Donald Harron (1924-2015)

Donald Harron

Year Born: 1924

Year Died: 2015

Year of Induction: 2000


Harron, Donald (1924-2015)

Don Harron was in at the start of CBC radio, then known as the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commisson or CRBC. He was 11 when he acted in 1936 in an adventure series, Lonesome Trail. He was also in at the start of CBC-TV in 1952 when he was hired to co-host The Big Revue with Toby Robins. Charlie Farquharson, a comic hayseed newly invented by Don, was also heard on CBC that year.

Like his compatriots of that age, Mavor Moore, Bernie Braden, Lister Sinclair, John Drainie, Fletcher Markle and others, Don had an immensely varied, even frenetic, career. It ranged between Canada, the United Kingdom and Hollywood. He acted on stage, TV, film, and radio; he wrote scripts, songs and books. He and Norman Campbell wrote and composed a musical stage version of Anne of Green Gables with lyrics by Elaine Campbell and Mavor Moore. It became Canada’s longest-running musical. He was an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, though his comic Charlie Farquharson with a pursed mouth “like the north end of a chicken heading south” outlasted his serious roles.

Don was born in Toronto and had one sister. During the Depression, the family drycleaning business suffered to the point where the family couldn’t afford housing and Don was sent to stay with second cousins. When the family got together again, Don’s father supplemented his earnings with humorous performances built around cartoons. Don, 10, learned from his father and was a hit. That led to his CBC job.

Don enlisted in the Farm Service Force – high-school students could work as hired hands for six months to earn their credits. He also volunteered for farm work while at Victoria College, University of Toronto. Those experiences later helped firm up his Charlie Farquharson character.

He enlisted in the RCAF in 1943 but the need for flyers in Europe was winding down. On indefinite leave, he did a variety of jobs and acted unpaid for Dora Mavor Moore’s Village Players beside some of Canada’s great radio actors. He was noticed and got parts in Andrew Allan’s famous Stage series on CBC Radio. When the war ended, Don returned to university and passed brilliantly, although he wrote his final exams immediately after acting in the first Spring Thaw, produced in 1948 by Mavor Moore for his mother’s New Play Society. Don joined the NPS and also took every other role offered. He needed the money because of his coming marriage in 1949 to Gloria Fisher. They later had two daughters. Mary Harron became a film director. Martha wrote the 1988 Don Harron biography, A Parent Contradiction.

Spring Thaw had led to Don’s first script-writing job for the CBC, Keep in Touch, which led to a radio series, Bobby Gimby’s Hoedown, in which Don played a rural character, Harry Shorthorn.

From 1950, Don worked in radio, TV, films and on stage in England and the U.S. with some working trips to Canada to act at Stratford and elsewhere. He invented Charlie Farquharson for Spring Thaw 1952. He was divorced and married actress Virginia Leith. When that marriage broke up after eight years, he married Canadian singing star Catherine McKinnon, with whom he had a daughter.

In 1964 he accepted an offer to co-host a CBC radio show, Side by Side, with Pat Patterson. In 1967 he produced an Expo ’67 telelvision special with Frank Peppiatt. Charlie Farquharson was hired for CBC-TV’s Sunday newsmagazine This Hour Has Seven Days. But the show lasted only three weeks after he was hired because of internal CBC politics.

For 18 years, Don’s Charlie Farquharson was the K.O.R.N. anchor on Hee Haw. It was initially a CBS show but became more successful than ever after CBS cancelled it. Don as Charlie Farqhuarson, ever more famous, wrote several books over the years including Histry of Canada, Jogfree of Canada, the K.O.R.N. Allmynack, Unyverse and Charlie’s A Broad. Don as Charlie also had a show on the then new Global Television Network called And That’s the News, Goodnight! In 1997 he adapted the musical version of Anne of Green Gables for a cast of young people with physical disabilities.

From 1977 – 82, Don hosted Morningside on CBC Radio.

Among Don’s many awards are the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and at least two honorary doctorates. He was named North American Volunteer of the Year in 1982. He was a member of the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame.

Don Harron died of cancer on Saturday January 17th 2015 at his home in Toronto, at the age of 90.

Written by Jerry Fairbridge – April, 2003