Canadian Actor and Comedian Don Harron Has Died at Age 90
Canadian comic Don Harron, best known for his character Charlie Farquharson has died at age 90.
Harron's daughter Martha reports that her father died of cancer on Saturday morning in his Toronto home with his family, having decided to forego treatment. "He was still sharp. He was still capable of being funny even though his voice was barely above a whisper," she told the Toronto Star. "It's horribly sad, but it's beautiful too."
Donald Hugh (Don) Harron, (September 19, 1924 - January 17, 2015) was a Canadian comedian, actor, director, journalist, author, playwright and composer.
Harron's parents owned and operated Harron's Cleaners and Dyers in Toronto. Beginning at the age of 10, he earned extra money for the family during the Great Depression, doing "chalk talks" telling humorous stories while drawing caricatures in coloured chalk at company or club banquets, making $10 or $15 a talk. As a result of his performances, he was invited to audition for, and won, a part in the radio series Lonesome Trail.
As a teenager in the early 1940s, Harron spent time working as a farm hand in rural Ontario; experience he later credited for the development of his Charlie Farquharson character. He graduated from Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute in 1942 and briefly attended the University of Toronto before enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943. After World War Two, he completed his studies of sociology and philosophy earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. While at school he performed in amateur and professional productions, won the Victoria College drama award, and composed the music and lyrics for a student musical. He won the gold medal in philosophy and the regent's silver medal and was offered a position teaching literature at the university which he turned down in order to focus on performing.
After university, Harron appeared in a number of plays and revues in Toronto, including the annual Spring Thaw revue, giving him national exposure when the 1952 edition was broadcast on the the newly launched CBC Television network. He spent two years in London, England, travelling there variously performing West End production of A Streetcar Named Desire and also working for the BBC as a comedy writer, acing on a radio series, playing the part of a clown in the 1948 movie The Red Shoes and writing scripts for Gracie Fields.
Returning to North America in the 1950s, Harron was featured in the inaugural season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and on Broadway and was one of the writers on the first English-language dramatic series broadcast in Canada, Sunshine Sketches, which aired in 1952-53 on CBC Television. Harron also co-wrote the script for the 1956 television musical Anne of Green Gables. Harron later adapted the production for the stage in 1965 as Anne of Green Gables - The Musical, which continues to be performed annually during the Charlottetown Festival. According to Harron in a 2008 interview with the Calgary Herald, the stage show has provided work for more than 10,000 actors since its inception.
Harron played Art Harris in the well-received, two-part The Outer Limits episode titled "The Inheritors." In 1965, he performed the role of the naval missile officer who could not bring himself to perform his duties to launch nuclear missiles as the missile officer aboard the SSRN Seaview in the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "Doomsday", and he appeared in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as an Australian U.N.C.L.E. agent named Kittridge in an episode called "The Four-Steps Affair". In 1966, he guest-starred in the premiere episode of the television series Blue Light, which was later edited together with the three following episodes to create the theatrical film I Deal in Danger, released in December 1966 with his appearance included. He made one appearance on the CBC Television show Adventures in Rainbow Country in 1969 in the episode "The Frank Williams File." He has also been a host and interviewer on Canadian television and radio, hosting CBC Radio's Morningside from 1977 to 1982, for which he received an ACTRA Award for best radio host, and subsequently hosting an afternoon talk show, The Don Harron Show on CTV from 1983 to 1985. He had a featured role in Arthur Hiller's 1971 film The Hospital, written by Paddy Chayevsky. Harron also appeared on The Red Green Show and replaced Gene Wood as host of the game show Anything You Can Do from 1972 to 1974.
Harron is known for the character Charlie Farquharson, a personality he first portrayed in 1952 on the CBC series The Big Revue. Harron and the character received international attention as part of the cast of the U.S. country music television show, Hee Haw during its 18-year run. Harron reprised the character on The Red Green Show episode "You've Got Oil" (2003).
Dressed in an overly well-worn sweater and frayed cap, and sporting a grizzled 'two-day beard,' Farquharson is a decidedly rural Ontario farmer from near Parry Sound. He and his wife, Valeda, have a son, Orville. He would deliver his opinion about matters local and worldwide, using many malapropisms in the process that often resulted in both double meanings and increased satire about the events. He was also known for his loud hearty laugh, "Hee! Hee! Hee!". In addition to his television appearances as Charlie, Harron published several books in the character, reproducing the malapropisms in print and including strange photos and woodcuts as illustrations.
Examples of Farquharson's comments:
"Nowadaze Parry Sound looks like most uther towns on this continence, thanks to them branched plants of frenchfrises that has sprung up everywhere--Mickdonald's, Burglar King, Kernel Kadaffy Frayed Chicken. Noware will ya see a sine "Home Cookin'", cuz all our lo-cal burghers is out eaten them malty-nashnul burgurs. This makes everplace into a no place, and it's eezy to fergit ware you is if yer jist passin through at snacktime." [from Cum Buy The Farm, 1987, pg. 11]
"Every guvmint estimit incloods an extry estimit of how much more it's gonna cost than yer ferst estimit. That's how come they always leeve this big deficit on the floor of yer House. And a deficit is what you've got wen you haven't got as much as if you jist had nothin'. If we tried any of this, we'd end up in jail. But the guvmint gits rid of its detts by Nashnullizing them. That's like the alkyholick who solved his problem by poring the booze in all of his bottles into one big container. Himself." [from Charlie Farquharson's K-O-R-N Filled Allmynack, 1976, pg. 79]
On May 15, 2011, Don performed the Charlie Farquharson character during the 85th anniversary of his Toronto high school, Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute.
In 2000, Harron's contribution to the Canadian entertainment industry was recognized with his being named a member of the Order of Ontario. He was invested as member of the Order of Canada in 1980 and in 2007, he was given the Gemini Award for Lifetime Achievement in Radio and Television. Harron was also appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In his later years, he was been a high-profile advocate for the interests of older people. He also continued to write books, most recently (2008) publishing a retrospective work on the history of the Anne of Green Gables musical to tie in with the 100th anniversary of the original novel.
Harron was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
He married his third wife, Canadian singer Catherine McKinnon in 1969. Harron's daughter Mary Harron from an earlier marriage to Gloria Fisher, is a noted independent film director whose credits include I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho. Harron and McKinnon divorced in 2003, and he moved in with and later married his fourth wife, Claudette Gareau, who had played the separatist weather girl in Shh! It's the News with Harron, in 1973.
Harron died at 90 surrounded by his family in his Toronto home after deciding not to seek treatment for his cancer. His daughter, Martha, told Canadian Press "He was still sharp. He was still capable of being funny even though his voice was barely above a whisper... It's horribly sad, but it's beautiful too."
Photo credit: CBC