When I was in grade school, we watched the Disney movie Pollyanna on a giant screen in the gymnasium. I loved the house so much that for years I fantasized about growing up to live in one just like it someday.
I also liked the positive, feel-good message of the movie, and how Pollyanna changed so many lives in the small town. I hadn’t seen the movie in years until a reader sent me a photo of the real house used in it. It led me to watch it again, and the sets did not disappoint. They were just as wonderful as I remembered.
After 11-year old Pollyanna is orphaned, she goes to live with her stern and humorless Aunt Polly (Jane Wyman), who lives in this three-story mansion.
The movie was based on the 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter and takes place in 1910, so the filmmakers faced the challenge of recreating the era. They decided to film in Santa Rosa, California, but couldn’t find a three-story house that would work. The solution? A little Hollywood magic.
Believe it or not, here is the actual house they used in the film:
It’s known as the McDonald Mansion and was built in the late 1870s by Col. Mark Lindsay McDonald, owner of Santa Rosa’s water company. According to About.com, the Stick-Eastlake style was meant to evoke the plantations along the Mississippi.
Robert Ruiz sent me these photos of the house that he took that show how it looks today:
The filmmakers decided that the 14,000-square foot mansion could pass for Aunt Polly’s house:
A matte painting was added in post-production to add the top two stories and make the house look like this onscreen:
Isn’t that wild? Here’s a close-up of the upper stories that were painted on:
Hayley Mills says she had a great time running around and exploring the elaborate sets between scenes, adding that there were several rooms that they never even filmed in.
The screenplay was written by David Swift, who came from an animation background. He painted illustrations of how he envisioned the houses and various sets to look (via the DVD special features). It’s amazing how closely the sets resembled what he imagined.
The front hall as it appeared in the movie:
Over 300 girls auditioned for the role of Pollyanna.
Panic was setting in as they couldn’t find the right actress for the part. Then Hayley Mills was spotted in a British film called Tiger Bay and brought in at the last moment, just as another actress was about to be signed. It’s hard to imagine the movie with anyone else in that role.
Pollyanna grew up in a poor missionary family.
We are introduced to the mansion from her point of view and can imagine how overwhelming it must be.
This is one of the illustrations that writer-director David Swift showed to the set designers:
And here’s how the kitchen appeared in the film:
The Red Dining Room:
This black and white production photo of the dining room shows the lighting above the ceiling line:
How it looked onscreen:
Swift’s illustration of how he wanted the bedroom to look:
The bedroom in the movie:
If you’ve seen it, then you know the movie tends to go on and on. It wasn’t just because people had longer attention spans in 1960, however.
Director David Swift says that even he thought it ran too long and wanted to edit a lot of the scenes to pare them down. But Walt Disney loved every minute of it and refused to let them cut a thing.
The house used to be white like it was in the movie:
But here’s how the house looks today:
Pretty amazing that they had the vision to turn it into this for the movie:
Was this one of your childhood favorites, too? You can watch it here. Hayley Mills says that she learned life lessons from it that stayed with her today about being positive in the face of adversity.
P.S. Another Hayley Mills movie I love her (and the sets!) in was Parent Trap:
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