After the Burden’s move into town to have an
easier life and to provide Jimmy with a better
education, Otto leaves and moves on to work the
mines in the west. After one brief letter, their
beloved friend is never heard from again.
Jimmy heads to college and becomes a lawyer. He
marries Lena, who has followed him back East.
He and Antonia remain friends, but have drifted
apart. Jimmy returns to Nebraska years later and
finds her happily married with several children.
Orphaned after his parents die in a smallpox epidemic in Virginia, teenage Jimmy Burden moves to the farm where his
grandparents, Josia and Emmaline Burden, live outside of Black Hawk, Nebraska.
Their neighbors are new immigrants from Bohemia, the Shimerda family. Jimmy instantly becomes friends with the
family's 15-year-old daughter, Antonia. Her father wants him to teach her English, but his grandfather is not pleased
with their friendship or her distracting him from his studies. In spite of his grandfather's disapproval, Jimmy finds
many opportunities to spend time with her, even though he is also attracted to the beautiful Lena, a Swedish girl
about his age.
Antonia's father is found dead shortly after he visits the Burden's at Christmas time. The Shimerda family was ill
prepared for the harsh Nebraska winters, and his depression was evident as he realized he was unable to keep his
family warm or well fed. Antonia was the hardest working and strongest in the family, and was able to hold them
together in spite of the hardships they faced. She seemed to thrive on working the land to help provide for her family
instead of attending school with Jimmy.
My apologies for murky screencaps. Many of the scenes were poorly lit on
purpose to give the realistic impression of sod homes and candlelit rooms.
Otto befriends Jimmy after he picks him up from the train station.
He helps him with his new horse and advises him when he has
Jimmy soon moves to town with his aging grandparents, who had talked about wanting an easier life than they had on the
farm. They also want to nurture his potential for becoming a university student. Antonia comes to work in town, thanks to
the help of Jimmy's grandmother, but it's made clear to her that she is not to distract Jimmy from his studies. Although
Jimmy does go off to the state university in Lincoln and eventually Harvard Law School, he and Antonia continue to have a
deep friendship and understanding when they are reunited even though they have been apart for many years.
Jimmy’s new home in Nebraska.
Jimmy’s grandparents, the Burden’s, as played by
Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint.
Otto is driving the family over to see their
new neighbors, the Shimerda’s,
immigrants from Bohemia. This is when
Jimmy meets Antonia.
Jimmy is completely captivated by Antonia and spends as much time
as he can with her, under his Grandfather’s disapproving eye. It isn’t
long before the beautiful Lena comes along and flirts with Jimmy,
driving a wedge between them.
Otto is a true and dependable hand around the farm -- steady and always there.
It’s a hard winter and Otto reports that the Shimeda’s are not doing well -- they are ill
prepared for the harsh Nebraska winter in their sod home, with very little food or heat.
Mr. Shimeda pays the Burden’s a visit, and the next day is found dead by his
own hand, despondent over the fact that his family is cold and hungry.
About Norbert’s Character -- Otto
Norbert Weisser's character, Otto, wasn't very well
developed in this movie adaptation even though he
had a fairly prominent role. However, he is always
there, steady as a rock and well integrated with the
family, but not much is said about his life.
The book has quite a bit more of his story to tell.
Otto was considered a master craftsman and
woodworker from Austria. Since arriving in America
when he was quite a bit younger, he had worked at
many professions across the West -- cowboy,
prospector and most recently hired hand for the
Burden's. His character is described as looking like
something that stepped out of the times of Jesse
James, with a scar across his face. He was also
missing part of an ear from frostbite during the time
he was driving a stage coach in Wyoming and got
caught in a fierce blizzard.
Otto was a dependable and steady worker, and took
a liking to young Jimmy, showing him the ways of
farm life in rural Nebraska. To the delight of Jimmy,
Otto was always able to pull an unexpected surprise
or two out of his cowboy trunk, including several
beautiful hand-crafted Christmas figurines that he
had carried all the way from Austria.
When the family moved to town, Otto left to go
prospecting again. He was in touch with the family
briefly, but then nothing more was ever heard from
him, and his fate is unclear. Jimmy looked upon Otto
as an older brother and someone to look up to, and
missed his friend and companion very much.
Norbert's portrayal of Otto is quite wonderful, and
this character is most certainly among my top ten of
all time favorites.
About Willa Cather and her
Homestead in Red Cloud, Nebraska
Willa Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in Black
Creek Valley, Virginia. When she was ten she moved with
her family to Red Cloud, Nebraska. Her descriptions of
prairie life and the vast landscapes to be found there are
rich and heartfelt.
Cather was a writer celebrated for her novels of the
immigrant experience on the American frontier,
including O Pioneers! in 1913, and My Ántonia five years
later. She later moved to New York, where she edited
McClure's Magazine from 1906 to 1912, and also wrote
short stories. Her experiences in Nebraska were the
foundation of much of her work. During her long career
she was a prolific and well-regarded writer, known for
strong female characters and acute observations of life.
She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel One of
Ours, and received several honorary degrees and awards
during her life. Willa Cather died on April 24, 1947 of a
Additional reading on Willa Cather, rural Nebraska and
other links of interest can be found here:
Willa Cather website
Willa Cather on Wikipedia
This part of the Nebraska
prairie is part of the Willa
Cather Memorial Prairie, and is
where Willa Cather lived.
The Pavelka farmstead in
Nebraska provided the setting for
the movie. This is the actual
Annie Pavelka home.
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Please do not copy or distribute without written permission.
My Antonia is a 1995 made for TV movie that was directed by Joseph Sargent, who also directed the
wonderful movie The Incident. This is the first film adaptation of this Willa Cather classic American
novel. It is a coming-of-age story of set in 1880's rural Nebraska. The character of Antonia is based
on real-life Bohemian immigrant, Annie Pavelka. Norbert has the role of Otto. Neil Patrick Harris