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Pollyanna’s Valley

In 1960, when Walt Disney set out to make the movie, “Pollyanna,” he found the idyllic, rural charm he was looking for in Sonoma and Napa Valleys to represent turn-of-the-century life in the fictional town of Harrington.

Walt Disney stands in front of the St. Helena train station in a production still for Pollyanna (1960). Artwork courtesy of the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library.

Napa Valley Museum Yountville’s new show evokes a simpler time

In 1960, when Walt Disney set out to make the movie, “Pollyanna,” he found the idyllic, rural charm he was looking for in Sonoma and Napa Valleys to represent turn-of-the-century life in the fictional town of Harrington.

Decades later, the family classic that reminds us to look for the positive in life, is the subject for a show at the Napa Valley Museum Yountville, which runs through Feb. 25, 2024.

Hayley Mills portrayed Pollyanna, the orphan girl who always found something good in every situation, no matter how bleak by playing the “glad game.” The movie elevated Mills, the debut of the daughter of British actor John Mills, to instant stardom.

Pollyanna’s “glad game” began when her minister father encouraged her to be grateful for receiving crutches from a missionary aid donation bin instead of the doll she wanted.  Why be grateful? The answer – she did not need crutches. When her father dies, 12-year-old Pollyanna goes to live with her wealthy but cold aunt Polly in Harrington and spreads the “glad game” to its citizens.

“At a time when many of us are nostalgic for small town Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, the images in this exhibition, are sure to evoke memories of a simpler and more innocent time,” said Napa Valley Museum Yountville executive director, Laura Rafaty.

“Although the name ‘Pollyanna’ has become shorthand for someone who is over-optimistic, we think it is important to remember the power of positivity,” Rafaty added.

“We had no idea when we planned this exhibit that the world would be in such a difficult situation. With all that’s happening now, it would be a good to bring back optimism.”

The movie was based on the best-selling novel “Pollyanna,” written by Eleanor H. Porter in 1913. The book was so successful that it topped the adult best-seller list, and Porter wrote a sequel titled “Pollyanna Grows Up” two years later. After Porter’s death, ghost writers produced 11 more “glad books,” featuring Pollyanna. Prior to Disney’s adaptation of the book for his 1960 movie, “Pollyanna” was a silent movie starring Mary Pickford in 1920.

The “Pollyanna Valley” exhibit is presented in collaboration with the Walt Disney Family Museum, curated by Bri Bertolaccini with Joe Kurz. The Walt Disney Archives Photo Library provided many images.

On a large screen, hanging from the ceiling, viewers can watch clips from the “Pollyanna” movie or listen to them while strolling through the exhibit. Visitors can play the “glad game” and view original lobby cards and posters and behind the scenes images taken in St. Helena, Calistoga, Petaluma and Santa Rosa during the filming of the movie.

The show also includes images of the railroads that once crossed the valley with the detailed text written by Disney historian Joseph Titizian.

According to Titizian’s text, 125 people who comprised the cast and crew spent two months here filming “Pollyanna.” A few of the scenes from this area include the opening credits, filmed in locations in and around St. Helena. A group of young boys swimming in an old swimming hole was filmed at the Sulphur Springs Railroad trestle. 

As Jimmy Bean, played by Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran, rolls his hoop with a stick through the Napa countryside on his way to the Harrington Railroad station, he passes the Bale Grist Mill. Pollyanna’s arrival to Harrington was filmed at St. Helena’s Southern Pacific Railroad Depot.

The Manor House at Stag’s Leap Winery in Napa was used as the home of Mr. Pendergast, “the meanest man in town.”  The two-story structure with its distinctive corner tower, built from rock of a nearby quarry around 1890, has been featured in several films as well as the television series “Falcon Crest.”

In conjunction with the “Pollyanna Valley” exhibit copies of the memoir “Forever Young” by Hayley Mills are on sale at NVMY.  Famous for playing an innocent young girl in her early movies, audiences wanted Mills to remain young. Rafaty talked with Mills on a “fun zoom call” when Mills’ memoir was published.

In her youth Mills appeared in six films for Walt Disney, including her dual role as twins Susan and Sharon in the 1961 Disney film “The Parent Trap,” went on to star in many other movies. “One of my favorite Hayley Mills movies is ‘The Trouble with Angels,’ Rafaty said. “It was not a Disney movie.”

“We are grateful to our friends at the Walt Disney Family Museum for their invaluable help in curating (this exhibit),” Rafaty said. “It is serendipitous that “Pollyanna Valley” is opening during our “Tiki Dreams” exhibition, which includes a look at Disney’s “Enchanted Tiki Room,” from around the same time “Pollyanna” was released along with displays of other unforgettable Bay Area venues from the 1960s.”

NVMY, located at 55 Presidents Circle in Yountville is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to  4 p.m.

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