In conceiving the journey of Lonesome Rhodes—the protagonist of the 1957 satire A Face in the Crowd, a southern drifter who rises to become a national TV celebrity and political power broker—director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg went on an odyssey of their own. Not ones to rest on the laurels they received for their first collaboration, the Oscar-winning On the Waterfront, the filmmakers took to the road to shape their follow-up, traveling together to northeastern Arkansas to scout locations, up Madison Avenue to sit in on ad-agency meetings, and inside the Beltway to meet with prominent politicians like then-senator Lyndon B. Johnson.
As author Ron Briley (The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan) notes in the above clip, taken from a supplement on our new edition of A Face in the Crowd, Kazan and Schulberg’s travels were key to the film’s insights into the corrosive effects of media saturation—insights that today seem nothing short of prescient. The meetings they took in New York and D.C. helped sharpen their sense of the emerging nexus between politics and advertising, dramatized in the movie by the counsel that consummate salesman Lonesome gives to the stiff presidential hopeful Worthington Fuller. Thanks to their research, Kazan and Schulberg were able to capture a moment when political candidates were beginning to use the forces of consumerism to sell themselves as products.