Nestled inside Don Harron’s East York apartment, between his bedroom and the kitchen, is what his wife Claudette Gareau affectionately calls the “Don Harron Room.”
When you enter the narrow doorway, you get the impression that it has become more like a shrine than Harron’s workspace. Yes, there’s a desk to the left with a laptop on top of it, and there are stacks of papers that hint that Harron might have a lot of fan mail to answer or important documents to file.
But it’s the pieces of history and symbols of admiration that adorn the walls that show the journey of his 77-year career that started in 1935; back when Maple Leaf Gardens was just an arena and no one knew what the CN Tower was because it wasn’t built yet.
From corner to corner, pictures, sketches and drawings of Harron as his character Charlie Farquharson cloak the wall. Including a few sketches from close friend and fellow Canadian Lynn Johnston, who created the comic-strip For Better or Worse. A one-of-a-kind sketch by the legendary Katherine Hepburn of herself, a promotional poster that shows a young Harron during his days as the host of the CBC radio show Morningside and a bristol board of all the programs from the plays he’s been a part of.
“It’s all about me, which I’m not used to in a way
Near the entrance is an old photograph of Harron’s mother; a striking woman with dark hair, porcelain skin and according to Harron a great sense of humor. “I get it from her,” he says.
Harron has been making people laugh since he was 10 years-old and never stopped. He appeared on the hit TV show Hee Haw for 17 years, where he got to open with musical great Ray Charles, whom he was “thrilled” to work with.
He spent years doing Shakespeare plays and acted on Broadway. He was also on The Red Green Show and wrote the script for the musical of Anne of Green Gables.
He goes into detail about his run in showbiz in his latest book, My Double Life: Sexty Years of Farquharson around with Don Harn. It’s the first book he’s written as himself, his other 16 books have been as Farquharson with one as Farquharson’s cousin Valerie Rosedale.
Harron holds nothing back in this 440-page memoir. He admits that the idea to write one wasn’t his, but a friend of the family and that recalling every detail of a 77-year long career isn’t as hard as it seems.
“You can’t remember where you put your pants last night, but you can remember what happened in 1934,” jokes Harron.
“Somehow it just comes back as clear.”
With this memoir, as much as Farquharson is a part of Harron, he tries to give the readers a better sense of who he is away from his counterpart and what he’s been through.
“It’s all about me, which I’m not used to in a way. I always disguise myself, I’m a character actor,” says Harron. “I hid behind two people: Charlie Farquharson and Valerie Rosedale.”
Through the 156 chapters, Harron recalls his days of being the youngest student at Vaughan Road Collegiate to his short-lived stint at the University of Toronto before enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 during the Second World War.
There are his run-ins with a few famous faces, including Oscar winner Christopher Plummer, prior to his role as Captain von Trapp in the Sound of Music, and Katherine Hepburn who found herself in Harron’s dressing room, on purpose, in New York City during his time on Broadway for the play Separate Tables to offer him a part in The Merchant of Venice.
But it’s not all good choices and accomplishments and in his book, also printed are details of his personal life, including his list of affairs and his three failed marriages. The freshest wound being his divorce from Canadian singer/actress Catherine McKinnon in 2003. A chapter that he admits was the hardest one to write.
“No question, because it was so recent,” says Harron. “I knew I had to face it…”
He spent an evening with McKinnon and their youngest daughter Kelley not too long ago.
“…Things are getting better,” says Harron. “We’re civil.”
He currently lives with his fourth wife, fellow comedienne Claudette Gareau, a quick-witted French-Canadian with a sassy, silver pixie-cut. Gareau did Shh! It’s the News with Harron in 1973 where she played a separatist weather girl.
They reunited in 2000 at the Royal Bank Seniors Jubilee, where he recognized Gareau backstage. His marriage to McKinnon was reaching its end and Harron found himself drawn to Gareau.
“She’s forgiving and loving and the greatest cook I’ve ever known,” says Harron. “And I adore her. So if she accepts me I’m home free. I don’t know why she does…”
“Stupidity,” says Claudette with giggle.
Harron has had a lustrous career that took him around the world performing in six Broadway stage shows and three others in London, England. He’s won an ACTRA Award and a Gemini Award for Lifetime Achievement and became a member of the Order of Canada.
In 2011, he officially hung up Farquharson’s frayed cap and put away the hole-ridden grey cardigan after more than 57 years as the outspoken man from Parry Sound.
He still has the outfit. It hangs in the closet in the Don Harron Room. Claudette brings it out to show every fraying thread and patched up hole and asks how he ever put the darn thing on. Harron wants to donate it all to the Theater Museum Canada in Toronto when it’s his turn to “kick the bucket” according to Claudette.
Now, 89-years-old and retired from the entertainment industry, Harron had to reflect on his choices when it came to opening up in his new book.
When asked if he would do anything differently or be different he simply said:
“Arrogance. I’m not very often arrogant, but I have been in my time and I’ve been sorry about.” said Harron in reference to the choices of acting roles he’s chased after or flat-out demanded that turned out not to be the right fit for him.
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he adds. “I’m lucky, I had a good time...77 years as a professional in this business...that’s enough.”