Donald Hugh Harron, OC, OOnt, actor, writer, broadcaster (born 19 September 1924 in Toronto, ON; died 17 January 2015 in Toronto).
Donald Hugh Harron, OC, OOnt, actor, writer, broadcaster (born 19 September 1924 in Toronto, ON; died 17 January 2015 in Toronto). A warm, intelligent and thoughtful entertainer, Don Harron was notorious for his witty manipulation of language. He enjoyed a 77-year career that saw him work at the CBC, the Stratford Festival, on Broadway and in Hollywood. He was best known for his comedic alter ego Charlie Farquharson, a character he played in theatre and on television. He also wrote the libretto for Anne of Green Gables, The Musical, Canada’s longest-running musical. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Order of Ontario, he received the Earle Grey Award for Lifetime Achievement in Canadian television and was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
The son of a dye worker and amateur cartoonist, Harron got an early start as an entertainer, drawing and narrating stories at Scout banquets when he was 10 years old. Those performances led to him being cast in the program Lonesome Trail (1936) on the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC). He attended high school at Vaughan Road Academy in Toronto and worked as a farmhand in rural Ontario before serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. After returning to Canada, he performed with CBC Radio and the New Play Society while studying sociology and philosophy at the University of Toronto. He won the Victoria College Drama Award and received a BA in 1948.
After graduating, Harron wrote and performed in various plays and revues in Toronto, including the annual Spring Thaw revue in 1948–50. He then went to England, where he wrote for BBC Radio and performed in three shows in London’s West End. He returned to Canada in 1952 and starred in that year’s edition of Spring Thaw, which was also broadcast on the newly-formed CBC Television network. It was in these performances that he debuted his signature character of Charlie Farquharson, an ill-dressed, malapropism-spewing farmer, inspired both by farmers he worked with and the country bumpkin character embodied by English actor Bernard Miles.
As a writer, Harron adapted two Canadian literary classics for CBC TV. He co-wrote, with Henry Kaplan, the first dramatic series on English CBC TV — an adaptation of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, which aired in 1952–53. He also wrote the script for the 1956 CBC TV version of Anne of Green Gables, as well as the libretto for the 1965 stage production, which became Canada's longest-running stage musical, playing for more than 50 consecutive years at the Charlottetown Festival.
He appeared in the inaugural 1953 season of the Stratford Festival and played major roles there throughout the 1950s. He also worked for more than a dozen years in theatre, TV and film in Canada, New York and Los Angeles. He performed in six shows on Broadway and appeared in such American TV series as The Texan (1958), Dr. Kildare (1964), The Outer Limits (1964) and Mission: Impossible (1967). He had supporting roles in Arthur Hiller’s Oscar-winning film, The Hospital (1971), and CBC’s 1979 TV movie about the life of Louis Riel.
Harron reprised his role as Charlie Farquharson for many years on the American country music variety show Hee Haw (1969–82), for which he also served as a writer for several seasons, and in Steve Smith's The Red Green Show (2003–04). Harron continued to perform well-received humorous and satiric talks across North America until 2012, when memory lapses began to make live performance more difficult.
Harron hosted the CTV game show Anything You Can Do (1972–74), CBC Radio's flagship program Morningside (1977–82) and the CTV afternoon talk show The Don Harron Show (1983–85).
Harron wrote more than a dozen books, most of them in the voice of Farquharson, including such bestsellers as Jogfree of Canada (1974), Histry of Canada (1976) and K-O-R-N Allmynack (1976). He followed these with such titles as Debunk's Illustrated Guide to the Canadian Establishment (1984), Cum Buy the Farm (1987), Unyverse (1991) and Charlie's A Broad (1994). In his memoir, My Double Life: Sexty Yeers of Farquharson Around with Don Harron (2012), he wrote candidly about his four marriages, as well as his multiple extramarital affairs and the toll they took on his family life.
Harron was married to American actress Gloria Fisher from 1949 to 1960, and had two daughters with her: Martha Harron, who wrote the 1988 biography Don Harron: A Parent Contradiction; and filmmaker Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol). He was then married to the actress Virginia Leith from 1960 to 1968, and to singer Catherine McKinnon from 1969 to 2003. He was married to French Canadian comedienne Claudette Gareau until his death from cancer in 2015.
Olde Charlie Farquharson's Testament: From Jennysez to Jobe and After Words (Scholastic, 1968).
Charlie Farquharson’s Jogfree of Canada (Gage, 1974).
Charlie Farquharson’s Histry of Canada (Paperjacks, 1976).
Charlie Farquharson’s K-O-R-N Allmynack (Gage, 1976).
Olde Farquharson’s Testament (Gage, 1979).
Charlie Farquharson, Yer Last Decadent, 1972–1982 (MacMillan, 1982).
Debunk’s Illustrated Guide to the Canadian Establishment (MacMillan, 1984).
Cum Buy the Farm (MacMillan, 1987).
Charlie Farquharson’s Unyverse (MacMillan, 1990).
Don Harron and Catherine McKinnon, Keeping a Canadian Christmas (Goddard, 1991).
Charlie Farquharson's History of Canada, ReeVised and More Expansive (MacMillan, 1992).
Charlie’s A Broad: Travails in Fern Parts (MacMillan, 1994).
The Outhouse Revisited (Firefly Books, 1996).
My Double Life: Sexty Yeers of Farquharson Around with Don Harron (Dundurn, 2012).
Officer, Order of Canada (1980)
Honorary Degree, LLD, Mount Allison University (1982)
Honorary Degree, D Litt, University of Toronto (1991)
Member, Order of Ontario (2000)
Inductee, Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (2010)