” You wait, little girl, on an empty stage for fate to turn the light on”
American actress Charmian Carr, who played the eldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl in the film The Sound of Music, has died aged 73 from a rare form of dementia.
The Sound of Music has always been one of my favourite movies. I used to make my mother rewind the whole VHS and watch it at least 7 times a day. Even now, at the age of 29, I still sing along every piece whether it is “The Hills Are Alive” or “Edelweiss” or “Sixteen going on Seventeen” with a huge smile on my face.
Born on the 27th of December 1942, Carr was the second child of actress Rita Oehmen and musician Brian Farnon. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 10. While a student at San Fernando High School, Carr was a cheerleader and played basketball and volleyball. “She had never had a singing lesson and had never tried to act” before she was signed to be in The Sound of Music.
Carr was attending San Fernando Valley State College, studying speech therapy and philosophy, and working for a doctor, when her mother arranged for her to audition for a role in The Sound of Music. Rita Farnon hadn’t asked Charmian if she wanted to audition for the part, but Charmian was sure her mother would consider getting a part in a film more important than earning a college diploma. In a newspaper article published November 9, 1964, Carr related the story behind the try-out as follows:
I was going to college and getting extra spending money by modelling in fashion shows in one of the stores. One of the girls who modelled with me knew that Robert Wise, producer-director of The Sound of Music had been conducting a four-month search for someone to play the part of 16-year-old Liesl. My friend, without my knowing it, sent in my picture and explained in a note that I sang and danced. I received a call from Mr. Wise to come for a try-out. It took me completely by surprise.
Director Robert Wise thought Farnon was too long a surname paired with Charmian. After he had given her a list of single syllable surnames, she chose Carr. She won the role of Liesl over Geraldine Chaplin, Patty Duke, Mia Farrow, Lesley Ann Warren and Sharon Tate. The film was on the whole a very happy experience for her. However, during the filming of her dance scene with Rolf in the gazebo, the costumers had forgotten to put no-slip pads on her shoes, she slid through a window of the gazebo, and she “had to complete the scene in agony”.
Carr appeared in Evening Primrose, a one-hour musical written by Stephen Sondheim, which aired on ABC Stage 67 in 1966. Carr worked with Van Johnson on a pilot for a television program, Take Her, She’s Mine.
She owned and operated an interior design firm, Charmian Carr Designs, in Encino, California. Her clients included Ernest Lehman, screenwriter for The Sound of Music; Michael Jackson, who hired her because he was a fan of the film; and other cast members from the film. She wrote two books, Forever Liesl and Letters to Liesl. She reunited with many of her co-stars from The Sound of Music on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October 2010 to celebrate the film’s 45th anniversary. In 2014, Carr recorded “Edelweiss” with the Great-Grandchildren of the Von Trapps on the album “Dream a Little Dream” by the Von Trapps and Pink Martini.
In regards to her personal life, Carr married a dentist, Jay Brent, and left show business. She and Jay had two daughters, Jennifer and Emily. Later on she became the grandmother of two grandchildren: Emma and Derek.