Gary Cooper originally did not want to play a father of grown up children. This was despite the fact that he was 55 in real life. Ironically, many critics in 1956 felt he looked too old to play Jess Birdwell.
The official name of the Quaker religion is Society of Friends. Members of the faith are called Friends and nicknamed Quakers. The book is called "The Friendly Persuasion", meaning the faith. The film is simply called "Friendly Persuasion," which more specifically refers to the Quakers' way of communicating.
The battle depicted in the film, against the Confederate raiders led by General John Hunt Morgan, is based on an actual battle. On July 9, 1863, (actually a year later than the date mentioned in the film) 450 members of the Indiana Home Guard met John Hunt Morgan's raiders in battle south of the town of Corydon, Indiana (although not, as depicted in the film, at a creek crossing). The Home Guard held off the raiders for a half-hour, but the raiders numbered 2,400, and the Home Guard was eventually forced to retreat. The Morgan raiders occupied the town of Corydon for a single afternoon, during which time they looted stores in the town and forced several mill owners to pay cash ransoms in return for not burning their mills. At 5 o'clock, the raiders moved on. During the battle, the Morgan raiders suffered 11 men killed and 33 wounded, while the Indiana Home Guard lost only 5 men.
Fearing location shooting in Indiana would be too expensive, Allied Artists rented director Rowland V. Lee's ranch in the San Fernando Valley, which the design team turned into a duplicate of the Indiana countryside of the 1860s. They also planted cornfields and sycamore trees in place of the Southern California vegetation. Interiors were shot in the old Republic Studios in North Hollywood.
After filming started, William Wyler kept Jessamyn West on as a technical advisor. She ended up spending about a year commuting between her home in Napa Valley and the apartment Wyler rented for her in Beverly Hills.
Feeling Dorothy McGuire was having trouble getting into the character of a 19th Century wife and mother living on a farm, William Wyler first suggested that she spend her time between scenes kneading bread. He then suggested she move out of the home she shared with her husband and children, spend time with West and attend prayer meetings.
Gary Cooper developed a paternal relationship with Anthony Perkins, who was dating Cooper's daughter, Maria, at the time. He gave the younger actor career advice and spent time working on their scenes together. The relationship cooled when Perkins and Maria broke up. Later Cooper would say Perkins was callow and needed to spend some time on a ranch - "it would toughen him up and he'd learn a lot from another kind of people."
Anthony Perkins developed a close friendship with the film's costume designer, Dorothy Jeakins. He was a frequent guest at her home on weekends and accompanied her to several prominent Hollywood functions.
Getting Samantha the Goose (played by three different geese) to bite Richard Eyer's posterior on cue was a major challenge. To protect the child, the costumers sewed extra padding into the seat of his pants, but nothing they tried, including a lettuce leaf hidden between his legs, got the goose to approach when required. Finally, the goose was attached to a wire pulley and given mild electric shocks to get him to go after the child.
Anthony Perkins's rushes were so good word started spreading around Hollywood about the talented new actor. His prospects grew even brighter when James Dean died, leaving the film studios scrambling to sign the next big youth favourite. Finally, Paramount signed Perkins to a seven-year, non-exclusive contract.
Even during filming, William Wyler wasn't sure how far Jess's involvement in the Civil War should go, so he filmed two scenes. In one, he picks up a gun; in the other he doesn't. After listening to arguments from colleagues over which version to use, he decided to have him pick up the gun, prolonging the suspense over whether or not he will shoot the Confederate soldier who has killed his best friend.
The film had its first preview in Long Beach, California. Even though the film broke several times, adding more than an hour to the screening time, the audience waited patiently to see it through and responded positively. That convinced William Wyler that he had a hit.
According to her autobiography, Maureen O'Hara was cast as Eliza Birdwell, but she happened to mention it to John Ford and he called William Wyler and had her removed from the cast as he hated her so much.
Under a 1953 Writer's Guild of America ruling, studios could deny screen credit to writers who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). William Wyler wanted to give writing credit to Robert Wyler and Jessamyn West, who had written the shooting script, but Michael Wilson, who had written the first draft in 1946 but was later blacklisted for refusing to name names before the HUAC, protested. The Writers Guild was called in to resolve the issue and decided to grant sole writing credit to Wilson, leading Allied Artist to invoke the "credits escape clause" for fear that conservative groups would picket if he were the only credited writer. When he was left off the credits, Wilson sued Allied Artists, Wyler, West, Wyler's brother Robert, Liberty Films and Paramount for $250,000, a suit settled out of court. Wyler's bitterness over the studio's position played a major role in his decision not to make any more films there.
The film premiered at the Radio City Music Hall November 1, 1956. William Wyler had asked Allied Artists to book the theatre, but nobody at the studio knew how to go about that, so he took the film to New York himself and screened it for the theatre's management to secure the booking.