The character Anne Shirley has been stealing hearts since author Lucy Maud Montgomery created her. Her classic novel Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908, has long been an inspiration for young girls in the coming of age story of the orphan with red hair and a fiery personality. The Canadian book series resulted in 11 sequels following Anne and her family and has been published all over the world.
The story follows Anne when she is adopted by Matthew Cuthbert and his sister Marilla in the sweet town of Avonlea. Just 12 years old at the beginning of the series, Montgomery follows Anne as she grows into a woman, marries and works in Avonlea as a school teacher.
What was it about Anne that made the book series so popular? She was an early heroine for girls, celebrating her intelligence and wit, her dedication to following her instincts and her fierce passion for standing up for herself and her loved ones.
One of the most famous renditions of the story to this day is the 1985 Canadian miniseries that first aired on CBC. It stars Megan Follows in the role of Anne and Jonathan Crombie as her love interest Gilbert Blythe. Here are a few things you probably didn't know about the miniseries.
1. Anne was almost played by an American
When the showrunners were doing an open casting for the titular role in Canada, actress Katharine Hepburn recommended her niece, Schuyler Grant. Director and creator Kevin Sullivan was on board, but the studio wasn't wild about having an American play the lead. So Grant was cast as Anne's best friend and "kindred spirit" Diana Barry.
You can watch Megan Follows' audition for Anne in the below clip:
2. The show was so popular it boosted tourism in Prince Edward Island
Fans loved Anne and her story so much that it increased real tourism in Prince Edward Island in Canada. You can even visit the Anne of Green Gables Museum.
3. Some of that beautiful backdrop was fake
Though the book takes place in Prince Edward Island, many outdoor scenes were actually staged at the Sullivan Studio and Backlot in Toronto. The production team was able to use CGI to create unique settings that looked as if they were shot on location during the late 1800s.
4. Kevin Sullivan thought he was only making a miniseries
When Sullivan first created the TV show, he thought he would be finished after his two-part series that aired on CBC and PBS in the United States. But fans demanded to see more of Anne as she grew up, married Gilbert and stayed in her beloved Avonlea to be a teacher.
5. The show's popularity led to a sequel series as well as films
In 1987, Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel aired on CBC. The following year it aired on The Disney Channel as Anne of Green Gables: Road to Avonlea. The sequel was four hour-long installments following Anne becoming a school teacher, reconnecting with Gilbert and following her aspirations of becoming a writer.
Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story followed as the third installment of Anne's story. This sequel was met with a bit of controversy based on the fact that it didn't really follow one of Montgomery's books. She did have one book in her series that followed an adult Anne and Gilbert, whose children are fighting in Europe during WWI. Sullivan decided to make it an original story and take Anne and Gilbert to New York as well as to Europe during WWI.
Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning was the final chapter of the miniseries and was released in 2008. Another unique story from Sullivan that doesn't follow the books, A New Beginning is a prequel as well as a sequel. Barbara Hershey plays an elderly Anne, reflecting on her life before moving into the Cuthbert's home of Green Gables. Hannah Endicott-Douglas plays a young Anne. This was the only sequel miniseries from Sullivan where Megan Follows did not reprise her role as Anne. It's air date also coincided with the 100th anniversary of the original novel.
6. The show racked in the awards
Viewers really resonated with the TV series following the red-headed orphan girl. The show was quickly the most popular on Canadian television in 1985 and brought home 10 Peabody Awards (comparable to the Emmys in the US). It also won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program in 1986 after airing on PBS. Kevin Sullivan even won a Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting in the United States.
7. The miniseries took inspiration from the 1934 film
That's right; there was another rendition before the 1985 version. Actress Dawn O'Day stars as Anne Shirley. She ended up changing her stage name to Anne Shirley as well she felt so connected to the character. The film was very popular in the '30s and even got a sequel, Anne of Windy Poplars, in 1940.
8. There's currently a reboot on Netflix
But this time, Kevin Sullivan was not involved. Moira Walley-Beckett brought Annie Shirley back to the screen with Netflix series Anne with an E. Amybeth McNulty plays the role of Anne in the show, which currently has three seasons streaming.
McNulty previously worked on Breaking Bad, so she brings a bit of a grittier take on Anne's story. Where the original miniseries pulled at your heartstrings, the Netflix show gives you a more in-depth look at some of the hardships Anne endured before making it to Green Gables. You also get to see the lengths she'll go to help her beloved new family when their home is in jeopardy.
It's hard to compare the two because they are such different takes on the L.M. Montgomery story. The Netflix series has also been a continuation of the story whereas the Canadian miniseries had time lapses between the sequels. We can only recommend watching both because you'll never get tired of watching this character and all of the family and friends that surround her in the enchanting town of Avonlea.