ANNE OF GREEN GABLES AND THE DEATH OF ‘GILBERT BLYTHE’

statements_524456 Social media reaction to the unexpected death this month of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie, who so memorably played Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables, came almost entirely from the distaff side. Not too many guys were fans of the movie, I guess. Well, I’m a fan. A big one.

Like many of my gender, it seems, I was originally pretty dismissive of the whole Anne of Green Gables thing. Who cares about the adventures of some spunky 11-year old orphan girl in turn-of-the-20th century Prince Edward Island? She hates her red hair. Boo hoo. Bring on Anna Karenina.

But my mind was changed when I went to what I had hoped would be a party at a friend’s house, only to discover all the women heading into the TV room to watch Anne of Green Gables. Thinking they couldn’t possibly be serious, I tried cracking a few jokes. They told me to be quiet. So I reluctantly sat down to watch, too. Of course, much to my surprise, once I parked my prejudices by the door, I was charmed. No violence, except for Anne smashing her slate over poor Gilbert’s head, no sex, no deafening sound effects. Just a tender, perfectly made movie, with a superb cast.

Could anyone have been better than Megan Follows as Anne Shirley, Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla and Richard Farnsworth as dear Matthew, the loveliest man on the face of the earth? Then, there was Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe, the sweet-natured soul tortured by his love for the spirited but flinty Anne. Opinion was divided. He didn’t fit everyone’s idea of Gilbert from the book, and at times, he did appear a bit awkward on screen, a tad too old for the part (18 when the movie was filmed). Others found him perfect. Over time, however, since this is a movie that effortlessly absorbs repeated viewings, even those of us who were at first reluctant have grown to cherish him, too, along with everything else about this fine Canadian film. Anne-07 There’s much to be said for a movie that tells a good story, that’s well-acted and gently escapist enough to let you forget about that increasingly bad old world outside. It’s also unapologetically Canadian, in the good sense of that fine word. So, if you’re like I used to be and still dismissive of Anne of Green Gables, now’s the time to give it a whirl, surrender to its charm, and mourn Jonathan Crombie. He was 48, but forever young as Gilbert Blythe.

Here is a full length obituary of Crombie from Saturday’s Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/dreamy-gilbert-blythe-actor-jonathan-crombie-loved-the-stage/article24124077/

And this is an excellent piece from the Guardian that praises the character Gilbert Blythe as superior to many other rejected mail suitors in literature : http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/24/jonathan-crombie-dead-gilbert-blythe-novel-anne-of-green-gables

P.S. A sequel, Anne of Avonlea, was pretty fair, as sequels go, but the less said about Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story the better. Anne and Gilbert don’t belong on the battlefields of World War One.

A further personal postscript. My aunt loved Anne of Green Gables and Canada’s most famous author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, her entire life. She read all the Anne and Avonlea books. Having grown up on a farm in the Fraser Valley, the bucolic splendor of Montgomery’s PEI gave her nothing but pleasure. As noted above, I kind of sniffed at this “defect” in my beloved Auntie Gret with that knowing smugness of someone pleased with himself for being into “serious” literature. Don’t need no stinkin’ girlie stuff! But was won over by the movie.

UnknownMy mother, a high school English teacher, was slow to warm to Anne of Green Gables, too. But my aunt’s view had prevailed  by the time she compiled her pioneering textbook in 1973 with the pulsating title, Canadian Literature, Two Centuries in Prose. Believe it or not, this was the first book designed to introduce high school and college students to our own country’s literature in one distinct volume. And she did not hesitate to include an excerpt from Anne of Green Gables, defending it as far more than a “children’s classic”, with its universal Cinderella theme (Jane Eyre, Pygmalion) and particularly Canadian motif of nostalgia for a world of peace and protection.

Later, we all shared the joys of the long-running, spin-off CBC series, Road to Avonlea, that introduced us to the remarkable Sarah Polley. The series also featured fine Canadian actors R.H. Thompson, Cedric Smith, Lally Cadeau, and of course, the late Jackie Burroughs as the indomitable Aunt Hetty. Sure, it wasn’t The Sopranos or The X-Files, or anything like that, but it was well-made, entertainment that everyone in our diverse family could enjoy. We were in China, my brother’s family was in Thunder Bay, Auntie Gret was in Burnaby, and my mom and sister were in good old Newmarket. Watching it made us all feel together, despite our vast separations. There’s a lot to be said for that. (My brother’s step-daughter loved Sarah Polley in the series. When she heard that young Sarah lived with her father in Aurora, just south of Newmarket, she and my sister ferretted out her address to say ‘hi’, but no one was home.)

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Yet the author who created all this enchantment, Lucy Maud Montgomery, had such a sad personal life, herself. She made an unfortunate, late marriage to a minister who suffered from deteriorating mental health. Despite the world-wide fame of Anne of Green Gables, such were the times that Montgomery loyally followed her husband to his modest church posting in Uxbridge, not that far from Newmarket. Their two children disappointed her. Acutely lonely and battling her own depression, she tried to escape by churning out more and more Anne-style books set in Prince Edward Island. They sold well, but there was only one Anne of Green Gables.

Years after she died in 1942, her personal journals were published. They sold well, attracting many new readers with her Unknownfrank, adult descriptions of her struggles with life and the hardships of being a woman, long before feminism. My mother and my aunt read every word. When Auntie Gret came east for a visit, she and her sister went prowling around the wilds of Kettleby and mighty Zephyr, looking for the manse where Lucy Maud lived with her difficult husband. Sort of like us younger folk searching out Dylan landmarks in Hibbing.

When my aunt was forced to move into an assisted-care facility, she took only one book with her. It was, of course, her life-long companion, Anne of Green Gables.

SOME BROTHER: THE VILE TALE OF DAVID GREENGLASS AND ETHEL ROSENBERG

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On June 19, 1953, at the height of Cold War hysteria in the United States, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg died in the electric chair at Sing Sing, convicted of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Their executions remain perhaps the darkest of the many dark chapters of that terrible time. Even more than half a century later, the appalling cruelty of killing the father and mother of two young sons, six and 10, is hard to stomach.

Such was the sweep of anti-Communism and the fear of being seen as “a Red” that relatives of the Rosenberg would not take them in, leaving the youngsters to be brought up by Abel and Anne Meeropol, a kindly, left-leaning couple in New York. (Under the pseudonym Lewis Allan, Abel Meeropol wrote the Billie Holiday classic, Strange Fruit.)

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Newly-elected president Dwight Eisenhower ignored world-wide pleas for the lives of the Rosenbergs to be spared. Among those who gave voice to the clemency campaign were Albert Einstein, Harold Urey of the Manhattan Project, Pope Pius XIIverner_31_sm (albeit timidly), Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and French president Vincent Auriol. Hundreds of prominent Americans, including many religious leaders, also protested the death penalty. For many who participated in the drive, still hopeful of a last-minute reprieve, the bleak news that the Rosenbergs had indeed been executed was overwhelming. The legendary religious activist and editor Dorothy Day summed up those feelings the next day in her paper, The Catholic Worker:

“My heart was heavy…knowing that Ethel Rosenberg must have been thinking, with all the yearning of her heart, of her own soon-to-be-orphaned children…..What greater punishment can be inflicted on anyone than those two long years in a death house, watched without ceasing so that there is no chance of one taking one’s life, and so thwarting the vengeance of the State.

“….At the last Ethel turned to one of the two police matrons who accompanied her and clasping her by the hand, pulled her toward her and kissed her warmly. Her last gesture was a gesture of love….Let us have no part with the vindictive State and let us pray for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. By virtue of the prayers we may say in the future, at the moment of the death which so appallingly met them, they will have been given the grace to choose light rather than darkness. Love rather than Hate. May their souls rest in peace.”

Although there was widespread belief among protestors that the Rosenbergs were innocent, we now know for certainty that Julius Rosenberg did spy for the Soviet Union. However, his contribution to development of the atomic bomb by the Soviets was far from critical, wildly exaggerated by prosecutors, government and anti-Communist media. Whatever he did, nothing justified death in the electric chair.

Far worse, we also know that hard evidence against Ethel Rosenberg was extremely weak, hinging on false testimony by Ethel’s own brother, David Greenglass, also part of the Soviet spy ring, who was seeking to cover up his own wife’s involvement. He died recently at the age of 92, unrepentant to the end over his decision to send his older sister to her death.

The shameful story is vividly recounted in obituaries this week by the New York Times and the Guardian. Once a snake, always a snake.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/us/david-greenglass-spy-who-helped-seal-the-rosenbergs-doom-dies-at-92.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/15/david-greenglass-spy-who-sent-sister-ethel-rosenberg-to-electric-chair-dies

THE WIRE’S DAVID SIMON ON “THE HORROR SHOW” OF AMERICA

images-2I’m not much of a TV guy, unless its news, sports, or old movies. Something sticks in the craw, too, about giving even more money to the cable company for HBO, and so on. But long after the raves had stopped for all fives seasons of The Wire, my household came into temporary possession of the DVD set, and yes, just like everyone else, I became totally hooked on David Simon’s brilliant depiction of the seamy side of Baltimore, and the unforgettable characters on both sides of the law who roamed its mean streets. Omar, Stringer Bell, Dee, Bubbles, Lt. Daniels, and so on.

ImageSimon, who spent 12 formative years on the Baltimore Sun newspaper, went on to create the celebrated Treme, about post-Katrina New Orleans.

Meanwhile, outside the creative bubble, the more he has looked at his country, the more Simon has become distressed at the loss of the relatively progressive forces that once drove its economy, that created the richest land on earth. Capitalism has lost its way. Greed and individualism have triumphed, with a diminishing safety net for the losers left behind.

Simon’s anguish recently spilled out in an inspired, angry speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia. An edited version of his outburst appeared in The Guardian and has been widely-circulated on social media. But I think it’s worth repeating here, for those who may have missed it. Even if you have read it before, I recommend another go. Simon’s fiery dissection of American society is even better the second time.

Of course, to think that what’s happening to the south of us is not working its way into Canada would be foolish.

Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

“That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.”

“The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.”

Take it away, David Simon, who feels compelled to stress that he’s hardly a socialist, merely someone convinced that our current economic system  has gone off the rails. Click below to read it all.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/08/david-simon-capitalism-marx-two-americas-wire