Novel to Screenplay
Auditions and Casting
Relationships on the Set
Actors on their Roles
Applause and Awards
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (1985)
Kevin Sullivan's "Anne of Green Gables"
is the definitive screen adaptation of L.M. Montgomery's Victorian era
novel about a spirited red-headed orphan and her adventures on Prince Edward Island.
In this first installment of three, Anne Shirley arrives in Avonlea and soon finds a home with
an elderly brother and sister, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Before long, she discovers a
bosom friend in Diana Barry and a rival in Gilbert Blythe. This is the definitive version of
the beloved children's book, with flawless performances by Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst,
Richard Farnsworth and Jonathan Crombie; a heart-stirring soundtrack; and an engaging plot that
will delight children and adults alike! The perfect family-friendly movie for all generations.
This film is made for television and not rated.
From Novel to Screenplay
Sullivan was not the first to film the famous L.M. Montgomery book series.
In 1919, a silent film was produced when Montgomery was still alive. However,
the film, which showed an American flag flying above Anne's school, angered
Montgomery because her novels were set in her native Canada. A second "Anne"
film was produced in 1934, featuring the young Dawn O'Day. A sequel, "Anne
of the Windy Poplars" was completed in 1940. O'Day was so enamored with
her character that she legally changed her name to Anne Shirley!
Sullivan first encountered the red-haired
orphan in the fifth grade, when his elementary school teacher read Anne
of Green Gables to the class. Without reading the novel himself, Sullivan
began acquiring the rights to produce "Anne of Green Gables" in the early
1980s. He spent hours reading up on copyright law and negotiating with
Montgomery's estate. After refinancing his home and spending nearly $250,000
of his own money, he obtained the copyright.
Only after acquiring the copyright did Sullivan finally read the novel: "I was
I thought... this is a juvenile story. How are we going to make this interesting
to everybody?" Sullivan immediately went to work to make a film which would
appeal to both children and adults.
Auditions and Casting
Kevin Sullivan originally thought 15-year
old Megan Follows was "too old and too fat" to play Anne (who is twelve years old at
the beginning of the film series). He also thought she was too contemporary
and straightforward to play the romantic, dreamy Anne. Follows remarks:
"It was hoped that by crisscrossing Canada, an Anne would be found
somewhere in a field. The director's fear about me was that the roles I'd done before that [on Canadian TV]
weren't as flamboyant or as wide-eyed and innocent as Anne." 1
She adds: "All the roles I had done up to that point were quiet, shy,
unassuming girls. Nothing at all like Anne. I don't think they were able to look beyond those roles.
In the book, the character is so vivid that everyone who reads it has a very concrete picture in their mind of what Anne
looks and sounds like. Finding real human beings to
live up to those images was virtually impossible."2
In fact, Follows had to audition twice to beat out more than 3,000 hopefuls for the role of Anne. Network executive, Nada
Harcourt, campaigned strongly for Megan Follows, winning her the second
audition: "I knew [Follows] was the only one who could bring not only the
experience but the stamina." 3 One year after her first audition, Follows
won the role.
Follows remarks: "I've grown up alongside [Anne]. I have a funny
relationship with Anne because I originally had to fight so very hard
to be considered to play her. I was not the first choice for the role.
It took a lot to convince Kevin Sullivan to allow me to play the part.
So, I've had an interesting dynamic with this character. Many people
thought who I was, was not who she was. I had to work very hard,
reading the books and really studying the character. Maybe that was a
Godsend because I didn't come in with preconceived ideas. I really
wanted to build her as a character quite apart from who I was as a
person, yet still tap into those things that are universally true
about her because that's the reason why so many people identify with
her. I'm so grateful that I was accepted through my portrayal of her --
that it was received favourably. I think we tapped into an essence of Anne
that wasn't captured before." 4
Of course, since then, Sullivan admits that Follows was the right choice: "She has an enormous well of
emotions to draw on. She is able to deliver a very subtle virtuoso
performance at the drop of a hat." 5
Sullivan hoped to cast Katherine Hepburn
as Marilla Cuthbert. Although Hepburn declined, she proposed that her American
grandniece, Schuyler Grant, play the role of Anne. The Canadian Broadcasting
Company, however, insisted that the lead role be Canadian. Grant later
won the part of Diana Barry.
Because the "Anne" books were her childhood
favorites, actress Colleen Dewhurst was very excited when she was offered
a supporting role in the film. She hoped to be cast as Marilla and immediately
called Sullivan to accept: "This boy Kevin had a dream. It took him two
years, but he held on, he fought, and he got it done. I did it for
him because I appreciated his effort. And also I did it because I
was born in Canada, and Anne of Green Gables was the first book
ever read to me by my mother." 6
Richard Farnsworth was persuaded to take the role of the gentle Matthew Cuthbert by his ailing wife, who loved
the "Anne" books as a child. Dewhurst was thrilled with the choice: "I love him! When Kevin Sullivan called and said we have
Richard Farnsworth for Matthew, I screamed!" 7
Jonathan Crombie (Gilbert Blythe),
who had little intention of becoming an actor, was discovered by a casting
director at a high school play. Crombie admits that he was not Sullivan's
first choice for the role of Gilbert: "[Casting Director] Diane [Polley]...
asked me to try out for 'Anne.' Kevin Sullivan had someone else in mind
but she hustled me to see him. I hadn't read the 'Anne' books, so I asked
my school friends what sense they had of Gilbert. Sounded good to me." 8
Within days of his final audition, Crombie stood before the cameras as
Sullivan decided to cast Follows' real-life
mother, Dawn Greenhalgh, in the small role of Mrs. Cadbury.
Although L.M. Montgomery based her Anne novels on
Prince George's island, less than 5% of the Sullivan film was shot in P.E.I.
Most of the scenes were filmed in Ontario. The sets were constructed to look identical
replicas of buildings typical to the island during the Victorian era.
Only the scenes of the ocean and and red roads were actually filmed on
P.E.I. Sullivan Entertainment decided to film most of the movie in Ontario because
it was less expensive and because so many P.E.I.'s buildings
did not have the proper Victorian look.
Although Prince Edward Island today advertises a carriage ride through an orchard,
called "The White Way of Delight," the "White Way" which Anne and Matthew drive through in the
movie was actually filmed near Toronto. The Green Gables house from the Anne films was
two distinct buildings: one was filmed from a distance because it included a beautiful
backdrop of rolling hills and countryside. The other building was Butternut
Farm, outside of Toronto, and was filmed up close.
The film was shot in only nine weeks, but it was the largest project
Kevin Sullivan had undertaken at that point in his career. Actor Richard Farnsworth (Matthew Cuthbert)
was present on the set of the first "Anne of Green Gables" for only six days!
Jonathan Crombie recalls his first scene with Dewhurst: "My lips were quivering and I was terrified of close-ups. An
epileptic Gilbert! When the scene was done Colleen whispered, 'You're wonderful!'
We went out to dinner that night and she told me so much about acting.
She [was] a wonderful teacher." 9
Crombie remarks: "I was so nervous. I was terrified. [I came] straight off singing
a song on a high school stage [and into the film industry]." 10
Crombie, a newcomer to film, became good friends with child actress Follows, who offered
some practical acting advice: "She told me not to talk so fast." 11 Crombie
also received some acting tips from Colleen Dewhurst (Marilla): in particular,
Dewhurst encouraged him to research the historical period in which the
"Anne" films were set.
Megan Follows, Crombie and Schuyler Grant formed a "giddy trio" on and off the set of the first "Anne"
installment in 1985. Follows recalls: "It got to be mischievous. 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." 12
During the shoot, Crombie studied for
his college entrance exams, expecting that his acting career would be temporary.
Even after the success of "Anne of Green Gables," Crombie went ahead and
earned his college degree from the University of Toronto.
Grant recalls the unity of the cast
and crew members on the set: "Everyone knew that they were a part of something
special. There was a feeling amongst the cast and crew that everyone would
give it their best to tell this story." 13
Relationships On and Off the Set
Director Kevin Sullivan recalls fondly
the late Colleen Dewhurst (Marilla): "In a way, Marilla was a reflection
of Colleen's personality. She had an ability to infect people with her
sense of humor, and everything was coupled with a strong sense of principles.
She was very genuine." 14
Actress Megan Follows recalls that walking on to the set
with Colleen Dewhurst was an intimidating experience: "The first time I met
her, I felt like Anne meeting Marilla, trying to gain that approval,
hoping she would accept me. . . . The amazing thing about Colleen is
she's so there for you, she doesn't look down on anyone." 15
remarks of Dewhurst: "[Colleen] was a great friend, a really wonderful woman to work with... a woman who
was an incredibly professional actor, one who was extremely giving, kind
and very generous. She had things in perspective. She was there to do a
job, and had a lot of respect for the crew and her fellow performers. But
she also knew how to have fun -- and, perhaps more importantly, how to
make the people around her share in that fun." 16
Dewhurst recalled Follows' great attitude
on the set: "Megan... was incredible from beginning to end. Many times
she would be required in the middle of shooting not only to change costume
-- as we all expect -- but to have her makeup changed and her hair redyed
and styled, as she would jump back and forth in the shooting schedule from
Anne as a young girl to a young woman. One bit of temperament on that set
would have finished us all. Megan's unbelievable study and concentration
on the role, as well as her willingness to be a team player... was instrumental
to the success of the film." 17
Of co-star Richard Farnsworth, Dewhurst remarked: "Anyone who has seen 'Anne of Green Gables' knows that after
Richard Farnsworth, no actor could ever again be acceptable as Matthew.
From the moment the camera touches Mr. Farnsworth's face you know everything
about him and you love him." 18 Follows adds:
"He is a real gentleman." 19
Regarding Schuyler Grant (Diana Barry),
Follows remarks: "I love Schuyler. She's a good friend of mine." 20
The Actors on Their Roles
Of Anne Shirley, actress Megan Follows
has nothing but praise: "Anne opened so many doors for me. She was a great
female character, and there aren't a lot of them around... Anne was a character
that took on a life of her own. She was really well constructed with many
layers... Really, playing Anne is a gift. It is a fabulous role." 21
Follows adds: "Anne is a rare character:
a woman who is not defined by a man. And sadly enough, that is still an
exception. She is also greatly flawed, which is part of her appeal. For
me, it was never the lace dollies and the Great White Way of Delight and
rasberry cordial that was intiguing about her. It was that she had a ferocious
temper and was considered human trash. Out of a dire situation and a potentially
destroyed sense of self-esteem, her soul and imagination survive." 22
On L.M. Montgomery's work, Follows remarks: "Green Gables was a beautiful story. It created such a
great picture of childhood, and being able to bring those things to life
for people was the most rewarding experience." 23
Follows remarks on playing a character who aged from 12 to 17: "One
of the challenges of playing her was not commenting on being young
but being young. And the modern sensibility of being 17 is different
from what it would have been like 100 years ago."
Crombie felt that Gilbert's character wasn't developed in depth to the extent that he could have been, and
that he appeared as a shadow person.
Applause, Awards and the Aftermath
Colleen Dewhurst recalls the unexpected
success of the first "Anne" film: "[A friend] called me [and] said the
streets were literally empty during the broadcast... It seemed nearly everyone
was watching. Later I was told that the only show that had ever received
a better rating in Canada was the championship hockey play-offs. In Canada,
you don't do better than that." 25
After her role as Marilla, the late Dewhurst
fondly remarked of her newfound fame: "Playing Marilla in 'Anne' found a
whole new audience for me. Children will now stand and stare at me as their
mothers say, 'Darling, this is Marilla,' as I sign my autograph 'Colleen
Dewhurst, a.k.a. Marilla.' Even today, I continue to receive mail from
people across the world telling me how much they love the film, many assuming
I am truly Marilla, asking me to come and visit their farm or ranch, as
they have plenty of room." 26
Actor Jonathan Crombie could not bear
to watch the first "Anne" miniseries on television because he was "too
scared": "My friends have been great about all this. When Anne came on,
I saw a bit of it and then hid in my room. As it was showing, my friends
kept calling with good criticism. It isn't a big thing with my friends.
No question about me not being invited to the prom because I was suddenly
this actor. I want to keep it that way." 27
The first "Anne" film won ten out of the possible twelve Gemini awards (equivalent to the American Emmys)
and a host of other international awards. Actress Megan Follows won the 1986 Gemini Award.
Shortly after the television debut, the letters began to arrive at
Kevin Sullivan's modest Toronto office. One woman from Dallas expressed
heartfelt thanks to the producers for giving her the opportunity to
share a flood of emotions with a friend who was dying of leukemia.
The woman had videotaped "Anne of Green Gables" when it aired on PBS
and brought it to her friend in the hospital. Together, they had
been swept away by its simple but superbly realized narrative.
In looking back at her performance in the first "Anne of Green Gables"
miniseries, actress Megan Follows remarks: "I always felt ultimately
I was judged on the quality of the work in the piece. It was a very
complicated role to play. To achieve that at the age I was, was a
testament to my talent - if I may be so full of myself to say such a
thing!.. I did work really hard and we shot that first one in nine
weeks. It was almost impossible and we pulled it off. I've found that
through that experience I've had a lot of other opportunities open up
to me. Those [opportunities] have continually challenged me and tested
my ability, or shown me areas where I need to grow more... It's a
testament to the Anne character, too. She's a complicated character...
She's not one-dimensional. So there's a lot of room, and even within her there
are a lot of colors." 28
Behind the Scenes and Candid Photos
1. Roberta Plutzik, "A Heroine for All Seasons," The Northern New Jersey Record (May 17, 1987).
2. Daniel Brogan, "Megan Follows Grows Up with 'Anne' Role," Chicago Tribune (May 19, 1987).
3. Unknown source; citation pending.
4. Dick Gordon, "Megan Follows' Anne Shirley Comes Home Again," This Morning (March 5, 2000).
5. Unknown source; citation pending.
6. Ann Hodges, "Megan Follows Returns as Anne in Encore to 'Green Gables' Hit," Houston Chronicle (April 11, 1987). 7. Patricia Brennan, "Colleen Dewhurst of 'Anne of Green Gables'", The Washington Post (February 16, 1986).
7. Robert Bianco, "'Anne of Green Gables' Sequel Begins Tonight," Orange County Register (May 19, 1987).
8. Unknown source; citation pending.
9. Unknown source; citation pending.
10. Unknown source; citation pending.
11. Unknown source; citation pending.
12. Unknown source; citation pending.
13. Unknown source; citation pending.
14. Unknown source; citation pending.
15. Unknown source; citation pending.
16. Unknown source; citation pending.
17. Colleen Dewhurst and Tom Viola, Colleen Dewhurst: Her Autobiography (Scribner Books, 1997).
19. Unknown source; citation pending.
20. Unknown source; citation pending.
21. Shannon Hawkins, "Returning to Green Gables," Ottawa Sun (June 25, 1998).
22. Unknown source; citation pending.
23. Unknown source; citation pending.
24. Unknown source; citation pending.
25. Dewhurst and Viola, supra.
27. Unknown source; citation pending.
28. Gordon, supra.