The classic four-hour miniseries was adapted from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 book about an orphan girl adopted by an elderly brother and sister. Here are a few secrets from the set of Anne Of Green Gables.
Marilla Actress Was A Prince Edward Island Local
Actress Colleen Dewhurst who played the role of the conservative Marilla Cuthbert had something in common with her character. As it turns out Dewhurst actually grew up on Prince Edward Island the inviting and location where a part of the series was filmed.
Mrs. Cadbury And Anne Are Related
We guess talent runs in the family because the orphanage director, Mrs. Cadbury, is actually the mother of Megan Follows who plays Anne Shirley! Dawn Greenhalgh who got into character as the head miss of the children’s home where Anne Shirely was brought up was cast shortly after her daughter. Although we loved watching this dynamic mother-daughter duo take over the screen it wasn’t for long. Dawn Greenhalgh only appeared in two episodes of the series as Mrs. Cadbury.
Director Kevin Sullivan Hadn’t Read The Book Before Buying The Rights/post_page_title]
Though Kevin Sullivan (who wrote, produced, and directed the miniseries) was aware of the novel—and vaguely remembered his teacher reading it to his class in fifth grade—he hadn’t read Anne of Green Gables. When Sullivan was approached by the president of Learning Corporation, Robert McDonald, about making a film version of the novel in the early 1980s he thought to himself, “that could be interesting,” Sullivan recalled. But even then, he didn’t read the book.
“One day, out of the blue, I had a call from Katharine Hepburn,” the producer of the series Kevin Sullivan recalled. Hepburn had wanted to play Anne Shirley in the 1934 film adaptation of Montgomery’s book, and was disappointed it hadn’t happened. “She offered me an idea,” Sullivan said. “She asked me to go to California and to meet with her niece, Schuyler Grant, and to audition her…and Schuyler was terrific.”
Close But No Anne
Although Hepburn’s niece Schuyler Grant had natural talent, there was something that she was missing, and that was that authentic Canadian flare. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the series’ financiers, and Telefilm Canada wanted a Canadian actress to play Anne—so they encouraged Sullivan to search the nation for a Canadian actress to play the part. So instead of getting the highly coveted lead part of Anne, Grant got a consolation role as Anne’s friend Diana Berry.
When it came time to find the perfect Canadian actress to play the role of Anne Shirley, the casting team decided to broaden their search and opted for a less traditional type of auditing process. Sullivan held an open call, and when word spread, an incredible 3,000 girls flocked to the auditions. Sullivan’s search for Anne Shirley took him across the country, from Newfoundland all the way to Vancouver. People who passed by the audition sites would try to sneak a peek inside to see what was happening.
It Took A Year To Cast Anne
After a long year of auditions upon auditions, and searching blindly for the perfect girl to play Anne Shirley, they finally found the actress to play the role. Interestingly, Sullivan actually saw the actress who would finally nab it, Megan Follows, near the beginning of the long audition process. The only issue was that he thought Follows was mediocre during the first audition, so he brought her back again, which is when she got the part.
Annes Back Story Was Beefed Up
Montgomery’s novel begins with Rachel Lynde and Matthew Cuthbert going to pick up an orphan boy, but coming back with Anne instead. “I needed to know who she was before she was brought to Prince Edward Island,” Sullivan said. So he and co-writer Joe Wiesenfeld expanded Anne’s story with the cranky Mrs. Hammond and her brood of children. Sullivan said, “I tried to go back several stages in Anne’s life and depict a world that had aspects of severity and cruelty.”
Colleen Dewhurst Was Eager To Play Marilla[post_page_title]
When Colleen Dewhurst found out that she had a chance to audition for the role of Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables, she quickly jumped at the opportunity. Dewhurst said “It was really the first book I ever remembered my mother reading to me. Of course, that was after the bunny rabbit books and everything,” After landing the role, Dewhurst was extremely excited and although her agent advised her against it, she took the role anyway.
Jonathan Crombie who plays Anne Shirley’s handsome, smart, witty and chivalrous classmate who has a crush on her the moment he sees her, Gilbert Blythe is the son of Shirley Ann whose name is similar to that of the main character of the series, Anne Shirley. While we’re not sure if this was the sole reason Sullivan decided to cast the young Canadian actor it surely must have helped. Crombie Sadly passed away in 2015 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
Richard Farnsworth’s Body Double
The scene in the kitchen in which Anne tells Marilla she will apologize to Mrs. Lynde was shot with a body double for Matthew Cuthbert. Richard Farnsworth the actor who played, Matthew Cuthbert, could not be there on the day of filming due to schedule conflicts with another show he was shooting, so he had a look-alike stand in for him. All of the close-up shots of Farnsworth were filmed later and carefully edited in.
There Was Very Little Filming On Prince Edward Island
Although Montgomery’s book is set on Prince Edward Island, there was actually not a lot of work for the series done there because it was too expensive to film on the island. Instead, most of the series was shot around Southern Ontario in locations that Sullivan felt most resembled Prince Edward Island. Among the locations used for the series were Westfield Heritage Village in Hamilton, Ontario, Doon Heritage Village in Kitchener, Ontario, and Simcoe County Museum in Barrie, Ontario.
Production Dyed The Roads Red
Because filming most of the series scenes on the exclusive Prince Edward Island was not an option, Sullivan came up with other clever and thrifty ways to recreate the islands look. In order to mimic PEI’s scarlet soil, the production team dyed the roads red. This isn’t the only time they had to get creative as buildings at the University of Toronto doubled as Queens College, and the Spadina Museum in Toronto served as the home of Diana’s wealthy Aunt Josephine.
Jonathan Crombie Almost Didn’t Play Gilbert
During an interview in 1986, Sullivan revealed that he was close to casting another boy as Gilbert until casting director Diane Polley saw Crombie perform in a high school production of The Wizard of Oz. Sullivan recalled that Polley “walked into my office one day with a photograph of him and said ‘This is Gilbert.’ But it was a photograph of him in front of some ride at Disneyland. And I said, ‘He looks perfect,’ and she said, ‘Cast him, now.’”
Gilbert Was Crombie’s Breakout Role
When Crombie showed up to his audition with a small photo, he was intimidated by everyone with their 8×10 glossies, but that didn’t stop him from wowing the casting team. “I gave it a shot, and didn’t think much of it, and I found out a few days later that I got it. I was shaking on the phone when she told me,” Crombie said about landing his first on-screen role going straight from high school plays to the big screen.
Green Gables Was Two Buildings
Thanks to filming techniques you may have never noticed that there was more than one house used in filming. One house was used as the front of Green Gables, and another for the back. The building that served as the front of Green Gables was used in all the Anne movies. Sullivan said that the house was “located just off an extremely busy road northeast of Toronto, Ontario. The location…presented some logistical challenges because of the traffic noise and limited filming angles.”
Green Gables Was A Working Farm
We’re not sure if it gets any more realistic then this! The house which they used to shoot the series was also a fully functioning farm. Before filming of the series commenced, all of the modern equipment had to be removed in order to fit in with the times. The entire house was painted, and the picket fence was also added in for the Anne films. The interior of Green Gables was also built on a soundstage which was custom made.
German Actors Were Cast
After spending almost a year casting the main parts and nailing down the 3.5 million Canadian dollars in financing for the series, Sullivan agreed to co-produce the series with the West German television network ZDF. Because Anne of Green Gables ended up being a co-production between Canada and Germany, German actors were cast in two roles—Christiane Krüger, who plays the reverend’s wife, Mrs. Allan, and Joachim Hansen, who plays John Sadler, both of whom gave an excellent performance.
Extra Scenes Were Shot For The German Version
Not only were German actors cast for the German version but there was also filming that was specifically for the German audience. After taping the Canadian series was finished, there were nearly nine minutes of extra scenes featuring Christiane Krüger and Joachim Hansen that were shot specifically for the German broadcast. “A whole other version of the film was taken to Germany and dubbed in German, and it was very successful there,” Sullivan said in DVD commentary.
Follows Had To Play A 12-And 16-Year-Old On The Same Day
Follows shared, “I remember a couple days where we’d have five different age changes. I’d go from 12 to 14 to 16 back to 12, and they were all out of sequence, and at first, it was difficult.” However, wardrobe and hair and makeup helped Follows get into her character. She even said, “The funny thing was that…even when my hair would go into the braids and I’d put on the orphan dress…all of a sudden I just felt younger.”
Sullivans Sister Stared In The Series
Diana Barry’s little sister, Minnie May, was played by Morgan Chapman. Sullivan had no idea how the young child would do and while it was no easy feat, Chapman’s performance was brilliant! Sullivan said, “Poor Morgan was about four at the time, and we brought her onto this hot set in the middle of the summer. She became a screaming child, and we had to calm her down and get her into the bed, so she looks sick because she’s absolutely sobbing.”
All In The Family
Sullivan’s niece Morgan Chaman wasn’t the only family member of the Anne Of Green Gables team to make an appearance in the film. The piano player in the opera singer scene was played by the brother of Patricia Hamilton who played Rachel Lynde. It seems like Sullivan really wanted to keep it all in the family when it came to casting for the iconic series. This is just one part of the perks of having famous family in Hollywood.
Getting The Right Shade Of Green
When Marilla finds Anne lying facedown on her bed, it’s after Anne applies hair dye she bought from a traveling peddler who claimed it would turn her hair raven black. Instead, the dye turned Anne’s hair green, and the only solution was for Marilla to cut it off. In DVD commentary Sullivan said, “You can see it almost looks gray. We had to tweak it afterward when we were making the film to enhance the green so that it would look distinctive.”
Megan Follows Really Wanted To Play Anne
Follows said, “I kept thinking, ‘If they’re going to make Anne of Green Gables, then I really want to play her,’ because she is one of the most important Canadian characters there are, and one of the best characters for young girls and women that was ever written.” She was so determined to get the part that she started writing declarations down on paper such as ‘I am Anne of Green Gables’ and she stuck them all around her house.
Pressure To Perform
After the actress was cast as the iconic character, Follows felt a lot of pressure to give the best performance of her life. She told herself, “I have to do the best I can do and make it real for me. I may not be the Anne of Green Gables for some people, and I may be for others, so I just have to be the Anne for this production.” Follows went on to be the image of Anne for young girls of that generation.
Dewhurst Had Trouble Remembering Lines
When Dewhurst couldn’t complete her lines, she’d substitute random words for what she couldn’t remember. Follows recalled one long day when they were filming the scene where Miss Stacy (Marilyn Lightstone) comes to dinner. Follows said “It was Marilyn’s close-up, and Colleen had this very long speech and, like all of us do, she’d muddle it up now and then, but she’d put in her own words for things, like boofers and whoziggies and whachumacallits … I couldn’t stop laughing.”
Stop The Cameras!
It wasn’t often that cameras had to stop rolling during filming thanks to Colleen’s jovial antics. In DVD commentary Sullivan said, “There were times when we would have to stop rolling on set because we were all about to crack up, just because of Colleen’s mischievous ways.” He continued, “She’d completely forget her lines from scene to scene and she would just start talking about boomfers and puffers and we’d have to cut and go to another take.”
Dewhurst’s Body Double
Along with Farnsworth, a body double was also used for Colleen Dewhurst (who played Marilla Cuthbert) in certain scenes when she couldn’t make shooting days. Dewhurst’s close-ups and reaction shots were filmed later. Sullivan said, “It was a bit of gamble trying to cast and shoot with a double before we’d finalized the arrangements with her to play in the film.” Although Sullivan took a chance shooting the scenes with a double, the final product was spectacular.
Worst Speller In The World
In a eulogy Follows wrote for Crombie in Entertainment Weekly, she recalled a funny moment they shared together. “I remember we had shot the spelling competition where Anne wins over Gilbert by spelling chrysanthemum correctly” Follows wrote. She continued, “Jonathan decided Gilbert was the worst speller in the world, so he’d do this running joke where he would be smiling with a handful of very wilty flowers in his hand and trying to spell what they were. And I’d be laughing hysterically.”
Lot’s Of Laughter On Set
Follows and Dewhurst also had a tough time keeping it together on set. “I’d find that when we were on the set, I’d share little looks with her…Kevin would say, ‘Tremble with excitement,’ and Colleen and I would just find that kind of amusing and we’d start laughing,” Follows remembered. “That was the neat thing about her. We’d find a lot of things humorous and have a good laugh about it.” Sounds like a great work environment.
Dewhurst’s Valuable Advice For Crombie
On Jonathon Crombie’s very first day of filming, he did the bridge scene with Colleen Dewhurst. During a fan Q&A Crombie recalled, “I remember on our drive back she told me how important it was for actors to learn all the details of the character’s place and time—to make it as familiar and authentic as possible. It always stuck with me, and I am a true believer in preparation—having a solid understanding of all the aspects that inform that character’s life.”
The Puffier The Better!
The sleeves on the girl’s dresses didn’t puff themselves and lots of hard work and effort was put in to make them look just right. Sullivan said, “We had filled the dress with some kind of stuffing so that the puffed sleeves would stand up.” Follows had to puff up her own sleeves and said in an interview,“We did it ourselves. We stuck a lot of twill into those puffs. It was like, ‘Let’s make those puffs the puffiest!’ And they really were.”
Tied Up Tight
Colleen Dewhurst who played Marilla hated the period undergarments the woman had to wear, especially the corsets, and we don’t blame her! After wearing the constricting undergarments for a few days, Dewhurst couldn’t take anymore and said that’s it! Follows wasn’t a fan of them either. According to Sullivan, after the filming of Anne of Green Gables was finished, Megan Follows was so sick of wearing Victorian corsets that she burned hers in a bonfire.
One Scene, Two Locations
The series’ The Lady Of Shallot Scene required a bit of trickery as it was actually filmed in two separate locations. Close-up shots were filmed in a swamp outside of Toronto, and the wide shots were done in a pond. The whole sequence had to be shot in sections and then cut together. The scenes of the boat filling up at the edge of the shore were filmed first, and then the scenes where Anne is grabbing for the dock.
Mucky Mud And Leeches
When shooting The Lady Of Shallot scene neither body of water on which they filmed had a current. This complicated things because the production team needed the boat to glide down the river on its own. Sullivan said, “The prop people had to strip down and get into mucky, mucky swamp, full of leeches and everything else, under the water to pull the boat down the stream. They all had a tremendous amount of fun trying to make this boat move.”
Even Megan Follows who was an experienced actress wasn’t exempt from a bit of stage fright. There was one scene in particular that made Follows especially nervous to film which was the sequence where Anne recites “The Highwayman” at the White Sands Hotel. “She was as nervous as Anne was getting up on stage to do it. It was the first time Megan attempted anything like that.” Sullivan said in DVD commentary. Luckily she got through it and delivered an incredible performance.
The Roof Is On Fire
While some of the buildings and props used in the series were salvaged, others were destroyed. The Windermere House, which served as the location for the White Sands Hotel, was a historical building and was tragically destroyed in a fire. The fire that totaled the building was ignited during the filming of The Long Kiss Goodnight in early 1996. While we’re sad not to be able to see what the building looks like today we at least have nostalgic photos to look back on.
There was a scene in the series that was not in the original script, and that was the Scene between Anne and Marilla after Matthew’s death. Dewhurst convinced Sullivan to add in the scene because she felt it was necessary for Marilla’s character to convey her emotions to Anne after Matthew’s death. About the short scene Sullivan said, “It’s a fleeting moment, a mere few lines, but as Colleen pointed out, it is an important revelation between the stern spinster and the orphan she has adopted.”
Performance Of A Lifetime
The scene took just 45 minutes to shoot, and Sullivan thought that in it, Follows and Dewhurst gave their best performances of the whole film. The scene was shot it in just three takes, and by the time the crew had finished, they were so overwrought that they all had to leave, so they broke for lunch. The powerful performance that the actresses gave managed to move an entire crew, which in show business is very, very difficult.
The Series Won Many Awards
The series was extremely well received by viewers and critics alike, after all, it’s hard not to fall in love with Anne Shirley’s sweet red-headed character. The show was so successful that it managed to win a slew of awards. On top of winning a prestigious Emmy award, the miniseries also won an impressive 10 Gemini Awards. The show’s producer Kevin Sullivan was also well honored with a Peabody Award for his contributions to the series.
What many people don’t know about the ending of the series is that it was re-shot. The first version of the finale was filmed in a rush and Sullivan wasn’t happy with the light, so at the end of production, he had them shoot it again. The series’ original finale was a lot more jokey than the romantic second take that ended up in the final film. Like when Gilbert calls Anne “Carrots,” to which she responded, “Argh, Carrots! Oh, you!” and smacked him.
There Were Several Spin Offs
After the series ended Sullivan produced two sequels, an animated series, a TV spin-off, and a prequel. Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (or Anne of Avonlea, as it was called in America) premiered in 1987. The animated version of the series was Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, which was released in 2000. Road to Avonlea, the Anne spin-off ran from 1990 to 1996 and Sullivan also produced the sequel and Finally, in 2008, Sullivan released the prequel Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning.
Long Legal Battles
The series was the subject of a bitter, long-running legal dispute between producer Kevin Sullivan and the heirs of Anne author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Ultimately, Canadian courts sided with the heirs that Sullivan had withheld from the heirs contractually promised profits from the first two films in the series (Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel). The courts also found Sullivan’s $55-million defamation suit against the heirs groundless and dismissed it entirely.
Anne’s Famous Fans
Anne has fans, and many of them are famous writers. Prolific author Mark Twain loved her, saying she was “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction.” In an essay that appeared in The Guardian in 2008, Margaret Atwood wrote about her love of reading the book as a child and then again with her own daughter. Atwood also explains how the story isn’t so much about Anne’s transformation but about how Anne inspires the rigid Marilla to finally express her long-buried human emotions.”
Anne Is Famous In Japan
Anne is a big deal in Japan. After a copy of the story was secretly translated into Japanese, and renamed Akage No Anne (Anne of the Red Hair), it became part of the Japanese curriculum. Japan fell in love with Anne, finding her red hair exotic, her hardworking attitude and kind nature endearing, and her story of winning over the town inspirational. There’s even an Anne Academy in Fukuoka, which teaches Japanese students how to speak English with a Prince Edward Island accent.