One Singular Sensation – a tribute to Charmian Carr (27 December 1942 to 17 September 2016).
It is rare for a performer to be remembered and loved for a single performance, but this is what happened to Charmian Carr who, at the age of 23, was chosen to play Liesl in Robert Wise’s film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, the only film role she ever played. Michael Darvell pays tribute to the late actress who has died from complications associated with dementia.
Charmian Carr was born Charmian Anne Farnon in Chicago to actress Rita Oehmen and musician Brian Farnon. Their daughter had no intentions of entering any part of the showbusiness world, although both Charmian’s sisters, Shannon Farnon and Darleen Carr, did become actresses.
When Charmian was ten the family moved to Los Angeles, where she attended the San Fernando High School, and later the San Fernando Valley State College (studying speech therapy and philosophy). She also did occasional modelling for fashion shows.
Out of the blue, one of Charmian’s modelling friends heard that Robert Wise was looking for a young girl to play 16-year-old Liesl, the eldest of the von Trapp Family Singers, in The Sound of Music, so put Charmian’s name forward for an audition. During 1964 Wise had spent months trying to find the right girl for the part, having turned down Patty Duke, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Sharon Tate, Lesley Ann Warren and others.
On meeting Charmian, the director-producer found her to be a natural performer and just what he was looking for, so he gave her the part. Wise changed Charmian’s birth surname to one that was shorter, giving her a choice of one-word names. Charmian chose Carr.
With location work in Austria, Charmian enjoyed working on her single film appearance and of course the resulting movie was a huge hit. She sang a duet of ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’ with Daniel Truhitte, who played Rolf the telegram boy, and a reprise of the same number with Julie Andrews as Maria, along with some of the von Trapp children’s choruses.
And that, as far as Charmian was concerned, was that. She had made her one and only appearance in a film, after which she went back to what she really wanted to do, which was to run her own interior design company. Before that she dabbled a little in television, appearing in Evening Primrose, a short musical written for television in 1966 by Stephen Sondheim and co-starring Anthony Perkins, and she made a TV pilot for Take Her, She’s Mine, with Van Johnson, but the show never went to series.
The rest of her career was taken up in working for Charmian Carr Designs in Encino, California. Among others her clients included Michael Jackson and screenwriter Ernest Lehman who wrote the film script for The Sound of Music.
Charmian married dentist Jay Brent, they had two daughters, Jennifer and Emily, and subsequently became grandparents. Charmian wrote two memoirs, Forever Liesl and Letters to Liesl, made a few TV documentaries about The Sound of Music, and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in a reunion with other members of the cast in 2010, to mark the 45th anniversary of the film’s release. In 2014 she recorded ‘Edelweiss’ with the great-grandchildren of the von Trapps and Pink Martini.
Audiences still flock to the film of The Sound of Music as well as the many stage revivals that have appeared over the last 50 years. Part of the film’s enjoyment is no doubt due to the casting not only of Julie Andrews as Maria but also to Charmian Carr’s one-off appearance as the demure Liesl.
This writer holds a certain affection for the lady as we both share the same birthday. So long… farewell… Charmian Carr, one singularly sensational performer. R.I.P.
Angela Thomas writes: In a statement posted online Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein organisation, said: “It’s always sad when a member of the family passes away and in the case of the ‘family’ of the movie The Sound of Music, it’s especially sad when it is the first of the group to go.
“Charmian Carr played the oldest von Trapp child, and in some ways she maintained that role in real life guiding, cheering, supporting and generally being there for the rest of her ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’.”