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Anne of Green Gables: TV phenomenon

The Story

More than 40 years after Lucy Maud Montgomery's death, an aspiring Ontario-based producer has an idea: Anne of Green Gables -- the miniseries. It took Kevin Sullivan four years to sort out the rights surrounding Montgomery's most famous book, and another year to audition more than 4,000 actresses for his ideal Anne. This 1985 CBC Radio clip takes a behind-the-scenes look at what would become the highest-rated Canadian television drama of all time. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Gabereau
Broadcast Date: Nov. 29, 1985
Guest(s): Kevin Sullivan
Host: Vicki Gabereau
Duration: 14:41

Did You know?

Anne of Green Gables: The Miniseries debuted on CBC Television on Sunday Dec. 1, 1985, at 8 p.m. EST. The broadcast was the first part of two two-hour movies that chronicled Montgomery's debut novel.

• As Kevin Sullivan explains in this clip, arranging the financial backing for his series wasn't easy. At one point he even approached Japanese investors, who wanted roles filled with Japanese actors. In the end, the series was a co-production between CBC Television, PBS and Sullivan Films.

• Legendary American actress Katharine Hepburn was originally slated to play the role of Marilla Cuthbert, Anne Shirley's adoptive mother. Her only condition was that Sullivan cast her grandniece, Schuyler Grant, in the title role of Anne.

• Though Sullivan reportedly backed the idea, CBC executives scuttled it. The role eventually went to Canadian actress Colleen Dewhurst. Schuyler Grant was cast as Diana Barry, Anne Shirley's best friend.

• The role of Gilbert Blythe, Anne's childhood nemesis and eventual husband, was played by Jonathan Crombie, the son of Canadian politician David Crombie.

• Anne Shirley proved to be the most difficult role to cast. Thousands of actresses from Canada and the United States were auditioned for the title role in open auditions across the country. After a year of looking, they finally gave Megan Follows a chance.

• The 17-year-old daughter of performers Ted Follows and Dawn Greenhalgh was by this time living and working in Los Angeles, where she had just filmed a starring role in Silver Bullet alongside Gary Busey. Acting professionally since she was 10, Follows was well-known in Canada thanks to her roles in the CBC Television shows Boys and Girls and Hockey Night. Sullivan, though, was unimpressed by her initial audition for the role and continued his search for his Anne.

• After nearly a year he finally called her in L.A. and offered her a second audition, this time in full period costume. The result, he said, was "unbelievable." According to Sullivan, Follows was so convincing in the role of the famous 12-year-old that she moved many of the crew and cast (including Richard Farnsworth who played Matthew Cuthbert) to tears on the set.

• Responding to early criticisms that the series wasn't filmed in P.E.I., Sullivan said they explored the idea but failed to find enough period architecture on the island. Instead, most of the exterior shots were filmed in Uxbridge, Ont., just north of Toronto.

• After getting married in 1911, Lucy Maud Montgomery moved to Leaskdale, Ont., just outside Uxbridge.

• The success of 1985's series pushed Montgomery's work into the cultural spotlight in a way it hadn't been in decades. P.E.I.'s tourism board claims that tourist traffic to the island increased by 30 per cent in 1986.

• The original series was followed up in 1987 by Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel and Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story in 2000.

• The CBC series wasn't the first time P.E.I.'s most famous fictional character appeared on the small screen. In 1971 a five-part Anne of Green Gables miniseries ran on the BBC and featured Kim Braden in the title role.

• In 1979 Akage no An (Red-haired Anne), a 50-episode animated series based on Montgomery's books, aired on Japanese televison.

• The CBC Television series Road to Avonlea, which was inspired by Anne's fictional hometown, ran from 1989 to 1996. The series, which included some characters from the Anne novels, holds the record for the most-watched Canadian television series ever.


Beyond Green Gables: The Life of Lucy Maud Montgomery more