'Little Women' filmed at Arnold Arboretum.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Arts & Culture

As a backdrop for the movies, it’s a natural

Columbia Pictures transforms Arboretum into Paris park for film ‘Little Women’

3 min read

When the most American of landscape designers, Frederick Law Olmsted, drew his plans for Arnold Arboretum, he couldn’t have imagined it would double as a Paris park in a film version of an acclaimed literary work of his time.

But on Wednesday, Columbia Pictures used a portion of the Arboretum to film a scene for its take on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 “Little Women.”

“Where else could you possibly film anywhere in the country that would have the feeling of a 19th century European park?” asked Arboretum Director William (Ned) Friedman, the Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. “When you look at the environment here you are transported in time. Olmsted created these landscapes for the ages.”

“Where else could you possibly film anywhere in the country that would have the feeling of a 19th century European park?”

William (Ned) Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
Talia Krohmal works on the set of 'Little Women.'
Horses on the set of 'Little Women.'
William (Ned) Friedman.
William (Ned) Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum, is interviewed on the set of “Little Women.”

Columbia film crews arrived Tuesday to begin the transformation for the scene “Paris Carriage Ride.” Paved roads magically turned to dirt lined with antique gas lanterns and iron filigree park furniture, and traveled by horse-drawn carriages. On Wednesday, costumed men wearing top hats and ladies in Victorian petticoat dresses strolled along the tree-lined path.

“It’s possible to imagine Louisa May Alcott walking here,” said Friedman. “Creating a backdrop for something as wonderful as this book is extraordinary.

“It’s the moment, the historical nature, it’s a magical mix.”

Filming lasted one day and took place on a segment of Meadow Road. On hand were the film’s director and writer, Greta Gerwig, and stars Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, and Florence Pugh. The Arboretum is one of several locations in the Boston area being used as set pieces for the movie.

“We are honored and thrilled to be filming ‘Little Women’ in the beautiful Arnold Arboretum, a great Boston treasure since the days of Louisa May Alcott,” said Amy Pascal, the film’s producer.

“Little Women” is the first movie to be filmed at the Arnold Arboretum, which was established in 1872. Friedman said the story speaks to Harvard’s and the Arboretum’s values — aspects of inclusion and diversity, and the eternal quest to achieve one’s aspirations. It not only examines the period when the Alcott family was exploring how to educate, but also a time of great social change — a time when, like today, questions about women and empowerment resonated, he said.