The Lost Little Women
For all that’s been written about David O. Selznick, I’ve found virtually nothing on what must have been one of that producer’s most expensive abandoned projects --- the 1946 remake of Little Women. There’s every indication that shooting, in Technicolor, went on for several weeks under the direction of Mervyn LeRoy. This would have been during September of 1946. Selznick had announced the project on April 10, and the drumbeat of publicity began in earnest shortly after. I stumbled across this color image of Shirley Temple quite by chance, and that’s what inspired me to look into the thing. Costume tests supposedly exist, but that seems to be all. Whatever footage was taken that September appears to have been junked. Of course, the whole thing was designed as a vehicle for Jennifer Jones. She would play Jo, the Katherine Hepburn part. Her sisters would be Shirley Temple, Diana Lynn, Bambi Lynn, and Rhonda Fleming.
Labor strikes caused the whole thing to shut down on September 30, 1946. By Christmas, Selznick had announced the shelving of Little Women, and announced Portrait Of Jennie as Jennifer Jones’ next picture. As if to cinch the deal, he then sold the property to MGM, thus paving the way for Metro’s own remake, which would be released within three years. Judging by the grinding and horrific failure of Portrait Of Jennie (a commercial failure as opposed to an artistic one --- I happen to think it’s great), DOS and Jennifer might have been better off plowing ahead with Little Women.
These images offer both the Little Women that might have been, and the one that was. First, there’s Jennifer Jones in a costume test still. Selznick spared no expense on preparation, but I guess that goes without saying where this producer is concerned. The blurry group above includes Ann Revere (in the part eventually played by Mary Astor), Diana Lynn, and Bambi Lynn. The last shot from the abandoned Little Women is Shirley Temple in modern dress, but the picture is credited. Until today, I’d not seen this anywhere, but it was apparently part of the Selznick pre-production campaign. An image search for anything on the aborted Little Women came up empty. Guess we’ll have to make do with these, unless readers out there know something. The remaining two stills are the Metro 1949 version. Their casting was more along conventional lines. I saw this once in 16mm. It made Meet Me In St.Louis look like an Italian neo-realist street picture. They must have bought up every box of oatmeal in L.A. to come up with all that patently phony "snow". June Allyson was Jo. She can be hard to take weeping over James Stewart in those Jimmy-gets his-leg-shot-off-or-goes-down-in-a-plane shows, but here she’s in perky mode, and that can be deadly. The blonde wig on Liz Taylor looks like something Jack Benny might have worn in Charley’s Aunt, and Mary Astor does a virtual reprise of her St.Louis matriarch role. Peter Lawford stops by long enough to remind us all of why he never became big-league leading man material. This was C.Aubrey Smith’s final film. I understand they celebrated his 127th birthday on the set. For your pleasure, we submit this rather alarming candid of a seemingly mummified Sir Aubrey between takes on Little Women (at least we think that's him!). There’s a DVD available from Warners. Maybe I should give it another chance. By all means, feel free to chastise me for my sarcasm toward this picture. For all I know, it may be someone's all-time favorite.