ANNE OF GREEN GABLES GROWS UP
“Suddenly I felt like the Ghost of Green Gables. I dreamt I was walking home, pondering new depths of despair, when I stopped to gaze at my reflection in the Lake of Shining Waters, wishing that some miracle would turn my horrid red hair to an exquisitely mature shade of auburn. Suddenly I toppled right in, just like Alice falling through the looking glass.
“I landed in a far-off future where Prince Edward Island was full of strange cars, and the red roads were paved black. Everywhere I went, I saw signs saying Green Gables this and Green Gables that. And Green Gables itself had been turned into a museum, looking neat as a pin with the rooms all roped off and visitors coming there all the way from Japan just to see it, although some of them looked awfully forlorn when the guide said I wasn’t a real person. Imagine that. But let me tell you about seeing myself on this television thing. ”
—How Anne of Green Gables might have reacted on seeing the future.
There ing the are young those and who the keep naïve remindthat Anne Shirley of Green Gables did not exist. Then there are those who have built an industry out of pretending otherwise. Canada’s most popular heroine first appeared 79 years ago as a stray idea that Prince Edward Island’s Lucy Maud Montgomery had picked up from a newspaper: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.” Montgomery pecked out the manuscript of Anne of Green Gables on a secondhand typewriter with a defective W (page 50). When she was finished, she wrote in her journal: “The book may or may not sell well. I wrote it for love, not money—but very often such books are the most successful.” In fact, Montgomery’s Anne has sold millions of copies in 17 languages. And the Anne cult has become a mainstay of Prince Edward Island’s tourist industry—as well as a national TV treasure. Next week the CBC
will air its second dramatic special based on the book.
With its 1985 Anne of Green Gables drama, the heroine whom Mark Twain called “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice” found an audience among adults as well as children. It drew a record audience of almost six million, raising high expectations for next week’s two-part, five-hour sequel. Actress Megan Follows breathed new life into the Anne legend, and she is back in the sequel (page 52). But the new Anne is different from the old. Like the mini-series itself, Anne is suddenly a big hit. Older, prettier and more popular, she is now a young woman coping with success.
Mischief: Anne of Green Gables—the Sequel is a coming-of-age story—without loss of innocence. Anne is still an impulsive meddler in other people’s lives. But the former brat is now wellmannered and well-dressed. Her disposition is sunnier, more helpful than
haughty. Even her famous tresses, now elegantly coiffed, have mellowed from red to auburn. The sequel contains ample physical mischief to keep the pace lively—Anne falls in the mud; Anne tosses a bag of firecrackers into the stove; Anne crashes through the roof of a tool shed. But more often, Anne behaves like a young adult with a mission, a Supergirl of Green Gables guiding those she likes to call “kindred spirits” toward her own road to success. As her cynical neighbor, Rachel Lynde, grudgingly acknowledges: “I never would have believed an orphan could have turned out so fine.”
Quilted from three of Montgomery’s own Anne sequels, the new mini-series has soap-opera symmetry. As it begins, Anne is an 18-yearold schoolteacher still living with her stepmother, Marilla (Colleen Dewhurst), in Green Gables. She turns down the earnest advances of Gilbert Blythe (Jonathan Crombie), who goes off to medical school. And she watches her bosom friend, Diana (Schuyler Grant), settle for an unromantic marriage. Longing for adventure, Anne leaves Prince Edward Island to teach at an elite girls’ school in a town on the mainland.
There, she clashes with the headmistress, an iron-tempered spinster (Rosemary Follows, Dunsmore), and feuds with the town’s aristocrats. She finds an ally in an ailing dowager (Dame Wendy Hiller), and a gallant suitor in a widowed father (Frank Converse). But in the end, she scales down her worldly dreams and goes home to Green Gables, Gilbert Blythe and a happy ending.
Magical: Filming the sequel was not a smooth process. “It became a chore,” said Kevin Sullivan, the 31-year-old independent producer of Anne who also wrote and directed both instalments. “When something is such a huge success, there is an overwhelming desire to cash in. People try to exert control over it, just so they can say, T did it.’ ” But Sullivan added that “magical performances” from the cast ultimately prevailed over creative disputes.
People who get close to Anne tend to get proprietary about her. Custody of the Green Gables character has been a subject of contention since Montgomery first began feuding with her Boston pub-
lisher in 1915. After a series of bitter court battles, she agreed to a settlement of $17,880—barely covering her legal costs—and lost the rights to her first seven novels, including several Anne novels. Meanwhile, the publisher sold screen rights to Anne for $40,000.
Sacrilege: Hollywood producers made three movies based on Anne’s story. A 1919 silent movie showed an American flag flying above Anne’s school—a sacrilege that led Montgom-
ery to make some furious comments in her journal. The second version, made in 1934, featured child star Dawn O’Day, who also appeared in a 1940 sequel, Anne of the Windy Poplars. O’Day was so captivated by the character that she changed her name to Anne Shirley. In Canada, writers Norman Campbell and Don Harron adapted the story for a live, 90-minute CBC TV musical in 1956. Nine years later they premièred their stage
musical, which has served as a best-selling summer staple at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre ever since.
The hub of the new Green Gables empire is in Kevin Sullivan’s Toronto offices. Beside the reception desk, a cabinet holds 21 trophies, including an Emmy— only some of the awards that Sullivan won for his first instalment of Anne. Produced for $3.5 million, it has aired in 41 na-
tions—“just about every country with a broadcasting outlet,” said Sullivan.
The blond, clean-cut Sullivan looks more like a prep-schooler than the mastermind of a hugely successful mini-series. Sitting in the office adorned with Victorian art and antiques, he recalled his first encounter with Anne. Growing up in Toronto, he was exposed to Montgomery’s novel in Grade 5 when a teacher read it to the class. Certain images stuck with him, he said, but the book
was just a vague memory when, as a struggling film-maker in 1983, he became interested in acquiring the rights. “Without even rereading the book,” Sullivan explained, “I became involved in a treasure hunt. I knew that Anne was a valuable property.”
Juvenile: The hunt turned into an investigative ordeal. Campbell and Harron assumed that they owned the rights and they maintained that any new film or TV production should come under their control. Sullivan delved into the fine details of copyright law and began negotiating directly with the Toronto-based lawyer representing Montgomery’s estate. After spending nearly $250,000 of his own money—and renegotiating his mortgage—Sullivan acquired the rights. Then, the film-maker finally reread the book. “I was tremendously disappointed,” he recalled. “I thought, oh my God, this is a juvenile story. How are we going to make this interesting to everybody?” Appointing himself both screenwriter and director, Sullivan tried to design a drama that would appeal to all ages. He auditioned 3,000 girls across the country for the role of Anne—an
action that was as much a publicity stunt as a casting call. Meanwhile, Sullivan approached Hollywood veteran Katharine Hepburn to play a supporting role. Hepburn declined, but proposed that her American grandniece, Schuyler Grant, play the role of Anne; the CBC, however, insisted that the star be a Canadian. (Grant later won the part of Diana.)
Conflict over who should play Anne became the first in a series of skirmishes between Sullivan and the CBC. The network executive in charge of independent family drama, Nada Har-
court, campaigned strongly for Megan Follows. Harcourt told Maclean ’s, “I knew she was the only one who could bring not only the experience but the stamina.” But Follows failed to impress Sullivan with her first audition. Harcourt insisted that he give her a second chance, and she finally won the role a year after she first tried out for it. Sullivan now concedes that Follows was the right choice. “She has an enormous well of emotions to draw on,” he said. “She is able to deliver a very subtle virtuoso performance at the drop of a hat.” Giddy: During the filming of the 1985 drama, the contagious energy of Anne the character dispelled much of the tension surrounding Anne the property. The set became an elaborate playground for the younger cast members. Jonathan Crombie, playing his first professional role as Gilbert Blythe, struck up a close friendship with Follows, the child-star veteran. And together with Schuyler Grant, they formed a giddy trio both on and off the set. “It got to be mischie-
vous,” Follows recalled. “Schuyler and I used to steal Polaroid film from the crew and take tons of photographs. We would go into the makeup and hair trailer and put on all the wigs. She would put on my red wig and play Anne; I would put on her black wig and play Diana.”
Hectic: But the sequel’s production lacked the spirit of innocence and spontaneity that pervaded the first shoot. Anne’s success had heightened expectations among all involved. And the teenage stars were suddenly young adults, with more complicated lives. Follows
had to divide her time between the Anne set in southern Ontario and the set of Destiny, a feature movie that she was filming in California. “It was pretty hectic,” she said. “I was taking red-eye flights and staying up 36 hours at a time. I got food poisoning on my way back from San Diego once—I barfed my way across the continent back to the set.”
Shooting a lush five-hour period drama on a $4.8-million budget required a tight schedule. And as time ran out, tempers began to fray. Sullivan says that filming was delayed by three hours one day because Follows sat in her trailer talking to Harcourt on the phone plotting changes to the ending. Both Follows and Harcourt deny that the conversation took place. But Follows still maintains that she is not entirely satisfied with the final scene, which ends with a chaste embrace between Anne and Gilbert. “We were rushing things that shouldn’t be rushed,” she says. “By the time these two get togeth-
er, you feel like saying, ‘All right, already. Do something.’ ” Follows notes that she and Sullivan “may not have shared the same vision. It’s so much a woman’s piece, Anne. There were certain things that meant a lot to me that may not have been as important to Kevin. I cared very much about that show. Maybe I cared too much.”
Sullivan spoke warmly of Follows— but his description of Harcourt was harsh. Charging her with “meddling” in the production, he said she overstepped her mandate as a network executive. “She was so desperate to maintain her
input into it she went to extremes,” he said. But Harcourt maintained that she was merely exercising the right to creative approval that the CBC’s Anne contract had given her. “I felt I had an enormous responsibility to a Canadian classic,” she added. “Kevin is a neophyte. He is young and very impetuous. And he’s going to have to learn generosity.”
Classic: The disagreements, reminiscent of the petty rivalry between Montgomery’s own characters, reflect the widespread jealousies between the CBC and the independent producers who create much of its drama programming. Sullivan stresses that the CBC was only one player in a coproduction deal also involving the American PBS channel and the Disney Studio. In fact, he says that he intends to take a leaf from the Disney doctrine by recycling Anne every few years. Sullivan predicts that Anne will not begin to make a profit until the end of the decade. With such a clas-
sic, he adds, “The big money is in its longevity.”
Pilgrimage: Certainly, the Green Gables legend has provided Prince Edward Island with an enduring source of revenue. This summer more than 700,000 tourists, many attracted by the Anne legend, visited the island and contributed $72 million to the province’s economy. Charlottetown’s theatrical Anne, which has been selling out for 23 consecutive years, is Canada’s most successful stage play. Together with the Anne souvenir industry, it nets about $5 million a year. Said Harvey Sawler, marketing director for the province’s department of tourism: “Anne breathes life into us as a destination. Economically, it is doing what Mickey Mouse has done for Disneyland.”
The island is dotted with establish-
ments capitalizing on Anne’s reputation. They include the Green Gables Museum, the Green Gables Tea Room, Anne’s House of Dreams, the Anne Shirley Motel and Cabins—there is even a chain of Green Gables convenience stores. And various marketing campaigns using Anne look-alikes mean that red-haired, freckled girls are in steady demand. But the central shrine for Anne-worshippers is the clapboard house near Cavendish that is said to have served as Montgomery’s model for Anne’s home. This season 256,000 visitors made the pilgrimage to Green Gables—including thousands of Japanese.
Ideal: In Japan, Anne-followers have developed into a cult. The book was first translated into Japanese in 1952, with the title Anne of the Red Hair. Since then it has sold about a million
copies. Groups of Japanese tourists buy special $4,500 excursion packages to Prince Edward Island to see the Anne musical and visit Montgomery’s haunts. Scholars have speculated that Anne’s combination of independence and loyalty parallels the tension between individualism and family duty in Japanese society. Yuko Katsura, who teaches literature at the University of Hiroshima, wrote that amid the hardship of postwar Japan, parents and teachers saw Anne as “an ideal heroine who showed the readers how to live in such difficult circumstances with hope and cheerfulness.”
Despite that universal appeal, most literary critics have not taken Montgomery’s fiction seriously. But the recent publication of her journals has aroused more interest. English professor Mary Rubio of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, who co-edited the diaries, calls Montgomery “the Shakespeare of children’s literature.” And novelist Margaret Atwood says that she enjoyed reacquainting herself with the first Anne book in 1984 when she read it to her daughter, Jess, now 11. “It has the shape of a fairy tale,” said Atwood.
Passionate: Perhaps the strongest testament to the story’s power is the way so many people treat its heroine as if she actually existed. They visit a green-gabled house where she never lived. They look at a little bedroom where she never slept. And those who have come closest to her—including Megan Follows—have developed a passionate, Anne-like loyalty to the character. But, ultimately, the most tangible spirit in the fictional mists of Green Gables is that of Lucy Maud Montgomery. And with the publication of The Selected Journals, her character is gradually coming into focus. Inventing the sort of happy endings that eluded her in life, Montgomery fostered a child from the orphanage of her imagination. And her Anne, clinging stubbornly to the reality of dreams, has found a home in the imagination of millions.
BRIAN D. JOHNSON