Having done some further reading on the von Trapp children and on Maria, my view of the Sound of Music cast, expressed in the Jack Marx article of 2007 and shared by a surprising number of people, has now dipped even further.
I’ve run Jack’s article below a few times, in fact any time the topic came up:
These ain’t a few of my favourite things
The tale of a cast of bastards
While it’s true that there may be more important issues to be addressing today, it is also true that few days are any different, so if not today, I fear I may never be able to discuss that which troubles me greatly about what went on in The Sound of Music, a film that, 42 years ago this month , was enjoying its world premier season in cinemas across America.
Widely regarded as an “outstanding family film”, a “classic for all time” and, strangely, a “musical”, The Sound of Music is indeed a fine piece of entertainment for which director Robert Wise deserved his armful of Oscars.
However, it is also a dreadful indictment on the western values of the 20th century, a fact that has nothing at all to do with cinema, but rather the astonishing confederacy of altogether appalling personages that riddles the tale from start to finish, not a single one of whom possesses any virtues which might shine a light on the depths of their frailties.
The Sound of Music tells the story of Maria, a Roman Catholic nun in training who is commissioned to be the governess for the seven children of one Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp, a widowed naval war hero who resides in the town of Salzburg, Austria.
Ostensibly, it is the story of their love affair, the family’s many tribulations in both the personal and politically circumstantial spheres, and the power of music as a means for triumphing over adversity.
On a purely superficial level, the message and the moral is sound, the personal fates at which the “heroes” and “villains” ultimately arrive seem deserved, a “happy ending” not just for the principal characters, or even Austria (whom we know, of course, survived the looming disaster in Europe against which the story is set), but for the fortunate viewers, who emerge from the experience as the biggest winners of all.
It is my belief that the talent and good looks of the cast, the toe-tapping melodies, the edge-of-seat drama of the plotline and the occasionally witty volleys of dialogue in the production have, for more than 40 years, successfully masked a most awful truth: that every single character in The Sound of Music is a bastard.
It is perhaps appropriate that I deal with each individual exclusively.
From the very start, it is clear that Maria is a ceaseless irritation even for the presumably tolerant nuns of her own abbey, the opening dialogue consisting of the sisters’ complaints that Maria is tardy, recalcitrant and a “flibbertigibbet”.
But these are mere infractions of carelessness, and Maria’s core sins are much more serious than that. In short, she is an intolerant liar out for her own ends, her determination to force her views upon others verging on dogmatic, her calculating resolve to manoeuvre events to benefit her own desires, hidden beneath a sickeningly pious exterior.
From her first meeting with Captain von Trapp, Maria, whose clear duty is to conduct herself and the children to the rules and wishes of the man who has employed her, presumes to take charge of the household, interrupting the Captain’s instructions regarding his preferred itinerary for the children with a deceptively saccharine: “When do they play?”, before belligerently refusing to adhere to the “whistle” system despite von Trapp’s entirely sensible explanation that “this is a large house, the grounds are extensive, and I will not have anyone shouting.”
Later, at dinner, Maria castigates the Captain for beginning his meal without thanking “the Lord”, rudely presuming her own deity and method of worshiping it upon the entire family.
The first day has not even ended when Maria commits a breach of both the Captain’s trust and her duty as a governess that is simply unforgivable: noticing that his eldest daughter was absent after dinner, Georg enquires after an explanation, whereupon Maria assumes the role of Liesl’s defendant by insisting “she and I have been getting acquainted tonight.”
This is a downright lie, told by a woman entrusted with the safety of another’s children to the very man who has vested that trust in her, and had the Captain known the truth – that his daughter, far from safely chatting with her new governess, had been outside in the dark getting slippery with a Nazi – he’d have been forgiven for suspecting his new governess was not only a “flibbertigibbet”, but a fascist collaborator who’d sell his children to the Third Reich for a song (and not a very good one at that).
But Maria’s most serious transgressions can be found in the manner by which she deals with her feelings for the Captain himself, and the complete disrespect she shows towards the Baroness Elsa Schraeder. It is manifestly apparent – even to the children – that the Baroness and the Captain entertain a mutual romantic investment, and while it is yet to arrive at a formal engagement it is clearly an affair to be respected by the hired help, particularly a demi-nun whose charge is to look after the children.
But this doesn’t stop Maria, her determination to flit by the Captain’s eye each evening causing the Baroness to lose her composure on more than one occasion, Maria neither oblivious to the tension nor unwilling to exacerbate it.
In a telling exchange, after The Lonely Goatherd puppet display, the Baroness snidely makes plain her irritation with Maria’s hogging of the female limelight, and Maria gives as good as she gets:
Baroness: “My dear, is there anything you can’t do?”
Maria: “Well, I’m not sure I’ll make a good nun.”
When the matter comes to a head on the night of the party at the von Trapp residence, the Baroness quite understandably attempting to manipulate her rival off the scene, Maria feigns ignorance:
Baroness: “The captain would hardly be a man if he didn’t notice you.”
Maria: “Baroness, I hope you’re joking…I’ve never done a thing to…”
Baroness: “You don’t have to, my dear. Nothing’s more irresistible to a man than a woman who’s in love with him.”
Maria: “In love with him?”
This is not consistent with the version of events Maria later gives to the Reverend Mother at the Abbey:
Mother Abbess: “Are you in love with him?”
Maria: “I don’t know! I don’t know. I…There were times we looked at each other, I could hardly breathe.”
Clearly, Maria was always aware of what was going on and was only too happy to allow her ‘relationship’ with Georg to quietly gestate under the Baroness’s nose, her covert tryst only thwarted when Elsa had the nerve to bring matters out into the open, and even then Maria wasn’t gracious enough to admit that her adversary was right on the money, playing coy to the end.
When she lasciviously returns to the household to “climb every mountain”, as it were, it is nothing less than a scarlet act of direct romantic combat in the face of the woman who has already placed her cards upon the table, and to whom von Trapp is now betrothed.
Maria responds to this news by putting on a near see-through frock and wandering around the grounds at night, in plain view of the Captain’s balcony.
Not, in fact, a very Christian show of respect for the holy bounds of wedlock.
I’ve taken up too much time on this homewrecking bitch, so it’s time to move on to somebody who doesn’t have a Royal Doulton haircut.
Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp
In sharp contrast to the wily, conniving Maria, Georg’s principal character flaw is that he’s a dill. However, he is also arrogant, fickle, dripping in a rich air of self-satisfaction that seems oblivious to the sad mediocrity of his own wit and possessing an ego so clumsy and pompous as to place his entire family in grave danger for it.
These were slippery times in Austria, and those who wished to survive were well advised to play a shrewd game in the face of the fascists. Not Georg, who seems to believe the European war can be won during his childish exchanges with Herr Zeller, the Nazi rep in Salzburg who holds the von Trapp family’s fate in his hands. Such bold and ill-advised quips as Georg relentlessly throws in the face of the potential executioner of his children would be excusable if they were any good.
Herr Zeller: “Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming, and it is…would get further with you by setting their words to music.”
Georg: “If the Nazis take over Austria, I’m sure you will be the entire trumpet section.”
Herr Zeller: “You flatter me.”
Georg: “Oh, how clumsy of me. I meant to accuse you.”
With a coquettish smirk and a weak-as-milk riposte, von Trapp may have just assured little Gretl an apprenticeship in clothing-and-shoe gathering at the nearest “re-education” facility. But so long as he gets a high-five from Max for putting the fat little Nazi in his place, everything’s OK with the Captain.
Again, at the climactic showdown with Rolf among the headstones in the Abbey, von Trapp appears to have prevailed in a battle of nerve with the Lugar-wielding but ultimately gutless Rolf. Having seized the gun from the young boy’s grip, and thus having averted certain capture, von Trapp may have been well satisfied with the outcome and fled with his family to safety.
But wanker Georg couldn’t help himself but to deliver one last verbal humiliation to an already defeated little boy with a provocative: “You’ll never be one of them.”
Thus challenged, Rolf blows his whistle, to the apparent surprise of the dimwit Captain, and the great escape is on all over again.
Not that Georg is above Rolf’s brand of flakiness himself, the Captain’s hardened principles withering at the drop of a hat. The constitutionally militarist father is busy firing Maria for tearing up his curtains, taking his children into town against his wishes, loudly accusing him of being a crap dad and generally making a top-shelf arsehole of herself when the mere sound of his children singing a song moves him, within the space of a verse, to abandon his entire martial outlook and beg like a ninny for Maria to stay.
Those at the Salzburg Folk Festival who knew George well were probably less surprised than bored when his rendition of Edelweiss ended in a neurotic choke of tears.
Furthermore, Maria over the Baroness? What was he thinking?
Baroness Elsa Schrader
As I’ve already mentioned, she is perhaps the tragic figure in this story, but she’s not without her faults. That game in which she tries to engage the children, involving the bouncing of a ball and the calling out of a number, is a stinker that could only have been conceived in the dullest of minds, and her ideas for wedding gifts for Georg are unimaginative to say the least. She also appears to have an ugly prejudice against Catholics, resorting to stinging jibes about nuns whenever the moment allows for it.
She is also a lousy listener, as evidenced when Georg tries to interrupt her list of potential gifts with the message that she’s about to be dropped:
Baroness: “At first I thought of a fountain pen, but you’ve already got one. Then I thought perhaps a villa in the south of France, but they are so difficult to gift-wrap. Oh, Georg, how do you feel about yachts? A long, sleek one for the Mediterranean, or a tiny one for your bathtub…?”
Baroness: “And where to go on our honeymoon? Now, that’s a real problem…”
Baroness: “A trip around the world would be lovely. And then I said to myself: ‘Oh, Elsa, there must be someplace better to go. But don’t worry, darling, I’ll…
Baroness: “Yes, Georg?”
Elsa can at least think herself extremely fortunate that she escaped from this exchange without Georg bursting her eardrums with that blasted whistle of his.
Rolf is a Nazi and there’s nothing redeemable about that. Furthermore, blind Freddy could see that he’s gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but his denial of the truth is grossly unfair to Liesl, who’s so hot for it she probably wouldn’t notice if it were the guy from Little Britain who was spinning her round the rotunda. Witness this significant exchange during their early courtship, wherein Rolf is pretending to send Liesl a love letter by telegram:
Rolf: “Dear Liesl: I’d like to be able to tell you how I feel about you. Stop. Unfortunately, this wire is already too expensive. Sincerely, Rolf.”
Rolf: “Affectionately? Will there be any reply?”
Liesl: “Dear Rolf: Stop. Don’t stop!”
Clearly, Liesl’s gagging for it, but Rolf’s passion is anything but full steam ahead, his reluctance hidden behind petty financial concerns and a luke-warm determination to end the communique in only the most ‘gentlemanly’ fashion.
It is perhaps not so regrettable after all that Rolf chose not to escape over the alps with the von Trapps, for it would have been inevitable that the young Friedrich would have at some point attracted the former postman’s attentions, and it is doubtful the singing of My Favourite Things would have assuaged the bitterness that union would have spread through the previously happy von Trapp household.
Well done, Cap’n – you’ve got the household running like clockwork:
No more pardonable for being typical of those in cloistered religious orders is the Reverend Mother’s conceited decision to instruct Maria in the ways of love.
Furthermore, her judgment is in error: rather than encouraging Maria to return and scale the peaks of von Trapp, it would have been more prudent lock her out of harm’s way for the time being.
It must also be said that The Reverend Mother might benefit from taking the odd lesson from Captain von Trapp when it comes to running a tight ship, for at times she seems completely out of control of her own Abbey.
Not only is she seemingly incapable of knowing where Maria is at any tick of the clock, she also appears not to care too much. Maria has been returned to the Abbey from her post at the von Trapp household for some time before the Reverend Mother decides she’s been “wrong to leave her alone so long” and calls her in for a chat:
Mother Abbess: “You’ve been unhappy…Why did they send you back to us?”
Maria: “They didn’t send me back. I left.”
One would have thought the return of Maria would have resulted in an immediate investigation as to the reasons – at least, one would think, a phone call to the Captain – and yet Reverend Mother reacts with surprise to this revelation, having floundered around the Abbey for weeks without the slightest clue as to what the hell one of her servants might have been up to during her time outside.
The Reverent Mother also turns out to be an enthusiastic harbourer of enemies of the state. I also suspect it might later have been revealed she was a man all along.
A garden-variety opportunist, who rarely misses a chance to calculate the dollars each twist of fortune will make him. Also thinks he’s a comedian, the fact that the friendless Baroness is the only one who laughs at his jokes testament to what a shitful comic he is, even considering his time and place.
There is so much wrong with the von Trapp children that I dare not discuss it, and I know perhaps you don’t want to hear it, but you’ve got to. Liesl’s not a child. She’s nearly a woman…Friedrich wants to be a man…Brigitta could perhaps tell us a lot about him – she notices everything…Kurt acts tough to hide the pain…Louisa, I’m not real sure about…and the little ones just want to be loved. But I don’t love them. I hate them.
Posted by Jack Marx
March 21, 2007
You can check them from the picture as you read about the cast’s subsequent lives:
Their film characters all had fictional names. The youngest, five-year-old Gretl, was portrayed by Kym Karath, now 56.
She went on to star in several US TV shows including Lassie and The Brady Bunch. Today she is still an actress in Los Angeles.
Austria’s weather evidently left an impression on Debbie Turner (Marta, seven) She became a pro skier. The mum of four, 58, is now a florist in Minnesota.
UK-born Angela Cartwright, 62, (Brigitta, ten) later appeared in the TV series Lost In Space before becoming an author, photographer, artist and mother of two.
Duane Chase, 64, (Kurt, 11) quit showbiz to pursue careers in geology and software design. He lives with his wife in Seattle.
Heather Menzies, 65, (Louisa, 13) had a successful acting career – and a nude appearance in Playboy. The mum-of-three, who lives in California, was widowed in 2002 and founded a cancer research group.
In the picture above, she’s the one in the middle, five from either end.
Nicholas Hammond, 64 (Friederich, 14) later starred in award-winning documentary Climbed Every Mountain, which told the von Trapps’s story.
Charmian Carr, 72, is an interior designer in California and recently wrote two books about her character Liesl, 16.
The only one I liked was Brigitte [Angela Cartwright] who has now put on a massive amount of weight compared to the rest [just my luck]. She’s third from the left.
Charmian Carr has died since this 2015 article and by all accounts was a very nice person in real life.
The real story is worse
If Jack Marx’s take on Maria was scathing, that’s nothing to the real life Maria:
But the real-life Maria could hardly have been more different. Instead of the film’s scatty, wide-eyed girl who sang about whiskers on kittens, Maria was domineering and prone to rages.
She has even been branded a religious fanatic. A difficult Austrian childhood left her with, in the words of her son Johannes, “insecurities that plagued her all of her life”.
In a new book, The Sound of Music Story by Tom Santopietro, Johannes, 75, recalls: “She was a complex person, incredibly strong with a formidable will, literally an indomitable will.
“And sometimes running into that will was not so pleasant.
Johannes, who still runs the hotel the family opened in Vermont, USA, says: “My mother was absolutely unsuited for a contemplative life in the abbey and I suspect the nuns were happy when the position she took opened up in our father’s house.”
The real von Trapp children were not happy with the S of M
Essentially, the Hollywood movie distorted everything, even down to the children’s names:
As Agathe, the eldest daughter who died in 2010, put it: “It’s a very nice story but it’s not our story. If they hadn’t used our name I probably would have enjoyed it.”
Best to list them before going further:
The original Von Trapp children
Rupert – Born 1911. Doctor who served in the US forces during WWII. Died 1992.
Agathe – Born 1913. A kindergarten teacher, she died in 2010.
Maria – Born 1914. After touring until the age of 42 she became a missionary. Died 2014.
Werner – Born 1915. Also served in the US forces and later became a dairy farmer. Died 1992.
Hedwig – Born 1917. Worked as a teacher after the fmaily stopped touring. She died aged 55 in 1972 from an asthma attack.
Johanna – Born 1919. Moved back to Austria and died in 1994.
Martina – Born 1921. Died from complications of a casarean section in 1951.
Maria and Georg’s children
Rosmarie – Born 1929. Worked as a missionary and now spends half the year in Vermont, the rest in Israel.
Eleonore – Born 1931. Sang soprano in the group. Was with with Maria when she died.
Johannes – Born 1939. Attended Yale, still runs the Lodge hotel in Vermont.
Jack Marx was right all along
Maria’s children often found her difficult. Rosmarie, who had long suffered from stage fright, refused to continue the constant gruelling touring with the Trapp Family act after her father died.
She said: “I was not happy on stage. I was made to do it.”
When Rosmarie had a breakdown and was found wandering across a field, Maria’s response was to send her for shock therapy.
And when step-daughter Johanna announced she was marrying, Maria locked her in her room. She had to climb out of a window to elope.
The film did not make the children rich because Maria – who died in 1987 aged 82 after working as a missionary – sold the rights for only 9,000 dollars.
It’s probably fortunate that the teeming billions out there will not read this account and it might only blight a few but that’s the nature of growing up, of having one’s eyes opened to how things really are.
Mind you, the Hollywood version of Maria is just that – Hollywood’s and the “real life account” is that of one Boudicca Fox-Leonard of the Mirror [mind boggles]. Perhaps Maria was an utter delight and all the rest of them as well.