Harper Valley PTA (film)

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Harper Valley PTA
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Bennett
Produced by George Edwards
Written by George Edwards
Barry Schneider
Starring Barbara Eden
Nanette Fabray
Ronny Cox
Louis Nye
Susan Swift
Pat Paulsen
Music by Nelson Riddle
Cinematography Willy Kurant
Edited by Michael Economou
Distributed by April Fools Productions
Release dates
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1 million
Box office $25 million (USA)

Harper Valley PTA is a 1978 comedy film inspired by the popular 1968 country song "Harper Valley PTA" written by Tom T. Hall and performed by Jeannie C. Riley. The film starred Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Ronny Cox, Louis Nye and Susan Swift, directed by Richard Bennett, and was mainly released to drive-in theaters throughout the summer of 1978. The film has a cult following in fans of the original song.

The film's promotional tagline is: "The song was scandalous. The movie is hilarious!"


Stella Johnson is a beautiful widowed single mother who lives in the town of Harper Valley, Ohio. She sells cosmetics door-to-door for the fictitious AngelGlo Cosmetics. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Dee, a student at Harper Valley Junior High School.

After leaving school, Dee brings her mother a letter from the school's Parent Teacher Association board, which is led by the pompous and snobbish Flora Simpson Reilly. The letter denounces her for her not following the societal mores of the day and the community and further stating that if she didn't change her ways more to the board's liking, Dee would be punished for her mother's sins by being expelled from school.

Infuriated by the board's supposed superiority and their glaring hypocrisy, Stella storms to the PTA meeting being held that day, and proceeds to tell most of the PTA members off by exposing their hidden skeletons for the town to see.

After her house is TP'ed, and a rock is thrown through her window in retaliation for what she did, Stella prepares to get even with those who would want her driven out of town. She teams up with her friends, beautician Alice Finley and bartender Herbie Maddox, who along with Dee's help, wreak hilarious and justified revenge on six of the PTA members who hated Stella.

During the course of the movie, she finds out that one of the male PTA members, wealthy Willis Newton, has fallen in love with her.

Will, and another male on the PTA board, Skeeter Duggan, the town's Notary public, do not agree with Flora and her friends and are sympathetic to Stella. After being convinced by Will of the current PTA's treachery and with his help, Stella goes ahead and makes a run for President of the PTA, which infuriates Flora and her allies.

After one of their own, real estate agent Kirby Baker, is arrested for assaulting Myrna Wong, an Asian-American friend of Stella's, after he attempts to run Stella out of town by means of a foreclosure, things become more and more desperate.

The board finally decide to resort to criminal means to maintain the power they hold in town, which is fast slipping away. The board members then decide to go and hire a couple of kidnappers named Dutch and Tex to have Skeeter abducted so they can commit election fraud.

The kidnappers snatch Skeeter as he is taking the trash out, and lock him in a monastery, where he is imprisoned and made drunk on wine. Eventually, Stella and Alice, disguised as nuns, find him, and free him.

After a makeover, which sees her braces removed and her hair styled, Dee also finds a boyfriend in handsome Carlyle a popular school track star, which incurs the jealousy of Bettina Reilly, the equally snobbish granddaughter of Flora.

Also shown are Edwina, Bettina's twin sister who is less snobbish than her sister and Dee's best friend, Mavis, who, herself, becomes a target of the PTA's cruelty by being falsely accused of stealing money by Olive Glover, the PTA's corrupt recording secretary.

Olive, who has a hardcore gambling addiction, has actually stolen money from the Milk Fund Rally, one of the PTA's numerous fund raisers, and intends to having Mavis framed for the crime and arrested.

Ultimately, Flora's scheme to discredit Stella fails miserably. Olive is arrested for embezzlement. Dutch and Tex, already in custody for the Skeeter Duggan kidnapping, tell the police that Flora was behind it all to keep Stella off the PTA board.

Stella decisively wins the election and becomes the new PTA president, with the whole town voting to get rid of Flora and her snobbish friends. Will and Stella then fly off in his helicopter and marry while she announces her plans to run for mayor.

Cast and characters[edit]

  • Barbara Eden as Stella Johnson, a widowed cosmetics salesperson with a young daughter, whose individuality angers most of the powerful people in town and on the Parent Teachers Association board. She inevitably becomes PTA president after embarrassing Flora, the snobby former President and her equally snobby friends.
  • Ronny Cox as Willis "Will" Newton, a wealthy member of the PTA who doesn't agree with Flora and her snobby allies and is in love with Stella. He and Stella get married at the end of the movie.
  • Nanette Fabray as Alice Finley, Stella's best friend and co-conspirator against the snobs of Harper Valley. She owns and operates the La Moderne Beauty Shop.
  • Louis Nye as Kirby Baker, a local real estate agent who is allied with Flora and her friends. Notorious for being a lecherous playboy and impregnating his secretaries, one of whom, Gladys Wilmot, left town to see an abortionist in Cincinnati. He tries to foreclose on Stella's house, which infuriates her. He then gets arrested and jailed for attacking Myrna Wong, a friend of Stella's, who rebuffs his advances, throwing him by use of martial arts and destroying the office.
  • John Fiedler as Bobby Taylor, a man on the PTA who lusts after Stella. Overly dominated by his wife, Holly. Although open to allow Stella to speak, he is not above having a fellow PTA board member kidnapped to commit election fraud. He was arrested for indecent exposure.
  • Ron Masak as Herbie Maddox, the head bartender at Kelly's bar, and Stella's ally against Flora and her friends. He has a crush on Stella, and is one of her friends.
  • Clint Howard as Corley, a young delivery person, who works for the local florist shop, who brings Stella flowers from Will.
  • Susan Swift as Dee Johnson, Stella's 14-year-old daughter, who is threatened with expulsion from school if her mother doesn't conform to the way the PTA wants her to behave. She has a hand in assisting her mother and Alice with one of their revenge schemes. She loses her braces, gets a makeover, and ends up with a boyfriend, Carlyle.
  • Pat Paulsen as Otis Harper, the descendant of the founding family of Harper Valley. A PTA member who is allied with Flora and her friends. Has a tendency to drink all the time, which annoys his wife, Bertha. He had a stampede of elephants, painted pink, stormed through his house, destroying it.
  • Amzie Strickland as Shirley Thompson, a member of the PTA board who tends to drink a lot of gin. Though she is allied with Flora and her friends, she is spared any retribution from Stella. She was seen as the most sympathetic of the board, as she tended to be more manipulated as opposed to being manipulative. It was never revealed whether or not she retained her seat on the PTA, but it is presumed that she became more sympathetic towards Stella as she was seen waving goodbye at Olive as she was being arrested.
  • Bob Hastings as Skeeter Duggan, a member of the PTA board, and the town's Notary public who is sympathetic to Stella. He is kidnapped by Dutch and Tex at Flora Simpson Reilly's orders.
  • Audrey Christie as Flora Simpson Reilly, The movie's main antagonist. She is the pompous and extremely snobbish president of the PTA board who thoroughly despises Stella, who defeats her for president at the end of the movie, and all she stands for. So desperate is she to retain her power and prestige in the community that she has a fellow member of the PTA (Skeeter Duggan) kidnapped so she and her allies can commit election fraud. She is embarrassed when her permanent set is destroyed by a hair depilatory at the beauty salon.
  • Molly Dodd as Olive Glover, the recording secretary of the PTA who is a gambling addict. Clearly the most corrupt and most vindictive member of the PTA board, she is eventually arrested for embezzlement after having a lot of hay and horse manure dumped on her. She is the one who initially angers Stella by sending her the letter denouncing her, and tries to get Dee's friend, Mavis, arrested for embezzlement.
  • Fay DeWitt as Willamae Jones, a snide biology teacher at the junior high school who is also a member of the PTA. She makes no secret of the fact that she favors the Reilly twins, due to the connections between her and Flora. Notorious for being a nymphomaniac, she is caught in flagrante delicto with Barney Crunk, the town's mailman, on film.
  • DeVera Marcus as Holly Taylor, Bobby's obviously overbearing wife, who tends to drink a lot when Bobby is out of town, and doesn't approve of Bobby's lusting, or of anything else he does. However, she, like Shirley Thompson, is spared any retribution from Stella, due to Stella refusing to date Bobby.
  • Louise Foley as Mavis, Dee Johnson's best friend, who is nearly framed for a crime she did not commit by the vindictive Olive Glover.
  • Brian Cook as Carlyle, a popular track star who chooses Dee, after she gets a makeover, and angers Bettina Reilly in the process.
  • Laura Teige as Bettina Reilly, One of Flora's twin granddaughters, who wants to be with Carlyle, and is jealous when he chooses Dee over her. She tends to be as snotty as her grandmother.
  • Jan Teige as Edwina Reilly, Bettina's twin sister, who is less snotty than her.
  • Irene Yah-Ling Sun as Myrna Wong, a friend of Stella's who is attacked by Kirby Baker (she destroys him and his office in retaliation), and has him sent to jail for assault.
  • Tobias Anderson as "Cranky" Barney Crunk, the town's nosy mailman who had the bad habit of peeking in everyone's mail. He is caught in flagrante delicto on film with Willamae Jones.
  • Royce D. Applegate as Dutch, one of two kidnappers who abduct Skeeter Duggan at Flora Simpson Reilly's orders.
  • J. J. Barry as Tex, the mastermind of the kidnap plot to get Skeeter Duggan out of the way so Flora Simpson Reilly and her friends could commit election fraud. He and his accomplice Dutch were arrested and the two of them ratted out Flora and her friends on their scheme.
  • Pitt Herbert as Henry Reilly, Flora's overly dominated husband and grandfather to Edwina and Bettina. Henry is wealthy, but is very weak-willed and is known for acquiescing to his wife's schemes.
  • Arlen Stuart as Bertha Harper, wife of Otis Harper, who gets annoyed by her husband's continual drinking. She is scared when her house is destroyed by elephants, painted pink, due to Otis' drinking.

Production and release[edit]


Harper Valley PTA was filmed in twenty-seven days from October 1, 1977 to December 8, 1977. It was filmed on location for one week in the town of Lebanon, Ohio and then continued in Los Angeles, California.[1]

On October 31, 1977, production ceased temporarily when Nanette Fabray was knocked to the ground by a spooked elephant while shooting a scene involving pink elephants in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California;[2] she suffered a severe concussion, bruises and back sprains and was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where her condition was reported as serious but stable. Following her recovery, filming resumed on November 30.[3]


Harper Valley PTA opened in six theaters in Lebanon, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio on May 23, 1978 in accordance with executive producer Phil Borack's plan to release the film first in smaller markets, where regional success could encourage exhibitors in bigger cities to book the film. The film grossed over $2 million its opening weekend, $5.8 million in its first three weeks and over $16 million after twelve weeks. The film opened in Los Angeles on August 2, 1978 and in New York City on January 12, 1979.


Harper Valley PTA:
Original Soundtrack Recording
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released June 1978
Recorded Singleton Sound Studios
Nashville, Tennessee
Genre Soundtrack
Length 29:50
Label Plantation Records
Producer Shelby S. Singleton, Jr.
Singles from Harper Valley PTA
  1. "Harper Valley PTA (re-issue)"
    Released: July 1978

Harper Valley PTA soundtrack album was released on vinyl, cassette tape and 8-track tape by Plantation Records in 1978. To promote the film's release and its soundtrack, the title song by Jeannie C. Riley was re-issued as a single.

Side 1
  1. "Harper Valley PTA" – Jeannie C. Riley (3:21)
  2. "Dee's Visit" (Instrumental) – Nelson Riddle (2:10)
  3. "Mr. Harper" – Barbara Eden (2:22)
  4. "Alice's Place" (Instrumental) – Nelson Riddle (2:29)
  5. "High School Confidential" – Jerry Lee Lewis (3:07)
  6. "Willie Mae" (Instrumental) – Nelson Riddle (2:01)
Side 2
  1. "Harper Valley PTA" (Instrumental) – Nelson Riddle (1:55)
  2. "Widow Jones" – Barbara Eden (2:38)
  3. "Twin Tune" (Instrumental) – Nelson Riddle (1:30)
  4. "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" – Johnny Cash (2:51)
  5. "Ice Cream Disco" (Instrumental) – Nelson Riddle (1:48)
  6. "Whatever Happened to Charlie Brown" – Rita Remington & Carol Channing (2:40)
  7. "Ending (Reprise: Harper Valley PTA)" (Instrumental) (1:05)

Television series[edit]

In 1981, Harper Valley PTA was made into a television sitcom (created by Sherwood Schwartz) which aired on NBC from January 1981 to May 1982. Barbara Eden reprised her role as Stella Johnson for the series which lasted two seasons and a total of 30 episodes were produced.


External links[edit]