Like so many others, Nancy Porter and Harriet Reisen fell under the spell of Louisa May Alcott after reading Little Women in childhood. Inspired by Jo March, Harriet became a writer, and as an adult she read whatever she could find of Alcott’s scores of short stories, poems, nonfiction, and the rediscovered thrillers. Louisa’s journals and letters were published at about the same time as the thrillers; in them she heard Louisa Alcott’s voice— not Jo March’s voice, or the authorial voice of Louisa May Alcott, but the voice of the woman who had lived and breathed. Her friend Nancy Porter, an Emmy Award– winning producer of films for PBS, thought they should bring Louisa May Alcott’s story to film; no one ever had. In the meantime, Nancy completed her film for NOVA, The Most Dangerous Woman in America, about “Typhoid Mary” earning an Emmy Nomination for Best Historical Programming in 2005, and Harriet read everything she could find about Alcott’s life, work, and times.
The National Endowment for the Humanities, with the help of Program Officer David Weinstein, made a series of grants that gave the documentary its start. When Susan Lacy of American Masters agreed to coproduce and broadcast it in her wonderful PBS showcase, the ninety-minute film could at last became a reality. Later the PBS/CPB Program Challenge Fund, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Audrey Simons and the Simons Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts topped off a budget that allowed for staffing, casting, arranging locations and the myriad other tasks that go into making a film.
With the film came the opportunity also to fulfill Harriet’s dream of telling Alcott’s story in print. Agent Jennifer Joel of International Creative Management (I.C.M.) shepherded a book proposal and presented it to major publishers; Henry Holt and Company was chosen to publish it under the imprint of editor John Macrae.
Filming of the documentary was completed in October of 2007; editing was completed in August 2008, and the film began running in film festivals around the country, winning the first time out with the award for Best Documentary of the Providence Film Festival. A seven-screening showcase at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts several awards and also a Cine Gold Eagle. The hardback book was published by Holt in October of 2009, and the paperback came out from Picador in October of 2010. The premiere broadcast of the film on American Masters was on December 28, 2009.