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The Sound of Music – The Backstory

January 8, 2019

I’ve just finished writing a novel called Backstory. It’s a fictional account that pretends to be the truth behind an Academy Award nominated film, Those Who Try.

Likewise, the film version of The Sound of Music, which I’ve seen too often lately, portends to be a true story, in fact, the backstory of the von Trapp Family Singers, an Austrian folk group that immigrated to America in 1938 after the Nazi Anschluss (annexation).

After viewing The Sound of Music three times this holiday season, I now awake each morning with my inner voice singing either, “The Sound of Music,” “Edelweiss,” or “Yodel-A-Hee.” Problem is, when my outer voice attempts to join my brain, out comes a raspy alto frog that could not possibly hit any note sung by soprano Julie Andrews.

Actually, I did not see the film until about 15 years ago because I thought I was not a Julie Andrews fan. So, I’ve only lately become curious about the movie and the von Trapps. Last week, I Googled historic information about them and found that the movie does have some basic truths, but also a lot of lies about the von Trapp Family Singers. Major plot changes were made for dramatic and entertainment value.

The movie industry does this all the time, leaving audiences ill-informed about the true history of events and famous people. Sometimes, films supplant history, and people would rather believe the movies than the truth. This drives me nuts.

I am not alone.

This article from the National Archives was written by a historian with similar frustrations. It’s a public document, so I suppose I could paste the whole thing here, but below are three main facts that differed from the film:

“The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. As daughter Maria said in a 2003 interview printed in Opera News, ‘We did tell people that we were going to America to sing. And we did not climb over mountains with all our heavy suitcases and instruments. We left by train, pretending nothing.’"

Another fact change

“The von Trapps traveled to Italy, not Switzerland. Georg was born in Zadar (now in Croatia), which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Zadar became part of Italy in 1920, and Georg was thus an Italian citizen, and his wife and children as well. The family had a contract with an American booking agent when they left Austria. They contacted the agent from Italy and requested fare to America.”

As for Georg...

“Georg, far from being the detached, cold-blooded patriarch of the family ... was actually a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family. While this change in his character might have made for a better story in emphasizing Maria's healing effect on the von Trapps, it distressed his family greatly.”

Although I was a disappointed to learn that the family did not escape Nazis in the dead of night, climb every mountain, and ford every stream, I was glad to have learned the truth behind the film. Now I’m able to view the movie primarily as entertainment, not a biography or documentary.

It’s a wonderful family movie that has grown on me over time. The kids’ performances were joyous. Julie Andrews was spot-on and a delight to see. And Christopher Plummer’s "Georg" remains one of the most romantic males ever to appear in a musical. Edelweiss!

Still, after too many viewings this holiday season, I think I’ll wait a few years before my hills are alive with the sound of music. Especially when I hear myself trying to sing.

Again, many thanks for following me, and especially for reading and rating my work!

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