A Canadian entertainment icon died this weekend and most likely, there’s a huge part of the population who doesn’t even know his name. He started his television career in the early 50’s and died at the age of 90. So it’s reasonable that two or three generations of Canadians may not be familiar with his work. But the reason most don’t know his name is because Don Harron practically lived a double-life as his comedy character Charlie Farquharson.
It was a character he introduced during a short TV skit in 1952 – this strange, punny guy from rural Ontario who wore a hole-y warn cardigan, didn’t shave regularly, and constantly laughed at his own jokes. He told folksy stories that drew people in. And he became so popular, Charlie went international to the set of Hee Haw for 18 seasons. Even after Hee Haw ended, Charlie lived on in commercials, special appearances, and many books.
I remember seeing him just about everywhere for a time. He was this weird uncle or distant cousin to Canadian viewers because there was something so sweet and relatable about Charlie. He was so familiar – never one to rely on formality around others – we felt that we knew him. He was part of the family. Of course, he likely would have been the guy most of us tried to avoid at family reunions too.
So it was hard to remember that Charlie was just a TV character. But without the opinionated Charlie Farquharson, there likely would not have been a Bob and Doug McKenzie or a Red Green.
But Don Harron was no one-note character. He was a philosopher who won awards in university. Of course, if you’re going to spend most of your life as someone else, a good philosophical perspective probably helps.
An accomplished actor, Harron also performed on Broadway and in London’s West End numerous times and was featured during the first Stratford Festival with his good friend, Christopher Plummer. In 1956, he wrote the television musical Anne of Green Gables – yes, that Anne of Green Gables – which he adapted nine years later for the stage version that is still performed today. And he wrote the lyrics for said musical – along with four other productions during his career.
So even if recent generations don’t know Harron, they aren’t Canadian if they don’t at least recognize his work.
He was also an award-winning radio host for CBC and TV host for CTV. And he received the Order of Ontario, the Order of Canada, and a Gemini for his lifetime of achievements in entertainment.
But he was Charlie to the end. Recently, that old Farquharson joined a campaign to encourage seniors to use canes and walkers for safer mobility. And he didn’t mince words, saying, “Get over bein’ an old fogey! Get a handle on life.”
To quote his 2012 memoir, Don Harron made a career out of “Farquharson Around.” But he also helped shape Canadian entertainment.