About Christmas TV History

Monday, February 1, 2010

Little Women

I've been looking back over all the filmed adaptations of the classic 19th century novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The book both begins and ends with significant Christmas scenes so many of the filmed adaptations do as well--but not all. Anyway, this much loved story usually has an amazing cast:
The 1933 version, directed by George Cukor, features Katherine Hepburn as the lead character Jo. She's easily convincing as the confident tomboy that pursues a life as a writer. The 1949 version, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, features actor June Allyson-- also a convincing Jo. However, it's more of a stretch to believe that Jo is the younger sister to Meg, here played by Janet Leigh (Allyson is actually 10 years older than Leigh). Elizabeth Taylor--yeah, that Liz Taylor--plays the snotty, superficial sister Amy. Watching a blonde Taylor in this role is most of the fun here. There's also the amazing casting of the 1994 version: Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Winona Ryder as Jo, Claire Danes as the sickly Beth, Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Mathis play Amy (Dunst is the very young Amy and Mathis takes over the role as Amy matures), Christian Bale as Laurie and Gabriel Byrne as Professor Bhaer.

But my favorite cast is the 1978 TV mini-series adaptation. Meredith Baxter plays Meg, Susan Dey is Jo, Eve Plumb is Beth, Dorothy McGuire is Marmee, Greer Garson as Aunt March, Robert Young is Mr. Laurence and William Shatner is Professor Bhaer. Where do I begin? Baxter as Meg reminds me instantly of her role as Nancy on the '70s TV series Family another classic big sister role. Actress Susan Dey also played Laurie Partridge on The Partridge Family and may be a bit fragile looking for Jo but she pulls it off--better than Winona Ryder, I think. Eve Plumb brings great depth to the sickly Beth character. It reminds me that Eve Plump plays another dying character in a Christmas episode on Family Affair, in the 1968 episode "Christmas Came A Little Early." My favorite role for Dorothy McGuire is in the movie A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This film is not usually considered a Christmas movie but it does contain several significant holiday scenes and usually airs at Christmas time on TV. Of course, Greer Garson lent her voice to the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas classics, The Little Drummer Boy and its sequel. Actor Robert Young played the much beloved TV character of the father, Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best and Dr. Welby on Marcus Welby, M.D. And, William Shatner with an affected German accent plays Jo March's love interest, Professor Bhaer. That alone makes watching this adaptation worthwhile. Christopher Columbus!


  1. I have a great still from the tv version in one of my television movie books but have never seen the movie itself. They also did a made for television remake of The Best Years of Our Lives with Joanie from Eight is Enough. I must see both.

    Eve Plumb = awesomeness!

  2. 'Eight is Enough' needs to be released on DVD. That show was great. The Christmas episode makes me cry just THINKING about it!!

    I thought you might like the Eve Plumb reference!! Have you seen the 'Family Affair' episode where she dies? (season 3, disc 2) It's gut wrenching. (My best Bette Davis accent): "Poor Eve."

  3. Eve Plumb DIES in an episode of Family Affair?!? Wow. I had no idea. I have not seen that show since I was little. I recently re-fell in love with Brian Keith when I saw With Six You Get Eggroll last year (for the first time since I was about 8!). He was just wonderful...

    btw, I know Jan is all "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" but Eve had a pretty interesting career...