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The working titles of this film were Midnight and Jeremiah and How Dear to My Heart. During the picture's onscreen credits, a written acknowledgment extends thanks to the Department of Conservation-State of Indiana and the Department of Animal Husbandry-California State Polytechnic College. Sterling North's book Midnight and Jeremiah, published in 1943, was a children's book, which North later incorporated into a longer adult novel entitled So Dear to My Heart, published in 1947. In order to advertise the film, a condensed version of So Dear to My Heart appeared in the December 1948 issue of Reader's Digest, which featured a special band around the magazine announcing that the story featured illustrations from the forthcoming motion picture. It was the first time that Reader's Digest had published an "abbreviated version of a book simultaneously with the release of the film version," according to a September 1948 Variety news item.
Dan Patch, the famed trotting horse portrayed in the film, raced during the early 1900s and set numerous trotting records. The horse's record of trotting a mile in under two minutes stood for thirty-three years. According to the press materials for the film, Dan Patch, who died in 1916, earned approximately $400,000 during his trotting career.
A November 21, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Arthur Johnston had been signed to write music for the film, and on March 1, 1946 Hollywood Reporter noted that Sam Coslow had "checked in" at the studio to write lyrics to accompany Johnston's music. Johnston and Coslow are not credited onscreen, however, nor by any other contemporary source. Although a June 1946 memo, contained in the Walt Disney Archives, noted that Joyce Arling had been cast as "Tildy's" mother, that character does not appear in the finished film.
According to daily production reports, located at the studio archives, the live-action sequences were shot on location at Porterville, Tulare and Hot Springs, CA. Modern sources add Sequoia National Park as a location site. According to contemporary sources, Spelman B. Collins, who plays a judge in the film, was an instructor at Cal Poly, and Fred Carter and Bill Todd (Sheep handlers), were two of his "sheep husbandry students." Sources also note that the county fair sequences were shot at Mooney Park in Tulare County in the San Joaquin Valley, and that many local citizens were used as extras for the fair scenes. Actor Burl Ives, director Harold Schuster and his assistant, Jasper Blystone, were borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production. In a modern interview, Schuster stated that his direction of the 1943 Twentieth Century-Fox motion picture My Friend Flicka prompted Disney to hire him.
The film was previewed at the 27th National 4-H Congress in Chicago on November 29, 1948. Bobby Driscoll made a personal appearance at the 4-H convention, which was attended by over 1,200 children, and part of the event was filmed for an NBC television show. According to a December 14, 1948 Film Daily news item, the picture was to have another preview for the National Cartoonist Society on December 23, 1948. An "area world preview" was held 14 January-January 22, 1949 in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, during which Disney and cast members attended many publicity functions and several screenings of the picture. Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten and Beulah Bondi were joined at the official premiere on January 19, 1948, in Indianapolis, IN, by Clarence "Ducky" Nash, who provided the voice of Donald Duck, and Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys.
The film, which received very positive reviews, features approximately twelve minutes of animation, primarily of the "Wise Old Owl" as he sings stories about David and Goliath, Christopher Columbus and others in order to encourage "Jeremiah" in his efforts to make his lamb a champion. It was the least amount of animation to appear in a Disney feature film until the all live-action production of Treasure Island in 1950. In a February 6, 1949 article, New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther stated that Disney had entered the field of live-action films "more from necessity than from choice," due to the shortage of cartoonists after the end of World War II and to the economic advantages of producing live action instead of feature-length animation. According to an October 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item, the first Disney True-Life Adventure short, Seal Island was completed especially to run with So Dear to My Heart, thereby eliminating the need for a second movie on the traditional double bill.
So Dear to My Heart marked the last screen appearance of longtime western actor Harry Carey, who died in September 1947. Eliot Daniel and Larry Morey received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song for their adaptation of the English folksong "Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)." The film's popular songs were recorded by a number of well-known singers, including Dinah Shore, Peggy Lee and Mel Torm. According to an April 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, Schuster was awarded the Blue Ribbon Plaque by the National Screen Council. Child actor Driscoll received a special Oscar as the "outstanding juvenile actor" of 1949 for his work in this film and the RKO production The Window. So Dear to My Heart has been theatrically re-issued only once, in 1964, but has been released on home video twice.