Vibrant, increasingly lovely teen fave Shelley Fabares withstood the test of time by transitioning successfully into adult parts unlike many of her 1960s “teen queen” peers who faded quickly into the memory books. She was born Michele Marie Fabares on January 19, 1944, in sunny Santa Monica, Californnia. As the niece of singer/comedienne Nanette Fabray, she was indoctrinated early into the show biz life. Tap dancing from age three, she also modeled during her elementary school and began appearing on such TV shows as Captain Midnight (1954) and Annie Oakley (1954) (the latter a recurring role). At age 12, she made her professional film debut in the Rock Hudson/Cornell Borchers tearjerker Never Say Goodbye (1956) as Hudson’s daughter, and went on to play kid sister roles in the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Rock, Pretty Baby! (1956) and its sequel Summer Love (1957) both starring John Saxon.
Teen-idol status came with her coming-of-age role as the ever-wholesome daughter “Mary Stone” on The Donna Reed Show (1958), a part she played for five seasons before embarking on a more grown-up film career. During the run of the classic sitcom, she and TV “brother” Paul Petersen grew so popular that they sprinted to adjoining pop singing celebrity, although both admitted that their vocal talents were limited. Shelley especially enjoyed a #1 Billboard hit with the breathy, sultry-edged “Johnny Angel”. The character of “Mary Stone” was gently phased out of the show as her character “left for college”.
By this time, Shelley had turned into quite a curvaceous stunner. Her acting mettle hardly tested, she managed to become part of the bikini-clad blonde set with top femme parts in such fun-and-frolic fare as Ride the Wild Surf (1964), Hold On! (1966), which was a vehicle for British singing sensation Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, and three of Elvis Presley’s less-acclaimed vehicles of the later 1960s: Girl Happy (1965), Spinout (1966) and Clambake (1967).
A serious Vietnam-era stream of consciousness began to pervade film audiences in the late 1960s and Shelley’s perky innocence that found so much favor during the Camelot years had lost its appeal. After a notoriously dry spell, she bounced back as the altruistic wife of a dying footballer “Brian Piccolo” in Brian’s Song (1971), opposite James Caan, and settled comfortably again on the small screen with bright co-star roles on the series The Brian Keith Show (1972), The Practice (1976), and Highcliffe Manor (1979). A more prickly character than usual, however, reared its head in the late-night soap spoof Forever Fernwood (1977), and this led to the equally malicious, vainglorious role of Bonnie Franklin’s business competitor on the already-established hit sitcom One Day at a Time (1975). The show also featured her aunt Nanette Fabray as Franklin’s meddling mom. In the late 1980s, Shelley found a fleshier character as Craig T. Nelson’s resourceful mate on Coach (1989), earning steady work for eight seasons and two Emmy nominations in the process. A return to film stardom, however, would eclipse her.
Married and separated from record producer Lou Adler during her fun-in-the-sun years of the mid 1960s (they eventually divorced in 1980 after a separation of almost 14 years), Shelley found marital stability with actor/activist Mike Farrell of M*A*S*H (1972) fame, and became stepmother to his two children from a prior marriage. Following her recovery from a home accident that broke several ribs in 1998, Shelley was tested and diagnosed with severe auto-immune hepatitis, which resulted in a liver transplant in 2000. Thankfully, she survived the near-fatal ordeal and has been more heard than seen in recent years. She supplied the voice of “Martha Kent” on the Superman: The Animated Series (1996) animated series but has done little else in the ensuing years.
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