Bonnets Expand Toward the Sun; or
A Gelfling Alive?
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: Little Women
Airdate: January 24, 1977
Written by Dale Eunson and B.W. Sandefur
Story by Dale Eunson
Directed by William F. Claxton
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Nellie organizes a scene from Little Women as a school play, but an actor’s depressed mother ruins the fun.
RECAP: I am aware these recaps have been getting a touch long, with all the special guests and crap lately. No need to send cards and letters complaining.
We’re back to our core group today, so no doubt this will translate into a shorter read.
Let’s jump in.
The flute music as we open is very familiar – to me, anyways.
WILL: Oh my God, it’s “Drinkin’ Jack”! I love this one, listen.
OLIVE: Why do you call it “Drinkin’ Jack”?
WILL: Because the first two times they played it, Jack was a-drinkin’ out of the creek.
Watch the first 35 seconds of this to hear it:
This episode was written by Dale Eunson, the mastermind behind “Ma’s Holiday” in Season One.
Eunson was born in Neillsville, Wisconsin! You know, I was hospitalized once near there, but that’s another story. (No, it wasn’t for mountain fever.)
A onetime editor at Cosmopolitan (in the 1930s, when it really was a different magazine altogether), Eunson went on to write screenplays for How to Marry a Millionaire, a Gidget movie, and The Waltons.
Eunson also wrote a (depressingly?) Wilder-esque memoir of rural Wisconsin life called The Day They Gave Babies Away. I’m not familiar with it, though. (The book, I mean. I am familiar with depressing rural Wisconsin life.)
Eunson was assisted in scripting this one by B.W. Sandefur – by this point arguably the poet laureate of Little House, or something.
Claxton is back as director.
The camera pulls back from some weeds to give us a nicely composed shot of Laura and Mary walking past the Mill.
But someone is spying on them from a tree.
ROMAN: Is it Busby???
No, it isn’t Busby. It’s Willie, who’s wearing a lady’s hat with a huge feather plume on it.
WILL: Stay out of Tennessee, Willie!
As the Ing-Gals pass by, Willie leaps out and menaces them with a wooden sword. (Not sure why he doesn’t use his dad’s real one.)
“Stand and deliver!” Willie shouts. (An Eighteenth-Century expression, common amongst highwaymen.)
“Stand and WHAT?” Laura answers, baffled. (Melissa Gilbert’s own delivery provides the first of many laughs in this one.)
Also in the tree are Carl (Sanderson, not the Flunky) and the Kid with Very Red Hair. The boys are playing Robin Hood.
WILL: Nobody cares about Robin Hood anymore, do they? He used to be huge.
DAGNY: Yeah, wasn’t there, like, a show and two movies in the nineties?
There were, and more. In fact, Robin Hood has been a popular subject since the beginning of filmed entertainment. Well, I mean, even before that, obviously.
At a glance, I see one major screen adaptation of the story from the 1920s, one from the 1930s, two from the 1940s, seven from the 1950s, four from the 1960s, five from the 1970s, two from the 1980s, and six from the 1990s.
I’m not sure if young people learn anything about Robin Hood these days, but I guess there have been at least seven more adaptations since the turn of the century, so maybe he’s still popular and I’m just getting old and not paying attention anymore.
Mary is annoyed by Willie’s attack, but Laura declares herself Little John and snatches up a tree branch to fight him.
Legend has it Robin Hood and Little John battled with sticks when they first met. Little John won, but then they became friends.
In this instance, though, Robin manages to disarm Little John. However, also in this instance, Little John wrestles Robin to the ground.
The other schoolkids, who this week include Nellie, Alicia, two AEKs, the Non-Binary Kid, a number of Nondescript Helens, the Midsommar Kid, Sweet Colleen and Not-Quincy Fusspot (whew, I was worried about him last week), come running from the playground.
Miss Beadle steps out to ring the bell, and notices the commotion.
The kids have surrounded Laura and Willie. One of them even screams, “Kill him!”
Arm all a-flail, the Bead rushes over.
A bunch of late-comers rush past the Mercantile, where Mrs. Oleson is sweeping the porch in a comical maid or washerwoman’s hat.
Realizing what’s happening, Mrs. O screams “Willie!”, chucks her broom, and crosses the thoroughfare.
She starts to say, “Oh, for Heaven’s sakes!” but is so upset she interrupts herself halfway through.
The Bead forcibly tears the combatants apart. The students all seem uneasy in the presence of Mrs. Oleson.
Mrs. Oleson is horrified to see her hat was crushed in the fracas.
(In another funny moment, Laura giggles, and the Bead elbows her.)
Willie protests that the feather made the hat perfect for Robin Hood, and Mrs. Oleson says, “Oh, well, I’ll feather YOU, young man!”
DAGNY: Yeah, she should tar and feather him and make him parade through the streets. Street.
The Bead, who you sense is again wondering how she came to this particular career, takes the class back in, saying their behavior has been unacceptable.
Laura and Willie immediately start screaming again. Things get ugly, with Willie calling the Ingallses poor and Laura calling Willie dumb.
If you look, Nellie is chuckling as the insults fly.
In an unprecedented maneuver, Miss Beadle sends both Willie and Laura to the corner.
And just when the Bead looks ready to torch the fucking place, Mary defuses her by suggesting they put on a formal play rather than just pretending to be characters on the playground.
It works. Miss Beadle turns on a dime, smiling with delight and saying what a great idea that is. In fact, she says, they could make it a special event and invite all the families.
OLIVE: So she’s rewarding them for fighting?
Willie tries to get in on the planning, but the Bead shouts him down.
WILL: Willie’s hair is short in this one. Or is it just combed?
DAGNY: A little of both.
It’s worth noting that one of the kids we’ve never seen before this story is a girl with long Targaryen-style platinum-blonde hair.
Later, at recess, Carl, the Kid with Very Red Hair, and a boy we’ve never seen before who’s wearing an intricately patterned shirt are shooting marbles.
Willie tries to interest them in doing a play, but they say unless he can steal them licorice from the Mercantile, they’re not interested. (Doesn’t everybody have to do one?)
Meanwhile, Laura, Mary, Alicia and the blonde-haired girl are trying to come up with play ideas too.
DAGNY: Is that kid wearing a wig?
ROMAN: No, she’s just a Gelfling.
Laura suggests “Snow-White and Rose-Red” as a dramatic subject. I remember reading this one as a kid. It’s a Grimm fairy tale, but unrelated to the more famous Snow White story they also collected.
“Snow-White and Rose-Red” is a weird tale about two girls whose pet bear kills a dwarf and then turns into a prince. (You’re supposed to be happy about it.)
Alicia, of all people, says “SW&RR” is a poor subject because “we don’t have anybody to play the prince.” Seems to me there are a number of candidates for that role, right?
Mary then asks the Gelfling girl for her opinion, addressing her as “Ginny.”
Ginny the Gelfling suggests Little Women. Published in two volumes in the 1860s, the book did have a huge fan following by this time.
(I never read Little Women, which won’t really surprise any readers of this blog. I did see the 2019 movie, though, which I thought was pretty good. Not my cup of tea exactly; still.)
Anyways, Nellie has been lurking in the background, and now she leaps forward to take over this idea.
Nellie declares she’ll be playing Meg, whom she describes as “the smartest.”
Alicia gets one of the biggest laughs of the episode then, when she says, “I don’t think I want to be in this play,” gets up and leaves.
But Nellie squeaks “It’s perfect, PERFECT!” and takes Alicia’s place on the giant weird log they’re all sitting on.
She says with Alicia quitting, they’ve now got “just the right number to play Meg and Beth and Jo and Marmee.”
WILL: Marmee’s the mother?
OLIVE: Yes, that’s right.
WILL: Isn’t there one more girl?
OLIVE: Yes, Amy.
WILL: The one who dies?
OLIVE: No, that’s Beth.
WILL: So which one’s Amy? Petunia Pugh?
OLIVE: It’s Florence Pugh, but yes.
Also, you’d think with all the health problems we’ve seen these girls deal with, they’d fight over who plays Beth.
Nellie mentions they can rehearse at her house, and Ginny is instantly sold, saying, “Oh, COULD we? Everyone says your parlor’s the prettiest in Hero Township!”
Sensing an in, Nellie starts going on about her fancy French dolls (previously used as a lure in “The Talking Machine”).
When the girls agree, Nellie says she’ll get her mother working on an adaptation tout suite.
Laura and Mary walk away, Laura saying they should do “Hansel and Gretel” as a play so they can kill Nellie in the name of Art.
Then we see Willie emerging from the privy.
Lying nearby is a random medium-large dog, which Willie teases with a stick.
The dog immediately attacks him.
ALEXANDER: Does this dog have rabies?
ROMAN: Yes, just like Jasper. He probably caught it from Jasper!
Willie escapes to the schoolhouse, where Miss Beadle uses her awesome powers to vanquish the beast.
With its dubbed-over growling, the scene is kind of more scary than funny (though if you watch closely, the dog is wagging its tail and you can tell it’s quite friendly).
Incidentally, the IMDb tells us the dog’s real name was “Cobber,” but I can’t vouch for the veracity of that.
Returning to the actual story, the show gives us Mary, Laura and Ginny tromping through the weeds.
WILL: They’re all wearing huge bonnets today. Unusually huge, yes?
DAGNY: Yes, must be very sunny. Bonnets expand toward the sun, like plants.
Ginny splits off to go home then.
DAGNY: I bet that IS a wig. I’d put money on it.
Laura says aside to Mary that Ginny wouldn’t want to go to Nellie’s if she knew it was “like wanting to go to Hell instead of Heaven.”
Ginny arrives home to some weird-ass David Rose march. It sounds a bit like “In the Merry Old Land of Oz.”
As she comes to roost, she yells “Mr. Mayfield!” at a man who’s simultaneously arriving in a wagon.
Mr. Mayfield leaps from the driver’s seat to scoop Ginny up in his arms.
He’s a skinny, rubbery-faced fella.
ROMAN: Is that Buster Scruggs?
No, the actor is Warren Vanders, who appeared on The Fugitive, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Kung Fu, Mannix, How the West Was Won, Dallas, Matlock, Arli$$ and Judging Amy.
Anyways, this Mr. Mayfield is apparently a neighbor who has brought Ginny and her mother a gift. It’s two large jars of honey, a nice present indeed.
Meanwhile, Ginny’s mother is spying on them from the window holding a huge knife.
ALEXANDER: Now we’re talking! “Come here, Ginny!” [sings Psycho theme]
Ginny’s mom is a pretty woman with a somewhat angular face, and when Ginny comes in she tells her to go back out and thank Mayfield. Her tone is nice enough, but she also has Ginny say he shouldn’t have bothered.
Throughout this exchange, the mom is flaying a turnip or something with the knife. In what’s becoming a Little House tradition, she doesn’t know how to do it properly, either.
Ginny steps back outside and thanks Mr. Mayfield. (She leaves out the “shouldn’t have bothered” bit.)
Mr. Mayfield then nicely offers to chop some wood for their family, Ginny’s dad apparently being no longer around.
But Ginny’s mom gives him a firm “no” from within.
WILL: She’s resistant to a man’s wiles.
DAGNY: She should marry Mr. Sprague.
Taking things in stride, Mr. M smiles and says goodbye to Ginny.
Ginny comes running to the wagon, I suppose to apologize, but Mr. Mayfield just smiles again and says, “I understand.” Seems a nice chap.
Ginny goes back in, pausing first to clunk her lunch-pail against a prancing deer figurine or some such.
Ginny tells her mom about the play. “That doesn’t sound like school studies to me,” her mom says. “Sounds like taking people’s good time away from work!”
Dead Poets Society all over again, huh? I never believed the dad in that would be so enraged at his son for being good in English class.
But then, I guess with the whole debate around government relief for college debt, we’ve seen how little some people think of higher ed, especially in the humanities. Such a pity.
Ginny asks her mother directly to please come to her play. But her mom says she’s got too much to do around the house since Ginny’s father died (widowhood: confirmed) and shuts down the conversation. She also mentions not having a proper dress to wear.
Then we cut to the Olesons having dinner. Mrs. Oleson is talking with her mouth full, as usual.
She informs Nels they’ll be closing the store “Friday morning” so they can go to the school play.
Nels doesn’t take much interest until he learns Harriet herself is writing the script.
“Mother’s the only person in Walnut Grove who’s been to a real play,” says Nellie.
WILL: That’s not true! What about Abandoned Daughters???
Mrs. O says she’s even going to add Willie to the story.
WILL: I suppose he’ll take the Timothy Chalumeaux part.
OLIVE: It’s Timothée Chalamet.
WILL: Yes. You know, he kind of looks like your brother Ernie, grown up.
OLIVE: Oh my God, do not ruin Timothée Chalamet for me!
(Ernie is Mimi and Olive’s eight-year-old brother at their mom’s house.)
Anyways, I think Willie would make a great addition to the story. And Mrs. Oleson herself could play the aunt!
But Nels says Willie should do his own play, and suggests “this new Mark Twain book, Tom Sawyer,” as a subject.
We just dealt with Twain a couple weeks ago, but The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in 1876 . . . not 1881 or 1882, which is where we should be following the events of the stories in sequence.
I’m tempted to say Nels simply misspoke when he said “new book” . . . but as we know, this show has done a time jump back to 1876 already, not once in fact but twice. It’s a fair assumption it’s happened again, we will proceed with the theory that this is 1876 of Timeline D.
Anyways, then we cut to Willie begging Carl and the Kid with Very Red Hair to be in a play with him.
The K with VRH, whom we’ve seen many times by this point, has a big part in this one for some reason, even getting a credit.
The actor is Bryce Berg and the character is named “Teddy,” apparently. (Another Little Women reference? Jo does call Laurie “Teddy” in the story.)
Bryce Berg didn’t ever act in anything else, apparently. (And why would he need to? You could only go downhill after Little House, after all.)
Willie offers his cast members a compensation package that includes licorice and sarsaparilla.
Carl, who seems meaner than usual in this story, is doubtful.
Then VRH says sure, they’ll do the play . . . if Willie can steal them cigars and chewing tobacco from the Mercantile. (You wouldn’t see that storyline today.)
WILL: If that’s what they want, why doesn’t Carl take it from his own dad? I’m sure that goat shack is full of contraband.
Meanwhile, Laura, Mary and Ginny stop by the Mill, where Mr. Mayfield is working alongside Pa and Mr. Ed.
Ginny says they’re doing Little Women as a play, and in another awkward non-Twenty-First Century moment, Mr. Ed chortles he once saw a “little woman” in (presumably) a sideshow in St. Louis.
Pa roars with laughter.
In fact, everyone giggles hysterically.
AMELIA: Are they all on laughing gas?
OLIVE: I don’t think her teeth would be that nice.
WILL: Whose, Laura’s?
OLIVE: Ha! No. The little Gelfling girl’s.
Mr. Mayfield assures Gelfling Ginny he’ll come to see her in the play.
Once they’ve gone, he turns to Mr. Edwards and describes Ginny as the “spittin’ image of her ma.” (Which actually she isn’t, if you ask me.)
The origin of spitting image is obscure, but the saying certainly was around by the late Nineteenth Century.
Charles addresses Mayfield as “Harold” and says it’s clear he’s fallen for “the Widow Clark” himself. (That Mayfield has, I mean – not Charles!)
Mr. Edwards then says the only viable approach to women is to boss them around. But then Charles pretends Grace is approaching and he freaks out. (Mr. Edwards does, I mean – not Charles!)
He swallows his chewin’ tobaccky too. Victor French makes a bunch of crazy faces, plus we get a whiff of “Old Dan Tucker” from the orchestra. It’s the type of Little House moment you either like or not.
After a commercial break, we see Mrs. Oleson putting the finishing touches on the script as her actors wait patiently. Ridiculously, she writes not at a desk, but rather on an end table covered with lace doilies and the like.
She announces the cast. As projected, Mary will play Marmee, and Nellie Meg.
WILL: Isn’t Jo the lead?
WILL: So why does Nellie want to play Meg?
OLIVE: Because Meg is the perfect one, I assume?
ROMAN: Either that or she’s a Harry Potter fan.
Ginny will be Jo, and Laura the dying Beth. (I’d reverse that casting if it were up to me, but whatever, it isn’t.)
Nellie, who’s wearing her dress with the tartan trim, tells the other girls a wigmaster (!) is arriving in Walnut Grove tomorrow to fit her with a hairpiece for the show.
Meanwhile, Willie races into the Mercantile’s showroom, where Mrs. Foster is once again making a play for Nels.
Willie grabs a saw, which he says he needs for his Tom Sawyer play.
Nels is skeptical at first, but then smiles. He’s happy his son finally made some friends! It’s a sweet moment. A little sad too, truthfully.
Meanwhile, Mary and Laura are clambering over some rocks by the creek, on their way to who knows where.
Laura complains they don’t have any good lines in Mrs. Oleson’s script. She suggests adding a new one: “Shut up, Nellie.” (For what it’s worth, I like it.)
Apparently the Ing-Gals were headed home, because that’s where they end up. Ma is scrubbing the wood floor.
ROMAN: Just like Al Swearengen. Must be a bloodstain.
The girls complain to Ma about the script. (For Little Women, not this episode.)
From Laura’s description, it sounds like Mrs. O left out Beth’s death scene. In fact, all the parts but Meg’s have been dramatically reduced.
There had to be a weird irony here for Grassle, since Ma is often given so little to do in THIS show’s scripts, and since she says Landon would cut her scenes as punishment when she asked for raises.
The meta-ness continues, then, as Laura says, “Ma, if this is what playacting is like, I’m never going to go onstage.”
Back in town, the boys are rehearsing their own play as Nels comes walking from the bank. (Where the hell has Sprague been, anyways?)
Willie is pretending to whitewash a piece of picket fence, which looks fairly real.
I have vague memories of the fence-painting in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I haven’t read that one since seventh grade. I didn’t like it much at the time. It didn’t have monsters in it.
I did read Huckleberry Finn for the first time not too long ago; and I have to say, I was a little disappointed by that too.
I do like Letters From the Earth, a collection of caustic writings that was suppressed for many years after Twain died.
(Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’ll get to Louisa May Alcott yet.)
Nels heads for home, where he learns why the picket fence prop looked so real.
But Good Old Nels, nice as ever, declines to punish Willie.
WILL: I like this whole subplot. Better than the ones where Nels beats the kids up, anyways.
Then we see Mr. Mayfield returning to Ginny’s house.
Apparently ready to formally declare his intentions, he tries to give Ginny’s mom some flowers, but she refuses them.
OLIVE: Who is this woman? She’s the hottest babe in Walnut Grove.
ROMAN: Yeah. Now that Doctor’s Lady is gone.
The actor is Kay Peters. Her resume is not long, but she was a regular on Days of Our Lives in the seventies. (Before my time of Days-watchin’.)
She also appeared on CHiPs a couple times.
She is striking, with an icy fire in her eyes. (Well, I mean, that’s how they look to me, anyways.)
Mr. Mayfield sputters, trying to say just the right thing. It’s a really nice and sympathetic performance.
Ultimately, he says all he really wants is for her to come to see Ginny’s play with him, like a date.
The Widow Clark, who’s watched him with a neutral expression through all this, looks down then and, after a moment, says she can’t go because she’s too busy.
I know people remember this character as kinda cold and heartless, but I do think if you watch Peters’s performance closely, there are several touches that indicate Mrs. Clark is emerging from a period of deep grief. Her hesitation before answering Mayfield suggests she’s considering saying yes; yet her conflicting emotions won’t allow it.
Not to mention, the gingerly way Ginny approaches inviting her mother to the play in the first place suggests Ma Clark has not quite gotten back to herself since Mr. Clark’s death.
I think the acting is pretty great in this one across the board. But, I’m getting ahead.
Mr. Mayfield then loses some points by yelling at the Widow that she’s been grieving too long. That really is none of his concern, no matter how gaga he is about her.
But Mrs. Clark, provoked, then says she wished she’d died with her husband. While this episode is quite funny, this storyline actually is pretty dark and smoldering.
In its intensity, it reminds me of Mr. Hanson’s rivalry with Lowry in “Little Girl Lost.”
Mr. Mayfield is actually quite offended by this statement, saying he’s a widower himself and the last thing his late wife would want is for him to throw the rest of his life away.
Mrs. Clark cuts him off, and he gasps in horror, realizing he’s fucked up his original intent. I’ve been there, I can tell you.
Then we get a brief shot of Mustache Man (returning from Elmsville?) to transport us back to the Mercantile.
Once he passes by, we see the wigmaster has also arrived!
Inside, Nellie is being fitted with a dark wig. Looks pretty good, actually.
WILL: She looks like a young Liza Minelli.
The wigmaster, Mr. Mason, on the other hand, looks like my high-school band director Mr. McBride, except Mr. McBride didn’t favor fancy waistcoats and watchchains.
Rather than Liza, Mason tells Nellie she looks just like Cleopatra.
There have been a zillion attempts to construct what Cleopatra really looked like. (Some more convincing than others.)
That last one’s my favorite.
Anyways, Nellie says she’d rather have a curly wig.
The other girls are there too, and speaking of hair, Ginny has hers done in Valkyrie braids.
Thankfully, this doesn’t diminish her resemblance to a Gelfling in the least.
Mason says he can curl the wig, but that will increase the cost to $27 – somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 today.
That price is comparable to the cost of a fine wig today (of course it is possible to find cheaper ones . . . or ones that cost over $10,000).
But it’s steeper than Mrs. Oleson expected. Mason points out quite firmly that the wig is made with hair from an actual person, and that the hair alone cost $18 ($500).
The girls are very interested in this – especially Ginny.
Anyways, Mr. Mason lifts the wig off Nellie’s head, and she makes a hilarious face.
Alison Arngrim appears to have her real hair pulled back in this scene.
DAGNY: I bet she was happy she didn’t have to wear her stupid Nellie wig for once.
Mrs. Oleson agrees, which pleases the wigmaster. Mr. Mason is played by Roger Bowen, a novelist-actor whose books are mostly forgotten today, but who created the role of Henry Blake in the Robert Altman version of M*A*S*H.
He’d never be accepted in the role by our kids, though – they watched and loved the TV show M*A*S*H years ago, but abruptly quit because they couldn’t forgive its killing of Henry, their favorite character.
Bowen also appeared in a few movies and several TV shows, including All in the Family.
Mr. Mason departs, and Mrs. O hilariously starts “directing” her actors.
Back at the Little House, Pa goes out to milk Spot.
OLIVE: The cow looks so sad.
WILL: She’s still grieving for her baby that died in the tornado.
ROMAN: Stupid cow.
There Pa finds Carrie and Jack. Carrie’s sniveling because she can’t be in the play.
She seems even more out of it than usual, if you ask me.
But Pa cheers her up by saying they’ll have fun in the audience.
Carrie runs to the house to tell Ma, but changes course mid-run to hit the privy.
ROMAN: Are Carrie and Willie the only people who ever go to the bathroom in this town?
Recognizing this powerful scene is one for the ages, David Rose crescendoes us to a climax.
Then we see Laura, Mary and Ginny hanging out on the bridge, after school apparently.
OLIVE: I like Ginny’s bonnet. I don’t like Laura’s. Mary’s is nice.
WILL: Well, Mary got the employee discount from Mrs. Whipple.
Laura complains that Mrs. Oleson has cut additional lines from the script, including “one of my yes-es and my That’s right.”
Ginny then says she “forgot something” and we cut to her running home with a package in her arms. (She didn’t have it before.)
Her mother says she was worried about her.
Ginny gives her the package, which she opens to discover a beautiful yellowish dress with red trim.
Ginny says since Ma Clark said she couldn’t go to the play because she didn’t have anything to wear, she bought it for her at the Mercantile. (I wondered about that. Logically, either Nels or Mrs. Whipple would have to be in on these shenanigans. I’m not surprised it’s Nels. He’s a sucker for the kids of this town.)
But Ginny won’t say where she got the money.
I suppose I should mention, completely innocently and spontaneously, that Ginny is still wearing her bonnet in the house. A no-no in this community, if you remember.
The Widow suddenly goes rigid and starts hissing that Mr. Mayfield paid for it, didn’t he!
Poor Ginny denies it, but it’s no use.
Then the Widow sends her to bed without supper, which is a sight worse than standing in the corner.
WILL: That’s really inhumane. I hope it happens more in fictional entertainments than real life these days.
DAGNY: I sent Alexander to bed without supper once. I had had it.
ROMAN: It’s true. It was the night she broke the plate.
Back at the Little House, Pa is fussing with his hat in the barnyard. There are a bunch of cows grazing right across the driveway – we’ve never seen cows over there before, have we?
Then Charles walks groin-first towards us. (I suppose that is how most people walk.)
But he keeps walking groin-first, right into the camera!
OLIVE: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Charles!
ALEXANDER: Yeah, crotch close-up much?
Charles steps inside, and finds Ma in the common room searching for her mop.
He’s confused, noting that she just scrubbed the floor by hand in a previous scene. (With that eye for continuity, he’d make an excellent Walnut Groovy contributor, don’t you think?)
Soon they discover Laura has turned the mop into a wig for herself. My sister Peggy and I loved making costumes out of stuff around the house. Our Sound of Music party routine, for which we used towels as habits, was the stuff of legend in my family. My cousins still bring it up.
Ma says, “You look more like Medooza than you do like Beth.”
OLIVE: How do they know about Medusa?
WILL: How do you know about Medusa?
OLIVE: We studied Greek mythology in school.
WILL: Well, they did the same.
OLIVE: Seriously? Back then?
WILL: Yes. Did you think Greek mythology happened BETWEEN the Nineteenth Century and our time?
Laura goes and sits down on her bed, depressed. (It’s amusing AND sad at the same time. I love this story.)
Meanwhile, poor Ginny is sitting in a tree when Mr. Mayfield drives by. She’s still holding the package.
Mayfield stops and asks why she’s up so early. So I guess it’s the next day (rather than “meanwhile” – Walnut Groovy regrets the error).
Mr. Mayfield starts joking about how as a great actress, she must be doing her pre-performance rituals or something. (I’m surprised he doesn’t bring up Lillie Langtry.)
Ginny bursts into tears and explains the situation briefly. (She doesn’t say where she got the money, though.)
Mr. Mayfield says he’ll go talk to her mom and he’s sure she’ll change her mind. He hasn’t had the best of luck on that score.
OLIVE: He’s so nice. He kind of looks like Grandpa when he was young.
Ginny’s voice breaks when he tells her she’ll be the prettiest star in the play.
We haven’t dealt with who plays Ginny yet. It’s Rachel Longaker, who has a deep resume for a Little House kid. She was in Sybil (!), Roots (!!!), and Oh, God! (That last exclamation point is actually in the title – the others were to indicate my enthusiasm.)
Also The Waltons, the ABC Afterschool Special, and Night of the Demons 2, a movie I’m sure I’ve seen but have no particular memory of.
Mayfield gives Ginny a little friendly punch on the arm and takes off with the dress.
When he gets to the Clark house, he starts yelling at Mrs. C.
“I don’t see where Jenny is any concern of yours,” the Widow says coldly. (As others have noted, her pronunciation of Ginny is inconsistent and often does sound more like “Jenny.”)
Mr. Mayfield angrily says he didn’t give Ginny any money. Then he mansplains that the only thing anyone should be worrying about this particular morning is supporting the kid on “what should be the biggest day of her life.”
OLIVE: “The biggest day of her life”? Really?
WILL: Come on, she’s starring in a play. Screw Nellie, Ginny’s the real lead, she’s Jo!
Then Mayfield says he’ll wait for a bit in the wagon if she wants to put the dress on and come along. The dress itself is kind of an odd element in this story, since typically the school events we’ve seen so far haven’t been dressy affairs. (Some people in this town don’t even have two outfits.)
ROMAN: I was in a play when I was a kid. Nobody came. It was the biggest day of my life.
You can’t make this stuff up sometimes. Dagny confirms the truth of this story, though she doesn’t remember why nobody went.
WILL: What was your play about?
ROMAN: Greek mythology.
Ha! Apparently he played Daedelus.
Hilariously, then, we cut to the Mercantile, where Willie is stealing tobacco with an imbecilic grin on his face.
But Nels catches him. Willie lies that Harriet approved the theft, but Nels won’t have it.
Upstairs, Nellie has locked herself in her room because she hates how the wig turned out. In another unusual moment, Mrs. Oleson threatens to beat her herself if she doesn’t come out.
So Nellie does, her face eclipsed by a huge pile of curls.
ROMAN: She looks like Tom Baker.
Mrs. Oleson says the ridiculousness of the wig is Nellie’s own fault.
“Why’d you listen to me? I’m only a child,” says Nellie, which cracked me up for some reason.
We see a bunch of people arriving at school then (we’ll deal with them in a moment), at which point we get a commercial break to catch our breath before the final act.
And perhaps this is the moment to stop and talk about the real Little Women. Louisa May Alcott seems a very cool person to me – feminist, abolitionist, volunteer for the Underground Railroad, a runner (who knew?), and a gender-nonconformist who was incontestably LGBTQ, in one way or another, looooooooong before it was fashionable.
Little Women is based on Alcott’s real family and is considered her masterpiece by most people, though she herself disliked the finished work and hated the experience of writing it.
I actually feel quite embarrassed I didn’t read it in preparation for this recap. I do read quite a bit, but I don’t think we have a copy of this one in the house. Well, I promise to look at it. And if you’ve forgiven me for never reading the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, reader, I ask you to cut me similar slack on this.
Anyways, here is a brief synopsis of Little Women, so we can compare it to Mrs. Oleson’s adaptation.
Set during the Civil War, the story concerns the Marches, a sort of shabby chic family waiting for their man to come home from the war. (Union side.)
The main characters, as you will have gathered, are sisters: aspiring author Jo, aspiring artist Amy, aspiring wife Meg, aspiring pianist Beth. Their wise mother, “Marmee,” is also on the scene.
Jo is a freethinker who succeeds as a writer. Amy, who has a fun if selfish personality, gives up on art when she realizes she’s not a genius. (That doesn’t matter, Amy! Just start your own blog!)
Meg gets a nice dull husband, and Beth gets scarlet fever (just like Mary – or Roman) and dies (not like Mary – or Roman).
There’s also a young man called Laurie who lives in the neighborhood, who tries courting a number of the March girls and finally marries Amy. Everyone is cool with this for some reason. (In my experience, such an arrangement does not typically improve sisterly relations.)
And finally there’s a rich aunt, a cranky but lovable Margaret Atwood type.
I know I missed a lot of the nuance of the thing – my apologies to Alcott fans reading this, of whom there are probably more than there are Night of the Demons 2 fans, for whatever that’s worth.
Okay, here we go! Hang on tightly, because this finale is pretty fucking great.
Everyone in town seems to be at the school for the play. Well, I should say, in order of appearance, Caroline, Carrie, Charles, the Non-Binary Kid, the Bead, Johnny Cash Fusspot, Mrs. Foster, the Smallest Nondescript Helen of Them All, Alicia, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude, Not-Quincy, Nondescript Helen, Mrs. Oleson, Nels, the Midsommar Kid, Mustache Man (accompanied by another hot filly), Carl the Flunky, Sweet Colleen, two AEKs, and a guy who’s either the Generic-Looking Bald Man or Tom Carter (I’ll give each half a point in my scoring system) are there.
There are a number of other people there too. And a few faces are missing. Mr. Hanson surely didn’t close the mill, so it makes sense he isn’t there.
Doc’s probably busy killing a patient, plus he doesn’t usually attend this sort of thing anyways.
But just where the hell is Grace? I suppose maybe she’s working at the Post Office, but I was under the impression she had quit that job. Plus, for crying out loud, Carl, HER SON, is IN one of the plays. How come nobody cares enough to harass her into going?
Some of these characters arrive together in very novel combinations (Johnny Cash Fusspot, Mrs. Foster, and the Helens in the same buggy? Huh?). But even I don’t have the patience to go into that at this late stage.
Meanwhile, behind the school, Carl Sanderson and the Kid with Very Red Hair give Willie the business for fucking up something as simple as stealing cigars.
This quickly degenerates into a “did so! did not!” argument. I can’t really describe how he delivers his lines, but Brian Part makes the absolute most of his screentime, as usual.
This conversation occurs around a bucket of white paint, presumably a prop for the Tom Sawyer play.
Ginny and the Ing-Gals are out back too. Ginny’s peeping to see if her mom’s arrived yet, whilst Laura and Mary just stand around laughing at the boys and their idiocy, Laura fanging out of course.
Nellie appears suddenly. Ginny and Mary marvel at her wig. Laura just laughs at it, though.
The Bead comes out the back door, all excitement and agitation. “Most of the parents are already here,” she says . . . but words fail her when she notices Nellie’s wig. (This story has some of my all-time favorite Miss Beadle moments.)
Then she comes back in and announces the plays, of which she says there will be five.
First up is Tom Sawyer.
But when she calls Willie inside, we see the other boys have dumped the bucket of whitewash over his head.
And now comes my favorite moment in a story that has many contenders for that status.
Because what happens now is that every Walnut Grovester (minus Nels and Harriet, of course) literally SCREAMS with laughter. And I do mean SCREAMS.
And the loudest screaming of all, of course, is the whinnying zebra laughter of Charles Ingalls.
Actually, Charles is CRYING with laughter.
Nels quickly jumps up and takes Willie out.
But that doesn’t stop the other people from laughing – especially Charles.
Even when the Widow Clark and Mr. Mayfield arrive, and the crowd starts quieting down, Charles looks back at Mr. Edwards and starts screaming again.
I time this laughing scene as lasting 54 seconds – an eternity in Little House time.
Anyways, Miss Beadle then announces Little Women. Charles and Mr. Edwards giggle at Nellie’s hair, but for the most part everyone maintains their composure.
Ginny looks out in the audience and sees her mother and Mr. Mayfield, sitting together and smiling at her.
Nellie stands up and announces, “Little Women – written by my mother.” That seems like appropriation if I ever heard of it. (Then again, things were different in the old days. I’ve heard Johann Sebastian Bach used to take little known Vivaldi concertos, rearrange them for the organ, and pass them off as his own work.)
The play is quite short, so I’ll give it to you verbatim so you can compare it to the book.
MEG: I do so love sewing! Don’t you, Marmee?
MARMEE: Yes, Meg.
MEG: I do hope Beth comes soon with the tea.
MEG: Is it nice and hot?
MEG: I do so love tea. Don’t you, Marmee?
MARMEE: Yes, Meg.
MEG: Oh! Here comes Jo. I wonder what she could have been up to!
MARMEE: What’s this?
JO: Let Meg tell you.
MEG: A roll of bills – twenty-five dollars, her contribution towards making Father comfortable and bringing him home.
MEG [rising]: However could you have gotten it? I hope you didn’t beg, borrow or steal it. Let me see. . . . However could you have done it?
[She removes JO’s bonnet.]
MEG: Oh! You cut your hair!
Well, I’d give this adaption about an F+, but it is one of the more famous scenes in the book, at least.
(I do also have to give Alison Arngrim extra credit for her exaggerated “sewing.”)
Anyways, when Ginny’s bonnet comes off, we see Ginny has cut off her Gelfling hair for real.
The Widow’s eyes widen, and the Ing-Gals immediately break character to ask why she did it. “You’re not supposed to say that!” snarls Nellie.
Ginny at first doesn’t want to explain, but Mary takes over the investigation and bullies the truth out of her.
OLIVE: They’re ruining the play!
NELLIE: You’re ruining the play!
Ginny breaks down and says she sold her hair to the wigmaster and used the money to buy her mother a dress for the show.
Mrs. Clark rushes up and embraces her daughter, saying it doesn’t matter and she looks beautiful. (This is pretty much what happens in the Little Women haircutting scene too.)
“When am I going to get say my line?” snarks Nellie.
But the Bead, with tears in her eyes, steps in front of her and says, “Be quiet, Nellie. The play is over.”
All the soft-hearted Grovesters applaud, but Mr. Mayfield rises and leaves.
The schoolhouse soon vomits everyone else out too. What were the other three plays about, I wonder? Oh well. Probably Greek mythology.
I will note for the record that Mrs. Foster exits arm in arm with Johnny Cash Fusspot! He used to have a wife, but, this being Little House, she must have died, I suppose.
And little Quincy, Johnny’s son, wasn’t anywhere to be found in this one. Again, this being Little House, he probably has poison ivy.
Mr. Mayfield’s still hanging around – I’m not sure why he left in the first place – so Ginny runs to hug him.
Mrs. Clark also comes up, smiling. She touches Mr. Mayfield’s hand, and the three of them depart.
OLIVE: We’ll never see them again.
No, we won’t.
Anyways, the Ingallses stand around for a while, and Mary makes a dopey comment about how real life is better than fiction anytime. That’s complete bullshit, of course, but Sappy Pa eats it up.
STYLE WATCH: We liked Ma Clark’s combo.
Willie’s knickerbockers have a nice stripe running through them.
And Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: “Little Women” roars! Well, not all of us thought so, but I did. Rachel Longaker and Warren Vanders are very likable, Kay Peters’s performance has hidden depths, and I think it’s probably my favorite Miss Beadle story of all time.
Plus, the script is very funny: There are so many little jokes, I couldn’t make room for them all in the recap. (I mean, not without cutting some of my own jokes!)
And unusually for a comedic Little House, this time all the cast are on just the right frequency together. Fun all the way.
UP NEXT: I─── Kid
3 thoughts on “Little Women”
One of my favorite episodes. I have read the little women book many times since I was a youngster. Being a tomboy growing up I just loved the Jo character. Although now I think I’m more of a Meg! Also, thank you for including a couple of my favorite crushes over the years. Errol Flynn, especially when he was Robin Hood and Adam Ant. Side note: I can’t watch little house with people leaving the school/church without thinking about it vomiting them out!
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Ha ha ha ha ha – this might be my favorite comment ever. It was never my intent to make people think of vomiting when they watch Little House. . . . Nevertheless, I’m strangely pleased! 😀
A very enjoyable episode! The story is simple, but effective. My favorite line was Nels telling Willie he can’t buy friends and him responding “I just want to rent them for a while!”
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