Quakers in Popular Culture

Friends turn up in contemporary popular culture in various ways - some surprising.  Friends are invited to contribute their own favorites and observations to this page.  Send contributions to admin@michiganquakers.org and we'll add them here as promptly as possible.

Friendly Persuasion
Based on collected short stories by Jessamyn West (herself a Friend), the 1956 film was directed by William Wyler from a screenplay by Michael Wilson.  The Birdwell family was played by Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Phyllis Love, and Richard Eyer.  The film is great, but the book is far better.  This is one of the better representations of Friends in popular culture; with Jessamyn West as original author and consultant on the film, they only went wrong in a few spots.  The plot line for the film includes the ever popular romantic link between a young Quaker woman and a soldier, during the Civil War in this instance.  [There was a 1975, made for television sequel, also titled "Friendly Persuasion," by in actuality based on Jessamyn West's  "Except for Me and Thee."  That one starred Richard Kiley and Shirley Knight.]  Photo at right shows Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, and Gary Cooper as the Birdwells.


Moby Dick, or The Whale
Herman Melville's 1851 masterpiece translated well to the screen in the 1956 production directed by John Huston from Ray Bradbury's screenplay.  The cast is incredibly powerful, with Orson Welles in a cameo as Rev. Mapple.  While Gregory Peck as Ahab and Richard Basehart as Ishmael dominate the film, we'd like to note Leo Genn as the first mate, Starbuck.  The character is a Friend who, realizing Ahab's obsession will doom the ship and crew, is tempted to kill his captain.  His internal struggle gets short shrift in the film, but is more fully depicted in the novel.  Additional Quaker presence in the film is provided by the ship's owners, who are garbed as plain Friends and use plain speech, thereby slightly confusing Ishmael.  Photo at right shows Gregory Peck as Ahab (stovepipe hat and beard), Leo Genn as Starbuck (peaked cap) and John Huston, with other members of the cast.

John Huston, Gregory Peck and the cast of 'Moby Dick'

High Noon
The 1952 film is a classic.  The story was written by John W. Cunningham; screenplay by Carl Foreman.  The film was directed by Fred Zinnemann.  Gary Cooper stars as Will Kane, a marshal who is marrying Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), a beautiful young Quaker who has persuaded him to give up his office and become a storekeeper.  [The wedding, depicted at the beginning of the film, is not in the manner of Friends.]  She is apparently an isolated Friend as presented in the film, and violates her beliefs to the extent of killing a man to save Kane.  The film does not fully develop her faith as a theme, and typical of Hollywood, contrives a seemingly insuperable conflict that was probably intended to make her faith seem "unrealistic" in a harsh world.  This is another specimen of the ever popular plot device of a young Quaker woman romantically linked to a fellow who uses a gun for a living.  Watch for familiar actors in the cast - Lloyd Bridges, Lon Chaney, Jr., Lee Van Cleef, Sheb Wooley, et al.  Photo at right shows Grace Kelly (the film's Quaker) and Gary Cooper.

The Angel and the Badman
This curious 1947 film was written and directed by James Edward Grant (his first as director) and produced by John Wayne at Republic Films.  Wayne stars as Quirt Evans, a former deputy turned gunfighter.  Wounded, he is taken in by a Quaker family; he and the daughter (Gail Russell) fall in love, and she does her level best to reform him.  The parents are played by Bruce Cabot and Irene Rich; Cabot may be most familiar for his role as Jack Driscoll, the male lead in 1931's "King Kong."  Grant was imperfectly informed on Friends' faith and practices, but did a reasonable job, for Hollywood.  The most notable lapse is his explanation of plain speech as an intimate usage in the second person, rather than simply the second person singular.  This may not be great cinema, but it was a departure from the usual western of the era.  Think of it as "Witness" with a happier ending.  And it is, of course, another example of the ever popular Hollywood theme of the Quaker woman romantically linked with the fellow who carries a gun.  In the photo at right, John Wayne surrenders his six-shooter to Gail Russell.

Cheyenne Autumn
This was a major picture in 1964, directed by John Ford, with a screenplay by James R. Webb, based on the novel by Mari Sandoz.  The overall plotline follows a band of Native Americans who decide to leave the reservation and return to their ancestral grounds.  Carroll Baker plays a young Quaker schoolteacher on the reservation who feels led to accompany them in their trek, and does so, driving a buckboard through all manner of terrain and generally confusing the issue for the U.S. Cavalry - a kind of proto-accompaniment action.  The plot features (surprise!) the ever popular romantic link between the Quaker woman and a cavalry officer, played by Richard Widmark.  The story does its best to explore some sobering facts regarding this period in our history - a rather ambitious agenda for a Hollywood western.  Photo at right shows Carroll Baker (straw hat), Delores Del Rio, and Ricardo Montalban.

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This 1946 film is another classic, generally regarded, however, as a horror B-movie.  It is a fictionalized account of the legendary/ notorious insane asylum in England, and stars Boris Karloff (birth name: William Henry Pratt) as George Sims, Apothecary General in charge of the facility.  Romantic leads are Anna Lee as Nell Bowen, who becomes a reformer, and Richard Fraser as William Hannay, a Quaker who helps to guide her growing enlightenment.  His plain dress is not perfectly plain, but is recognizable in contrast to other characters, and his plain speech flows nicely.  Directed by Mark Robson, from a screenplay by Robson and Carlos Keith.  Produced by Val Lewton, perhaps best know for "Cat People."  The film's visuals were shaped by William Hogarth's engravings, which appear as transitional cards throughout the film.  Trivia: The church from "Bells of St. Mary's" was used as the asylum, and that really is Scarlett O'Hara's green velvet dress (made from her mother's drapes)! 

(above, right) Karloff and Lee, in the shadow of
the bars at Bedlam, showing the O'Hara dress.


(left) Fraser as Hannay, the Quaker Karloff seems
to fear, talks with Lee through the bars.


(right) Lee and Karloff.

Law and Order - Special Victims Unit
One episode of this television series included a Quaker character.  Three victims of a serial rapist were identified.  One, a Quaker, was apparently able to identify the rapist, but refused to do so.  When the rapist was apprehended, it proved he had been in a terrible accident and was subsequently disabled, and had repented of his early crimes.  The Quaker, knowing this, had forgiven him, and did not wish to be a party to the quest for vengeance. 

West Wing

The Joey Lucas character from West Wing -- she's a pollster who also happens to be deaf, and is played wonderfully by actress Marlee Matlin.  The character portrayal is extremely positive, and perhaps most unusually, she's not used as a token Friend -- her religion is only mentioned once to my knowledge, in the context of her opposition to the death penalty in the first-season episode Take This Sabbath Day.  I personally think West Wing is one of the best shows that has ever aired, and I love that one of the really good recurrent characters is Quaker, especially since the information is played off so casually.  It's a great step that every Quaker in popular culture doesn't have to be wearing a funny hat and preaching "outlandish" ideas all the time.

Catie Kelly
Richmond, Indiana

A Prayer in the Dark
This 1997 made-for-television mystery was directed by Jerry Ciccoritti, from a screenplay by Andrew Laskos and a novel by Stanley Ellin.  Lynda Carter (she used to be Wonder Woman!) played a Quaker held hostage by bank robbers.  She finds nonviolent ways to deal with the situation, somehow.  We don't know if this one is available out there or not.

Elizabeth Elliot Mysteries
Irene Allen has published four mysteries centering on the clerk of a Quaker meeting (apparently FGC) in Massachusetts: Quaker Silence (1992), Quaker Witness (1993), Quaker Testimony (1996) and Quaker Indictment (1998).  These were published by St. Martin's Press, and despite the popularity of Fathers Koesler and Dowling, and Kemmelman's Rabbi, the Quaker clerk as sleuth did not achieve vast popularity.  The storylines do typically present Quaker elements, and there are amusing moments, as when Elliot attempts to describe an assault rifle to the police.

Chuck Fager's Quaker Mysteries
Chuck Fager is a prominent FGC Friend, currently director of Friends' House in Fayetteville NC.  He wrote two mysteries involving Quaker characters, Murder Among Friends (1993) and Un-Friendly Persuasion (1995).  Both were published by Fager's own publishing house, Kimo Press.  Neither attained significant mass market circulation or sales.  While the books enjoyed a certain following among Friends, Fager's tongue-in-cheek style and his noticeable disdain for Friends outside the FGC ranks (see Murder Among Friends, the fictional All Friends Conference, and his descriptions of Quaker pastors from Friends' Churches and plain, conservative Friends) were annoying if not literally offensive to many Friends.

Red and Rover

In this syndicated comic strip (the name of which closely resembles the Birdwell family's buggy horse in Friendly Persuasion: "Red Rover"), Brian Basset took Quakers as his topic on 11-07-2006.  We have sometimes joked that many people have two basic ideas about Quakers: oatmeal and the Peace Testimony.  Basset has managed to combine these two popular images while making a point very succinctly.   [We have requested permission to reproduce the comic strip.]

Reprinted by the very gracious permission of the artist and author, Julie Larson,
who says this was based on a real incident.

The Doonesbury comic strip for 04-01-2007 does not specifically allude to Friends, but raises the issue of "supporting the troops."  To view the strip, click here.

Friends in the Public Eye
Those listed have been chosen by no scientific method; please let us know of Friends
who are missing from the lists below!

Public Officials
Herbert Hoover (U.S. President)
Paul H. Douglas (former U.S. Senator)
Charles F. Brannan (former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture)
Noah H. Swayne (former U.S. Supreme Court Justice)
Dolly Madison (former First Lady)

F. Murray Abraham (actor)
Dame Judi Dench (actress)
David Lean (producer-director)
James Dean (actor)
Jack Larson (actor - used to be "Jimmy Olsen")
Ben Kingsley (actor - "Gandhi")
Don Porter (actor)
Bonnie Raitt (singer)
Joan Baez (singer)
David Byrne (various)
Edward R. Murrow (newscaster)

Activists, Etc.
Betsy Ross (yes, that one)
Thomas Paine
Susan B. Anthony
Lucretia Mott
Jane Adams
Bayard Rustin
Benjamin Lundy
Emily Greene Balch (1946 Nobel Peace Prize)
Julian Bond

Piers Anthony (science fiction)
James Fennimore Cooper (novelist)
Walt Whitman (poet)
James A. Michener (novelist)
John Greenleaf Whittier (poet)

Benjamin West
Edward Hicks

Ezra Cornell (founder, Cornell University)
Johns Hopkins (founder, Johns Hopkins)
George Cadbury (chocolate)
John W. Seybold (computer typesetting)