March is Women’s History month, a time to honor the generations of women and girls who are trailblazers or have inspired us in some way. In that spirit, we are sharing an interview with the multi-talented Marilyn Lightstone that we have unearthed from our archives.
Marilyn Lightstone is probably most recognizable to Anne of Green Gables fans as the wonderful teacher Miss Stacey, who inspired Anne Shirley to become a teacher herself. She reprised the role in Anne of Avonlea and throughout six seasons of the Green Gables spin-off series Road To Avonlea, bringing further depth to the character. She has also starred as Sarah Chase in Sullivan’s first full-length film, The Wild Pony (1983).
Some years ago, we chatted with Marilyn about her role as Miss Stacey in Anne of Green Gables:
Had you read the Anne of Green Gables Novel before?
“When I was a child, about 10 or 11, I used to take a bunch of books out of the library. I remember taking out Anne of Green Gables and reading it on a Sunday night. I liked it so much, I pretended I had a cold the next morning so that I could stay home and continue reading.”
What exactly drew you to the book?
“It was a good story with a wonderful character. And I’m a sucker for a good story.”
How were you cast – what drew you to playing the part of Miss Stacey?
“Kevin asked me to.”
Do you share any qualities with Muriel Stacey?
“Bloody-minded. I think she is too. I don’t do, what I don’t want to do.”
Do you keep in touch with any of the cast members?
“I see Cedric Smith. He’s a very dear friend of mine. Even though we didn’t have any scenes together.” – she bumps into Mag Ruffman and she said, she, of course, loved Jackie Burroughs. “I consider Kevin a friend.”
What was it like working with Megan Follows in Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea?
“A delight. She’s a hard-working actress, intent and focused. She was so well cast, it made it easy. It’s always so much easier when the right person is in the right role.”
How did you prepare for the infamous plum pudding scene?
She said that nothing, in particular, triggered her and Colleen Dewhurst’s laughter – that she made that moment happen for herself. “If you start to laugh, even artificially, it’s a kind of contagious (action). The act of laughing makes you find something funny. It’s your job, as an actor, to make things happen. You don’t look to other things or other people.”
Did you approach the character of Muriel in a new way when you started Road to Avonlea?
No – she thinks that Muriel pretty much stayed Muriel from Anne to Road to Avonlea. Circumstances may change in people’s lives, but unless there is great tragedy or trauma to a person, she doesn’t think people change.
“People are pretty consistent. I think people may evolve…but I personally think people don’t change. I think people are who they are when they were first conceived – when the first chromosome hit the next chromosome.”
What was your favourite scene to film in the different Sullivan productions you’ve been part of?
“I love the very first scene when I’m approaching the class for the first time,” Marilyn remembers writing her name on the chalkboard with white chalk – something she says doesn’t really happen in classrooms anymore (teachers writing on a chalkboard with white chalk), although she remembers it from her own education.
“I remember that moment, a feeling of a new beginning for the students and a new beginning for Miss Stacey.”
What’s your favourite movie? Favourite book?
“I love the old movies from the 1940s. Rather than being intent on the cinematography or the music, it was all about the story.”
She also loves the mystery genre, especially authors Elizabeth George and Ruth Rundell. She loves classic literature, especially Jane Austen, and counts Pride and Prejudice as her favourite, along with Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. She admires Elizabeth Bennet’s disposition and described her as “a clean thinking, clear-thinking person” – even when the conditions around her would have made that hard to be.
“I see somewhat of an affiliation with Anne in these characteristics. I also love to read about travel and poetry.”
She particularly admires oriental poetry, which dates to B.C. times. Styles such as Haikus and Tankas (which only have 5 lines) attract her.
“I find I relate to the poetry because they are very concise, very short.” - they also have pictures alongside them, which she says, makes them almost like a little film. “The things they write about are very modern thinking,” she says. “Poetry seems to be undergoing a sort of resurgence at the moment.”
Are there any roles you still wish to tackle or would have liked to have played?
“My favourite roles are always the ones that came out of left field…A long time ago I decided not to do classical repertoire.” She said that roles like Lady Macbeth and the great classics had already been performed by so many great artists. She prefers to create new characters.
“My own personal pleasure is in creating something new.” And even though she admits that Miss Stacey wasn’t new, she said the role gave her a chance to bring something new to the character.
You can currently hear Marilyn Lightstone as the host of Nocturne on New Classical FM, and in her podcast, Marilyn Lightstone Reads, in which she reads classic literature. Six novels, including Anne of Green Gables, have been read and the current read is A Room With A View. You can also see her on her TV Program Your All-Time Classic Hit Parade, on Vision TV every Friday evening.