The Little Colonel Movie
"The Little Colonel" Movie 1935
Promotional Posters from "The Little Colonel" movie in 1935
While the series of "Little Colonel" books were extremely popular and sold millions of copies over several decades, it was the release of the movie "The Little Colonel" in 1935 that took things to a whole new level. The movie starred two of the biggest names in Hollywood: Lionel Barrymore (who played "The Old Colonel") and Shirley Temple (who played "The Little Colonel"). Shirley Temple was the biggest child star in the world at that time. Another person made famous in a classic tap dance duet with Temple was a man named "Bojangles" who played The Old Colonel's manservant in the movie.
By the time "The Little Colonel" movie premiered in Louisville at the Rialto Theatre on February 22, 1935, Annie Fellows Johnston, the author who created the beloved character, had been dead for four years. It was her stepdaughter, Mary G. Johnston, who sold Fox Film Studio the movie rights to the "Little Colonel," published four decades earlier in 1895.
Annie, along with the inspirations for many of the beloved characters from the novel -- Rebecca Flournoy Porter, who inspired Mom Beck, the Little Colonel's mammy; Walker Hardin, the inspiration for Walker, the Old Colonel's manservant; the model for the Old Colonel himself, George Washington Weissinger; and his daughter, Amelia Weissinger Cochran, the model for the Little Colonel's mother Mrs. Sherman -- didn't live to see the story on the silver screen. John Hoadley Cochran -- the model for the Little Colonel's father, Papa Jack -- died a year later on July 16, 1936.
Included in the negotiations for the film rights was a portfolio of photographs compiled for the managing director of the movie, Mrs. Thomas Moore, to assist with set and costume design. The cover letter accompanying the scrapbook explained:
The following portfolio contains the photographs which I have been able to collect pursuant to my agreement with your company following my negotiations with you while representing Miss Mary G. Johnston, Executrix under the Will of Annie Fellows Johnston, deceased, for the motion picture rights of "The Little Colonel" story. Since the author created neither the environment nor the character, but made them living and vital for the rest of us through her accurate portrayal of real people and real places, it occurred to me that actual photographs of such characters and places might be a medium through which a clever director would find the essence of what has made "The Little Colonel" such a potent factor in the lives of two generations of Americans. The Photographs were not obtained by a cameraman but by climbing attic stairs and having reproductions made of dusty treasured bundles.
Every year since the book was first published, thousands of children have come to Pewee Valley to see where the Little Colonel really lived. For their sake, I cannot but fervently hope that the motion picture will faithfully follow the book. Children are peculiarly literal and loyal and demand what they love and remember...
Although it's been rumored that the movie was actually shot in Pewee Valley, it was not. During her lifetime, the actress Shirley Temple never visited here, although she was invited to the Pewee Valley Historical Society's 2007 Little Colonel event. Unfortunately, her health prevented her from coming. She died on February 11, 2012 at age 85.
The full-length movie is available on YouTube and runs 118 minutes. Here is the link to watch the movie.
The movie spawned a whole industry of "Little Colonel" trinkets and memorabilia ranging from a Little Colonel Board game, to Movie Maps, Little Colonel Card Games, and Little Colonel dolls. Some of these can be seen at the Pewee Valley Museum located at the town hall in Pewee Valley, Kentucky.
Thank you to Donna Russell for her contributions to the content on this page