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Literature / National Velvet

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National Velvet was first a 1935 novel, then a 1944 film, then a 1961 TV series.

The story begins with Velvet Brown, a neurotic 14-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to own a stable full of horses. After her father's employee Mi, (son of her mother's former swim coach) makes an offhand remark that a local piebald horse could win the Grand National (a real life horse endurance race), Velvet goes from obsessing over her collection of paper horses to wanting to win the horse in a raffle and train it. Once Piebald (King in the TV series) is hers, she and Mi become serious about racing. Velvet uses a fake name to compete, disguising herself as a boy, and when her true gender is discovered, she becomes a national sensation for reasons besides the racing.

In the film, Velvet was played by Elizabeth Taylor, in her Star-Making Role. Also in the cast were Mickey Rooney as Mi, Angela Lansbury as Velvet's older sister Edwina, and Anne Revere (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) and Donald Crisp as their parents. It was directed by Clarence Brown.

There was also a sequel to the movie released in 1978, called International Velvet and starring Tatum O'Neal in the title role.

Tropes related to the metaseries:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Velvet is a "thin as famine" blonde with crooked teeth and considered unattractive (until she gets on a horse). Elizabeth Taylor, of course, matched no part of that description.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Velvet's sisters like horses too. They're all very much into pretending to ride or drive wagons. These are young women in their mid- to late teens.
  • A Boy and His X: A girl and her horse. In the book, for her sister Meredith, a girl and her canaries.
  • Faint in Shock: Velvet faints in joy when she receives her pet horse The Pie. (In the book he's just called Piebald, but she does consider calling him The Pie officially for the race, deciding against it because then he'd be "The Pie" in all the record books.)
  • Hollywood Genetics: Angela Lansbury and Elizabeth Taylor don't really look like they could come from the same family. But that's canon. Velvet's sisters are stunning blondes who are repeatedly described as "golden greyhounds". Edwina, the eldest, is especially lovely and has a shy boyfriend who can't believe one of these goddesses wants to go out with him.
  • The Merch: In-universe, Velvet is disgusted by the merchandise produced to make a quick buck off her new-found fame.
  • Series Continuity Error: The Pie is specifically portrayed as a gelding, meaning he's castrated and thus incapable of reproducing. International Velvet ignores this point so that he can sire Arizona Pie.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Velvet disguises herself as a boy in order to participate in the race.