I can’t fathom it.
Jonathan Crombie, the stage and screen actor who brought Gilbert Blythe to life in the near-flawless “Anne of Green Gables” miniseries, is dead at age 48.
A brain hemorrhage, they say. And just like that, about forty years too young, the world loses a gifted actor, and a humble man who didn’t mind answering to the name “Gil” while out and about.
I don’t just speak for myself when I say I feel as if someone I know and care about is gone.
I know. I KNOW. He was an actor.
He wasn’t really Gilbert Blythe, “winker of inexpressible drollery, foeman worthy of Anne’s steel, and prompter of quick, queer little beats in the hearts of us all” (a quote from my forthcoming, Anne-related memoir).
He just played him on TV.
So why does it feel as if Gilbert Blythe himself has died?
Interestingly, the fictional Gilbert Blythe would have died in the 1920’s or 1930’s, at a ripe old age, as far as we know. We part with Gilbert and Anne at the end of “Rilla of Ingleside,” when Anne is 53 and Gilbert is 55 or 56, fully expecting them to grow old together under a PEI sunset. This makes Crombie’s death seem even more appallingly premature.
Yes, this feels like a personal loss, not just to me but to thousands upon thousands of girls of all ages who went weak in the knees (and still do) over Crombie’s portrayal of Gilbert.
He feels like an old friend, and somehow, like a first love.
Crombie brought one of literature’s most swoon-worthy leading men to vivid, yearning life. He made manifest the Gilbert of our imaginations in such a way that it was impossible to read the books again (and again) without picturing him as Anne’s one and only.
I love that Crombie didn’t resent Gilbert, like so many actors do of their best-known characters. He was an accomplished actor on the stage as well, appearing under the kliegs in Stratford, Toronto and Broadway. Yet his sister said he was so proud of being Gilbert.
Gilbert is worthy of that.
What is it about Gilbert Blythe? He may seem like a mild-mannered boy-next-door, without a lot of flash and drama, but it’s his stoic devotion that makes him complex and intriguing.
Sure, he’s plenty cute and flirty (“Hey Carrots, Carrots!”). But there’s so much more.
Gilbert notices Anne for who she is: blazingly bright (never a popular trait for girls in Victorian times), fearsomely clever and decidedly other.
Somehow, he actually likes these idiosyncratic qualities about this freak orphan girl. He likes that she’s not like the other girls (sigh). He sees her vegetable-hued braids, her absurd vocabulary, her dreaminess and featherbrained ways, and he adores her for them.
Who among us doesn’t want to be noticed and adored for exactly who we are—pungent hair color, quirks, flaws and all?
Anne never had to hide her brokenness in front of Gilbert.
Once he has fallen for our Anne, there was no turning back. Gil dug in his heels and vowed to be for Anne, no matter what, no matter her mulish refusal to see the knight before her.
One of my chief pleasures in reentering Anne’s story for my book was to experience again the story of Gilbert. As a grown woman, I had a whole new appreciation for his constancy and sacrificial love.
He’s gallant (his first display was throwing himself under the bus when she whacked him over the head with a slate).
He’s steadfast, waiting at least five years for Anne to return his feelings. (In book form, he pines for three books–that’s over 1,000 pages of yearning, folks. I believe the movie featured The Kiss after just eight hours, so the payoff was a little more prompt onscreen.)
Gilbert’s finest trait? Hands down, his willingness to put her needs before his, even when it appears Anne will never love him back.
(Remember how he asked the school board to place him in the far-away, inconvenient Carmody school so Anne could teach in Avonlea and stay on at Green Gables with Marilla after Matthew’s death?)
Knightly, devoted, un-selfish and droll? Okay, and really, really cute? No wonder we all lost our hearts.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne’s author, never found her own Gilbert—not by a long shot.
I believe in writing him she created her ideal, and ours too. She gave Gilbert all those stellar qualities, and Jonathan Crombie lived into them and up to them–indelibly.
In watching his portrayal, we realized that we shared Gil’s unpretentious dream of a home with a hearth fire, a cat, a dog, and the footsteps of friends. We realized, like Anne, that our happiness was not to be found in diamonds and sunburst marble halls, but in true, abiding love. That became our dream, too. We wanted to find our own Gilbert Blythe.
So rest in peace, dear old friend. We’ve never met, but you mean more to us than we knew.
Thank you for bringing Anne’s kindred mate to life with sparks, grace and depth. Thank you for being Gilbert in a way we will never forget.