Charmian Carr will always by 16 going on 17 for fans of “The Sound of Music.” In the movie adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, she played the rebellious Liesl von Trapp, eldest daughter of a privileged Austrian clan of seven children living under the strictures of their militaristic father, played by Christopher Plummer.
In reality, Carr was an unknown 21-year-old performer from the San Fernando Valley when executives at 20th Century Fox chose her for the movie. She was required to hold her own singing talents against those of Julie Andrews, who played Maria, the headstrong novitiate hired to be the family’s governess.
Among the memorable songs Carr performed in the Oscar-winning movie was “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” an ode to the allure and thrill of teenage romance.
Years later, Carr revealed that she harbored a crush not on the actor who played Rolfe, her adolescent paramour, but on Plummer, who played her on-screen father. “I had a huge crush on him,” the actress recalled in 2010 during an interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” “He was so perfect, and he spoke with this perfect British accent.”
Carr died Saturday in Woodland Hills of complications from a rare form of dementia, according to a statement from her family. She was 73.
Despite the global success of “The Sound of Music” and five Oscars, including best picture, Carr shunned Hollywood to focus on her family and a career in interior design.
Her only other screen credit was a 1966 TV movie, the off-beat Stephen Sondheim musical “Evening Primrose,” co-starring Anthony Perkins.
But the actress still maintained great affection for “The Sound of Music,” participating in sing-along screenings at the Hollywood Bowl until 2012.
She also penned two books about her experience on the movie, “Forever Liesl” in 2000 and “Letters to Liesl” the following year.
“When people look at me and see Liesl, I believe they are looking into a mirror,” she wrote in the 2000 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.”
Carr was born Charmian Anne Farnon in Chicago in 1942 and moved to the San Fernando Valley with her family when she was 13. (At director Robert Wise’s suggestion, she later changed her last name.) Show business ran strong in her family: Her mother, Rita, was a vaudeville actress, while her father, Brian, was a musician and orchestra leader.
“The Sound of Music” was a momentous event in the young actress’ career, and she spent two years with the cast promoting the movie around the world.
After leaving Hollywood, she married a dentist and had two children. Later in life, she launched her own interior design firm, Charmian Carr Design, which counted pop star Michael Jackson as a client.
Throughout her life, she stayed in contact with her on-screen siblings from “The Sound of Music.” She also enjoyed interacting with the movie’s fans at the sing-alongs and reminiscing about the movie.
She once recalled that her first scene on the lengthy shoot was when Liesl sneaks into the house late at night and attempts to sneak past a praying Maria. She missed two cues in part, she said, because a thunderous sound effect prevented her from hearing her co-star.
She recalled that Wise was patient with her. “Rather than make me feel like an amateur or that I was ruining the scene or upsetting the star, Bob Wise took the time to help me become an actress,” she wrote in “Forever Liesl.”
In later years, Carr lived in Encino. The actress, who was divorced, is survived by two daughters, Jennifer and Emily, four siblings and four grandchildren.