Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Sound of Musicals

We’ll take a little break today from the end of the world politics to wish a happy anniversary to the musical film, The Sound of Music. The movie, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, premiered at the Rivoli Theater in New York City on March 2, 1965. Constitutional warriors – we’ll resume combat tomorrow.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, or the stage version, The Sound of Music is the true story of Maria Augusta Von Trapp, who left her position as a novice in an Austrian convent in 1938 (according to the film) to become a governess to the children of a widowed Austrian Navy U-Boat captain.

There’s some pretty funny and interesting trivia regarding the making of the movie and its international release. This is from IMDB, a movie website.  Anything you ever wanted to know about your favorite movies, they've got it:  full cast, crew, trivia, goofs, locations of films.  It's website heaven for film buffs!
• The original director, William Wyler, envisioned a different film, with tanks crashing through walls. When negotiations over his film The Sand Pebbles (1966) kept breaking down, Robert Wise started looking around for another project to do while he waited for things to get sorted. The Sound of Music (1965) basically fell into his lap after William Wyler dropped out of the project. Wyler wanted the film to be more serious and make more of the Nazis in the story. 20th Century Fox didn't care for his approach.

• Director Robert Wise considered Yul Brynner for the role of Captain Von Trapp.

• The first musical number in the film was the final sequence shot in Europe before the cast and crew returned to Los Angeles. Filmed in late June and early July of 1964, despite the warm and sunny appearance, Julie Andrews was freezing as she ran up and down the mountain over and over again. Director Robert Wise had to climb a nearby tree to oversee the helicopter shoot without getting in the picture. Although Julie dug her heels into the ground and braced herself, she was knocked over by the helicopter’s downdraft on every take.

• On the first take of “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, Charmian Carr (Liesl) slipped while leaping across a bench, and fell through a pane of glass. Her ankle was injured and the scene was shot with her leg wrapped and makeup covering the bandages.

• The real-life Maria had a cameo appearance as an older woman walking through a brick archway during “I Have Confidence".

• The gazebo used for the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" and "Something Good" , located in Salzburg, had to be closed off to the public because fans were injuring themselves while trying to dance along the seats. The gazebo in Austria was only used for exterior shots.

• In the closing shot, when the family is climbing over the hills to safety, a stunt double had to used for Gretl (Kym Karath). She had gained a lot of weight and was too heavy for Christopher Plummer to carry on his back.

• Debbie Turner (Marta) had many loose teeth during filming. When they fell out, they were replaced with false teeth.

• Mary Martin, who originated the role of Maria on Broadway, would eventually see nearly $8,000,000 from the film because her husband was the producer. In contrast, Julie Andrews earned just $225,000 for her performance.

• The librettists, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, originally intended to use songs the real von Trapp family had sung. However, Mary Martin, who was to be in the play, asked Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to write a song for her character. Concerned that the new music would not mix well with the folk music, Rodgers and Hammerstein suggested writing a whole new score, instead.

• During the scene with Maria and the Captain at the gazebo, Julie Andrews couldn't stop laughing due to a lighting device that was making, in her words, a "raspberry" every time she leaned in to kiss Plummer. After more than 20 takes, the scene was altered to silhouette the two and to hide Andrews' giggles.

• In the scene where the Von Trapps are pushing their car from behind, six burly Austrians were hired to pull the heavy car by two ropes from the front.

• Poor Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich) has brown hair, and had to undergo several painful hair bleachings before and during filming to make his hair blond.

• Kym Karath (Gretl) couldn't swim, so Julie Andrews was supposed to catch her when the boat tipped over. However, during the second take the boat toppled over so that Andrews fell to one side and Karath fell to the other. Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa) had to save her instead. After the shot, Kim, having swallowed too much water, threw up all over Heather Menzies. Andrews stated later she felt guilty about this for years. The actors also had to be constantly hosed down in order to look wet during the takes.

• When the film was released in South Korea, it did so much business that some theaters were showing it four and five times a day. One theater owner in Seoul tried to figure out a way to be able to show it even more often, in order to bring in more customers. So he cut out all the musical numbers.

• Four other children were brought in to augment the singing of the seven von Trapp children - to produce a better, fuller, more polished sound. Among the four "extra singers" was the younger sister of Charmian Carr (Liesl), Darleen Carr. Duane Chase's (Kurt) high note in the "So Long, Farewell" number was actually sung by Darleen as that note was beyond Chase's range.

• When setting up for filming the wedding scene, nobody was at the altar when the Captain and Maria reached the top of the stairs. Someone had forgotten to summon the actor playing the bishop. According to Julie Andrews, the real bishop of Salzburg is seen in the movie.

• The song "Edelweiss" was written for the musical and is little known in Austria. The song was the last that Oscar Hammerstein II wrote before his passing in 1960.

• The Ländler dance that Maria and the Captain shared was not performed the traditional way it is done in Austria.

• Marni Nixon had become well known in Hollywood circles as a ghost singer for the leads in several film adaptations of hit Broadway musicals. She provided the vocals for Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956), Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961) and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964). "The Sound of Music" provided a rare onscreen performance by Marni Nixon, who plays Sister Sophia. Julie Andrews had previously appeared on Broadway in My Fair Lady (1964) but was passed over for the film. The producers were wary of how Julie Andrews would react to Nixon because she dubbed Audrey Hepburn's vocals in a role made famous by Andrews. When Andrews first met Nixon, she exclaimed, "Marni, I'm a fan of you!" and the producers were relieved. (Think how insulted Andrews would have been if they’d asked Nixon to dub for her).

• According to the British tabloid The Sun, the movie was selected by BBC executives as one to be broadcast after a nuclear strike, to improve the morale of survivors. The BBC did not confirm or deny the story, saying, "This is a security issue so we cannot comment".

• At the Musical competition at the end of the movie, Fraulein Schweiger, the third place winner, bows 16 times.

• The house that was used as the Von Trapp home was actually owned by actress Hedy Lamarr.

• Christopher Plummer learned to play the guitar for his part, but the guitar (like his vocals) were re-dubbed.

• In Austria the film is known as "Meine Lieder - meine Träume" ("My Songs - my dreams"). It's not very well known there though, and the ending of the film was cut when it hit Austrian cinemas in the 60s.

• At the beginning of filming, Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa) was about three inches taller than Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich). He had to wear heel lifts to make him look taller. By the end of the shoot, Nicolas Hammond had grown six inches (5'3" to 5'9"). He often filmed in no shoes and Charmian Carr had to stand on a box to make her taller.

• The original Broadway production of "The Sound of Music" opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959, ran for 1443 performances and won (in a tie) the 1960 Tony Award for the Best Musical.

• In real life, Georg Von Trapp was not stern. The Von Trapp children were upset and disturbed by the portrayal of their father in the film. 'Maria Von Trapp' requested that director Robert Wise soften the character of her husband, but Wise refused.

• In the original play the Captain and Baroness separate due to ideological differences: the Baroness refuses to stand up against the Nazis, and the Captain refuses to compromise with the Nazis. In real life, Maria Von Trapp wrote in her autobiography that the Baroness was actually a Princess and a cousin to Von Trapp’s first wife, Agathe. Von Trapp felt it would be best if the children were raised by a maternal relation. But she kept him waiting too long and he fell in love with Maria, instead.

• Christopher Plummer admitted that he ate and drank heavily during filming to drown out his unhappiness with making the picture, and found plenty of opportunities to do both in Austria. His costume eventually had to be refitted for his extra weight.

• Prior to March 14, 1938, Austrians drove on the left-hand side of the road. This is why cars registered in Austria up until the Anschluss had right-hand drive.

• Portia Nelson was the only member of the original Broadway cast to reprise her role in the film version.

• Julie Andrews sang "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to the children in the cast to entertain them between shooting. Since Mary Poppins (1964) hadn't yet been released, they just thought she'd made up the song for them.

The movie was not very accurate in its details - the eldest child was a boy, not a girl; the children’s names were changed; the child actors were taught to speak with an English accent because the producers felt audiences wouldn’t be able to identify a German accent; Maria and Georg were married in 1927, not 1938; it was Georg’s intended bride, Princess Yvonne who was so strict with the children, insisting that the girls always wear dresses and that the older children not play with the younger; Maria was already an experienced schoolteacher and was hired to tutor one of the children, not all of them; Georg lost all his money in 1935 when he loaned it to a friend in business, after which that bank failed; as they were in financial straits, they rented the lower rooms of the mansion to Catholic University students – the church sent a priest to be the students’ chaplain and he formed the family into a musical singing group. And they didn’t escape Austria over the mountains (which would have been impossible, given Salzburg’s location). Von Trapp had dual citizenship in Austria and Italy. Their escape was simply a matter of boarding a train in town.

But no matter; the musical was an instant hit. Truly, the last great musical before the Socialist Sixties really set in. The Socialists were about to outlaw happiness. Unabashed, sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs happiness. We wouldn’t know such happiness again until the Eighties, when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Movies started having happy endings again about the time Star Wars came out in 1977.

I was five when The Sound of Music came out, and six when I saw it in Saranac Lake while we were on vacation that summer. I fell head over heels in love with the movie and have been a fan ever since. If I hadn’t had to go to a band rehearsal last night in order to make the sounds of music, I would have been watching this beloved classic on its anniversary. Tonight will have to do.

Christopher Plummer called the movie “The Sound of Mucus” and was said to be very unhappy making what he felt was a saccharine movie. Fortunately, millions of fans of the movie around the world disagreed with him, and he’s since softened his tone. Nor did they agree with Hollywood in general that the world was a horrible place and we should act accordingly.

Happy anniversary to the musical that made happiness popular again!


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