The Sound of Music fits the definition of a classic film. This family-friendly romp through the Austrian Alps has everything from memorable songs to beautiful landscapes to an enchanting love story. It’s historical fiction at its finest. This movie, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, won five Academy Awards and two Golden Globes.
This movie is pretty much universally beloved, but what happened behind the scenes may shock even the most dedicated Sound of Music fans. Read on to find out where the actors of the von Trapp family are today, and how the real von Trapps are different from how they were portrayed on screen.
The Real Maria Didn’t Fall In Love
Julia Andrews plays Maria in The Sound of Music, a nun who is sent to care for several children who lost their mother and ends up falling in love with their father. The real Maria actually has an interesting backstory. Maria was born on a train and her parents died when she was just ten years old. She was then sent to live with her uncle who was quite violent.
Maria was able to escape from her uncle and join the Catholic church. At the time, her foster parents were raising her as an atheist, but there was something about the church that she found alluring.
The Nazi Lover Plot Isn’t Real
In the movie The Sound of Music, Liesl, the oldest von Trapp daughter, falls in love with a Nazi soldier who tries to rat out her family. This subplot was created for the film for dramatic effect. Liesl never fell in love with a Nazi in real life. In fact, the eldest von Trapp child wasn’t a girl at all.
The real eldest von Trapp child was a boy named Rupert. When the movie first hit theatres, Rupert was already a 54-year-old physician living in Vermont.
Liesl Could Dance, But Carr Couldn’t
Charmian Carr played Liesl in The Sound of Music. Carr looked like an angel, but she definitely didn’t dance like one. The actress allegedly almost broke her ankle during the dancing scene of “16 Going on 17.”
In the original cut of the film, viewers can clearly see a bandage wrapped around the actress’s ankle during the scene but it was removed from the film for the 2005 remastered version. Dancing wasn’t Carr’s strong suit.
Plummer And Andrews Didn’t Really Get Along
Even though Maria and Captain von Trapp have a hot and heavy relationship in The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer didn’t always get along.
Plummer couldn’t handle how nice and gentle Andrews was on set. Christopher Plummer confessed to the media that working with Julie Andrews was like, “getting hit over the head with a Valentine card.” Plummer was very vocal about how much he disliked the “sweet” nature of the film as well. He often referred to the film as “The Sound of Mucus,” and “S&M.”
The Real Maria Was Trapped In A Loveless Marriage
One of the highlights of the film is the captivating romance between Maria and Georg. In real life, these two didn’t get along so well. Georg asked Maria to marry him so that his children could have a mother, and Maria agreed because she really cared about the children. Eventually they grew to be quite fond of each other, but in this case, first came marriage, then came love.
Maria was hesitant to marry Georg because of her religious obligation but the other nuns at the convent encouraged her to go through with it for the sake of the children.
Christopher Plummer Had A Drinking Problem
Christopher Plummer is one heck of a heartthrob (at least, he was back in the day). In the film, he plays the perfect family man, but in real life, Plummer was battling alcoholism. Plummer admitted on the DVD commentary he was drunk throughout filming even though he was working with children. He was especially drunk while filming the music festival scene.
Charmian Carr also stated in an interview Christopher Plummer was always ready to have a drink with her.
More Children Than She Anticipated
Maria didn’t know that she would end up taking care of more than one child. When she was called upon, she was only supposed to be governess to one of the children who at the time was suffering from scarlet fever.
But after taking on the role, her duties and care extended to the other von Trapp children in the house (and there were actually ten of them, not seven). But it’s not like Maria didn’t mind taking on such a huge responsibility of caring for all the children because she soon came to adore each and every one of them.
Richard Dreyfuss Almost Played Friedrich
Richard Dreyfuss is known for his appearance in the cult horror classic Jaws, not for anything to do with The Sound of Music. But, the actor admitted in an interview that he was once considered and even auditioned for one of the von Trapp children.
He was considered in particular for the role of Friedrich. The actor stated he almost got the role because of his amazing acting techniques, but was cut because he was a terrible dancer. Even though we love Richard Dreyfuss, we can’t imagine him as one of the adorable von Trapp children!
The Real Maria von Trapp Was More Strict Than Her On-Screen Counterpart
In the film version of The Sound of Music, the character of Maria is portrayed as an angelic creature who is saving the children from living a military life. The film also features the character of the stern Captain von Trapp, who forces his children to line up at attention and to do endless amounts of chores.
But, in real life, it was actually the opposite way around. The real Maria was said to manage the finances and the direct the group, while the Captain was there for moral support. He also wasn’t really a performer, and would only make an appearance on stage towards the end of each performance.
Plummer and Charmian Carr Had An Affair
Christopher Plummer, who played the captain, and Charmian Carr, who played Liesl, actually had a pretty intense romantic affair, which is odd considering that these two played father and daughter in the movie.
Charmian Carr revealed on The Oprah Winfrey Show that during their nine months of filming, she had a HUGE crush on the actor. Even though she didn’t admit to anything physical, many reports speculate Plummer was involved in an affair with the actress.
Maria Wasn’t Invited To The Premier
Not only was the real Maria not invited to the premiere of The Sound of Music, when she asked producers if she could attend, they simply told her no. The producers said there were no seats left for the woman who literally inspired the entire movie.
Producers did not want to waste time and money on someone who wasn’t a celebrity and who wasn’t recognizable by the paparazzi. They filled most of the seats with other celebrities.
It Wasn’t Successful In Austria
Even though The Sound of Music is a cult classic in the United States and other countries around the world, there was one place where it wasn’t a huge success. The movie was only shown for three weeks in 1965 when it was released and wasn’t shown on television until 2000. The problem Austrians had with The Sound of Music was its Americanized and culturally insensitive portrayal of Austrian culture.
Another reason critics believe the movie wasn’t a hit there is because of its portrayal of Austrian Nazi sympathizers. Austrians look back at Nazi occupation with absolute disdain and do not want to be reminded of such a terrible part of their own history.
Not Quite As Advertised
In today’s political society, many people have varying opinions on refugees. People are either torn between allowing refugees into the country, or people will consider them a threat. But, it might surprise people the entire von Trapp family were Austrian refugees. The family fled to the United States during the beginning of World War II by leaving their house and hopping onto a train to Switzerland.
The movie wrongly portrays their escape and shows the family leaving Austria by climbing over the Alps. Their escape in real life wasn’t as outdoorsy as the one depicted in the movie. The family was also welcomed into the United States with open arms and they made their livings as a traveling singing company.
A Role Reversal
Another thing that the movie altered about the von Trapp story was the personalities and roles of Maria and Georg. While the film depicts Georg as a stern and cold father, he was actually very gentle and warm-hearted towards his children. He even played a huge part in participating in activities with his children.
Maria, on the other hand, was a force of nature. Daughter Maria said in a 2003 interview that her stepmother “had a terrible temper… And from one moment to the next, you didn’t know what hit her. We were not used to this. But we took it like a thunderstorm that would pass, because the next minute she could be very nice.”
Doris Day Was Almost Cast As Maria
It’s hard to imagine anybody but Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp. She wasn’t the only actress considered for the role, though. Other actresses who were considered were Leslie Caron, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley Jones, and Anne Bancroft.
Those were all worthy candidates, but for a while, the studio was actually set on hiring Doris Day for the role. Eventually, they all agreed that Julie Andrews was the perfect Maria.
A Bad Review Got A Writer Fired
The fandom for The Sound of Music is intense! After the film was released, writer Pauline Kael wrote for McCall’s magazine stating the movie was too much of a popcorn flick.
The writer stated the film was, “a sugar coated lie that people seem to want to eat…Wasn’t there perhaps one little von Trapp who didn’t want to sing his head off…or who got nervous and threw up if he had to get on a stage?” The magazine review was hated so much Kael was actually fired for it. Kael soon joined the New Yorker, where she could be as cynical as she wanted.
“Edelweiss” Isn’t Really An Austrian Tune
In The Sound of Music, the Captain sings the song “Edelweiss” to show how much he loves Austria. He also sings “Edelweiss” as a protest song to show his disdain for the Nazi party. This scene led a lot of people to believe that “Edelweiss” was a classic Austrian song. In reality, the song was written for the musical by Rogers and Hammerstein.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan played the song to honor Austrian president Rudolf Kirchschläger and his wife. They were pretty confused.
Telling Her Story
Wanting to prove that she had no writing skills, Maria unwittingly ended up writing a best-seller. The Sound of Music was originally based off of Maria’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was published by J.B. Lippincott Company out of Pennsylvania in 1949.
After the book gained success, Maria sold the film rights to German producers, unknowingly signing away her own rights to her own story. It is for this reason that neither Maria or any of the von Trapps received any profits from the musical or the film that made their story famous.
Not A Love Story
The character of the saintly Maria was actually a real-life person, along with the entire Von Trapp family. There were, however, a few glitches in her character; one of them being she wasn’t in love with anyone at all. In the film version of The Sound of Music, it appears the nun-in-training Maria is SUPER in love with Captain von Trapp the moment that she first lays eyes on him.
This wasn’t necessarily the case. Maria actually stated in her 1948 memoir, “I liked him, but I didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, and so in a way I really married the children.” Now that doesn’t sound like love at first sight at all.
A Musically Talented Bunch
While the film depicts Maria teaching the children to deal with their issues through music, in real life the von Trapp children were already talented singers and musicians. It is Maria, however, that encouraged the family to take their talents to the public.
Eleonore von Trapp told the Washington Post in 1978 that her father was reluctant to have his children performing, “but accepted it as God’s will that they sing for others. It almost hurt him to have his family onstage, not from a snobbish view, but more from a protective one.” It did end up working out, because they did actually win first place in the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936.
Maria’s Way Or The Highway
When Maria entered the picture, she changed a lot about how the von Trapp household was run. In addition to her outbursts of angry yelling and slamming doors, she took control of the family’s finances as well. She got rid of their servants and even took in boarders to supplement the household income.
We suppose they really had no other choice since, in the 1930s, the von Trapp family bank went under during the worldwide depression at the time. This happened just as the von Trapps began making plans to turn their singing hobby into an actual profession. They ended up singing all over Europe after winning first place in their first festival.
How They Faced The Nazis
The Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. The von Trapp family was so popular at the time that they were asked to sing at Hitler’s birthday party, but because they abhorred the Nazi regime, they refused. Georg von Trapp wouldn’t even fly the Nazi flag on their property, which put the von Trapps on thin ice.
Paranoia increased as the von Trapps became aware that those around them could have been acting as spies and that the Nazis anti-religious propaganda was brainwashing children against their parents. The Nazi policies that took over their homeland became something that they had a tough time grappling with.
A Not So Sneaky Escape
In an effort to get the von Trapps to stay in Austria and to have more people under their reign, the Nazis promised the family more fame as a singing group and offered to reinstate Georg’s naval career. They even offered one of the von Trapp children a career as a medical doctor.
But leaving behind the life that they knew was something they could not do, so the von Trapps decided to leave Austria. The escape wasn’t as sneaky as the movie made it out to be and the von Trapps didn’t actually have to cross the Alps with all their stuff in tow. So how did they get away with it?
No Mountain Climbing Necessary
Daughter Maria told Opera News in 2003, “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.”
With their musical conductor and secretary in tow, they entire von Trapp family traveled by train to Italy, where they requested fare to go to America. From Italy, they traveled to London and soon they were on a ship to New York. They were scheduled to tour in Pennsylvania when they got there. So what was life like for the von Traps once they got to America?
Coming To America
They originally came to America on six-month visitors’ visas and when those expired, they briefly traveled back to Europe for a Scandinavian tour. Upon returning to America, they were held up at Ellis Island in New York over a brief misunderstanding.
When asked by U.S. officials how long they intended to stay the second time around, instead of saying “six months” like she should have, Maria said, “Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again!” Of course, the issue was worked out and the family was released, but this time, they actually did intend to stay longer than six months.
Finally Becoming American Citizens
By this time it was the 1940s and the von Trapps had taken up residence in Vermont, where they owned a farm and ran a music camp while not on tour. IN 1944, Maria and all of the von Trapp daughters filed declarations of intention in an effort to apply for U.S. citizenship, achieving it by 1948.
Two of the von Trapp boys, Rupert and Werner, served in the U.S. armed forces during WWII and as a result, became naturalized U.S. citizens. Two of the younger von Trapps, Rosmarie and Eleonore were born to Maria after she married Georg, derived their citizenship through their mother, while the youngest von Trapp was born in the United States. Georg von Trapp apparently never applied to become a citizen.
How Christopher Plummer Got The Part
Christopher Plummer played the role of Captain Georg von Trapp in the film, The Sound of Music. Plummer is originally from Canada and is known for being one of the biggest names in the Canadian Repertory Company, which is located in Ottawa, Ontario.
His big break came when the actor made his transition to Broadway playing many roles including, Othello, King Lear, and Henry Drummond. His biggest movie role in life is his performance as the captain in The Sound of Music, and his role in Beginners, for which he won an Academy Award. Plummer is also known for his narration of the cult classic children’s show Madeline.
The Beautiful Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews is one of the biggest names in Hollywood and is one actress who is truly aging gracefully. Andrews made her name in the business by appearing in classic Broadways hits like My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Cinderella.
In more recent years, Julie Andrews has made fans for her portrayal of the Queen of Genovia in the Disney films The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. In 2000, Julie Andrews was named a Dame by the Queen of England and listed as one of the 100 Greatest Britons. She is also the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of film work.
Nicholas Hammond Played Friedrich
Nicholas Hammond played the character of Friedrich for the film version of The Sound of Music. Even though his personality fit the part perfectly, his physical attributes were rather lacking for the character. Hammond was forced to wear heel lifts so he would taller than the other actors, specifically the actress who played Louisa.
But, puberty kicked in for this actor in the end! By the time the movie had wrapped up filming, Hammond had grown several inches and other actors had to stand on a box for their heights to appear consistent throughout the film.
Heather Menzies Was The Perfect Louisa von Trapp
A young actress named Heather Menzies was chosen to play the role of the third eldest von Trapp child for The Sound of Music. Born in Canada, Louisa von Trapp is probably Heather’s most notable acting role, in addition to playing Jessica 6 on the television series Logan’s Run.
In 1973 at the age of 24, she was featured in Playboy in a pictorial titled “Tender Trapp.” No longer acting, she is the widow of actor Robert Urich of the show S.W.A.T. As of 2014, she has been living in Park City, Utah and is the loving grandmother to two grandchildren.
Duane Chase Played The Young Kurt von Trapp
Duane Dudley Chase was only 14 to 15 years old when he played Kurt, the second boy of the von Trapp family. Instead of furthering his acting career, he joined the United States Forest Service in Santa Barbara, California shortly after The Sound of Music came out and after he graduated high school.
By 1976, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and subsequently went to University of Alabama to get his master’s degree. In 1987, he married a nurse named Petra Maria from Germany and today he lives in Seattle, where he designs computer software for geologists and geophysicists.
Angela Cartwright Played Brigitta von Trapp
English-born American actress Angela Cartwright is one former von Trapp who went on to have a prolific acting career beyond The Sound of Music. Aside from playing the role of Brigitta, she was on The Danny Thomas Show as stepdaughter Linda Williams in the ’50s, which ended when the series was canceled after her television stepfather passed away due to a heart attack.
A seasoned photographer of 30 years, Cartwright has her fine art displayed at her own studio in Studio City, Los Angeles. In addition to her acting credits, Cartwright has a number of published books and a bi-annual art zine that she produces with fellow artist Sarah Fishburn.
Debbie Turner Played Marta von Trapp
As a child, Debbie Turner had acted in television and commercials with her siblings before she landed the role of Marta von Trapp in The Sound of Music. After the film came out, she left acting to continue to her education.
As an adult, she pursued interior design and ended up starting a floral and event design company called “Debbie Turner Originals,” which was awarded the “Preferred Florist” title for the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Although she has separated from acting, she keeps in touch with her Sound of Music co-stars and has returned for television appearances.
Kym Karath Played Little Gretl von Trapp
Actress Kym Karath played the youngest and seventh child of the von Trapp family, Gretl, which is probably what she is most remembered for. She began acting at the age of three having been in Spencer’s Mountain, The Thrill of It All, and Good Neighbor Sam.
In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Julie Andrews said of Karath: “[The children] were all lovely. However, the youngest one was probably the most difficult for me, because she was just a tad heavy in those days. Today, she is this amazing gorgeous looking Monroe-esque young lady.” That’s quite a compliment!
Charmian Carr Stunned Audiences As Liesl von Trapp
It seemed Charmian Carr was set for success after her captivating portrayal of Liesl in the movie musical The Sound of Music. Even though she was gorgeous, this actress was doomed to be a one-hit wonder. The actress played minor roles after Liesl, including roles in Take Her, She’s Mine, and Evening Primrose, which was a television musical written by the great Steven Sondheim.
Carr soon gave up acting and started up her own interior design firm in Encino, California. She still loved the role of Liesl and used her experiences as the character to write two novels, Forever Liesl and Letters to Liesl. The actress sadly passed away in 2016 from complications of dementia at the age of 76.
Eleanor Parker Played the Baroness Von Schrader
Eleanor Parker was an Oscar-nominated actress who played the icy yet elegant Baroness Von Schrader, the scheming fiance to Captain Von Trapp. Parker was nominated for an Oscar for her roles in films like Detective Story and Interrupted Melody but it’s her role in the Sound of Music that generations of fans remember her for.
Sadly, Parker passed away at the age of 91 due to complications from pneumonia in 2013, just four days before NBC aired it’s live version of the musical. After her passing, Christopher Plummer who played Captain Von Trapp said “I hardly believe the sad news for I was sure she was enchanted and would live forever.”
Growing Up As A Von Trapp
While the family found success together as a traveling singing group, they would stop doing this by 1955. As the children grew older, they wanted to pursue their own endeavors. Four of the von Trapp daughters traveled to New Guinea in 1956 to do missionary work, with daughter Maria taking on the effort for the following 30 years.
Rupert von Trapp became a doctor, while Agathe von Trapp became a kindergarten teacher in Maryland. Werner von Trapp became a farmer, while Hedwig von Trapp taught music. The rest of the children married and settled with children in their later years.
A Famous Family
Now that we know the true story of the von Trapps, it may lead you to wonder what they thought of the musical and film that made their story famous. While Maria was grateful her story wasn’t changed too much and that she was depicted the way she was in the fictional versions, she wasn’t too pleased with the way Georg’s character was changed. As for the children, they didn’t appreciate the fact that their story was simplified and that they were represented as people that performed “lightweight” music.
Johannes von Trapp told The New York Times in 1998, “It’s not what my family was about… [We were] about good taste, culture, all these wonderful upper-class standards that people make fun of in movies like ‘Titanic.’ We’re about environmental sensitivity, artistic sensitivity. ‘Sound of Music’ simplifies everything. I think perhaps reality is at the same time less glamorous but more interesting that the myth.”
The New Von Trapps
The Sound of Music Live is a television special which was aired on NBC starring the amazing Carrie Underwood as Maria. The show was performed in front of a studio audience and was filmed live in the town of Bethpage, New York. Even though this version of the musical was met with mixed reviews, critics stated Carrie Underwood was a great singer, but was an immature actor.
Even the real-life von Trapp family stated Underwood lacked experience as an actor and that her performance as Maria, seemed lifeless. The live performance of the musical brought in 18.62 million viewers and prompted NBC to create more live adaptations of musicals.
Carrie Underwood As Maria
Carrie Underwood is now known as one of the biggest American country music stars in the world, but she definitely had her humble beginnings. Underwood is from Muskogee, Oklahoma and was born to a school teacher and a mill worker. The singer won season four of American Idol and went on to become one of the highest selling winners of the show.
According to Forbes, Underwood is now worth a total of $120 million dollars, while $83 million of that was made in the last year. Underwood was recently honored with a nomination for Artist of the Year by the American Music Awards, but lost to Ariana Grande. They couldn’t have found a more talented and wealthy woman to play Maria in the live action version of The Sound of Music!