Von Trapped: The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Infighting

It seems Fraulein Maria wasn't all sweetness and light...and as a third generation takes over, her family's still living down the Von Trapp name.

It's never been any secret that The Sound of Music romanticized the story of the Von Trapps, the noble Austrian family who fled the Nazis to become a plucky troupe of family folk-singers. The names and number of kids were changed; the father was cast as a martinet rather than the rather retiring man he actually was; Maria, the fun-loving nanny was in fact a strict disciplinarian who ran her family with an iron will.

After emigrating to the U.S., the Von Trapps supported themselves as singers before buying a farm in Stowe, Vermont, which they ran as a boardinghouse after Captain Von Trapp died in 1947. After The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in 1959, and later the 1965 film became a blockbuster, the large family sought to capitalize a bit on their newfound celebrity (Maria had sold the story's rights in the 50's for $9,000) by running a Tyrolean-themed ski lodge. It was a hard life, and after Maria's death, the inn's ownership led to family discord.

It's also been a highly ambivalent legacy for a family who never really profited from a celebrity that was thrust upon them. Says Johannes, the youngest son, "The Sound of Music was great, but it was an American version of my family's life...It wasn't what we were. I just got tired of being cast as a Sound of Music person.'" Johannes was forced to abandon a promising career in natural resources to help his mother run the inn, and somewhat resents the older siblings who escaped. Says one employee of Maria, "'She was a very strong-minded, strong-willed woman...She ruled the family. Anything they did had to have her blessing.'"; Now Johannes' son, Sam Von Trapp, faces the same fate. Johannes would prefer to run an elegant and low-key establishment, but has been forced to reluctantly embrace the lucrative parade of SOM tour buses and even vend a stuffed goat who plays "The Lonely Goatherd." His son is more pragmatic and less troubled by this commercialization of the name. "He plans to bring back holiday singalongs and to advertise the lodge during ABC's broadcast of "The Sound of Music" on Sunday, which his father once opposed." It makes those of us who sighed to be Gretl or Liesl heave a different kind - of relief, that we aren't burdened with name-brand name, Hollywood histories in the public domain, and their harsh realities.

A von Trapp takes over the family business and legacy [IHT]