Shelly Fabares: A Life Spent in the Entertainment Industry

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Michele Ann Marie (Shelly) Fabares was born in 1944 in California.  She began acting at 3 and at age 10 she appeared in her first television show. Her aunt was the actress Nanette Fabray who also began acting as a child, and then went on to musical theater.

During the 1950s, Shelly appeared in several television shows including Annie Oakley, The Loretta Young Show, and the Twilight Zone, in addition to 8 others. She was part of the cast of Annette in 1958, playing Moselle Corey.  The star of the show was Annette Funicello.  She is an orphan who grew up in the country and now lives with her wealthy aunt and uncle, not fitting into the snobby community. The show was cancelled after 19 episodes. Annette was a life-long friend of Shelly’s. They met in seventh grade, and Shelly was at her bedside when she passed away from multiple sclerosis in 2013.

Later that year she was offered the part of Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show. The show was on the air seven years. Shelly left the show in 1963 to pursue a film career but stayed close to the cast, especially Donna Reed who was a second mother to her. Paul Petersen and Fabares both described how amazing Donna Reed and Carl Betz were during their time on the show.  Realizing how tough the industry can be for young kids, they protected them and loved them as second parents. Both Shelly and Petersen pursued their music interests on the Donna Reed Show. In 1962, she recorded “Johnny Angel” which went to number 1 on the Billboard 100.

Shelly appeared in 13 films in the 1950s and 1960s, including three with Elvis Presley—Girl Happy in 1965, Spinout in 1966, and Clambake in 1967. She also appeared on television on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Daniel Boone, Lancer, and Bracken’s World. Shelly married Lou Adler in 1964.

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Her acting career continued to skyrocket in the 1970s.  She appeared as Joy Piccolo in Brian’s Song in 1971. She appeared in 26 television shows, three of them regular series. The Brian Keith Show was on the air from 1972-74. Keith was Dr. Sean Jamison and Shelly played his daughter, Dr. Ann Jamison.  The two of them ran a free pediatric clinic in Hawaii financed by a wealthy patron. Sticking with the medical theme, she joined the cast of The Practice in 1976-77 working with Danny Thomas. She played Jenny Bedford, the daughter of Dr. Jules Bedford. At the end of the decade she tried another sitcom, Highcliff Manor, which only lasted 6 episodes. I don’t remember this sitcom, but it seems an odd one: the manor, owned by Fabares’ character, Helen Blacke, was home to the Blacke Foundation, a research institute staffed by an eclectic group of eccentric characters. It sounds a bit like Scorpion, maybe just a couple decades’ too early.

She continued working on television in the 1980s, appearing on Fantasy Island, Mork and Mindy, Matt Houston, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Murder She Wrote.  She joined the cast of One Day at a Time, playing Francine Webster between 1978-1984. She also made the movie Hot Pursuit in 1987. The description of the movie is that young Danny is following his rich girlfriend’s family to the Caribbean. But suddenly he simply must take a chemistry test and cannot go with them. After they have left, he gets a leave from his professor and takes a plane to find them. But he is not quite sure where they are, and meets smugglers, crazy captains, and murderers. Fabares’ marriage to Lou Adler legally ended in 1980, although they had been separated since 1966. In 1984, she married M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell.

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Entering her 5th decade of acting, she made her last film, Love or Money in 1990. She continued her television work appearing in A Whole New Ballgame and the Justice League.  She also had a regular gig providing the voice for Martha Kent in Superman from 1996-99. In addition to the Donna Reed Show, the show that Fabares is best known for was Coach which ran throughout most of the 90s, from 1989-1997. As Christine Armstrong, she is the girlfriend, and later, wife of Coach Hayden Fox, played by Craig T. Nelson.  The show revolves around the football team that Fox coaches.  He lives for sports while Christine is not the least interested.  This causes a bit of friction and miscommunication in their relationship.

Fabares had a long and full career.  While her career kept her busy, she had to deal with several major life situations:

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Donna Reed, her second mother, passed away in 1986 from pancreatic cancer.  Shelly adored Donna, and Donna’s final words were to make sure Shelly’s birthday gift was wrapped and delivered.

At the same time Reed was dying, Fabares’ mother was suffering from Alzheimers.

In 2000, Shelly needed a liver transplant because she had autoimmune hepatitis.

She had to deal with the death of her life-long friend Annette Funicello in 2013.

Few actors can begin acting as a child, transition into teen parts, transition into movie roles, and then continue acting as an adult in sitcom series, but she did that beautifully. Hopefully she and hubby Mike Farrell continue to enjoy a long and well-deserved retirement.

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2 thoughts on “Shelly Fabares: A Life Spent in the Entertainment Industry

  1. I can say that I had not heard of her before but she had quite the long career. However, I am familiar with plenty of childhood actors that flamed out young or had lots of problems so your point about her successful transition is a good one. She made quite the career for herself!

    Also, you mentioning that she appeared with Elvis in 3 movies made me realize I don;t think I know a whole lot about Elvis!

    Like

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