Colleen Rose Dewhurst – The Quintessential Marilla


June 3, 1924 – August 22, 1991

Colleen Dewhurst was born in Montreal, Quebéc. From all accounts she had and maintained duo citizenship. As a child in Montreal she was introduced to the tales of Anne Shirley and Lucy Maude Montgomery by her mother. Tales of a strong willed child, wise beyond her years. “It’s not what the world holds for you, its what you bring to it.” As a child Ms. Dewhurst was equally strong willed. She knew what she didn’t want and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. From watching several interviews in seems to me her experiences in life and her talent as a performer put her right into Marilla’s shoes. It didn’t hurt that she’d bought a home in Prince Edward Island, fell in love with it and rediscovered Anne almost simutaneously with Kevin Sullivan’s plan to produce Anne Of Green Gables. “It was destiny spoke.” Life takes us on many journeys and sometimes we can call the destination home. @J.E.Goldie 1/20/2019



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Colleen Rose Dewhurst was born on June 3, 1924, in Montreal, Quebec. The only child of Fred and Frances Dewhurst, she spent her first two years chronically ill and was dragged by her mother to dozens of doctors, both accredited and dubious. The resulting emotional trauma drove Frances Dewhurst to embrace Christian Science and reject medicine entirely. 

Never able to call any one place home for any length of time, the young Colleen Dewhurst was an energetic but socially awkward teenager, more comfortable playing baseball and tackle football with boys than assimilating with girls. Compensating for her shyness by becoming class clown, Dewhurst was coaxed into a regional oratory competition by one of her teachers at Riverside High School and later was cast in a school production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Humiliated onstage by a wardrobe malfunction that drew guffaws from the audience, Dewhurst harbored no dreams of becoming an actress, preferring the notion of being an aviatrix. While a student at Milwaukee-Downer College, she accompanied a classmate on a weekend trip to Chicago, IL where she saw a try-out performance of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” prior to its 1945 Broadway premiere. The experience awakened in Dewhurst the desire to become an actress and led to her transfer to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Following her divorce from George C. Scott, Dewhurst entered into a long-term relationship with Broadway producer Ken Marsolais. The pair maintained a second home in Canada, where Dewhurst performed in a number of feature films and television miniseries. She was memorable in a brief turn as the lethally protective mother of a serial killer in David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone” (1983), but won the hearts of younger viewers as the flinty but nurturing Marilla Cuthbert in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Anne of Green Gables” (1985) and its sequel “Anne of Avonlea” (1987). The telefilms were a popular sensation in Canada, emptying the streets on the nights of their network premieres. Dewhurst would be paired once more with young co-star Megan Follows in “Termini Station” (1989) and reprised the role of Marilla Cuthbert in three episodes of the long-running CBC series “The Road to Avonlea” (1989-1996). 

In 1989, Dewhurst was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Friends close to the actress would later maintain that Dewhurst’s refusal to undergo invasive surgery to remove the cancer had as much to do with her innate modesty as with her deeply-felt belief in the healing powers of Christian Science. One of her last film roles was opposite son Campbell Scott, cast by director Joel Schumacher as a terminally ill leukemia patient who romances caretaker Julia Roberts in “Dying Young” (1991). Dressed in cowboy denims and a weather-beaten Stetson, Dewhurst contributed the supporting role of a Mendocino local who looks after the unlikely couple as they undertake a road trip toward denial. Dewhurst succumbed to her cancer two months after the film’s June opening, dying at her Salem, NY home on Aug. 22, 1991. A month later, George C. Scott dedicated his revival of the Paul Osborn play “On Borrowed Time” at Circle in the Square to her memory. Filled out with the reminiscences of friends and colleagues, Dewhurst’s incomplete autobiography was published in 1999.

By Richard Harland Smith

She was president of the Actors’ Equity Association from 1985 until her death.

Dewhurst won a total of two Tony Awards and four Emmy Awards for her stage and television work.

“Colleen looked like a warrior, so people assumed she was the earth mother. But in real life Colleen was not to be let out without a keeper. She couldn’t stop herself from taking care of people, which she then did with more care than she took care of herself. Her generosity of spirit was overwhelming and her smile so dazzling that you couldn’t pull the f_-kng reins in on her even if you desperately wanted to and knew damn well that somebody should.” – Maureen Stapleton

“She’s like an earth mother, but in real life she’s not to be let out without a keeper. She’s a pushover, a pussycat. She’s the madonna of the birds with broken wings.” –Maureen Stapleton, quoted in The New York Times obituary, August 24, 1991.

Dewhurst died of cervical cancer, age 67, at her South Salem home in 1991. She was cremated and her ashes were given to family and friends; no public service was planned.

The song is Love That Let’s Go

There’s a gold frame that sits by the window
And my heart breaks a little more each time I try
To picture the memory inside

There’s an old book that’s too hard to read it
But if you look you’d see how you look through my eyes
But now one more chapter’s gone by, and I know

It’s time to move on and even though I’m not ready
I’ve got to be strong and trust where you’re heading
Even though it’s not easy
Right now the right kind of love
Is a love that lets go,

There’s an old dance that we’ve done forever
You give me your hand but let decide when to reach
You always let me be me
But now’s my time to take chances
And find my own wings
And whatever happens I know you’ll be there waiting for me

It’s time to move on and even though I’m not ready
I’ve got to be strong and trust where I’m heading
Even though it’s not easy
I know the right kind of love
Doesn’t wanna miss the future
By staying in the past
It will always hold on, but never hold you back
And even though it’s not easy (it’s not easy)
Right now the right kind of love
Is a love that lets go,

It’s time that I let you
With a love that lets go









Published by

Jen Goldie

"Life is made up of small comings and goings and for everything we take with us, we leave a part of ourselves behind" - Summer of 42

17 thoughts on “Colleen Rose Dewhurst – The Quintessential Marilla”

  1. Jen, sometimes you spill out some amazing quotes that leave me speechless.

    “Life takes us on many journeys and sometimes we can call the destination home.”

    That is absolutely precious!

    And another fantastic bio of a great Canadian. Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Didn’t know this artist till now but it was really interesting to read about her… Some of her memories hold a reflection to my own childhood eccentricities. 😋
    That song… Love that lets go.. the lyrics are so touching.. loved it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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