I haven’t seen most of Colleen Dewhurst’s work, because most of her work was off-Broadway. Still, when I was trying to think of someone I could knock five paragraphs about out in a hurry, she rather sprang to mind, because no matter what else she has or hasn’t done, there are two roles where I’ll never forget her. She was Marilla Cuthbert, and she was Avery Brown. Even if that were all she’d ever done, I would remember her fondly.
Anne of Green Gables isn’t the first thing I ever saw her in, but it’s the one that stays with me most. Marilla is a crusty old maid, surly and stiff, saddled with a child she doesn’t want with a personality she logically shouldn’t be able to stand. (Adoption issues in the books of L. M. Montgomery are a whole other discussion.) Yet Anne warms her to the point that Marilla must every once in a while pretend to be surly still because otherwise Anne will be able to get her own way when it’s bad for her, and Marilla will lose a lot of herself to the girl.
It’s a hard balancing act. I must admit to not watching a lot of the other adaptations of the books because I grew up on that particular version and would feel awkward about seeing anyone else in the roles. I don’t think I read the books until after I saw that miniseries, and that’s how I began picturing the characters. I don’t usually do that with books, no matter what—I definitely saw Alice in Wonderland, the animated version, before I read it, and I don’t picture the characters that way as I read the books. But no matter what, Marilla Cuthbert is Colleen Dewhurst in my head.
Yet she’s also a blast as Avery Brown. Avery is not Marilla; for one thing, Avery has a sense of fun. She’s a biological parent, which Marilla isn’t, but she’s still a lot more casual about parenting. She doesn’t have as many theories about it as Marilla does. And yet she’s completely confident that her lackadaisical style is as much the reason for Murphy’s success as anything else. And she definitely would have let Anne have puffed sleeves if that’s what she wanted, because Avery was not someone to bash anyone else’s style.
Honestly, the ability to do two such conflicting roles tells you quite a lot about Colleen Dewhurst’s acting ability. She played a lot of grandmothers of one sort or another, I think, from the kindly to the curmudgeonly, but I suspect the fact that I think of her that way has a lot to do with why I picture her the way I do. If I were older, I think I might picture her a different way, but I have no idea. I’m not too upset with picturing her the way I do, and I’m not sure she would have cared, either.