My sister-in-law Shelley was the first person who told me about The Help when Kathryn Stockett’s novel came out a few years ago. She gave me her copy and promised that I’d love it. She was right. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And when I heard they were making a movie out of it, I couldn’t wait to see it.
I thought they did a great job adapting it for the big screen. The ’60s-era sets were fun to look at, too. There were four main houses that “the help” worked at in the movie, so let’s take a look at them, starting with Skeeter’s classic antebellum mansion.
Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan’s Antebellum Mansion
The Help is the story of two women, Minny and Aibileen, who have spent their lives taking care of privileged white families in Jackson, Mississippi. “Skeeter” Phelan is an Ole Miss grad who’s expected to settle down and get married, but she’d rather be a writer. She decides to interview them and write a book about their experiences.
The novel by Kathryn Stockett came out in 2009 and stayed on the bestseller lists more than 100 weeks. Before she found a publisher, though, her manuscript was rejected by 60 literary agents who declined to represent her. Bet the ones who passed on it are kicking themselves now.
Although the book and movie have both gotten great reviews–and the movie garnered several Oscar noms, including Best Picture–they have also had their share of controversy. Not everyone loved it. For example, Ida E. Jones, the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians, wrote an open letter stating that “The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers.”
Production designer Mark Ricker and Set Decorator Rena DeAngelo had 47 sets to create for the film. They scoured flea markets, antique stores, and even some old attics to find enough period-appropriate objects to fill the scenes with. They did an amazing job pulling them all together.
The movie was filmed on location in Jackson, Clarksdale, and Greenwood, Mississippi. Ricker says the Phelan home was “lighter in tone and a bit newer in decoration choices as Charlotte (Skeeter’s mother) would have layered her own choices with the history of the house.”
One thing I didn’t like about the movie version was the change made to the story about Skeeter’s beloved maid Constantine, and why she left.
Elizabeth Leefolt’s Brick Ranch
Elizabeth’s decor was inspired by Better Homes and Gardens decorating books from the era. I own one of them from 1956, and it does look like the photos from it, come to life!
Hilly Holbrook’s Traditional Colonial
Bryce Dallas Howard fearlessly played the horrible Hilly Holbrook. One of the funniest scenes is when Skeeter gets back at her by “misstyping” the newsletter to tell people to drop off their “old commodes” instead of their old coats at Hilly’s house.
Celia Foote’s Plantation House
Mark Ricker says, “Celia’s house was a ton of work because we did everything in it. All wallpaper, complete reconstruction of the kitchen, building all the curtains, and the sheer amount of layering in the house. We wanted it to have the most ‘history,’ so we just kept buying and buying…”
Mark Ricker says he also looked to the classic Southern movie Gone with the Wind for inspiration when he took this project on.
The movie ends with Aibileen (Viola Davis) walking down the street, away from the Leefolt house, and saying she has raised her last baby. She’s going to be a writer now. It’s hard not to cheer for her.