Arkansas and Andy Griffith: A Face in the Crowd

 As I read the news of Andy Griffith’s passing this morning, I decided that I wanted to write a blog about his time in Arkansas, especially for those who may not know about his ties to The Natural State. Arkansas was where the legendary actor would make his first film.
A Face in the Crowd is a movie based on a short story by award-winning writer Budd Schulberg, entitled Your Arkansas Traveler. The short story focused on the rise and fall of media sensation in the 1950s as television replaces radio as the preferred medium of the masses. Andy Griffith played Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a guitar-playing, song-singing, storytelling drifter, down on his luck. Patricia Neal claimed the role of Marcia Jeffries, a reporter who falls for his tales of life in his hometown of “Riddle, Arkansas,” and arranges for him to get his own radio show on her uncle’s station in “Pickett, Arkansas.” It was the first film for both Griffith and Neal, as well as one of the first major roles for Walter Matthau.

Filming began in Piggott in August 1956 with Elia Kazan at the helm as producer and director. Schulberg and Kazan worked together previously on On the Waterfront. Schulberg’s original short story was set in Wyoming although the Rhodes character was from Arkansas. Otto “Toby” Bruce, a friend and assistant to Ernest Hemingway and native of Piggott, met Schulberg in Key West. After hearing about the movie project, Bruce convinced Schulberg that he should film in Piggott…and the rest is cinema history.

Several locations in Piggott were used in the film, including the house that is now home to the Matilda and Karl Pfeiffer Museum and Study Center.

The film had its Piggott debut at the Carolyn Theatre on May 31, 1957.

Andy Griffith would later become known as beloved North Carolina native Sheriff Andy Taylor. But Arkansas “knew” him first.

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