Do you think you know everything there is to know about the von Trapp family from the cult classic movie, The Sound of Music? As Hollywood is bound to do, the film took some liberties with the actual story of the von Trapps. Surprisingly many Austrians haven’t even seen the The Sound of Music. Shocking!! I must have seen it at least a dozen times.
The Hollywood Version of Baron von Trapp
One of the most successful movies of all time, The Sound of Music won 5 Oscars on its release in 1965. In the intervening 50 years, the movie has earned billions of dollars if you adjust for inflation. Salzburg will be hosting events all year long in 2015 for the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release, including a special 50th Anniversary Festival in October. These 7 fascinating facts about Georg von Trapp, the patriarch of the family von Trapp, show how Hollywood embellishes the truth to create a better story. Engimatic and handsome as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, Georg was the ultimate dreamboat – loving husband, father and man of principle. I was completely in love with Baron von Trapp as a child but I also wanted to be the oldest daughter, Liesl von Trapp. In retrospect, I clearly had movie daddy issues. So, possibly did Maria von Trapp. She was 22 when she married Georg who was aged 47 in 1927. Christopher Plummer brought out such a dishy-widower-Mr. Rochester vibe to the character, the age discrepancy seemed a minor footnote in the movie.
The Real Baron von Trapp
Let’s separate Georg van Trapp, the man, from the Hollywood creation shall we? 1. The Villa Trapp, the original home of the von Trapp family is now a hotel. Georg bought the Villa Trap for his family after his first wife died. They lived at the villa from 1923-1938 which was built in the mid 19th century. It never was the von Trapp ancestral family home as depicted in the movie. The Villa Trapp was in private use when the movie was being made and so the film makers had no access to it. The front and the back of the house used in the movie are two different houses, Schloss Frohnberg and Schloss Leopoldskron. The interiors were film sets created in Hollywood. After the von Trapp’s left in 1938, no less than Heinrich Himmler, one of Hitler’s most trusted men and leader of the SS Nazi secret police, used the Villa Trapp as his summer home. Georg would not have been amused. 2. The von Trapps were wealthy because Georg’s first wife, Agathe Whitehead, inherited a substantial fortune. Her grandfather, James Whitehead, was the inventor of the torpedo. When the British government turned down his invention, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph took Whitehead under his wing. The von Trapps, however, were not as wealthy or as aristocratic as the movie made them out to be. In fact, Georg technically wasn’t even a baron. He was possibly only just a baronet if Austria hadn’t abolished titles after World War I.
3. After the end of the first World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up. The new Austria was left as a land-locked country. Georg found himself unemployed – it’s hard to be a naval commander if your country doesn’t have a navy. Presumably he occupied himself churning out little von Trapps. 4. Georg was indeed stuffy about his family singing in public. On the other hand, a banking crises had decimated the fortune his first wife had left him. Maria von Trapp lead the family on singing tours in order to keep them financially afloat. In need of money, Maria sold the rights to the von Trapp memoir she had written for $9000 in 1955 which was more money than they had ever earned singing. The von Trapps never saw any royalties from the millions earned from the movies or the Broadway musicals.
5. Georg was tempted to join the Nazis who had made him an attractive offer in the German Navy long before the invasion of Austria by Germany. The Nazis needed someone with his naval experience and Georg had no other occupational skills. In the end, though, he decided he couldn’t agree with Nazi ideology. Maria and the kids would just keep singing to keep a roof over their heads. 6. Although Austrian by ethnicity, Georg was born in what became Italy after World War I. As a result, the family were all Italian citizens. When they left Austria in 1938, the took a day train to Italy from the station which was at the edge of their estate. Not nearly as exciting as being chased by Nazis through the cemetery at night as the movie depicts.
7. Georg and Maria had 3 children together taking the number of little von Trapps to a grand total of 10. Unlike the movie version, Georg and Maria had been married for years before the Anschluss occurred. Their first two children were born in Salzburg. Their youngest child, Johannes von Trapp, was born in Pennsylvania in 1939 because the family had settled in the USA by then.
I am taking the children to Salzburg next week to see the Sound of Music sites for ourselves. Their school play for this year is the Sound of Music so it is all apropos. We have booked both a Sound of Music tour as well as a visit to the original Villa Trapp itself. I have threatened to make them wear outfits made of curtains just to make the whole experience more authentic. The threat would carry more weight if only I knew how to sew. I can’t wait to share our experience with you!