Little Women (1949) - Drama with Peter Lawford and June Allyson

What can you say about a story that, despite having been written 145 years ago, still resonates with people enough to be on reading lists all over the world and popular enough to be adapted for film, radio and stage? It's been dissected by people of all ages, formally and informally

What is there left to say?

I can only give you my own personal history with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, particularly that with the 1949 MGM film version of the novel.

Stories with several prominant characters tend to stick around because chances are increased that everyone in the audience will identify with someone. In Little Women, the March sisters - Meg (disposed to propriety), Jo (adventuresome), Beth (shy and retiring) and Amy (artistic and manipulative)- are totally different from one another. 

Yours truly admired Jo March.  She loves writing- a passion that I shared in childhood as I do now. For this reason Jo was on my list of great fictional heroines alongside Anne Shirley.  Jo is creatively bent and likes to break rules. As she ages, goes through tragedy, learns from her mistakes, Jo matures.  

In the 1933 film version, Katharine Hepburn's tomboyishness is well-suited to young Jo. In the 1994 version, Winona Ryder plays Jo's innocence better than anyone else on film. But the mature phase of Josephine March belongs to June Allyson. 

Though I love the wild and wooly Jo, running down the street without hairpins, leaping over fences and yelling, it was June Allyson's soft-spoken confidence as older Jo that led me to appreciate that phase of the character's life long before I was that age myself.

Though I admired Jo's career, I more fully identified with a different character. When watching the 1949 version as a child, I identified with next door neighbor Theodore Laurence (Peter Lawford). He's shy, awkward and nervous in a way that isn't quite captured in the other film versions. But, unlike Beth, he's game to take on the risks of social interaction after much deliberation. Social stuff was very unpleasant for me as a kid, so when this character wistfully looks out on the neighbors, wanting to join in the fun but not knowing how, I understood him.

Every other adaptation of Laurie/Teddy makes him quite confident whether he's doing something foolish or wise, which works in its own way. However, in Lawford's version,  Laurie is so unsure of himself that when he finally works up the courage to offer Jo marriage - a pivotal moment in their friendship- there is gravitas to the scene that seems missing in other adaptations.

Thus, I love this version for many reasons, but mostly because Jo presents a version of the future I wanted to pursue, and Laurie presents to me a mirror.

  • Have a marathon of Little Women movies. Which version do you like best?


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