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This film is a remake of the 1933 RKO adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel. Sarah Y. Mason and her husband, Victor Heerman, wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for the RKO film, and their adaptation provided the basis for the M-G-M film. A contemporary news item in Daily Variety notes that in March 1948 M-G-M acquired the film rights to Alcott's novel, along with a completed screenplay, from producer David O. Selznick. Contemporary news items in Hollywood Reporter indicate that Selznick began deveoping his version of the film in late 1946, with Jennifer Jones set to star as "Jo." To direct the picture, Selznick had hired Mervyn LeRoy, who was quoted in a April 1949 Los Angeles Times article as having said, "Ever since I have been in pictures I wanted to direct Little Women...my fondest hope would have been to produce it 17 years ago when it was previously made at RKO." Selznick's adaptation was later canceled because of a studio strike, but M-G-M retained LeRoy as the director. Modern sources note that M-G-M used some of the completed sets that were constructed for Selznick's aborted production.
An August 1948 HR news item lists Ginger Hatrick in the cast but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The film marked the screen debut of English stage actor Richard Stapely, who, according to a June 1948 M-G-M News item, was discovered by LeRoy. The film also marked the American film debut of Italian actor Rossano Brazzi. Sir C. Aubrey Smith, whose acting career had spanned four decades, died in 1948; Little Women was his final film. In his autobiography, LeRoy noted that M-G-M substituted ground-up ice for the fake snow that was usually used to create snowy settings in films. LeRoy called the experiment a success and credited the substitution with making the actors in those scenes appear genuinely cold. M-G-M chose Little Women to inaugurate its 25th anniversary program. The film received an Academy Award for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration, and was also nominated for Best Color Cinematography.
Alcott's novel has been adapted many times for the stage, motion pictures, radio and television. The first stage adaptation of Little Women, which opened in New York on October 14, 1912, was written by Marian DeForest and starred Marie Pavey and Alice Brady. The play was revived on numerous occasions, including a 1916 run featuring Paul Kelly, and a 1919 version starring Katherine Cornell. Motion picture adaptations of Alcott's novel include a 1917 British film produced by Moss Pictures, directed by Alexander Butler and G. B. Samuelson and starring Ruby Miller and Mary Lincoln; the 1919 Paramount film directed by Harley Knoles and starring Isabel Lamon and Dorothy Barnard (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2566); the 1933 RKO film directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas and Edna May Oliver (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2536); and the 1994 Columbia Pictures film directed by Gillian Armstrong and starring Winona Ryder, Gabriel Byrne, Claire Danes, Trini Alvarado and Susan Sarandon.
June Allyson and Peter Lawford reprised their 1949 film roles for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the novel, which aired on March 13, 1949. The first televised presentation of the novel was broadcast on December 16, 1949 as part of the CBS network's Ford Theatre program and was directed by Marc Daniels, with Meg Mundy and Patricia Kirkland in leading roles. A television-movie version of Little Women, produced in 1978, starred Meredith Baxter Birney and Susan Dey. Alcott's sequel to Little Women, entitled Little Men, was first filmed in 1934 by Mascot Pictures Corp., directed by Phil Rosen, with Ralph Morgan and Erin O'Brien-Moore in leading roles. RKO produced an adaptation of Little Men in 1940, directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starred Kay Francis and Jack Oakie (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2519 and F3.2520).