UnEarthed: Shannon Farnon

VITALS

NAME: Shannon Farnon

CRAFT: actress

DIG SITE: Episode 1.12 of It Takes a Thief, April 2, 1968

I own many television series on DVD; probably too many. When the mood strikes me to watch, say, The West Wing, I do so. And then the mood will go and I’ll move on to, perhaps, WKRP in Cincinnati. Watching them this way, it takes me literally years to get through even one season of a show. I’ve even taken to keeping a piece of paper in with the discs making note of what episode is “up next” and on what date I last watched an episode. I do this in part because I forget where I was. I decided that on the nights I get home from work at midnight, I would pick a hour-long series and watch an episode before hitting the sack. The timing of this as lead me to share some episodes on social media along with hashtags like Midnight With Rockford and, in this case, Midnight With Mundy.

Working my way through my Season One DVDs of Robert Wagner’s 1960’s series It Takes a Thief, I arrived at episode twelve. I always love the opening and closing credits of TV shows and movies because I love to see if I recognize any names among the cast and crew. Episode twelve of the first season of Thief is called “Turnabout”, a title that refers to the fact that Alexander Mundy’s boss, Noah Bain (Malachi Throne), takes the lead in a caper when Al is laid up with a broken leg. What first caught my eye was “Special Guest Star Ida Lupino” but what really made an impression was Al’s nurse who was also an agent of Noah’s. Shannon Farnon plays Elena Ames.

Shannon was born in Toronto on November 28, 1941, the oldest child of Brian Farnon and Rita Oehman, he a musician and conductor, she a singer and actress. Father Brian (d. 2010) was for years an orchestra leader at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe and subsequently his orchestra backed many of the big names that would play there. Brian had two brothers – all three were, like Shannon, born in T.O. – Dennis and Robert. Dennis (d. 2019) was, like his two brothers, a composer of light classical music and worked for years in the record business both Stateside and in the UK. In fact, Dennis Farnon – along with Paul Weston, Sonny Burke and others – was one of the founders of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Brother Robert (d. 2005) was commissioned a captain during World War 2 and lead an army band that was the Canadian equivalent of the band that Glenn Miller lead for the United States. Artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and André Previn have sung Farnon’s praises with Previn calling Farnon “the greatest writer for strings in the world”. Significantly, Robert Farnon arranged and conducted the only record Frank Sinatra made outside the U.S., 1962’s Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain. Living near Toronto and listening to Glen Woodcock’s Big Band Show Sunday nights on JazzFM 91.1, I’ve heard Farnon’s music often.

Mother Rita (d. 1995) was a notable Vaudeville hoofer who was at one time slated to become Ginger Rogers’ replacement as Fred Astaire’s dance partner but her youthful appearance alongside the always old-looking Fred quashed it. Unfortunately, Rita’s drinking eventually lead to her death at age 78.

So, Shannon Farnon came from some interesting, successful stock. When Shannon was barely a year old, her family moved to Chicago where the family grew. Shannon’s oldest sister, Charmian, came along in 1942. By the early 1950’s, the Farnon’s had again relocated, this time to Los Angeles. It was here that the girl’s mother, Rita, arranged for Charmian – who had never seriously considered a career in entertainment – to audition for the role of Liesl Von Trapp in the film version of The Sound of Music (1965). Charmian won the role over the likes of Patty Duke, Shelley Fabares and Teri Garr and it became the role that defined her career; it, along with one TV guest appearance, is her only credit. The film’s director, Robert Wise, gave her a list of surnames to choose from and Charmian chose ‘Carr’. Charmian reports on her early life in her 2001 autobiography Forever Liesl. Charmian Carr died in 2016 from complications from frontotemporal dementia. She was 73.

Shannon’s other sister is Darleen Carr who seems to have hitched her star to her older sister by adopting the ‘Carr’ surname. Darleen had a minor film career and appeared on many television shows. Interestingly, she was also involved in The Sound of Music, dubbing the singing voice of actor Duane Chase, who played Kurt Von Trapp. Darleen has been married to actor Jameson Parker (Simon & Simon) since 1992. Just three months after they wed, Jameson got in a beef with a neighbour and was shot in the left armpit. The neighbour got nine years. And Jameson Parker has written five books?! Who knew?

Now to our actual subject. Shannon had appeared on a handful of television shows and scores of commercials by the time she appeared on It Takes a Thief. Afterwards, in 1973, she was working on a live-action commercial for Flintstones vitamins when the director asked if she’d like to audition for a new superhero cartoon being made by Hanna-Barbera. Farnon was cast as the first voice of the Amazonian superhero Wonder Woman on Super Friends and it became the role she is most identified with. She performed as Wonder Woman for ten years alongside other voice actors like Casey Kasem and Norman Alden. In 1984, when Super Friends was re-branded as Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, Farnon was shocked to hear that she was being asked to audition for the role of Wonder Woman while all her cast mates were already back on board in their respective roles. The audition seemed moot as the significant other of the director of the show was given the job. Farnon was miffed but chalked it up to the chicanery of the business.

In 1995, the Cartoon Network brought Super Friends back to TV and when they created promos for the show they approached the actress to whom Shannon had lost her job and that actress – to her credit – steered the producers back to Shannon and she gladly took up the role again for the humorous promos. I found an in-depth interview with Shannon about her work as Wonder Woman that you can read here. And another site shared some great behind-the-scenes photos of her and her cast mates.

Shannon and her fellow voice actors working on Super Friends. Left to Right: Frank Welker (Marvin), Sherry Alberoni (Wendy), Casey Kasem (Robin), Olan Soule (Batman) and Shannon.

Shannon Farnon would go on to appear in episodes of TV shows as well as some minor films. A couple bear mentioning here at Your Home for Vintage Leisure where we take some pretty deep dives, especially on UnEarthed. Leo and Loree (1980) was a film that was executive produced and co-written by Ron Howard that was directed by Jerry Paris, who had helmed many episodes of Howard’s show, Happy Days. This film starred – wait for it – Donnie Most, who played Ralph Malph, and pretty Linda Purl, who had a recurring role on Happy Days. Shannon plays Purl’s mother. Farnon also appeared as “Party Guest” in Rumour Has It… (2005), a film I talked about in my review of The Graduate. Lately, Shannon has appeared as M.A.V.I.S or simply Mavis in two films featuring the first gay superhero Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel (2016) and Surge of Dawn (2019). In these indescribable films, Farnon has appeared with the likes of Nichelle Nichols, Lou Ferrigno and Eric Roberts. I dunno…

The usually reliable IMDb.com claims that, in 1962, when she was 21, Shannon married former child actor Mickey Kuhn (Gone With the Wind) but that seems doubtful. IMDb’s own entry on Kuhn does not list Farnon as a spouse and I can’t find corroboration of this anywhere. We’ll call it false, then, but it makes you wonder where such a suggestion would come from. Interesting – for me, anyways – is the seemingly indisputable fact that Shannon did marry one William Arthur Wells. While I don’t think I am related to this gentleman, it certainly stuck out for me that, in addition to Shannon being from Toronto, as I am, she was married to and had children with a man with whom I share a surname. Unfortunately, they lost their son to a skiing accident when he was 24.

As Shannon Farnon approaches her 80th year, she seems to be a healthy, fine-looking lady who has no pretensions of legendary stature while at the same time is enjoying her status as the first significant voice of a pioneering female superhero. It’s been an interesting dig; Ida Lupino guest starring on an episode of It Takes a Thief was upstaged in my eyes by a young lady from my hometown. This lady’s family worked with Sinatra and charmed millions singing in Austria with Julie Andrews. Later we ran into an Amazonian princess and Jameson Parker’s armpit! Good dig. Good to be back!

8 comments

  1. Gary: I’m glad to see that you are enjoying the It Takes A Thief tv series. I’ve always liked it, and all the actors that found their way onto the show. I suppose because of Robert Wagner’s previous experience with the studio system, and his personal movie connections, all kinds of actors, such as Ida Lupino, Joseph Cotten, Paul Henreid, etc., were more than happy to make appearances on his show. I don’t know if you’ve yet seen the episode where Bette Davis makes an appearance; it’s actually quite touching.

    In any case, thank you for the information regarding Ms. Farnon. I am familiar with her work, but didn’t know that she was related to Charmion and Darlene Carr. The 60’s television world was a very small place, where you could see a number of the same actors play roles in a variety of tv series/made-for-tv movies.:)

    Betty

    • Betty, glad to hear from you again! You know I was just watching a bit of Fantasy Island and noticed a couple of old Hollywood stars. I thought of Ricardo Montalban and his years making movies — that same would certainly apply to RJ. Old stars that would be unlikely to appear on TV would perhaps do so for their old co-stars. Always interesting to see who shows up. I’ve heard about Bette Davis being on Thief but have yet to see it. I look forward to it.

  2. Gary: Ricardo Moltaban does show up on the series, twice I think, as does Fernando Lamas. Good old R.J. had quite the hollywood connections working at both 20th Century Fox and Columbia studios.

    The Bette Davis episode is good, but then I’m a huge fan of her work. It’s called “Touch of Magic” and was shown in 1970.

    I have always liked this series. As soon as I found, and started to watch this series, I fell in love with Alexander Mundy and his jet-set lifestyle. For one thing, it was one of the first tv series that exposed me to the bossa nova sound, not to mention Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s music, so for those reasons alone, the series holds a special place in my heart.

    Oh, I just thought of another connection that would resonate with you. During the last season of the show, 1970, R.J. became engaged to Tina Sinatra, and in fact she shows up on the last episode of the series. The engagement was then called off a couple of years later, and they both ended up marrying other people. But just think, for a moment, there was the possibility that R.J. would have had Frank as his father-in-law!

    • I’d be interested to see the episode Tina is on and in fact any episode from the final season – the addition of Fred Astaire is fascinating! Frank would certainly be an intimidating father-in-law one would think. Thanks for your comments, Betty. I’ve actually finished the first season and that’s the only season I own. I’ll have to look into acquiring further seasons. I’ve got so much I want to watch, though!

  3. I totally understand about wanting to watch so much; I’m sort of in the same boat. I think that you can watch most, if not all, the episodes of It Takes A Thief on Youtube or Dailymotion. There’s a copy of the last episode, with Tina Sinatra, over at Youtube and while it’s not a great copy, it’s still viewable. The title of the episode is “Project X” and it was shown in 1970, the last season of the series. I watched all three seasons on Youtube which was great, as I was looking at buying the series set but decided against it because of the cost.

    And yes, it was fun watching Astaire play the role of his father.

  4. I do love the way you make people we might have never heard of, or perhaps just vaguely aware of, totally fascinating. I was interested to read that you pay close attention to the credits to see if any interesting names pop up – I tend to do the same with old movies. Sometimes the studio logos and credits are the best bit.

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