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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Pollyanna in the Napa Valley

by Kathleen Reynolds

The Pollyanna Valley exhibition will be on display through February 25, 2024.

Napa Valley Museum | 55 Presidents Cir. Yountville

Wednesdays - Sundays | 10am to 4 pm |

In the year 1959, the voices of Bobby Darin and Frankie Avalon crooned from the jukebox, Alaska and Hawaii became states, Maverick and Rawhide were required TV viewing. Cinched waists and flared dresses adorned the ladies while the men tooled through town in their shiny Ford Fairlanes or Galaxies; Chevrolets introduced batwings. That July was hot, with drought conditions in the area.

In St. Helena, though, the year was 1912. The train station welcomed a steam locomotive, luggage was unloaded from the train onto horseless carriages and women carried parasols and wore large-brimmed hats to shield them from the sun.

A young girl alighted from the train as steam from the engine billowed around her.

The girl was Hayley Mills. Disney’s production of Pollyanna had started filming in St. Helena.

The newest exhibition at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, Pollyanna Valley, celebrates Hollywood arriving in the Napa and Sonoma valleys to shoot exterior scenes for Pollyanna; the movie released in 1960. Other stars of the film were Jane Wyman, Richard Egan, Agnes Moorehead, Karl Malden and child actor Kevin Corcoran.

While clips from the film play on a continuous loop at the exhibit, guests can peruse still shots from the movie, a Pollyanna doll and other mementoes from that time.

Through close ties with the Disney museum at the Presidio in San Francisco, the Napa Valley Museum’s Executive Director Laura Rafaty was able to secure permission for the displays.

“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” says Rafaty, whose favorite Hayley Mills’s film is Parent Trap. “What takes the longest is getting all the permissions to display items such as the still photos and video clips. It took years largely because we started during Covid shutdowns and it took some time for everyone to respond to everything, but it was worth the wait.”

The relationship with the Disney museum and the Napa Valley Museum dates to the 2018 exhibit of Disney trains. Rafaty recognized a friend in her law school’s alumni magazine and got in touch. That friend introduced her to Diane Disney Miller, the elder daughter of Walt Disney, and a collaboration soon began.

“A lot of people either adore Hayley Mills or don’t know who she is. We hope this exhibit will let those folks either remember her or find out what they were missing. The term ‘Pollyanna’ is often used in a derogatory way about someone who is eternally optimistic. I don’t feel that way. Looking at things through ‘rose-colored glasses’ is not without its uses. It’s a positive thing to look for good in people; it’s not being unreasonably positive.”

“I think the display will resonate with moms and daughters. Boys will like the movie, too, especially scenes where co-star Kevin Cocoran is swimming and playing in the creek. I think it will remind boys of a time when they were free to swim in the local creeks and rivers, fishing and hunting for frogs. So many of my neighbors in St. Helena tell me that they recall being here in the 50’s and long for a simpler, more innocent time. I think this exhibition will remind them of those days.”

“Napa Valley in 1959 was a perfect stand-in for old-time small-town American living,” she said.

From Joseph Titizian’s 2012 magazine article Walt and Wine Country: On Location with Walt from Disney Productions: “When Walt Disney decided to adapt Eleanor Porter’s novel Pollyanna into a live-action feature film, he needed to find the perfect location for Harrington, the turn of the century town that Pollyanna would forever transform into “the glad town.” Walt found the rural charm he was looking for in the city of Santa Rosa, California, and in the surrounding countryside of the idyllic Sonoma and Napa Valleys. In July of 1959, the Pollyanna cast and crew members made the 500-mile trek north from the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank to the San Francisco Bay Area to begin the two months of on location filming.”

Among the Napa spots used for the fictional Harrington were the Sulphur Spring Railroad trestle at the entrance to St. Helena, the Bale Grist Mill, the Manor House at Stag’s Leap Winery and the St. Helena train depot. The number 94 locomotive used in this movie is intact and on display at the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City.

People familiar with Santa Rosa may recognize the 1877 McDonald mansion as the home of Aunt Polly. While the mansion, now known as Mableton, is two stories, the production needed the home to be larger. Through the talents of Disney matte painter Peter Ellenshaw, the home became three stories for the movie.

The tree Pollyanna climbs was brought to Santa Rosa for the shoot and transported back to the studio for close shots when the location filming was finished.

More movie magic was used when a pond needed for the shoot had to be filled by the local fire department because of the drought.

“Pollyanna Valley” is presented in collaboration with The Walt Disney Family Museum with text by Disney historian Joseph Titizian, curated by Bri Bertolaccini with Joel Kurtz. Many images were provided by the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library.

As Titizian writes in Walt and Wine Country: “In the decades since the filming of Pollyanna, much has changed as the Sonoma and Napa Valleys have evolved into internationally renowned winemaking regions and Santa Rosa has grown into a bustling city, but the simple beauty, charm, and community spirit found in the fictional town of Harrington live on in Pollyanna. Walt Disney’s film has become a family classic beloved around the world and reminds all of us to look for the good in life and to be glad.”

The Pollyanna Valley exhibition will be on display through February 25, 2024. An exhibition-themed event will be scheduled in the holiday season.

Admission to the History Gallery includes the Museum’s other current exhibitions: Tiki Dreams: From Far-Away Fantasy to Pop-Culture Phenomenon. This immersive exhibition, curated by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim of Tiki Oasis, illustrates how California’s iconic tiki lounges and restaurants, including many in the Bay Area, inspired a global art and design movement; and Napa Valley Museum Mini-Masterpieces, featuring original works for sale to benefit the museum’s nonprofit arts education programs. Both these exhibits are scheduled to end December 31.

The Napa Valley Museum Yountville is located at 55 Presidents Circle in Yountville and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10am to 4pm; closed major holidays. For current hours and

prices visit the website


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