Revisiting Anne of Green Gables
I didn’t pay attention the first time I saw news about the death of Jonathan Crombie, the actor who played Gilbert Blythe in CBC’s 1985 TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. Yesterday, though, I found a posting on Facebook of a New Yorker article called “Why We Loved Gilbert Blythe.”
Well. I had to read that.
It turns out teenage girls all over fell in love with Crombie as Gilbert in this mini-series. “Crombie gave Gilbert caring, intelligence, and dreaminess: qualities that enchant seventh-grade girls,” Sarah Larson writes. I missed Crombie and all his dreaminess. I was in my early 20s in 1985, just out of college and living in San Francisco. I don’t think I had a television in those days. I feel sure I would’ve been tempted to watch, having been an avid reader of the whole Anne series. But I can’t feel too sorry that I missed it. Crombie sounds a bit too milktoasty for my taste. Larson prefers Crombie to the Gilbert of the books. She finds him “kinder,” with “lively” instead of “roguish” eyes, and without the mouth “twisted into a teasing smile,” as author L.M. Montgomery describes him.
Of course Gilbert is roguish! He has to be. Only a mischievous boy would call Anne “carrots” to try to get her attention, and kept trying, even after she breaks her slate over his head and refuses to accept his apology. A kinder boy wouldn’t have dared the “carrots” jibe, and there would’ve been no Anne and Gilbert, which is unthinkable.
I’ll admit Crombie looks the part. He’s got the build and coloring you’d expect, and that’s huge. And if intelligence and caring come across—well, I imagine I could fall under his spell, given the chance.
The production didn’t quite get Anne right—at least in the looks department. I looked up the photos of Megan Follows, cast as Anne, and she’s pretty and fresh-faced in a way that Anne isn’t. She was also a seventeen-year-old playing an eleven-year-old. But I can see how it would be practically impossible to find a young actor who fits Montgomery’s description: “Her face was small, white and thin, also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, which looked green in some lights and moods and gray in others.”
I read to the point where Marilla tells Mrs. Blewett that she and Matthew haven’t entirely decided against keeping Anne, and Anne suddenly understands she might have a home, after all. A tear welled up in my eye. It’s that kind of book.