Last month, Kentucky Humanities Council speaker Sue Lynn Stone McDaniel spoke to the Trigg/Lyon Newcomers Club about the author Annie Fellows Johnston, who wrote the “Little Colonel” book series. The series began with “The Little Colonel” in 1895 and spanned 12 volumes, ending in 1908. The books tell the story of Miss Lloyd Sherman, the granddaughter of a former Confederate Colonel in Lloydsboro Valley, a fictional town in Kentucky. Like the Potter series, the books span Lloyd’s childhood, ending when she becomes an adult, rather than keeping her the same age throughout the series.
McDaniel said that Johnston received many letters over the years about the “real” Lloyd Sherman, whom she had based on Hattie Cochran of Peewee Valley. McDaniel explained that Johnston was originally from Iowa before she moved to Kentucky and that Cochran was friend of her stepchildren. She was amused by the way Cochran’s mannerisms mirrored those of her grandfather’s military way of acting and was inspired to write the first book in the series.
Over the years, the series became very popular with young girls and McDaniel said it helped popularize what we now call mass marketing. Johnston received fan letters from around the world wanting to know more about the “real” Lloyd Sherman and the place she lived. Postcards with pictures of the people the characters were based on became a popular commodity. People in Oldham County began to sell maps of the fictional Lloydsboro Valley, which they based on their surrounding area.
In 1935, a movie based on the first book, “The Little Colonel,” was released with Shirley Temple playing the lead role. McDaniel said that fans were extremely eager to see the movie “match up” with the book, and they were encouraged that Temple looked a lot like photographs of Cochran in her youth. The movie had its premiere in Louisville, which was the largest city close to Peewee Valley. Most of the readers were very happy with how the movie turned out and letters came pouring in to the studio telling them so.
McDaniel paused in her lecture to show one of the most famous scenes from the movie on a DVD. In it, Lloyd’s grandfather, played by Lionel Barrymore, tells her to go to bed, but she doesn’t want to. The butler, played by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, entices her by asking if she’ll go to bed if he shows her a new, fun way to get up the stairs. They then proceed to tap dance up the stairs. McDaniels said that Robinson was quite popular for his tap dancing skills and when he died in 1949, he was completely broke. She said that Ed Sullivan paid for the funeral and that people lined the streets to pay tribute to him.
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