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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

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 sarcasm toward this picture. For all I know, it may be someone's all-time favorite.


Blogger East Side said...

I've never seen "Little Women," but even if I considered the greatest movie ever, I still would've laughed my butt off over your commentary. Hilarious stuff, keep up the good work -- your site is always fun to read. And where do you dig up these stills? There hasn't been one I've seen elsewhere.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Booksteve said...

Never cared for the movie but it was my mother's all-time favorite and June Allyson her favorite actress. I was anxious to see them and extremely disappointed in both when I finally did. Some surprisingly juicy June Allyson gossip in Jerry Lewis' recent book as I recall.
Beautiful Shirley picture

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

Uh, I trust you absolutely on this, as April Fool's Day was last
week, but I can't imagine Selznick and LeRoy -- a powerful
producer-director -- seeing eye-to-eye in the late '40s. I do agree that
this would have been far preferable to the MGM remake.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Marco said...

Thanks for posting those interesting Little Women images. Note: Bambi Linn and Diana Lynn were not sisters. "Linn" and "Lynn" were the stage names for both women. Bambi was better known on the stage. She originated the role of Louise in Carousel on Broadway and starred in I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Though now she is best remembered as the "Dream Laurey" in the movie version of Oklahoma.

6:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks for that correction, Marco --- and that tip on Jerry's book is much appreciated, Booksteve -- I'll order that one post-haste! By the way, your old radio essays this week have been fantastic! Check these out, folks!

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lay off June Allyson, man. When *she* cries, *I* cry. Seriously, didn't she break your heart in "The Three Musketeers" and "Her Highness And The Bellboy"? She wasn't always perky...or tearful...Have you seen "The Secret Heart"? June gets to be sulky and psychologically disturbed. And she falls in love with her dead dad's best friend (also her mom's former love) 'cause she misses her father - it's great, in a messed up sort of way. :)

And I really like her version of "Little Women"... more than Katharine Hepburn's. You heard me. Katharine dominates that movie so much that I barely remember any of the other sisters - whereas all the actresses in the MGM version make an impact. I don't understand why so many critics think Hepburn perfectly embodied the character of Jo. She's not *my* idea of Jo. I can't explain it, but I experienced such revulsion witnessing her play Jo. (I'm very hard to please when it comes to movie adaptations of my favorite books, and I grew up on Little Women, and identified with Jo, so...yeah)

June Allyson's underrated. I'm hoping for a DVD boxset, but I'm prepared to be disappointed.

And I don't see why people have to try to dig up dirt on celebrities who have a "nice" image. But who cares about stars who are decent, genuinely sweet people? That's boring!

Anyway, back to the photos... I appreciate all your sleuthing for remnants of the Selznick version. Very interesting! I agree that Liz Taylor's blonde wig was ridiculous.


4:58 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

What puzzles me is that you've listed five actresses to play four sisters. I assume Rhonda Fleming would have been Meg, but I simply can't picture Shirley Temple as anyone but Amy— and from the costume test it looks like Bambi Lynn played that part. Surely they weren't planning to add a fifth sister?

9:54 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

It's been eight years since I wrote this post, and it's hard to remember what my conclusions were at the time. Maybe I'll revisit the topic at some point and see if I can dig up some more info.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Ah, I didn't realize this was an old post! I followed a link someone shared on Twitter.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff about Little Women. I had no idea Selznick planned this. Looks like Anne Revere as Marmee. Can't imagine Rhonda Fleming as one of the. March girls!

2:47 AM  

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