodes' First TV Appearance in Memphis:

In Memphis, Tennessee, Rhodes was introduced to bookish, pipe-smoking, Vanderbilt (Class of '44)-educated TV show staff writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau), as he was in a make-up chair complaining: "If I'd known you was gonna put lipstick on me, I'd have never come." Miller explained how his job was only to "block out the continuity" for his scripts, since Rhodes claimed he "never learned much reading" and preferred to ad-lib rather than memorize a script. Rhodes wiped off his distasteful makeup before appearing on-camera for a show known as "VOICE OF THE MID-SOUTH." A show producer encouraged him to "just be perfectly natural, easy and relaxed, and real country" with a piece of straw dangling from his mouth.

When the red light came on during 'Lonesome's' first TV appearance, he was introduced as a "newcomer." He was positioned before a farmyard backdrop - wearing a country-shirt and with his guitar strapped over his shoulder:

A Face in the Crowd, starring that Arkansas traveler Lonesome Rhodes.

Feeling awkward and acting naive, he spoke directly toward the camera about being new to the studio. He turned the monitor around so that his audience could see what he was looking at - as one of the producers waved at him to stop going off script. He began a long, freshly-delivered rant to complain about the noisy, big city of Memphis on his first night in town:

You know, I never have seen myself on one of these things before. So, if I stop and admire myself on this, uh, uh, what do you call it?...Yeah, monitor. Show the folks what I'm talkin' about, will ya? You know, the, uh, the director said all I had to do was - well, he said all I had to do was act like I was lookin' straight at ya. But what he forgot to say was there'd be a great big, old red eye lookin' straight at me. You know, that old eye does look kind of familiar, though. Reminds me of my old Uncle Abernathy after a night of drinkin' that fine old five-star corn liquor. He put a star on the bottle for every day it aged.

(Rhodes was instructed to begin strumming his guitar)
"If a ocean was moonshine And I was a duck, I'd dive..."
(He abruptly stopped)

I got too hot a fire in my boiler to sing this mornin'. What's the matter with you big-city fellas, anyhow?

(To the cameraman)
Hey. Don't you all ever go to bed around here? Last night, I settled down for my 12-hour nap in the hotel, and 'moly hoses,' what a-honkin' and lights a-flashin' on and off and gals gigglin' on the street. So, I called down to the desk on this telephone like they got in every room, you know? 'What's going on here?' I says to the clerk. 'It ain't New Year's Eve by any chance?' 'Naw,' he said. 'It's just 10:00 o'clock at night in Memphis.' So I pulled back on my duds and I went outdoors to take a look-see what all the commotion was.

(To a second cameraman)
Hey. Hey, Mr. Cameraman, move that old red eye a little closer....I wanna talk face-to-face with them friends of mine out there. Hey, which one of these holes I look in? Yeah. You know, you know one thing I could see right off about a big city. There's a whole lot of people in trouble out there. You don't see it so much in the daytime when everybody's hustlin' and bustlin' around, rushin' from where they is to where they ain't. But it's at night, you know, late at night, around 4:00 o'clock in the mornin' is what I call the 'dividin' line.' All you got left then is folks in trouble.

I wanna tell you good people somethin' that happened to me this mornin' just before the sun was ready to come up. I'm gonna tell it to ya, and see if it don't happen to you the same way it happened to me. And if it don't move your hearts the way I think it will, then you're just a bunch of big-city pickle-hearts. And I'm gonna pack up my one shirt and the old Bible my daddy give me and my cigar-box guitar, and I'll just get me on home to Riddle.

He walked off the stage, as Marcia - mesmerized and fascinated by his unpretentious and unpredictable stage presence, partially confirmed for Mel what Rhodes had just said. Mel responded by praising Rhodes' incredibly-appealing persona and skillful dialogue:

Marcia: He's tellin' the truth about the one shirt, but I have yet to see the Bible.
Mel: When he talks about walkin' the night, I couldn't write it that well.

Rhodes appeared back on stage, dragging out a "colored woman" named Mrs. Cooley (Eva Vaughan). Mel was astonished: "In Memphis, that takes nerve," to which Marcia added: "I told you, he's his own man." Rhodes encouraged the African-American TV station employee to describe her recent tragedy - her house had been lost in a fire. He made a plea with his large audience of 20,000 viewers to help support the woman and her seven children with small contributions:

It burnt down. She's got seven young 'uns and there ain't no insurance...So she just walked around and around because she didn't have no place else to go....What do you gonna bet you got 20,000 friends out there? And each one of em's ready to prove it to you by sendin' in half a buck so you can get on back to Millington and build a decent house for them brats that are yours. Now, please, nobody send in more than four bits because you may not be able to spare it yourself.

Initially, the response from TV viewers was overwhelming.

Next Page