Harper Valley

Harper Valley is the fictitious community named in the 1968 hit song "Harper Valley PTA" as well as the movie and television series of the same name. The community, supposedly located in Ohio near Cincinnati, was founded by the Harper family and in the movie and television series, was personified by Otis Harper, Jr. (played in the movie by Pat Paulsen and in the television series, in a friendlier form, by George Gobel).

The other powerful family in the community was the Reilly family, headed by pompous and snobbish Flora Simpson Reilly (played in the television series by Anne Francine and the movie by Audrey Christie). In the movie, she was married to a man named Henry Reilly; but in the television series, she was considered a widow with the presumption that Henry had died. She had a daughter in the television series named Wanda Reilly Taylor (Bridget Hanley).

In both movie and TV show, she had grandchildren. In the movie, her granddaughters were twins, Edwina and Bettina, (played by twins Laura and Jan Teige). In the television series, her granddaughter was named Scarlett (played by Suzi Dean). In the movie, due to their being reared by their snobbish grandmother, Bettina (and Edwina, to a lesser extent) were enemies of Stella Johnson's daughter, Dee (played by Susan Swift in the movie; Jenn Thompson played her in the television series); whilst in the TV show, Scarlett (Wanda was her mother) was Dee's adversary.

To the untrained eye, Harper Valley looked like any other small town on the surface, prim and proper and friendly. In reality, it was full of people who had very little if any real moral character. In fact, most of the town characters were miscreants, adulterers, alcoholics, and other kinds of people of that stripe.

A resident of the community, Stella Johnson (played in both the movie and TV show by Barbara Eden), a widowed door-to-door cosmetics salesperson with a thirteen-year old daughter (the aforementioned Dee) was sent a denounciatory letter calling her on her flaunting of the societal mores of the time, (mainly that the PTA thought she was a disgusting role model for Harper Valley's impressionable young people, and a very real temptation for their husbands, due to her wearing miniskirts, drinking and flirting with men, etc.) and if she did not mend her ways more to the PTA's liking, Dee would be expelled from school. In short, Dee was being punished for the perceived transgressions of her mother.

Furious with their snobbery and their self-righteousness and hypocrisy, Stella stormed to the school, and in a never-to-be-forgotten confrontation with the PTA, exposed them all to be the frauds that she knew them to be. Her prime enemies were Flora and the other women who were allied with her either professionally or socially.

Stella's friends in town were Alice Finley, the owner of La Moderne, the local beauty shop. In the movie, Alice is played by Nanette Fabray) and Cassie Bowman (on the television show, played by Fannie Flagg). Cassie also subsequently worked and was said to have owned the La Moderne (performing the same functions Alice did in the Movie as Stella's friend and co-conspirator). She later found a job at Harper Valley's newspaper, The Sentinel as a reporter.

In the television show, her relationship with Willamae Jones (played in the series by Edie McClurg) was more friendly and not nearly as acrimonious as it was in the movie (Willamae was played in the movie by Fay DeWitt), and she was also semi-friendly with fellow PTA member Vivian Washburn (played by actress Mari Gorman). She got on well with other members of the PTA, to some degree, excepting for the Reillys.

Harper Valley's bank was the Bank of Harper Valley, owned by the Reilly family. Bobby Taylor (played in the movie by John Fiedler and in the television show by Rod McCary), who was married into the Reilly family in the TV show, was the town's leading attorney.

From the song

From the song lyrics, (first names are from the movie) are the sins that the so-called "proper citizens" of Harper Valley were called upon at the infamous PTA meeting, plus the punishing revenge, if any, that were exacted upon them:

  • Bobby Taylor—Lechery (for being turned down seven times by Stella because of his lewd proposals). His punishment was that he was arrested for indecent exposure (he was naked except for a fire hose wrapped around him!).
  • Mrs. Holly Taylor (DeVera Marcus)—drunkenness, due to her husband being away and straying from her so often. In the movie, she was spared any revenge, for she was far angrier at Bobby than she ever was at Stella, who, to her credit and Holly realized this, turned him down all seven times.
  • Mr. Kirby Baker (Louis Nye)—impregnating his former secretary, Gladys Wilmot, which forced her to leave town and have an abortion in nearby Cincinnati. His punishment was that he was thrown into his water bed after he tried to seduce Myrna Wong (Irene Yaah-Li-Sung), a friend of Stella's, and was jailed for assaulting her. It was also discovered that he had impregnated his current secretary.
  • Mrs. Willamae Jones (Fay DeWitt)—lustfulness, in the movie, she was caught in flagrante delicto with the mailman, "Cranky" Barney Crunk. Her tryst with the mailman was spliced into a sex education film which was subsequently shown to the girls at the high school, thoroughly embarrassing her, to the point where she screams.
  • Mr. Otis Harper, Jr—drunkenness, that is drinking all the leftovers at Kelly's Bar, the local watering hole. His punishment was a herd of elephants that were painted pink and set loose in his huge house. (In this revenge scheme, Dee, Stella's daughter, had a part to play in this one.)
  • Ms. Shirley Thompson (Amzie Strickland)—drunkenness, for indulging in too much gin. In the movie, she was shown to be more sympathetic, rather being more manipulated than manipulative, and as a result of this, she was spared any revenge by Stella. However, she was defeated in re-election to the PTA board, although that wasn't made explicitly clear, but it was presumed that she was.

Two other male members of the PTA were also spared humiliation. Willis Newton (Ronny Cox) was more than impressed and intrigued by Stella's bravery and fell in love with her. They were eventually married at the end of the movie, when Stella won the PTA presidency and the community enthusiastically voted out Flora and her friends; and Skeeter Duggan (Bob Hastings) was also sympathetic to Stella, and for that, was kidnapped by the more conniving members of the PTA to commit election fraud.

Added in the movie, but not in the song, Flora Simpson Reilly loses her hairdo by means of a depilatory concoction made up during her usual rollup and set at the La Moderne Beauty Shop; and the secretary of the PTA, a Mrs. Olive Glover, (Molly Dodd) known for her blatant gambling problem, was in the most messy revenge scheme of them all. She had a couple tons of horse manure and hay dumped on her. Also, she was arrested for embezzlement, as she stole funds from a milk fund rally, which she used for her betting, and trying to pin the blame on a student, Dee's friend Mavis (Louise Foley).

Also, in the movie, Dee gets a boyfriend in a young man named Carlyle (Brian Cook) which incurs the jealousy of snobby Bettina Reilly, but in the end, he saw that Dee was the girl he wanted, and not Bettina.

As her conclusion, Stella yells that they "have the nerve to tell me you think as a mother I'm not fit—well, this is just a little Peyton Place and you're all Harper Valley hypocrites!" She then furiously storms out of the meeting, Dee following along behind her.

After the meeting, Dee wrote in her diary about her mother's unquestionable bravery. She wrote that mainly, Mama busted up the Harper Valley PTA meeting and really socked it to them! She called them a bunch of hypocrites and spilled the beans about all of them. I know this will keep us at the bottom of the town's popularity poll, but it will show them not to mess around with my Mama!

Stella's speech

From the movie, Stella's denounciatory speech to the PTA.

Stella: "You wrote me a letter that I'd like to reply to in public! You say I'm not fit to live in this fine American town. That I don't come up to your standards, or whatever you consider decent. Well...I'm here to call a few kettles black! How ya doin' Bobby Taylor?! If I hadn't turned you down, seven times for lewd proposals, I'd have turned you down once! If I were you, Holly, I'd have taken this man in and had him neutered! Oh, and Holly, honey, you'd better lay off the booze, or Mac's Liquor Store is gonna take your home, for the booze bill! And Mr. Kirby Baker, our fine real estate executive. Baker Realty, honesty! Honesty since 1938! Your secretary, poor little Gladys Wilmot, she had to leave town awful suddenly. Had to see a special doctor in Cincinnati? If you all know what I mean! And oh, I know the nights are so warm that poor Willamae has to leave her shades open an inch...or so. Just to catch the cool Summer breezes, of course. And don't a few of our more prominent citizens simply love to stroll by Willamae's house on these summer evenings and peek through the shades just for the entertainment? Oh, did you stay too long at Kelly's Bar again, Otis? Oh Yes, we mustn't forget our illustrious town founder's offspring, Otis Harper, Jr. That fine cornerstone of the community, drinking all the leftovers at Kelly's Bar every night at Closing Time? Ooh, and I bet if you checked Shirley Thompson's breath, you find she just took a little nip of gin! But, lest we forget, Miss Olive Glover, the grand secretary of this council. Huh! Poor Olive! She keeps such good books, but she's got this teensy-weensy little gambling problem that everyone knows about but no one would dare speak of in public, of course. I mean, nobody would ever speak of any of these terrible lies in public, would they Mrs. Flora Simpson Reilly, and I'm saving up something special for you! Oh, let's face it! This here is just a little Peyton Place and you all are a bunch of Harper Valley hypocrites!!"

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