True Story

The Von Trapp Family Singers

The Truth About the Sound of Music Family

When it was released 50 years ago, The Sound of Music became one of the most successful films of all time. It was based on the true story of the von Trapp family (above) - but what did they think of it and was their life really like it was portrayed in the movie? Everyone thinks the Sound of Music was exactly the way things happened, and of course it wasn't because there had to be artistic licence, says Johannes von Trapp. He is the youngest son of Georg and Maria - the decorated naval commander and singing nun turned governess of the film. This was the Hollywood version of the Broadway version of the German film version of the book that my mother wrote. It's like the parlour game where you whisper a word in your neighbour's ear and he whispers it and it goes around the room - by the time it comes back it's usually changed a bit.

Von Trapp family line-ups

In real life the oldest von Trapp child was Rupert but in the film it's a girl, sixteen-year-old Liesl who falls in love with the boy who delivers telegrams, Rolfe. In the real family my oldest sister was Agatha and she was a very introverted person, says Johannes, and the thought of her doing that song and dance routine with the telegraph boy had us all rolling in the aisles in stitches. There were other differences too. Johannes was born in 1939 - by then his mother and father had been married for 12 years and had already had two children together, to add to the seven that the widowed Captain von Trapp had from his first marriage. In the film the couple marry in 1938 and as Johannes says: It was quite tough enough with seven kids for the movie company. The von Trapp children also already played music before Maria came to their home as a governess. My mother was the energy and the instigator that took them to almost concert quality, says Johannes.

the von trapp family singers

Another more hurtful change was the portrayal of Georg von Trapp. Far from being the distant rather domineering father of the Sound of Music, Johannes says he was a very charming man, generous, open, and not the martinet he was made out to be both in the stage play and in the film. My mother did try to alter that portrayal for the film, but she was not successful. It was Maria von Trapp's book, The Story of Trapp Family Singers, which was published in 1949 that inspired first the musical and then the film. The family had lost all their money when the Austrian bank that held it failed in the 1930s - they managed to keep their villa outside Salzburg. But after the Nazi annexation of Austria in March 1938, life became increasingly untenable and later that year they left. They didn't cross the mountains as shown in the film though - they went by train to go on a concert tour from which they never returned. They finally travelled by boat to New York and when they arrived had only a few dollars to their name.

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