My Mom made us watch PBS’s WonderWorks series when we were growing up. It was nourishing television. Classy productions of children’s literature. Typically airing on Sunday nights, it entertained without overexciting us and refueled our brains for a week’s worth of school. I have positive memories of those Sunday nights. Even if I don’t have the most detailed recollection of each production, I have this vague happiness that accompanies the snapshots in my mind.
One time (I know…’at band camp’), when I was waiting tables at Cafeteria in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood, Wallace Shawn came in by himself to have some lunch. Of course I recognized him from a bajillion things, including but not limited to: The Princess Bride, Clueless, and Uncle Vanya. But, when I went up to him to refill his coffee, it was for his appearance as Professor Silverfish in How to Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days (a WonderWorks production) that I complimented him. He seemed absolutely tickled by that. He must get so tired of having people approach him just to shout “Inconceivable!” in his face, that he was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t. He was very smiley, left a great tip and made sure to say goodbye before he left. What a nice guy.
By the way, I waited on quite a few celebs there. It was a hugely trendy 24-hour faux diner chic hotspot in a neighborhood with lots of expensive shops and nightclubs, but the other person I served who was enthusiastically grateful to be recognized was Paul Dinello from Exit 57 and Strangers With Candy. I don’t mean that to sound like he was desperate. But, Exit 57 was hugely underappreciated and I think it made him happy for me to go on a bit about how great it was. And it’s not like I was just buttering him up just to hobnob with famous comedy folk . Exit 57 was pretty ace. Again, he was super nice and gave a proper tip.
Anyway, back on topic. WonderWorks was an excellent, excellent family tradition. I loved ‘em all. But, today’s great thing is the WonderWorks production that I have the greatest recollection of:
137. Anne of Green Gables
That’s Anne with an ‘e’, if you’re nasty.
Anne of Green Gables and its equally great follow-up Anne of Avonlea, are, seemingly, universally beloved. Google the titles and you’re drowning in links. Much like 80’s cartoons, there is a huge fan-base out there…hungry to talk about their love affair with this program of yesteryear and geek it up a bit. My sister and I loved this one so much that we purchased them on VHS! If you’re one of the unfortunate few that never saw it growing up, this homemade trailer sums it up pretty well.
That actually made me well up a bit!
At this point, I have to say My sister always held slightly more ownership of the Anne franchise. Make no mistake…I loved it. But, as siblings, you need to give each other some breathing room in areas of hobby and fandom. You don’t want to crowd each other out whilst you’re seeking your individuality and personality. I was comic books, karate, Cyndi Lauper, and comedy. She was fine art, Russian culture, Howard Jones, and Anne of Green Gables. We could appreciate each other’s interests but we’d never cross the line and try to claim them as our own or edge each other out if one of us claimed it before the other. I think she loved its literate roots, gentile setting, and most of all–how Colleen Dewhurst as stern but fair matriarch Marilla reminded us of our super-loveable Grandmother. Her name was Mary….Mary—Marilla…not too far of a stretch. Like Marilla, she too was rarely seen without an apron.
Kathryn Hepburn had been considered for the role but couldn’t take it due to other commitments. (Side note…her great-niece plays Diana Barry). But, as terrific as I’m sure Hepburn would have been, Colleen Dewhurst was born to play the part of Marilla Cuthbert. An amazing actress, Dewhurst died far too young, thanks in part to her Christian Scientist beliefs (she refused treatment for cervical cancer).
Anyway, the reasons that Steph, my sister, loved Anne of Green Gables aren’t entirely different from my own. But, I bet I did get one lasting impression out of the production that never occurred to her. That would be the strikingly close ‘friendship’ between Diana Barry and the titular heroine Anne Shirley Cuthbert. They were ‘bosom friends’, you see. They had the sort of intimate friendship that you only ever see between two girls in either:
A. period pieces
B. films with a lesbian subject matter
C. period pieces with lesbian subject matter
Of course, it’s probably only lesbians that ever infer sexuality onto the relationship between Anne and Diana. But, give us a break. When I was ten years old there was pretty much zero representation. I needed to foist that dimension onto them. And it’s hardly like I was alone in this self-satisfying conclusion. Witness this excellent recut masterpiece and tell me that you can’t see what I saw:
How awesome is that? Thank God for YouTube and free time!
Anyway, it’s that video that really reminded me of the delightful memory that is the Anne of Green Gables series. I think I’ll go hunting on Amazon. It’ll be erroneously filed in the ‘family’ section instead of the ‘gay/lesbian’ section, but wha-hey. You can’t win them all.
Now, what of the delightful Megan Follows who played Anne Shirley to slate-cracking perfection? Well, she still acts. Every once in a while she’ll crop up in movies or on the teevee. But, mostly she does theater. I was lucky enough to catch her at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival when I was in highschool. What a day that was! My first real exposure to the works of Shakespeare, it was a beautiful day in Canada, and I was lucky enough to see a minor-celeb in the production. I actually paid attention to the whole thing! By the way, sorry if this post reads as a page long diary of ‘famous people that I saw once’.
In 2010 she was in a production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9.–one of my favorite plays ever! Check out the company-made trailer below… I know it looks bizarre but when the play is done well, it is an inspiring statement on gender politics throughout the ages and it is absolutely hilarious (if you believe those two aspects can co-exist.)