Jonathan Crombie was known for playing Gilbert Blythe in CBC and Sullivan Entertainment's classic Anne of Green Gables. But was the legacy he left behind?
Actor Jonathan Crombie died of a brain hemorrhage while in New York City on April 15, according to the CBC. He was 48-years-old.
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Crombie rose to fame as Gilbert Blythe, the earnest suitor of Anne Shirley (Megan Follows) in CBC TV's Anne of Green Gables production in 1984. He later reprised the role in Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987) and Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story (2000).
A relative unknown 17-year-old at the time of casting, the Toronto native seemed to embody everything that made the character so special. Producer Kevin Sullivan believes "Jonathan was as generous, as kind, as sensitive and as ambitious, in some ways, as the character he came to be identified with."
Crombie beat out now famous actors, like Jason Priestly, due to casting director Diane Polley’s recommendation after watching the young actor in a high school production. "We never screen-tested him. We met him and he was cast. It was a perfect storm...It just all worked perfectly."
When describing the professional relationship between Follows and Crombie, the producer believes the inexperience worked well.
"He was kind of a newbie and I just remember that they were able to ground each other extremely well and the relationship that they had was one of great affection," he said. "They were both very generous with each other and both really made those performances vivid and real."
And for fans of L.M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables book series, the chemistry was key in representing Gil.
Carrie Crombie told the network how Blythe was an important role to her brother. "I think he was really proud of being Gilbert Blythe and was happy to answer any questions...he really enjoyed that series and was happy, very proud of it — we all were."
Follows spoke with Vulture in 2013 when The CW’s Reign premiered. Asked if the two kept in touch, she replied they “cross paths,” indicating that the two performers often had busy schedules that didn’t offer a lot of time.
During one of the few times both were in Toronto, she explained that “it was so nice to sit down and just check in with him” because when time allowed “we have great conversations.” An appreciation of theater seemed to offer ongoing connections and interests.
Anne Shirley and the various takes on characters by the CBC defined many viewers’ expectations of who the characters should be. Thirty years later and people still talk about and share memories, even those born long after the series premiered.
And in 2011, he told Sullivan Entertainment that “a certain comfortability” remained intact between the actors, even spending a decade apart. The “certain rhythm” that she projected “worked with the familiarity of the characters themselves.”
Of course, Gilbert Blythe wasn’t all that made the man who he was. His sister opened up, talking about how he’ll be remembered among friends and family.
“He was funny, he was sweet, he loved acting, he loved comedy and singing and dancing.”
And it was thanks to that combination that he focused on a large part of his career on performing. “As a little kid, he just loved Broadway shows and all of that kind of stuff and would sing and dance in the living room."
Broadway beckoned, so he hopped many buses throughout the years between Toronto and New York, experiencing life and discovering the complexity of humans. "He always seemed to attract interesting people on buses. He always had great stories about characters on buses, so we always had fun listening to his impersonations."
And his love of riding the bus, of not paying the cost of a plane ticket, is the reason they’ll bring the actor’s ashes on a bus. “We felt that it was an ode to Jonathan. He would never go on a plane, so we're going to make the trek from New York to Toronto on a bus with his ashes.”
She also revealed that his organs had been donated in honor of his commitment to living a healthy life. A chance to do something good afterwards.
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Sources: CBC, Sullivan Entertainment, Vulture