‘The Sound of Music’, a blockbuster 1965 Hollywood musical film which is an adaptation of a much loved 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical stage production gives a fictionalized account of the famous Austrian von Trapp family of singers. They were both based on the 1949 memoir ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’ by Maria von Trapp, who is the main subject of both the stage film and the Hollywood motion picture. The story in both deals with how Maria, who is a young postulant in Austria in the 1930s who is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower (Georg von Trapp) to be governess to his seven children. After she brings love and music into the family’s life, she marries the officer and, together with the children, finds a way to survive the loss of their homeland (Austria) to the Nazis in 1938.
Although both the Broadway film and the Hollywood film enjoyed great success, the real-life story of the von Trapp family was in large part more varied than the adaptations which were based on it. Although a true story, the 1965 film especially was made with artistic license to impart a sense of realism to the story. In the process, the filmmakers tweaked many of the facts related to or about the characters in the story. There was also a lot of sentimentality and sweetness in the Broadway version which was reduced in the Hollywood movie. Though the film became very popular, the von Trapp family was put off due to a large number of discrepancies in the movie as compared to their real story.
The movie changed the date of Georg von Trapp and Maria’s wedding from 1927 to 1938. Most importantly, the film almost single-handedly developed their love story as the real-life Maria had admitted in her memoir that she had no romantic feelings for Georg von Trapp and that she liked him but didn’t love him as such. She claimed that she loved the children and married Georg for the children’s sake. Georg, too, wanted a mother for his orphaned children and so asked her to marry him. Maria, who was 25 years younger than Georg, eventually came to love him after her marriage with time.
Another discrepancy that was shown in the film was the grand lifestyle of the family although the reality was that they had lost all their money in the wake of the Great Depression when their bank collapsed and left them broke. This came as a great shock to Georg. But Maria was resourceful and tackled the loss by renting rooms and using the family’s musical talents to earn money. Though Georg von Trapp didn’t like his family singing to make money, he accepted it. Maria eventually encouraged the children to take up singing professionally.
The real Maria von Trapp also wasn’t as sweet and angelic as shown in the 1965 film. The real Maria as recalled by her stepchildren was prone to fits of anger and also slamming doors and throwing things. She had become a tough person after losing her parents while young and being raised by a relative who was unkind to her. Still, she kept the family together. She did everything quickly and even walked quickly, a tendency which was reflected in her handling of issues with speed.
According to Georg and Maria’s son, Johannes, the Hollywood film was an adaptation of the Broadway musical which in turn was an adaptation of the German film which had been made based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Maria had written the memoir and later sold its rights to a German publisher. She also guided the lead actress of the Broadway musical, Mary Martin. However, the studio which produced the 1965 film reportedly didn’t inform the family that they were making a film on it. The family and especially Maria was apprehensive about the shape their characters would be given in the Hollywood film. Though Maria tried to help in the production of the film, the director didn’t take up the offer.
The family didn’t like the simplistic way of the story in the film. They also didn’t like the way the character of Georg von Trapp was portrayed as a distant and cold father when he was in fact, a very charming and warm-hearted person who doted on his children. Though Maria von Trapp tried to get the character changed in the film, she was unsuccessful. The film also reduced the number of von Trapp children from 10 to 7.
Though the von Trapp family was paid $9000 for the exclusive rights to the story by German filmmakers in 1955, Maria accepted. But she and the family didn’t get any royalties for either the German film and very small royalties for the Broadway film and the Hollywood film. This is significant, especially because the 1965 Hollywood film went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time beating ‘Gone With The Wind’ and earning $100 million and ran in cinemas for four years.
The real Maria von Trapp wasn’t serious about marrying Georg von Trapp and even on her wedding day wanted to become a nun. She only married him because of her love for the children and after consulting Mother Abbess at the Nonnberg Abbey.
The von Trapps, when they came to the US from Austria, didn’t have much money with them and had to struggle to get settled in the new country, finally settling down in Vermont as it reminded them of Austria. Also, initially, the children when they grew up, after Georg von Trapp’s death in 1947, had many clashes with Maria and rebelled against her. They had to also give up their singing after 1956.
Although Georg and Maria married in 1927, they left Austria only 11 years later when the Nazis took over the country and pressured Georg von Trapp to join the German Navy. Georg was opposed to Nazism and also didn’t want to annoy Hitler by turning down his multiple offers for the family to perform in his honor. However, the family didn’t hike their way to the Swiss border as shown in the film. Rather, they took a train to Italy and from there journeyed to London and then onto the US. Maria was hired to teach only one von Trapp child, also named Maria as she couldn’t attend school because of scarlet fever. This was to be for 10 months. She wasn’t hired as the governess for the 7 children as shown in the film. After that, she planned to return to the Nonnberg Abbey.
Maria’s memoir described the life of the von Trapp family, from their beginnings in Salzburg, Austria, to their adventures in America where they escaped from Nazi-invaded Europe. The story reflects on family tragedies, victories, and the kindness of strangers who soon became friends with the young family. The film presented it in a larger-than-life manner. However, the difference between the two was major.