Above: Jo March (played by Winona Ryder) with Friedrich Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne) in the 1994 film version of Little Women.
ON THIS DATE in 1868, Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, a still-beloved children’s book that introduced three teenage (at the start) March sisters: Meg, sixteen; Jo, fifteen; and Beth, thirteen — plus twelve-year-old Amy.
Responsible Meg and virtuous Beth are fine, but it’s Jo that readers love. Strong-willed and tomboyish, she is the character who most resembles the young Alcott. Like the author, Jo wants to be a writer and cares nothing for romance, although she does eventually wed (Alcott never married).
The major event in Little Women (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) is the death of Beth, who succumbs to scarlet fever. In a 1997 episode of “Friends,” Rachel deliberately shocks Joey, who is reading the book, by blurting “Beth dies!” Joey is horrified, naturally.
Little Women first appeared as a film in 1933 with Katharine Hepburn playing Jo. An all-star 1949 version featured June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg, Margaret O’Brien as Beth, and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy. In 1994, Winona Ryder played Jo with Claire Danes as Beth and Kirsten Dunst as the young Amy. That cast also included Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March, Christian Bale as Jo’s friend Laurie, and Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer, the man Jo marries.