Grahm's Guide
to Filming Locations

Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978) Filming Locations

 

The Song

The “Harper Valley P.T.A” saga began with a song. In 1967, Bobbie Gentry had a crossover monster hit with her song “Ode to Billie Joe.” Margie Singleton had some success with her cover of Gentry’s song, so she asked Tom T. Hall to write a similar song for her as a follow-up.

The song that Hall wrote for Singleton was “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which he based upon a story he’d heard growing up in Olive Hill, Kentucky. However, Jeannie C. Riley, from Anson, Texas, recorded a version of “Harper Valley P.T.A” on July 26, 1968, and it was on the radio and on the Billboard charts in August. The song became a huge hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 21, 1968, and topping the Billboard Hot Country chart on September 28, 1968, making it the first song by a woman to reach the top of both charts.
For an engrossing look at the history of the song, don’t miss the Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast episodes on producer Shelby Singleton‬, singer Jeannie C. Riley‬ and songwriter Tom T. Hall‬.

 
 
 © 1978 April Fools Productions, Inc.

© 1978 April Fools Productions, Inc.

 
 

The song’s narrative serves as the film’s foundation, but it’s fashioned into a “zany” comedy. When the Harper Valley Parent Teacher Association (PTA) sends a letter to a mother, denouncing her short miniskirts, that mother strikes back at a P.T.A. meeting that afternoon. In the film, the mother continues seeking revenge against P.T.A board members by using their sins against them in an escalating series of pranks.

 

The Locations

     Harper Valley P.T.A. was filmed in Lebanon, Ohio, with additional scenes filmed in California.
     If you have any tips on locations that I missed, please contact me on the Grahm's Guide Facebook page.
     SPOILER ALERT: The descriptions below include plot points of the film.  If you haven't seen the movie, you can buy the DVD on Amazon.

 

Harper Valley, Ohio
As the song plays, the film opens with an unbroken 2-minute-and-20-second aerial "establishing shot" of Harper Valley, beginning with a lingering loop around the featured school and continuing over the downtown area. Other aerial shots zoom into specific locations seen throughout the movie.
Later, the film’s ending features additional aerial views of fictional Harper Valley.
     The overhead shots actually show Lebanon, Ohio, where many of the exterior locations were filmed.

 An overhead view of Harper Valley © 1978 April Fools Productions, Inc.

An overhead view of Harper Valley
© 1978 April Fools Productions, Inc.

 

The Johnson House
     An aerial view of a residential neighborhood transitions to a ground-level view of the home of “Harper Valley widowed wife” Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden) and her 14-year-old daughter Dee (Susan Swift). As Stella parties with friends, Dee brings home a letter from the Harper Valley P.T.A.*
The Johnson house is located at 434 Deerfield Road, Lebanon, OH 45036.
Reference: I was aware of the location from my familiarity with the area, and it’s also listed on IMDb.
Please respect the property and privacy of the residents of this private home.

* In the song, Mrs. Johnson “had a teenage daughter who attended Harper Valley Junior High,” but, in the movie, the envelope with the P.T.A. letter is from “Harper Valley High School.” While there’s no uniform definition of “junior high school” across America, they can be for students in 7th, 8th and 9th grades**, whereas a “high school” might hold classes for students in 9th or 10th grade through 12th grades.
I suspect that the filmmakers changed the setting from the song’s junior high to a high school to allow a slightly older Dee to have a character arc with a teenage romance.
[**Alternatively, some school systems use the “middle school” organization for 6th, 7th and 8th grades.]

 

Harper Valley High School
     Angered by the P.T.A. letter, Stella stomps up the steps of Harper Valley High School to storm the P.T.A. meeting, while an embarrassed Dee tries to avoid it.
Later, Dee talks with Carlyle (Brian Cook), the object of her affections, on the school’s front lawn. (Sadly, Brian Cook, the Lebanon resident who played Carlyle, died in 2017.)
The school building used in the movie is named for Lucile Berry, a longtime teacher in Lebanon, and had once been a high school. At the time of filming, the school was known as Berry Middle School, and is now the Berry Intermediate School, 23 Oakwood Avenue, Lebanon, OH 45036.
Look for then-Lebanon-resident Woody Harrelson as an extra in a scene on the school’s front lawn.

 
 Alice’s beauty shop from  Harper Valley P.T.A. , as seen in April 2018

Alice’s beauty shop from Harper Valley P.T.A., as seen in April 2018

Alice's Beauty Shop
     Stella’s friend Alice (Nanette Fabray) works in a local beauty shop, and the two meet there to plot revenge.
The exterior establishing shot of the shop is at 30 N Broadway, Lebanon, OH 45036, which is now the home of iSAC Hobbies. Interior shots of the beauty shop are obviously not at the same location seen on-screen, and were most likely filmed in California.
Reference: I recognized this location due to my familiarity with the area.

 

Ice Cream Parlor
Dee meets her friend Mavis (Louise Foley) at a restaurant after the discovery of stolen P.T.A. funds.
The on-screen ice cream parlor is the Village Ice Cream Parlor, 22 S Broadway St, Lebanon, OH 45036, and they’re proud of their part in two Hollywood movies, with a large, framed tribute to the filming of Harper Valley P.T.A. in their entryway.
(Read an account of being an “extra” in the scene by a former Lebanon resident who is now an author.)
The Village Ice Cream Parlor has been serving up delicious food and ice cream since 1969, with a charm that hearkens back even earlier. Be sure to ask for their cherry-flavored Coke, and as a favor to me, ask when they’re bringing back the Pizza Burger.

 
 The Newton Farm from  Harper Valley P.T.A. , as seen in May 2014

The Newton Farm from Harper Valley P.T.A., as seen in May 2014

Willis Newton’s Farm
Willis “Will” Newton (Ronny Cox), Stella’s suitor, lives in a stately hilltop home on his farm, as seen in the opening aerial footage of the film.
The exterior establishing shots of the farm were taken at 1784 W State Route 63, Lebanon, OH 45036, which was known at the time as Shaker Hill Farm.
Reference: I recognized this location due to my familiarity with the area.

 

Extras
On Tuesday, May 23, 1978, Harper Valley P.T.A. had a special premiere at Lebanon’s Colony Square Cinema, and opened in a few other theaters in the Cincinnati area. As the film rolled out nationwide, it became a hit at the box office.
When NBC aired the television premiere of the movie on Sunday February 24, 1980, it was the highest rated program for the week.
The success of the TV broadcast led NBC to develop a TV series based on the movie, with only Barbara Eden returning to her role as Stella, for a half-hour sitcom that aired from January 16, 1981 through May 1, 1982.

 © 1978 April Fools Productions, Inc.

© 1978 April Fools Productions, Inc.