TBT: All the Little Women

19

Yet another version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women, first published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, hits American TV this weekend. PBS Masterpiece airs the three-part miniseries version, which premiered in the U.K. last Christmas time.

Friends - Joey - Beth dies

Since there’s no spoilers in classic literature just like there aren’t in history, we’re gonna #ThrowbackThursday to all the versions of Little Women that have already been filmed. At least the ones I can find pictorial evidence of! So let’s compare and contrast, why don’t we?

 

Little Women, 1918 – silent film

Little Women (1918)

Dorothy Bernard is Jo, Isabel Lamon is Meg, Lillian Hall is Beth, and Florence Flinn is Amy. For a touch of authenticity, it was filmed in and around the Alcott family home in Concord, Massachusetts.

Little Women (1918)

 

 

Little Women, 1933, film

Little Women (1933)

Katharine Hepburn as Jo, Frances Dee as Meg, Jean Parker as Beth, and Joan Bennett as Amy in this first big Hollywood version. Costumes by Walter Plunkett include a dress for Hepburn copied from a tintype of her maternal grandmother.

Little Women (1933)

There’s sewing content!

Little Women (1933)

And a colorized still so you can see that Amy is blonde!

Little Women (1933)

 

Little Women, 1949, film

Little Women (1949)

June Allyson plays Jo, Janet Leigh plays Meg, Margaret O’Brien plays Beth, and Elizabeth Taylor plays Amy in this first color version of Alcott’s tale. The movie features the two ‘best cryers’ at MGM (Allyson and O’Brien), plus costumes by Walter Plunkett (again!).

Little Women (1949)

Allyson is a spunky Jo.

Little Women (1949)

Who spars with Peter Lawford’s Laurie.

Little Women (1949)

 

Little Women, 1970, TV series

Little Women (1970)

Angela Down is Jo, Jo Rowbottom is Meg, Sarah Craze is Beth, and Janina Faye is Amy in this nine-part BBC series. There were several TV adaptions in the ’50s and ’60s, which have been lost, and this was the first major TV version.

Little Women (1970)

The ’70s BBC went for elaborate Victorian costumes.

Little Women (1970)

Janina Faye’s Amy looks rather posh.

 

Little Women, 1978, TV miniseries

Little Women (1978)

Susan Dey plays Jo, Meredith Baxter Birney playsMeg, Eve Plumb plays Beth, and Ann Dusenberry plays Amy. Americans who watched a lot of TV in the ’70s and ’80s may recognize those actresses from The Partridge Family, Family Ties, and The Brady Bunch, among other things.

Little Women (1978)

Yep, that’s Jan Brady.

Little Women (1978)

Beth’s fancy ballgown is more 1970s than Civil War era.

 

Little Women, 1981, anime TV series

Little Women (1981)

This was apparently broadcast in the U.S., and somebody will complain if I don’t include it!

 

Tales of Little Women, 1987, anime TV series

Another animated version, something of a sequel. Just being a completist here.

 

 

Little Women, 1994, film

Little Women (1994)

Winona Ryder as Jo, Trini Alvarado as Meg, Claire Danes as Beth, Kirsten Dunst as young Amy, and Samantha Mathis as older Amy. Y’all know this one, if not for the star-power of the actresses then for Colleen Atwood‘s Oscar-nominated costumes.

Little Women (1994)

It’s Christmasy!

Little Women (1994)

Meg gets jealous (and we get to see pretty gowns by Colleen Atwood!).

Little Women (1994)

 

 

What’s your favorite version of Little Women on screen?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

19 Responses

  1. Pina

    The 1994 version is one of the first films I remember seeing as a child! But when I tried to re-watch it on Netflix the other day, I simply couldn’t because I feel Winona Ryder is so off in this. Not only is she so undeniably petite and dainty (I know the viewers will never agree about who’s more beautiful than who, but can we not at least get the objective characteristics such as being tall) but also there’s sort of a nervous energy about her manner. As if Jo is secretly grinding her teeth, or as if the whole “boisterous tomboy” thing is façade and she’s actually ready to burst into tears at any moment. I don’t know if anybody else feels that way.

    Reply
  2. thestoryenthusiast

    I can’t help but love Hepburn as Jo March, but my favorite adaptation is the one from 1994. I can’t stand June Allyson and have a hard time believing Elizabeth Taylor as a blonde. I am really looking forward to BBC’s new version.

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Merritt

    I can’t stand Hepburn as Jo. The heavy makeup and high cheekbones make her look like a beauty queen instead of a tomboy, and I just cannot believe her as a teenager.

    Reply
  4. Katie

    It’s ironic that although there have been so many versions of Little Women, there has yet to be one that gets it right.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      That everyone has strong opinions pro/con about each version is apparently why they keep making more! No version is perfect for everyone, I guess.

      Reply
  5. ADoyle

    I’d probably say that the 1994 version is my favorite so far, and I’m looking forward to this new one on Sunday.

    Reply
  6. elizacameron

    I haven’t seen the anime versions of Little Women but I have seen all 3 movies and both the British and the American miniseries. I remember loving Susan Dey as Jo and William Shatner as Professor Bhaer! The BBC miniseries is awful, none of the actors can do a credible American accent. I will always have a soft spot for Katherine Hepburn as Jo, although she’s more Louisa May Alcott than she is the author’s version of Jo. I vaguely remember the 1994 movie, I’ve never been a huge Winona Ryder fan, but I did really like Christian Bale as Laurie and Gabriel Bryne as Professor Bhaer.

    Reply
  7. Charity

    VAGUE SPOLILERS

    I have seen the new version, and my favorite is still from 1994. For some odd reason, though the new miniseries has an additional hour to flesh out the plot, it still feels rushed to me, and they didn’t bother to develop the professor… at all. Like, AT ALL.

    Seen a couple of the older ones, and… the 90’s version wins for me. Just watched the BluRay not long ago with my mom. Oh, the memories. Oh, the dresses. Oh, the fabulous cast. Oh, the pretty! And oh, the tears. ;)

    Reply
  8. Adina

    I grew up with the 1949 one, so I don’t think I’m ever going to see another version as better than it XD

    Reply
  9. Saraquill

    Looking at the above, I want something that hasn’t yet been on screen (as far as I know.) Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches” comes to mind, or a biopic of when her dad set up a poorly planned utopian community, the Fruitlands. The Fruitlands would be interesting from a costuming standpoint, as two of the rules were 1) vegan materials only, and 2) NO COTTON.

    Reply
  10. Susan Pola Staples

    For me it’s the 1994 version with Colleen Atwood’s costumes. And Trini Alvarado as Meg and Samantha Morton as Amy grown up. Not to mention Claire Danes’ luminescent Meg. Winona Rider as Jo.

    Reply
    • SarahV

      I loved this movie so very much -except- I just thought that Winona Rider was all sorts of wrong as Jo. I always thought that she and Claire Danes should have swapped roles.

      Reply
  11. Allison

    I’ve seen the 1987 anime version of Little Women and to be honest its the one that gets the spirit of the book just right. Plus they added other plots that seems reasonable and made Hannah, an African-American to highlight the racial issues that period. Though animated, Jo here is the perfect one for me.

    Reply
  12. Nzie

    I think I’ve seen the ’49 one and the ’94 one (that one in theaters, my sister and I with two older girls from church… feels very Marchish in retrospect). I just saw a review of the new one from a blogger whose taste on literature I often share, if anyone’s interested… allays many of my fears, although she says it’s not a perfect take. Link if anyone’s interested: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/05/11/review-little-women-revitalizes-classic-new-generation

    Reply
  13. M.E. Lawrence

    The 1994 film (directed–ahem!–by Gillian Armstrong, whose work I love and who should always be acknowledged) is pretty good; I like that the script opened up the story so Jo talks about her parents’ being part of Emerson’s Transcendentalist circle, as were the Alcotts. But I agree that Ryder isn’t physically right for Jo; in general, she seems too contemporary. I did love Claire Danes’ Beth. Anyway, L.W. was one of my role-model books when I were a lass, and I can’t wait to see the new version.

    Reply
  14. Leigh

    We had a vhs tape of the 1949 that is little women for me. But the 1994 one did not feel wrong to me, so it gets high marks too.

    Reply

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