Road to Avonlea
A Blog and musings for the series Road to Avonlea
Peter Craig was destined to be the lead male protagonist of the series Road to Avonlea. Lucy Maud Montgomery intended for the hired boy to improve his social standing, become a minister, and marry Felicity King. Instead, he sadly faded from the series and was replaced by another poor yet noble outsider, Gus Pike.
So what went wrong? Was the wrong actor chosen? Was the writing insufficient? Was it a lack of fan support? Who is to blame for the failure of Montgomery’s number one choice for leading male character and the future husband of Felicity King?
Would Anne fans accept it if Gilbert Blythe was easily dismissed as a weakling and replaced with a strapping Sullivan-picked new comer in ‘Anne of Green Gables?’
Of course not! Anne fans would rise up and revolt with pitch forks and torches in hand! There would be scholarly outcries of “desecration” and wailings that Sullivan ruined Montgomery’s revered work.
So why aren't Road to Avonlea fans outraged about the dismissal of Peter Craig?
During the Story Girl’s prophesies in ‘The Golden Road,’ Sara says that Peter will become a minister and that Felicity will marry a minister. This story draws closely from Montgomery's own life and her marriage to a minister. Lucy Maud Montgomery and Reverend Ewen Macdonald were married in 1911, the same year that 'The Story Girl' was released.
Peter Craig is one of the rare male protagonists to receive positive criticism from Montgomery scholars. According to Dr. Elizabeth Epperly, “Peter Craig, the hired boy, stands out as one of the most convincing boys Montgomery created.“
When we first encounter Peter in the Montomgery books, he is described as "a slim, shapely fellow, with laughing black eyes and thick black curls." His description and social status appears amazingly similar to the first impressions of Gus Pike:
Early in the season as it was, he was barefooted. His attire consisted of a faded, gingham shirt and a scanty pair of corduroy knickerbockers; but he wore it with such an unconscious air of purple and fine linen that he seemed to be much better dressed than he really was.
The origins of Peter Craig are generally consistent with the depictions in Montgomery works. While his mother is a washer and his father is absent, Peter earns his keep as a hired hand at Rose Cottage. Similar to the first impressions of Gus Pike, Peter lacks social sophistication and is described as “belligerent” with “no filter.”
Similar to Felicity's first impression of Gus Pike, she considers Peter Craig to be nothing more than a hired boy. This becomes clear in an early reference to Peter in 'The Story Girl':
“He is your Uncle Roger’s handy boy,” said Uncle Alec. “His name is Peter Craig, and he is a real smart little chap. But he’s got his share of mischief, that same lad.”
“He wants to be Felicity’s beau,” said Dan slyly.
“Don’t talk silly nonsense, Dan,” said Aunt Janet severely.
Felicity tossed her golden head and shot an unsisterly glance at Dan. “I wouldn’t be very likely to have a hired boy for a beau,” she observed.
In ‘The Story Girl,’ Sara asks Felicity why Peter is “sulking” in the granary. Felicity explains that Peter tried to kiss her and she “boxed” his tingling ears “good and hard.”
“I don’t know about his feelings,” said Felicity, with an angry toss of her shining head, “but I guess I made his ears tingle all right. I boxed them both good and hard.”
“Oh, Felicity! What for?”
“Well, he tried to kiss me, that’s what for!” said Felicity, turning very red. “As if I would let a hired boy kiss me!”
Sara says that Peter is “sulking” in the granary, but he is not crying and broken like he is in ‘Conversions.’ For some strange reason, writer Patricia Watson portrays Peter Craig as an incredibly weak character and not the bold resourceful character from the Montgomery literature. Instead of taking problems on head first, Peter is completely incompetent.
Was the actor who played Peter Craig, Miklos Perlus, too weak to play the leading male protagonist? We may never know as he was never given a chance.
As a result of Watson's weak characterization, Peter Craig never recovers his true purpose in the series as Montgomery's choice for leading male protagonist and Felicity's future beau. Ironically, this "sulking" incident in 'The Story Girl' leads into Sara’s telling of “How Kissing Was Discovered”--The identically titled episode that launched the romance between Gus and Felicity.
In both 'Conversions' and the Montgomery works, Peter becomes deathly ill. The King children procur a remedy from Peg Bowen that helps cure the sickly boy.
Inexplicably, Peg Bowen's empathy for Peter is never fully explained in the series, outside the implication that both Peg and Peter are fellow outsiders marginalized by their peers. Montgomery's works however, paint a clearer picture of this relationship. According to the Story Girl, Peg Bowen was the beau of Peter's father, Jack Craig--which explains Peg's almost maternal protectiveness. Why the series chose not to explain this relationship is unknown.
Peter's sickness brings the King family together and softens Felicity's criticism toward the hired boy.
The final moments of Conversions show the King family gathered in the orchard and presenting Peter with a tree in his honor. The scene plays out more like a funeral for Peter Craig, as the character would never overcome the stigmatism of this episode.
Other than his appearance in Conversions, Peter appears sporadically throughout the first and second seasons and his eventual departure has no real significance and receives no fan fare. The Montgomery literature takes a more endearing approach as it's explained that Peter will leave for Markdale to live with his reunited parents. In one passage, Felicity expresses that she will miss the boy for whom she has found great affection:
“But you must come and see us often,” said Felicity graciously. Markdale isn’t so far away, and you could spend every other Saturday afternoon with us anyway.”
Peter’s black eyes filled with adoring gratitude.
“That’s so kind of you, Felicity. I’ll come as often as I can, of course;
Peter's adoration for Felicity is clearly realized in his poem for her on her birthday. Peter writes:
Oh maiden fair with golden hair
And brow of purest white,
Id fight for you I’d die for you
Let me be your faithful knite.
In the series however, Peter is not Felicity's shining knight. By the time Peter Craig returns in ‘Aunt Janet Rebels,’ he is simply used as a plot device after his mother, Maud Craig, is depicted as a victim suffragette. It is Sara who encourages Peter to visit Margaret McCorkndale to convince her to take action against her husband's unfairness. Peter is apparently too incompetent to come up with a plan by himself.
When they confront Margaret McCorkndale, it is Sara who mostly speaks and defends Maud Craig while Peter stands dumbfounded nearby like a broken character stripped of his own voice. By this time, the boy can't even defend his poor mother! This is sadly that last time we see Peter Craig in the series.
Unlike the series, Montgomery's Peter Craig stood up for himself and his friends. After Felicity is mortified for accidently using tooth powder in the rusk for the Governor," Peter "manfully" defends his future beau. “The rusks were splendid, anyhow, so what difference does it make what they were raised with?” He scorns the Story Girl.
When the fearsome Peg Bowen tells Felicity that her complexion will be too red similar to her mothers, Peter retorts "Well, that’s better than being the colour of mud." Throughout the books, Peter is defending his ladies honor.
By the second season and the realization that Road to Avonlea would continue as an ongoing series, it became apparant that a strong male protagonist in the spirit of Gilbert Blythe was missing.
The producers seemed to realize the mistake they made with Peter and corrected it with the the emergence of Gus Pike. Despite all the terrible things that happened to Gus, he never cried in the corner or shrunk from a challenge. Gus would also stand up to and for Felicity.
The writers accomplished with Gus what they failed miserably with Peter - creating a strong dynamic male protagonist to carry the main romantic arc of the series.
Montgomery's Peter Craig possesses many of the same traits that are later replicated with the emergence of Gus Pike: poor manners, a low social status, an outsider mystique, a drunken father, and a perchance to embarrass Felicity with scandalous behavior.
The Gus Pike character is now so firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of Avonlea viewers that it's hard to believe that his bare feet never stepped foot in Montgomery's King orchard and he never met Felicity, Sara or the other King children.
It's hard to acknowledge that Gus Pike simply didn't exist in the Story Girl's world.
It's unlikely the series will ever be rebooted. As Montgomery critics have pointed out, the Story Girl never really had a story or plot--an unappealing quality to pitch to television producers and investors. Sadly, Peter Craig will likely never become what Sara prophesized in these closing passages from 'The Golden Road':
“Peter will be a minister,” went on the Story Girl.
“Felicity,” resumed the Story Girl gravely, “will marry a minister.”
Sara Ray giggled and Felicity blushed. Peter tried hard not to look too self-consciously delighted.
“She will be a perfect housekeeper and will teach a Sunday School class and be very happy all her life.”
“Will her husband be happy?” queried Dan solemnly.
“I guess he’ll be as happy as your wife,” retorted Felicity reddening.
“He’ll be the happiest man in the world,” declared Peter warmly.
So let's lift our glasses one last time and bid farewell to Peter Craig - The bold proud unsung hero and shining knight of the Story Girl.
Ryan B. recently made an awesome post in the 'After the Honeymoon' comments section. While reading Bright Particular Stars: Canadian Performers," he found that RH Thomson and Kate Nelligan briefly dated while studying together in England.
I read about this a while back but forgot about it until recently. Nelligan confided about this relationship In a 1992 Toronto Star Article:
"He'll kill me for this. When I was 17 or 18, Rob was my boyfriend, and I haven't seen him since. I've seen some his work - (the miniseries) Glory Enough For All - but the last time we were together we were doing some play in Middle-English, at university, I think. Something no one but the actors could possibly understand."
Interestingly, there was also a connection between Thomson and Mag Ruffman (Oliva King/Dale) before the series started. Mag and Thomson were neighbors when they grew up in Richmond Hill and Mag even admitted having a crush on Thomson!
These unique relationships between the actors perhaps was the most interesting part of the otherwise lack luster episode "After the Honeymoon."
It was an offer he couldn't refuse... Too bad it was never offered.
In February 1992, Road to Avonlea director George Bloomfeld told the Ottawa Citizen that he got Al Pacino his first film role in the independent movie "The Panic in Needle Park." Bloomfeld recommended Pacino after seeing him in an off-Broadway play.
Pacino would go on to build a career playing brooding and angry characters, prone to explosive outbursts. His roles included the The Godfather (1972), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Scarface (1983). In 1992 Pacino received an Academy Award for Best Actor in 'Scent of A Woman.' The American Film Institute awarded him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
Years later Pacino told Bloomfeld that he owed him one after a chance run-in at their agent's office. "I've often thought," says Bloomfield, "maybe I should bring him back to do a Road To Avonlea with me."
Unfortunately, the offer was never presented and the actor would never grace Avonlea's red roads. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to see Pacino play a tantilizing role like the cantankerous Ezekiel Crane, the bitter Roger King, or the corrupt Judson Parker.
In the spirit of writer Raymond Storey, here are a few episode ideas:
Scent of a Woman of Importance
Godfathers and Sons
For one brief moment last February, it appeared that Road to Avonlea special guest star Faye Dunaway was about to award Best Picture to a film starring former Avonlea alumni Ryan Gosling. Instead, Dunaway and her co-announcer Warren Beatty were handed the wrong card, announced the wrong winner, and were immortalized in the most controversial moment in Academy Awards history.
Faye Dunaway played Countess Polenska in the episode "What A Tangled Web We Weave" and Gosling played the troubled Bret McNulty in the seventh season episode "From Away." Prior to her Avonlea appearance, Dunaway won Best Actress in a Leading Role for her excellent performance in Network (1976) and was nominated for this same award for her iconic performance in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
Despite the success and skill of these two actors, both episodes are ranked in the bottom ten least favorite Road to Avonlea episodes with Gosling's 'From Away' being the worst all time.
Dunaway received a lot of flack during her stay in Avonlea for her cosmetic products, her unusual behavior in the Bloor and Younge incident, and for the outright lackluster episode. Despite these criticisms, I feel sympathy for Ms. Dunaway and want to point out a few positives.
Unlike Sarah Polley, Dunaway never spoke bad about Road to Avonlea. And while most actors were oblivious to the series (Bruce Greenwood doesn't even remember that he was on the show), she is one of the few special guest stars that praised Avonlea before stepping foot on the set. Furthermore, Dunaway didn't complain when she was given the terrible script for 'Tangled Web.'
Dunaway shouldn't be blamed for the Oscar debacle and she is not at fault for her lack luster appearance on Road to Avonlea.
A hoax is described as a humorous or malicious deception, often synonymous with a practical joke, trick or prank. The series Road to Avonlea has it's share of hoaxes and pranks played on our unwitting villagers. I was surprised with the sheer number of hoaxes and it was somewhat tough to narrow it down to the top ten. So without further ado, the following list details the top 10 hoaxes from the series.
10. The Love Potion
Sara and Felix attempt to prevent Edwin Clark's plans to marry Olivia by seeking the help of Peg Bowen. The witch of Avonlea concocts a love potion that will force Olivia to become betrothed to the first unmarried man she sees. Their plan fails however, when Olivia drinks the potion and greets Felix at the door of Rose Cottage, rather than Jasper.
Snibb's World Renowned Traveling Midway arrives in Avonlea and Davey is entranced by the mysterious Melusina, who claims to be a mermaid. The woman is really named Trissy and she cons Donny Lester into giving her money. It doesn't take long before Donny and Davey realize they have been conned. When Hetty and Rachel find out, they are inexplicably shocked to find that the carnival is out to get their money! Irate townspeople storm the midway and Snibb is arrested.
8. Magic seeds
Sara Stanley and Andrew King receive a rude welcome to Avonlea when their cousins send the duo plummeting through a trap door into a muddy pig stall. The visiting cousins plan their revenge by giving Felix and Felicity magic seeds with the promise that if they wish upon them at night, their dreams will come true. The seeds, of course, are a hoax that make the scheming Felix and Felicity look foolish.
7. Davey is duped again
When Clive and Muriel announce their wedding, Davey and his friends plan to raise money to buy the couple a present. The troublesome Davey meets two ruffians, Hawk and Quint, who tricks the gullible boy into leaving money at the cemetery, promising that the profit will double the following day. The foolish friends return the next day and find that the money is gone! Dora rushes to Davey's rescue and devises a plan to retrieve the money from the thieves.
6. Marilla had a Beau
Marilla Cuthbert fabricates a beau named Duncan McTavish after village gossips pry into her romantic life. The consequence of Marilla's white lie results in disaster as the real Duncan McTavish arrives in Avonlea, which raises the suspicion of her long time friend Rachel Lynde.
5. The Sea Ghost Rises... Again
Cantankerous lighthouse keeper Ezekiel Crane recruits Gus Pike to help him pursue an elusive treasure. The treasure hunt ends in a sea cave where Crane's rival, Captain Borden, plunges Crane into the depths and believes that he has the legendary treasure. To Gus's surprise, Crane faked his death and escaped with the real treasure, leaving Borden with an empty chest.
4. The End of the World
History is full of prophesies declaring that the world will end. As a lunar eclipse approaches in the episode Vows of Silence, Felicity believes that judgement day is at hand and is encouraged to confess past wrongs.
3. Actor impersonates school teacher
Hetty resigns as school teacher after being criticized for pushing her students too hard for an upcoming history bee. An eccentric actor, Alistair Dimple, replaces Hetty and teaches the children through a method of play-acting and theatrics. As the competition approaches, Alec discovers that Dimple was a total fraud without teaching credentials.
There have been many other imposters in Avonlea, including Jo Pitts as Sara Stanley, Simon Tremayne as a bellhop, Doyle E. Reichenback, various imposters from Zak Morgan's wild west show and even Sara Stanley as the long lost daughter of Callamity Jane!
2. Blair Stanley returns from the dead
Sara Stanley goes to a carnival where she encounters a fortune teller, Isis, who promises to reunite the Story Girl with her recently deceased father. A seance is staged where Isis and her accomplice, Leo, pretend to evoke the spirit of Blair Stanley. When Sara discovers this elaborate hoax, she is kidnapped by the duo and held for ransom. Alec heroically rides to Sara's rescue and the malicious con artists are sent to prison.
1. Felicity was switched At Birth
Sara and Felix devise a scheme, writing a letter stating that Felicity was switched at birth with Sally Potts. The hoax sends Felicity into an identity crisis and causes an uproar between the King and Potts families. A panic ensues, which causes Janet King and Clara Potts to redefine their perspectives of motherhood.
During its run in the 90's, Road to Avonlea was one of the highest rated, most awarded and highly revered series on Canadian television. However, it's interesting to note that the series almost didn't happen. Below, I detail five things that almost prevented this show from existing, at least how we know it!
5. Gema Zamprogna almost took another role
Can you imagine another actress as Felicity King? In the weeks leading up to the production of Road to Avonlea, Gema Zamprogna (Felicity King) was heading to Winnipeg to star in the CBC made-for-TV movie ‘The Challenge,’ later to be re-titled ‘The Challengers.’ Gema played the lead role as a 12 year old girl who impersonates a boy to join a boys-only club.
"I'd auditioned her for an earlier Sullivan film and her talent was like a clear white light shining through," acting director Anne Tait remembered. "But everyone said 'She's going to Winnipeg, just give up on her.'" Anne Tait tracked down Gema en route to the airport and managed to obtain a tape of her reading for Felicity. The scheduled filming for Road to Avonlea was delayed one week, allowing Gema to accept the role as Felicity King. Without Tait's intervention, the role might have been played by Tara Meyer (Sally Potts) who auditioned in June 1989.
4. E.N.G. Almost Stole Avonlea's Time Slot
In the late 1980's, CBC only had enough money to produce one hour long drama and two programs were in competition: ENG (1989-1994), based on life in a television newsroom and Road to Avonlea. Although Director of CBC television programming Ivan Fecan would later regret letting ENG get away, the network ultimately chose Road to Avonlea.
Fecan clearly made the right decision by dropping E.N.G. The dull soap opera was almost cancelled in the first season and received poor ratings when it was shown on Lifetime Television (probably bumped for some god-awful Meredith Baxter Birney film). The publishers don't even want this out on DVD! Besides, the soap opera's sexual themes would have gone over like a drunk Viola Elliot in church if it aired on CBC's Family Hour.
3. We Could have had a different Story Girl
In early 1989, Sarah Polley had several acting options that could have prevented her from siezing the pivitol role of Sara Stanley. Polley auditioned for the role of Cher’s daughter in ‘Mermaids (A role that went to Christina Ricci),’ a starring role as Annie in the bizzare "Annie and Daddy Warbucks Go To Budapest," and a part in the chilling ‘Small Sacrifices’ about an infamous child murderer.
The planned filming for Small Sacrifices in June 26 in Vancouver conflicted with filming for Road to Avonlea and it became apparent Polley's camp would have to decide between the two projects. After serious discussions with Sullivan, Sarah and her family accepted the role of Sara Stanley in the new series.
It's interesting to wonder how things would be different if another actress put on the Story Girl's satin blue slippers. Would the new actress enjoy her role and stay on as a regular cast member for the full seven seasons?
2. Decreased interest in Canadian Drama
There were apparently people upset that US television shows had a strong presence on Canadian television. In 1987, Ivan Fecan was appointed director of CBC television programming “with a mandate from then vice-president Denis Harvey to shake things up.” Around this time, only 78 percent of television content in prime time was Canadian. Fecan was committed to changing this trend by increasing Canadian content and popularizing Canadian drama on CBC. This new direction by CBC was critical for the success of Road to Avonlea.
1. Lack of Funding
In 1983, the Canadian federal government committed $265 million over five years to expand Telefilm Canada and establish the Broadcast Fund. The Fund invested in privately produced weekly series miniseries and specials popular in Canada. The Broadcast Fund also provided the opportunity and resources necessary for Sullivan to create a Canadian mini-series.
Despite CBC’s commitment to the series, the network could only pay part of the $15 million total budget ($1.2 million per episode) required to produce the show (in addition to Telefilm Canada’s 2.5 million investment). Sullivan was reluctant to accept financial support from The Disney Channel, fearing they would try to “Disney-fy” the series. He ultimately relented, realizing that Disney’s financial investment of $8 million was critical to achieve the standard of quality he envisioned.
Learn more in the first chapter of the Behind the Series section: The Bend in the Road.
In 1989, Sarah Polley had several acting options that could have prevented her from siezing the pivitol role of Sara Stanley.
At the time, Sarah was attending grade five at the Claude Watson School for the Arts where she learned to dance and mime. She planned to take a break from acting that summer. It would be her last summer in her families North York home overlooking a sprawling golf course. She looked forward to having a dog when the family moved to the new home in Aurora, but in the meantime, she settled on a toad farm.
In May 1989, Polley’s agents were working against her summer plans.
Polley auditioned for the role of Cher’s daughter in ‘Mermaids (A role that went to Christina Ricci),’ a starring role as Annie in the bizzare "Annie and Daddy Warbucks Go To Budapest," and a part in the chilling ‘Small Sacrifices’ about an infamous child murderer.
The planned filming for Small Sacrifices in June 26 in Vancouver conflicted with filming for Road to Avonlea and it became apparent Polley's camp would have to decide between the two projects.
After serious discussions with Sullivan, Sarah and her family accepted the role of Sara Stanley in the new series.
In the weeks leading up to the production of Road to Avonlea, Gema Zamprogna (Felicity King) was heading to Winnipeg to star in the CBC made-for-TV movie ‘The Challenge,’ later to be re-titled ‘The Challengers.’ Gema played the lead role as a 12 year old girl who impersonates a boy to join a boys-only club. The Challengers was simliar to gender switching movies of the era like "Just One of the Guys" except with lousy 80s music and bad lip syncing.
"We almost missed her for Avonlea," acting director Anne Tait recalled. "I'd auditioned her for an earlier Sullivan film and her talent was like a clear white light shining through. But everyone said 'She's going to Winnipeg, just give up on her.'"
Tait tracked down Gema en route to the airport and managed to obtain a tape of her reading for Felicity. There were plans for the Challengers to become a weekly series and scripts were written, but the ultimately the series never materialized.
The scheduled filming for Road to Avonlea was delayed one week, allowing Gema to luckily accept the landmark role as Felicity King.