The meteoric popularity of Arthur Godfrey was allegedly the basis of the 1957 drama Face in the Crowd. Andy Griffith makes a spectacular film debut as Lonesome Rhodes, a philosophical country-western singer discovered in a tanktown jail by television talent coordinator Patricia Neal and her assistant Walter Matthau.
They decide that Rhodes is worthy of a TV guest spot, the result being that the gangly, aw-shucks entertainer becomes an overnight sensation. As he ascends to stardom, Rhodes attracts fans, sponsors and endorsements by the carload, and soon he is the most powerful and influential entertainer on the airwaves.
Beloved by his audience, Rhodes reveals himself to his intimates as a scheming, power-hungry manipulator, with Machiavellian political aspirations. He uses everyone around him, coldly discarding anyone who might impede his climb to the top (one such victim is sexy baton-twirler Lee Remick, likewise making her film debut).
Just when it seems that there's no stopping Rhodes' megalomania, his mentor and ex-lover Neal exposes this Idol of Millions as the rat that he is. She arranges to switch on the audio during the closing credits of Rhodes' TV program, allowing the whole nation to hear the grinning, waving Rhodes characterize them as suckers and stupid idiots.
Instantly, Rhodes' popularity rating plummets to zero. As he drunkenly wanders around his penthouse apartment, still not fully comprehending what has happened to him, Rhodes is deserted by the very associates who, hours earlier, were willing to ask how high? when he yelled jump.
Written by Budd Schulberg, Face in the Crowd was not a success, possibly because it hit so close to home with idol-worshipping TV fans.
Its reputation has grown in the intervening years, not only because of its value as a film but because of the novelty of seeing the traditionally easygoing Andy Griffith as so vicious and manipulative a character as Lonesome Rhodes.