"The Apex of My Career"
Star Power to Burn
One of the most popular movies of the 1950’s was FRIENDLY PERSUASION.
Directed by William Wyler, this 1956 film starred Gary Cooper, Anthony
Perkins, Dorothy McGuire, Richard Eyer, Peter Mark Richman and Phyllis
Love. Based on Jessamyn West’s novel, The Friendly Persuasion, the story
details the experiences of a family of Indiana Quakers in 1862. With the
Civil War raging, the Birdwell family is forced to wrestle with their pacifist
convictions as the bloody conflict threatens to directly involve themselves and
FRIENDLY PERSUASION was almost universally lauded by contemporary critics and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 1957, it won the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival, edging out Bergman’s classic WILD STRAWBERRIES. In 1988, President Reagan gave Soviet Gorbechev a copy of the film as a gift from the American people.
FRIENDLY PERSUASION still has a loyal following, thanks in large part to regular showings on the American Movie Classics cable TV channel. Unlike many other older titles, FRIENDLY PERSUASION is available in DVD format and is still available in VHS for fans who don’t yet own a DVD player.
Phyllis Love played Mattie Birdwell, the 16-year-old daughter of Quaker patriarch Jess Birdwell. After retiring from acting in the early 70s, she changed her name to “Osanna” and now lives in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles with her husband, Attorney Alan Paul Gooding. Besides FRIENDLY PERSUASION, Osanna appeared in numerous classic TV programs including THE TWILIGHT ZONE, GUNSMOKE, and THE FUGITIVE and captured parts in three other films, the most notable being the role of Dick Clark’s wife in THE YOUNG DOCTORS (1961). She enjoyed outstanding success on Broadway, appearing in eight shows and in 1951 winning the New York Charles Derwent Award for the year’s most outstanding featured actress for her portrayal of Rosa Delle Rosa in the original production of THE ROSE TATTOO. Even with all the important roles she’s played and the accolades she’s received, Osanna considers FRIENDLY PERSUASION the “apex” of her career.
Recently, the retired actress talked about her experiences working in FRIENDLY PERSUASION.
Osanna speaks glowingly of legendary director William Wyler. She describes him as being soft spoken and a man of few words, adding, “his very pores oozed a male, magnetic charm.” Osanna was 29 when she auditioned for FRIENDLY PERSUASION, but the character of Mattie was supposed to be 16. How was this reconciled? After they read through the script and engaged in some casual conversation, Osanna remembers:
"Mr. Wyler casually sneaked in a loaded question. 'How old are you?' ...I half-flirted and grinned through my answer. “Why, Mr. Wyler, I’m as old as the part!” He laughed...I was acting the part of a 16-year-old in BUS STOP on Broadway - which didn’t hurt."
To this day, Osanna doesn’t know for sure if Wyler ever saw her in the play or not. But it’s likely he was at least somewhat familiar with the basics of her career and the fact that she had played “younger” in stage productions like THE ROSE TATTOO, THE COUNTRY GIRL, and A MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (where she understudied Julie Harris).
When asked if she knew if anyone else had auditioned for the role of “Mattie,” Osanna wasn’t sure but said:
"I heard via the grapevine that Susan Strasberg was first offered the role...but turned it down in order to play Anne in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK on Broadway in which she was wonderful."
Osanna admits to unintentionally trying Wyler’s patience on a couple of occasions. One occurred during the first close-up in a porch scene with Anthony Perkins and Peter Mark Richman. She explains:
"That morning it was stop and go and wait as the crew adjusted lights
and camera positions for the master shot and each actor’s close-up. So I
wandered down the trail at the Roland V. Lee Ranch in the San Fernando
Valley where we shot all the home scenes. I was having a pleasant second
breakfast - I weighed 106 pounds in those days - when an assistant director
came running up shouting my name.
I realized my stupidity and ran back to encounter a furious William
Wyler. The lights and the camera were all packed for moving to the next set.
Mr. Wyler demanded, 'Where have you been?! We are skipping your
I realized my stupidity and ran back to encounter a furious William Wyler. The lights and the camera were all packed for moving to the next set. Mr. Wyler demanded, 'Where have you been?! We are skipping your close-up!'"
Osanna says she considered numerous lies, including the old standby, “I was in the bathroom!” Instead, she offered no excuses. With unfeigned sincerity, she looked one of Hollywood’s icons in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry, Mr. Wyler, I’m so very sorry.” In response:
"Wyler stared back at me, relented, and directed the crew to set everything back up to film my close-up. He half-smiled at me for he knew I was tempted to lie..."
Shooting plans for each day were kept a total secret. Osanna remembers Wyler keeping a small handwritten note in his right back pants pocket and glancing at it often but never sharing the contents with the actors or even his assistant directors. She says she found the secrecy “maddening” but realizes it was Wyler’s way of keeping the cast and crew on hand in case he needed them.
He also had a reputation for shooting multiple takes, sometimes driving actors to distraction with his desire to get the scene “just right.” Gregory Peck, who starred in the Wyler classic, Roman Holiday, once said:
"Wyler’s a taskmaster and he’s known for, among other things, for hardly ever being satisfied and for having you play a scene forty or fifty times."
In contrast, Osanna didn’t see this side of Wyler during the filming of FRIENDLY PERSUASION. She says:
"There was no untoward tense atmosphere on the set and none of the scenes I was in or watched were filmed with multiple takes - quite the contrary. Wyler loved the story and characters..."
One of the most touching scenes in FRIENDLY PERSUASION occurs when Mattie Birdwell expresses her deep love to Union soldier Gard Jordan. Before shooting this important sequence, the company broke for lunch. When finished eating, Osanna says that she needed to take care of some business before going back in front of the cameras. With a chuckle she recalls:
"I was in the bathroom called the 'Honey Wagon.' I heard through the
open window Mr. Wyler fuming to the head camera man, 'Why does she
have to go to the bathroom? I control MYSELF!’
My next scene was running barefoot down a long road trying to catch
up with my love, Gard Jordan, cantering on his horse off to war. I
finished...and stuck my head out the window and looked directly at Director
Wyler. 'Yes, but you don’t have to play a love scene!' I said."
My next scene was running barefoot down a long road trying to catch up with my love, Gard Jordan, cantering on his horse off to war. I finished...and stuck my head out the window and looked directly at Director Wyler. 'Yes, but you don’t have to play a love scene!' I said."
Osanna says this remark “tickled him” and seemed to reinforce what had developed into a good working relationship and friendship. She also remembers Wyler’s unorthodox way of dealing with the oppressive heat:
"I shall never forget one example of Wyler’s iron will beneath his laid
back directing style. From time to time he suffered heat exhaustion in the 100
degree plus weather. Fully dressed, Wyler would have the property man
completely hose him down and immediately return to work sopping wet.
Even magnetic European charm must, at times, bow before the
Even magnetic European charm must, at times, bow before the elements!"
The biggest star in the cast of FRIENDLY PERSUASION was Gary Cooper. “Coop” was originally reluctant to appear in the film because he had never played a father and “wasn’t about to play a pappy now.” Certain that Cooper would be perfect as Jess Birdwell, Wyler persisted and convinced him to take the role. From all accounts, Cooper had an enjoyable time filming the movie and ingratiated himself with the members of the cast, including the actress who played his daughter. Osanna “Phyllis Love” Gooding thought he possessed a “natural humility.” On the first day of shooting she recalls:
"Mr. Cooper, Tony Perkins, Peter Mark Richman...and several others
were sitting in a circle on canvas chairs baking in the hot sun shooting the
breeze waiting to see what the first shot would be.
I greeted everyone and pulled up a chair. The desultory chatter was
sort of boring and I felt the need for more scintillating topics...I began
feigning a comic tirade. 'Where are all those fabulous, famous Hollywood
parties I’ve read about for years? Now that I’m finally living beside a
swimming pool in a Hollywood apartment on Los Feliz Boulevard, I want to
know! WHERE AND WHEN ARE THOSE FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD
I greeted everyone and pulled up a chair. The desultory chatter was sort of boring and I felt the need for more scintillating topics...I began feigning a comic tirade. 'Where are all those fabulous, famous Hollywood parties I’ve read about for years? Now that I’m finally living beside a swimming pool in a Hollywood apartment on Los Feliz Boulevard, I want to know! WHERE AND WHEN ARE THOSE FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD PARTIES?!'"
Her tirade produced some amused laughter followed by a few seconds of silence. Then, to her surprise, mega movie star and American icon Gary Cooper began to apologize:
“Oh Phyllis, I’m so sorry,” he began. “My wife and I are giving a big party tomorrow night. I didn’t invite you because we owe so many people, they’re going to be packed in there like sardines!”
Shocked and embarrassed, Osanna responded with an apology of her own, explaining that her comment was meant to be a joke and that she didn’t even know that Cooper was having a party. To this day, Osanna can’t forget the sickening sensation of feeling like a “wannabe gate crasher, Hollywood style.” Much to her relief, Cooper seemed to appreciate this honest exchange, and the two developed a relaxed and comfortable working relationship.
In the late 1940s, Osanna was mentored at the famous Actors Studio by such luminaries as Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. In light of this highly characteristic and demanding training, what did Osanna think about Gary Cooper’s “laid back” acting style? In her opinion, Cooper didn’t need “The Method.” She explains:
"...He developed into a great actor through his talent and ability to learn
form his vast experience in ninety films.
Gary Cooper developed a pattern of almost speechless emotional
eloquence in some of his Western movies like The Westerner and High Noon.
A pattern of vocal emotional eloquence was evident in the moving,
emotionally believable speeches in some of his non-westerns, like MEET JOHN DOE
and FRIENDLY PERSUASION.
Stanslavsky, the creator of Method Acting...uttered the clarifying
truism that echoed around the world. 'You use the method only if you need
Gary Cooper developed a pattern of almost speechless emotional eloquence in some of his Western movies like The Westerner and High Noon. A pattern of vocal emotional eloquence was evident in the moving, emotionally believable speeches in some of his non-westerns, like MEET JOHN DOE and FRIENDLY PERSUASION.
Stanslavsky, the creator of Method Acting...uttered the clarifying truism that echoed around the world. 'You use the method only if you need it!'"
Gary Cooper highly respected Osanna’s association with the Actors Studio. She remembers:
"Another example of his natural humility surfaced when Coop asked me
one day as we waited for the lights to be refocused, 'Phyllis, after we finish
this movie, do you think you could get me into one of the weekly sessions at
the Actor’s Studio?'
I assured him, 'Coop, you don’t need ME to get YOU into the Actor’s
I assured him, 'Coop, you don’t need ME to get YOU into the Actor’s Studio!'"
Cooper also liked to good-naturedly tease his co-star about “Method Acting.” During a rehearsal in the Birdwell house, a lamp fell down. Osanna figured the rehearsal was for lines and camera angles:
"So I didn’t bend down out of frame to pick it up. Coop laughed and chided me afterwards. 'Phyllis, I thought you Method actors use every real thing that happens in a scene. You totally ignored that lamp that crashed at your feet!'"
During the three and a half months it took to shoot FRIENDLY PERSUASION, Osanna and Cooper had plenty of time to chat. She says that she witnessed a depth to the actor’s personality that belied his “yup” persona and transcended his easy, kindly and simple manner. In their talks, she discovered that he was quite knowledgeable about the nature and habits of different animals and remembers being impressed by his descriptions of the rugged locales that he frequented with hunting partner and long-time friend, Ernest Hemmingway.
Osanna also remembers Cooper sharing with her some of his experiences after college, years in which he was determined to be an artist. Coop got into movies almost by accident; he needed money to pay bills, so he took bit parts to enable him to keep painting. All his life, Cooper maintained an appreciation of the Arts, visiting museums around the world, even meeting Picaso on one of his trips to Europe.
Even in scenes that didn’t involve him, Osanna says that Cooper was a positive influence on the set of FRIENDLY PERSUASION. Fondly, she recalls:
"Coop later watched the second porch scene with Tony Perkins, Peter
Mark Richman, and me, and enthusiastically spoke to us afterward with no
trace of star ego. Coop said, 'Oh, it’s wonderful, you three stage actors in
this movie. I rarely get to work with trained actors. I’m so glad you’re in this
In retrospect, considering all the wonderful actors Coop worked with, I
suspect a gracious 'blowing of smoke.' But we three felt warmly welcomed."
In retrospect, considering all the wonderful actors Coop worked with, I suspect a gracious 'blowing of smoke.' But we three felt warmly welcomed."
For Osanna, working with avid hunter, art patron, and movie star Gary
Cooper was a wonderful experience. In summary, she says:
"Cooper seemed so real, not like an actor acting real, but like a
profoundly decent, good, real man who’s very existence enhanced one’s own
"Cooper seemed so real, not like an actor acting real, but like a profoundly decent, good, real man who’s very existence enhanced one’s own humanity."
Osanna also has fond memories of working with Anthony Perkins. FRIENDLY PERSUASION was the first major film role for Perkins, who four years later would achieve his greatest fame in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. For his work in FRIENDLY PERSUASION, Perkins was nominated for best supporting actor. Along with the rest of the cast, Osanna was impressed with his sensitive portrayal of 18-year-old Josh Birdwell. She describes his performance as “stunning and remarkable” and further states:
"His acting when he, a Quaker pacifist, had to shoot and kill young marauding Southern soldiers was a revelation. His anguish at their deaths by his hand illuminated the senseless horror of war in an unforgettable scene that underscored the film’s non-violent theme."
Dorothy McGuire played the deeply religious mother of the Birdwell clan, Eliza. Of McGuire’s performance, Osanna admits:
"I never realized until the third time I saw FRIENDLY PERSUASION all the way through what a superb job Dorothy McGuire did in playing the serious, charming, straight-laced mom, wife, Quaker minister. The first two showings I concentrated on criticizing my own performance until I got thoroughly sick of myself!"
In the years following Friendly Persuasion, Dorothy McGuire continued to appear in major motion pictures, including Disney classics like OLD YELLER and SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. Osanna’s career went in a different direction, with TV, stage and film work and they never really had a chance to develop a close friendship. Even in retirement, Osanna doesn’t get to see her former co-star. She explains:
"Dorothy and I chatted a couple of times at various functions after the
movie came out, but not for a number of years now. L.A. is so full of traffic
and spread so far out over such numerous city, valley, seaside and foothill
communities! All of us seniors have to pick and choose who’s dear and
Someone who remains dear AND near is Peter Mark Richman, the actor who played Gard Jordan. Along with his role in FRIENDLY PERSUASION, Richman has performed on Broadway and has been a guest star in many TV shows and movies, including an appearance in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Recently, Richman wrote, produced and starred in the independent movie 4 FACES. Osanna says:
"Peter Mark Richman was an old friend by the time we first read together for our parts for Wyler in that New York City office building long ago. Peter Mark had married actress Theodora Landess (now Helen), my close friend from summer stock 52 years ago!...He and Helen and their five terrific children have always welcomed me as a kind of honorary aunt in their beautiful family."
Troublesome hay fever and a new allergy almost forced her removal from FRIENDLY PERSUASION. Osanna explains:
"The first week, there were camera checks of costumes, etc., and in my case instruction and practice galloping bareback on the biggest horse in California-so said the horse wranglers.
Richard Eyer, who played the youngest Birdwell, “Little Jess” stole almost every scene he was in. Most notable was his spontaneous declaration of “God is Love!” in the middle of a quiet and tranquil Quaker meeting and his attempt to “hide” from the withering glare of an elderly Quaker’s disapproval. Eyer’s acting career included the featured role in the independently made follow-up to FORBIDDEN PLANET called THE INVISIBLE BOY. He also played the part of “Billie Kettle” in a pair of “Ma and Pa Kettle” films along with numerous TV appearances, including roles in COMBAT!, LASSIE and WAGON TRAIN.
Another bright moment for Eyer in FRIENDLY PERSUASION occurs in the opening scene. While trying to draw water on a Sunday morning, Eyer, as “Little Jess,” is ambushed by Samantha the pet goose. Little Jess responds to the painful bite on his posterior with very un-Quaker-like promises of physical retribution and it takes the intervention of Dorothy McGuire’s character to prevent the crowning of Samantha with a wooden bucket.
There were actually three Samanthas used for shooting with one trained to bite. Osanna says that none of the cast got familiar with any of the geese because, “none of us knew which Samantha was the trained biter!”
At last report Eyer was living in the Sierras and was teaching third grade in Bishop, CA.
Why do people still enjoy FRIENDLY PERSUASION nearly 50 years after it’s initial release? Osanna feels the film’s message of peace and love appeals to most people’s longing for a better way. But she also thinks the film meets a less lofty but still important need - the need to laugh. Osanna points out:
"The audiences respond to the outrageous, hilarious characters like the organ salesman played by William Catlett and the Widow Hudspeth (played by Marjorie Main) with three unwed, man-crazy daughters. We’ll never see again the likes of Catlett and Main, those great old character actors, who were born in the late 1800’s and were truly original characters in life as well as their art."
She also cites the gentle humor derived by the Birdwells’ neighbors earnest efforts to comprehend “different” Quaker customs, like the use of archaic English from the King James Bible in every day discourse (“Thee and Thou”) and prohibition of musical instruments in the “proper” Quaker home.
Despite an impressive acting resume that would have probably landed her numerous character roles, Osanna decided to retire from acting in the early 70s. Sensing the end of her acting career approaching, she began to teach English and drama at a high school in Inglewood, CA in the late 60s. To her surprise and delight, Osanna discovered that she didn’t miss the stage or screen at all. Osanna says that teaching for 15 years “thoroughly” engaged her interest, adding:
"Working more with my brain than my emotions was enjoyable. Actually, I was still performing. I felt totally free to use totally outrageous ways to keep my students awake and interested in the study of grammar, writing, and literature."
Osanna unabashedly professes that her faith in God has given her much strength and inspiration over the years. In 1959, she was introduced to a worldwide spiritual association named “Subud.” Founded by Indonesian mystic Muhammad Subuh, the teachings of Subuh emphasize intimate contact with the the Holy Spirit. After meeting Subuh in 1976, she changed her name to “Osanna,” which means “someone who loves.” Changing one’s name to reflect a new spiritual reality is not uncommon in Subud but not a requirement.
The lady who played “Mattie Birdwell” spends much of her time these days pursuing another one of her life’s passions - writing. A prolific writer, Osanna has penned several screenplays, including an ambitious collaboration with Juanita Brown, originally envisioned as a 12-hour miniseries. She is also the leader of the Writer’s Group in the Presbyterian Westminster Gardens foreign missionary retirement community in Duarte, CA. Osanna is almost rapturous when talking about the Writer’s Group:
"Heaven! These world travelers have kept my eyes and mouth and heart open with their true-life adventures in the Far East, Middle East, and Africa."
And as if that wasn’t enough, Osanna is busy working on her selective memoirs!
When asked if she had anything to say to the many fans of FRIENDLY PERSUASION, Osanna reflected for awhile and then responded:
"I am happy you enjoy our movie about the non-violent Quaker theme
of peace and love toward our fellow human beings...Thanks for making
FRIENDLY PERSUASION, seemingly, a timeless classic.
And on a personal note, it’s an unexpected joy to contemplate (while I
have no blood descendants) the children and grandchildren of my beloved
second husband Alan may possibly be able to see me playing 16-year-old
Mattie Birdwell when I’m long gone."
And on a personal note, it’s an unexpected joy to contemplate (while I have no blood descendants) the children and grandchildren of my beloved second husband Alan may possibly be able to see me playing 16-year-old Mattie Birdwell when I’m long gone."
Those who appreciate her sensitive portrayal of Mattie Birdwell hope “long gone” isn’t for a long, long time.
If You'd Like to Contact Osanna "Phyllis Love" Gooding,
you may send e-mail to the following address: