So long, farewell, to Sound Of Music star

Charmian Carr as Liesl von Trapp in The Sound Of Music.
Charmian Carr as Liesl von Trapp in The Sound Of Music.PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

WASHINGTON • Charmian Carr, an actress who had a single but indelible role in the movies as Liesl, the von Trapp daughter who was "16 going on 17" in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound Of Music, died on Sunday at a private care facility in Woodland Hills, California. She was 73.

The cause was complications from a rare form of dementia, said her daughter Emily Watkins.

Carr was 21 when she was cast in the 1965 film that would sweep the Academy Awards - and immortalise her as a spirited teen who prances around a gazebo with her beau.

Although she was the daughter of a vaudevillian actress and a band- leader, she had no acting experience and little musical training. She did, however, have a lovely voice and elegant elocution.

Perhaps most importantly, she did not look her age - a principal selling point when a mutual acquaintance introduced her to director Robert Wise, who by her account had already rejected would-be Liesls, including Mia Farrow and Patty Duke.

Carr joined a cast headlined by Christopher Plummer as Georg von Trapp, a retired Austrian navy captain and widowed father of seven, and Julie Andrews as Maria, the rebellious Catholic novice dispatched to their Salzburg manse as a governess on the eve of World War II.

Based loosely on a true story, the original musical and film adaptation endeared the von Trapps to generations. Of the children, Liesl, the eldest, is the one audiences come to know best.

Carr's biggest number was I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen, a playful duet with her boyfriend Rolf (Daniel Truhitte). After leaping with Liesl around a gazebo, where they have taken shelter from the rain, Rolf steals a kiss and flees.

The scene was one of several in which Liesl was caught in the rain or drenched by a fall into a river. She acquired a certain allure.

"I guess it turned on a lot of teenage boys," Carr once told the Vancouver Sun. "I never thought of Liesl as a sex symbol, but she was."

Charmian Anne Farnon - her first name was pronounced SHAR-mee-an - was born in Chicago on Dec 27, 1942, and grew up in California's San Fernando Valley.

She had a chance to appear on Peyton Place, but studio officials, fearful that the television soap opera would sully Liesl's persona, forbade her to accept. Her only other significant role was in Evening Primrose (1966), a TV film with music by Stephen Sondheim.

"It was hard to have your first role as the high spot of your career," she once told the London Daily Telegraph. "I felt smothered by Liesl. She began to feel like my evil twin, the perfect one that everyone loved."

Her acting career ended, she told the Calgary Herald, when she married a man who "didn't want an actress for a wife". She later became an interior designer. Her clients included Michael Jackson.

Her marriage to Jay Brent ended in divorce. Survivors include two daughters and four grandchildren.

Carr said that, in time, she came to accept her identification with Liesl. She hosted Sound Of Music sing-alongs and wrote a memoir, Forever Liesl (2000).

"When people look at me and see Liesl, I believe they are looking into a mirror," she wrote in her book. "If the film has touched them in some way, it is because it represents the world as they want it to be. If it makes them feel love or happiness or hope, it is because they have these feelings inside them."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'So long, farewell, to Sound Of Music star'. Print Edition | Subscribe