Community & Current Events

Kindred spirits: the world's crush on Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe

By: Jacqueline Kovacs

FlickrCC/David Mertl Author: Canadian Living Credits: FlickrCC/David Mertl

Community & Current Events

Kindred spirits: the world's crush on Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe

By: Jacqueline Kovacs

The recent death of actor Jonathan Crombie at age 48 filled many generation Xers with a poignant sadness. After all, the Toronto native famously embodied Gilbert Blythe in the 1985 CBC miniseries Anne of Green Gables, effectively making him a first TV crush for a generation of Canadian teens.

"Crombie gave Gilbert caring, intelligence and dreaminess: qualities that enchant seventh-grade girls," writer Sarah Larson noted recently in The New Yorker. Anne of Green Gables producer Ken Sullivan described Crombie as the quintessential boy next door, telling The New York Times "there were literally thousands of women who wrote to him over the years who saw him as the perfect mate."

But the sad event also reminded us of how important Anne of Green Gables—the Lucy Maud Montgomery novel first published in 1908—remains to Canadians and to the rest of the world.

To some extent, the facts speak for themselves.
• Montgomery’s book has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into 36 languages.
• The CBC miniseries, based on the book, won nine Gemini Awards, and the spinoff TV series, Road to Avonlea, was the network’s most watched Canadian TV series—until Canadian Idol came along in 2003.
• More than 125,000 people visit Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish, P.E.I., each year.

Love for Anne around the world

A lot of those visitors are from Japan, where Anne is a cultural phenomenon. Since Akage No Anne (Anne of the Red Hair) became part of the Japanese school curriculum in 1952, the feisty orphan has inspired national fan clubs, a Green Gables School of Nursing, artwork, magazine covers and, naturally, an anime series. As it turns out, cartoon Anne is still wildly popular: the Nippon Animation Co. series airs not only in Japanese but also in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

What is it about the character of Anne Shirley that resonates so strongly with people? Perhaps it’s her love of nature, her tendency to get in trouble or her belief that anything is possible with a little imagination.

And, of course, there's the romance with Gilbert Blythe, who, despite a tempestuous relationship, loves Anne for who she is. As Larson notes, "He is the romantic ideal and a feminist, in his way—always respecting Anne’s intellect and ambitions, competing with her and admiring her academically."

That love and admiration, portrayed so well by Crombie, brought Gilbert to life for so many of us. Handsome, devilish, smart and smitten, he was Anne’s perfect match. And no one would want anything less for her.

Jonathan Crombie: Did you know?
• Jonathan Crombie was the third child—he had two older sisters—of David Crombie, one of Toronto's favourite former mayors.
• Crombie's mother's name is Shirley Ann. In his most famous role, Crombie played Gilbert Blythe, eventual love interest to Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables.
• Crombie never intended to become an actor. He was discovered in a high school production of The Wizard of Oz.
• One of Crombie's last TV roles was playing Insp. Bill Frazier on an episode of The Good Wife called "Hail Mary."

For more on some of the greatest actors that have come from Canada, check out the 12 Canadian actors we adore!

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Kindred spirits: the world's crush on Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe

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