Elaine Campbell, Lyricist of Canadian Hit Musical Anne of Green Gables, Dies at 81

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22 Aug 2007

Elaine Campbell, the Canadian lyricist who, with her husband Norman Campbell and actor Don Harron, created a series of popular musicals including a stage version of the children's classic "Anne of Green Gables," died Aug. 11 in Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She was 81.



The trio's best-known work, Anne of Green Gables, came about almost by chance. When the Campbells came to see Harron in a 1955 Toronto revue called Fine Frenzy, he handed them a copy of the Lucy Maud Montgomery's book about a spirited young girl name Anne Shirley, which he had been reading to his children. He suggested it would make a nice musical. The three then collaborated on the project. It premiered as a television movie in 1956 on the nascent CBC, where Mr. Campbell was working as a director and Mrs. Campbell was writing for various TV musicals.

When Mavor Moore, the chief producer at CBC, became the founding artistic director of Charlottetown's Confederation Arts Centre in 1964, he used a Green Gables song in the inaugural variety performance, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. In the audience was Queen Elizabeth II, who afterward went backstage and mentioned she liked the song. Were there more from the same score?, she wondered.

Quickly, Moore had the Campbells and Harron created a stage version of the musical. It premiered at the Charlottetown Festival in 1965. It was an immediate success, and has played the festival ever summer since. It is one of Canada's best-known home-grown musicals; the source material has since been plundered by many other writers around the world for other musical versions.

"That was the making of the Charlottetown Festival and I adopted it as a masthead on all of our materials," Jack McAndrew, a former producer of the Charlottetown Festival, told the Toronto Globe. "From opening night, Anne of Green Gables had a magical property to it, but I also think it is a very good theatre piece when you look at the construction of it and the flow of it."

The trio would collaborate on two more musicals. Turvey, based on the novel by Earle Birney, debuted at Charlottetown, and The Wonder of It All began life the same way Anne did, as a TV show in 1972. It was later turned into a stage production in Victoria.

Elaine Helen Leiterman was born Sept. 15, 1925. She was the oldest of six children of documentary director Douglas and Moynette Leiterman. She began studying piano as a girl. After serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1943 to 1945, she entered the University of British Columbia to study English and music composition.

She met Norman Campbell, a fellow Christian Scientist, in 1947 on a ferry. They married two years later.

Mrs. Campbell also wrote lyrics for a musical version of She Stoops to Conquer and television shows such as "The Karen Kain Superspecial," "Christmas at Rideau Hall" and two galas for royal visits of the Queen. Her husband died of a stroke in 2004.

She is survived by five children, a grandchild and three siblings. A celebration of her life is being planned for early this fall in Toronto.