By Samantha Miller
March 08, 1999 12:00 PM

Interior decorator Charmian Carr was used to fulfilling unusual client requests. But even she was unprepared for the eight years she spent laboring on Michael Jackson’s quarters at the Jackson family’s massive Encino, Calif., estate. Not only did the reclusive pop star ask for replicas of the British crown jewels for his trophy room, but he also requested mannequins instead of furniture in the bedroom. “Seventeen in all,” Carr says. “Six adults, dressed in tuxedos and gowns, the rest children of various ages. I did a couple of boys with a basketball, a little girl with a flower basket. To this day I don’t know why.”

Still, the King of Pop had tapped the right woman for the job. The whimsy-loving Carr had twirled into moviegoers’ hearts singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” as Liesl, the oldest of the Von Trapp children in 1965’s The Sound of Music. Now, at 56 going on 57, Carr may no longer be as innocent as a rose, thanks to her acting career’s all-too-quick end and an early-’90s divorce. But she still brims with ford-every-stream spirit. “Liesl always saw the silver lining, and Charmy’s a lot like that,” says her sister Shannon Farnon, 59. “She has some delightful naiveté to this day.”

Indeed, The Sound of Music echoes loud and clear for Carr, who opened shop as a decorator in 1976, nearly a decade after bowing out of showbiz to raise her two daughters with dentist husband Jay Brent. “The movie has affected every part of my life,” she says, curling up on a floral-print sofa in her pink-and-green, alpine-looking seven-bedroom Encino house. “It’s inspired me right down to the flowers in the window boxes.” A self-confessed fan of “cutesy-poopsy things” (her backyard sports statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), she slings the chintz for up to seven clients at a time. “She can be brutally honest,” says pal and Music costar Heather Urich (née Menzies), who hired her to fill three of her and husband Robert Urich’s abodes. “If she hates what you like, she’ll tell you.”

Born Charmian Farnon in Chicago (she was renamed by Music director Robert Wise), Carr was a college sophomore studying speech therapy when her mother, an ex-vaudeville performer, got her an audition to play Liesl, Carr soon fell into a maternal role with her young costars (“I was 21, and the next oldest was 14”), with whom she is still close. (Co-stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer didn’t mix much with the younger set.) And Carr’s ties to Music are so strong that she returned to Austria last summer to research a documentary about the movie, which she plans to coproduce. In the hotel where she had stayed during filming, “my picture was still hanging above the piano,” she says. “It was so eerie.”

Under contract to 20th Century Fox after The Sound of Music (for which she says she was paid $20,000) became a megahit, Carr notched only one more credit, in a TV musical. The studio had considered giving her a role in the soap Peyton Place, “but Bob Wise had a fit about that,” she says. “He said that would ruin my Liesl image.” Marrying Brent in 1967, she chose family over fame to raise Jenny, now 28 and a promotions director, and Emily, now 25 and an architect. Her decorating career snowballed after a pal who admired her taste gave her a gig. “I love being my own boss,” she says.

By far her biggest client was Jackson, whom she left in 1988 to avoid what she calls “power plays” among his growing entourage. By 1991 her marriage had also soured, and she and Brent subsequently divorced.

In 1995 a friend introduced her to current beau Dean Rasmussen, 55, an engineering contractor. “He sent birth announcements for a puppy, so I thought, ‘I have to meet this guy,’ ” says Carr, who owns yellow Labradors named Molly, Wilson and Amber. The two also share a passion for dancing, a pastime Carr recently revived after undergoing years of physical therapy for a debilitating knee injury she suffered while skiing in 1980. “Charmy’s a survivor,” says sister Shannon, adding with a laugh, “You could say she climbs every mountain.”

Samantha Miller

John Griffiths in Encino