Based on the novel Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, this story had already been adapted into a movie with Mary Pickford in 1920. By the late 1950s, the book was still selling 35,000 copies per year, so Walt Disney bought the rights and got the biggest cast he’d ever used for one of his movies, with people like Jane Wyman, Richard Egan and Karl Malden, who is absolutely fabulous as the town’s preacher.
The heroine of this story is, of course, 12-year-old Pollyanna, the orphaned daughter of missionaries who has come to Harrington to live with her very rich and very strict aunt, Polly. Pollyanna’s greatest skill is that nothing brings her down; she’s so optimistic that people may get upset with just how cheerful she is about life.
You know who doesn’t love life, despite pretty much owning the town and ruling the people? Her aunt. In fact, her aunt is such a horrible person that it takes Pollyanna falling off a ledge and becoming paralyzed to make her realize just how salty she can be.
Roy O. Disney, the studio business head and Walt’s brother, made thousands of Pollyanna photo locket necklaces to sell in Disney gift shops. They had the quote “When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.” inside, which was attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Finding one of these necklaces on vacation with his family, writer and director David Swift asked the studio to recall this product. Lincoln never said that quote and Swift had made it up.
This was Hayley Mills’ first Disney film and she’d pair up with Swift again for The Parent Trap.