Finally tonight: The film “Little Women” received
six Oscar nominations this week, including for best picture. The movie is an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott. But it turns out we have been saying her name
wrong, as you will soon find out in this report from special correspondent Jared Bowen of
WGBH in Boston. He traveled to the writer’s family home in
Concord, Massachusetts, to see how it led to a work that endures some 150 years later. It’s part of ongoing arts and culture coverage,
Canvas. JAN TURNQUIST, Executive Director, Orchard
House: Bronson Alcott always had a place everywhere they ever lived where she could think, write,
read. JARED BOWEN: Intellect was power. That’s how
Louisa and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth and May were raised. They were young adults when the family moved
to Concord, purchasing this home situated on 12 acres and an apple orchard, for $950
in 1857. What’s the correct pronunciation of this family’s
last name? JAN TURNQUIST: All-cut. JARED BOWEN: Not all-cot, as I think so many… JAN TURNQUIST: Not Al-cot. (LAUGHTER) JARED BOWEN: Jan Turnquist is the executive
director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, although she first came here as a guide when
she was in her 20s. She’s steeped in the family’s history and
their everyday life, how the young Alcott women were encouraged to live freely and dance
regularly. JAN TURNQUIST: They had a lot of company.
Every Monday night, they were at home. They would put a curtain up across here, and the
family would put on plays, especially Louisa and her sisters. They would play games. Mrs. Alcott loved to
play chess. And we have the original board. JARED BOWEN: Mid-1800s Concord was a who’s-who
of thought leaders, all friends of the Alcotts, Emerson, Thoreau, and next-door neighbor Nathaniel
Hawthorne, who didn’t always share their ideals. JAN TURNQUIST: The Alcotts were very progressive,
liberal, abolitionists, and just maybe suffice it to say that than Nathaniel Hawthorne was
very different politically. JARED BOWEN: Already a published author in
1868, Louisa was asked by her publisher to write a girls story, much to her dismay. JAN TURNQUIST: As she put it, she never knew
many girls. She played with boys. She played with her sisters. JARED BOWEN: But needing money, she wrote
“Little Women” with stories inspired from her own childhood. She used this home as the setting. It remains
largely as it was when Louisa lived here. JAN TURNQUIST: When people walk through and
see items that it’s so clear they had to have touched and used, like the sewing materials,
like the needle work that they did, the paintings and drawings, I think those speak most closely
to that sense of, they’re here. JARED BOWEN: Now, this, I assume, is just
the heart of the pilgrimage right here. This is where “Little Women” was written? JAN TURNQUIST: Yes. Louisa was so fortunate to have this desk.
It doesn’t look like much. But you have to remember that, in that time, women were not
supposed to be serious writers. JARED BOWEN: Here in her bedroom, surrounded
by art made by her sister May, Louisa wrote “Little Women” in three months on the desk
her father built. JAN TURNQUIST: It wasn’t only her father.
Her mother was extremely supportive too. And they were saying, you can do this. JARED BOWEN: One room over is her sister May’s
bedroom. It’s decorated, as is much of the house, with her own artwork. May was an accomplished painter, whose work
sold well in Europe. She was especially adept at painting in the style of JMW Turner. JAN TURNQUIST: She was hired by a London art
museum to copy their Turners, so that they could loan her copies out to artists who were
trying to practice. JARED BOWEN: We find the intersection of the
visual arts and theater right here in this trunk. What do we see here? (LAUGHTER) JAN TURNQUIST: Yes. Well, these boots were made by Louisa herself.
She writes about them in her journals. She actually sometimes created characters for
the boots, because she liked wearing them so much. They fit her. And if you look in this sketch that May Alcott
did, here you see the boots being worn by Louisa. She’s playing the role of Rodrigo.
And if you read “Little Women,” that is the play described that the girls are putting
on for Christmas Day. JARED BOWEN: Lots of people read “Little Women.”
Almost instantaneously, the book was a bestseller. But Louisa didn’t relish her newfound celebrity. JAN TURNQUIST: She sometimes would say she
was porky piney about it, because people would come right up to this house, right up to the
front door and ask for an autograph. JARED BOWEN: She would sometimes answer the
door pretending to be a servant? JAN TURNQUIST: Yes, yes, she absolutely did.
She would do that. JARED BOWEN: Fame is visiting this house once
again. SAOIRSE RONAN, Actress: I’m working on a novel.
It is a story of my life and my sisters. JARED BOWEN: The latest film adaptation of
“Little Women,” written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is in theaters now, and just collected
six Oscar nominations, including best picture. Turnquist was a consultant and says the filmmakers
wanted to be as authentic as possible. JAN TURNQUIST: Greta Gerwig took such an interest,
kept coming back to the house, brought the cast through the house, and the different
production people were through and talking about paint colors and measurements and floor
plans. JARED BOWEN: Turnquist says the new film captures
the essence of the home like no other adaptation has. Of course, nothing compares, she says, to
experiencing the Alcott home in person, and often with people who’ve come from around
the world. JAN TURNQUIST: And when they come in with
so much awe, enthusiasm, and really love — they love the book. They liked the values of that
family. They like the idea of caring for your family and helping other people. And then that jibes very well with our staff
that feel the same way. So it’s almost like a little celebration. JARED BOWEN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jared
Bowen in Concord, Massachusetts. JUDY WOODRUFF: And the “NewsHour”s executive
producer, Sara Just, got to visit that house when she was in the sixth grade. Very special
information. For more from our Canvas coverage of “Little
Women,” John Yang sat down with director Greta Gerwig. You can find that, plus an additional
excerpt where Gerwig explains what being nominated for best director in the past has meant to
her and other women. That’s at

The ‘Little Women’ family of Oscar fame originated in the author’s actual home
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