Dame Julie Andrews is 80 now, but the stardom surrounding her role as Maria in The Sound of Music has never dimmed. Although she was absent from the 50th anniversary celebrations in Salzburg, along with her co-star, 86-year-old Christopher Plummer (who played Captain Georg von Trapp), her name was on everyone’s lips.
It fell to Australian-based actor Nicholas Hammond to be the spokesman for the “children” of the movie, four of whom travelled to Salzburg for the anniversary celebrations. They gathered at a press conference in the ornate library at Schloss Leopoldskron, one of two palaces used for the film.
But it was the presence of the 10th and youngest of the “real von Trapp children”, Johannes – a sprightly 76 – who joined four of the “movie children”, Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Duane Chase (Kurt), Debbie Turner (Marta) and Heather Menzies Urich (Louisa) that had the room abuzz. Kym Karath, who played little Gretel, was a last-minute no-show.
“The Sound of Music is part of our DNA now,” said Hammond, adding that the role he played as a 14-year-old was life-changing.
“It’s hard to remember life before Salzburg,” he said, expressing his “great love and gratitude” for the city.
Hammond, an American who has lived in Sydney since the 1980s, described opening night of the movie as “the most astonishing night of our lives”.
“Life changed from that moment, and never went back to what it was before that. It was a lot bigger than ‘just another movie’. It was like someone waved a magic wand and made us the seven most famous children in the world at that time.”
Fame aside, Hammond said his modest acting fee enabled him to fund his university studies but was not on the scale of what today’s actors are paid. And that, he says, made a difference to how the actors lives went on. In his case, to a continued career in acting and a string of long-running roles including as ..as Peter Parker on the CBS television series The Amazing Spider-Man.
Duane Chase, who played blond Kurt (“I’m incorrigible!”), had a few more acting roles during his high school years but later decided “it was time to move on”, studied geology and later made his career designing computer software for geologists and geophysicists.
Debbie Turner, who played Marta, has carved a career as an “upscale floral designer” since the early 1990s, providing floral arrangements for weddings, major events and political conventions.
“I think seeing the Mirrabella Gardens [Salzburg’s formal gardens, which featured in the movie] really had an impact on my life and career,” she says.
Heather Menzies Ulrich (Louisa) continued to act on stage and screen but in recent years has devoted time to raising funds and awareness for sarcoma, the rare cancer that claimed the life of her actor husband Robert Urich in 2002.
As for the others, Angela Cartwright (Brigitta) has had a long career as a photographer and Charmian Carr (who played 16-going-on-17 Leisel) is now in her 70s, but left show business in the late 1960s to be an interior designer.
There are many differences between the movie and stage versions of the von Trapp story, and the reality. For a start, there were already more than the Captain’s seven children when the family left Austria. Maria and the Captain had another two daughters – Rosemarie and Eleonore – when they began the journey that would lead to America and a singing career born of desperation. It was their only way to make a living.
Later, they built a timber chalet in Vermont, where they have lived since the 1950s. American-born Johannes and his wife Lynne still live there, running the Trapp Family Lodge, a guesthouse welcoming curious tourists.
Asked about the differences between the movie depiction and the real von Trapps, Johannes was frank. “It was not an easy family to grow up in. There was a great deal of discipline and hard work,” he says, softening the blow with a smile. His mother Maria was “tough, demanding but loving”.
The family is grateful to the movie five decades on is evident by their presence in Salzburg, and Johannes is clear about this too: “We are not here for the film, but for Salzburg.”
The formal celebration of the movie’s 50th anniversary was held in the Felsenreitschule, the theatre in which the movie scene of the family singing in the Salzburg Festival was filmed. It is now part of the modern Kulisse Salzburg Festival Halls complex, but sitting in the audience was eerily like being part of the movie.
On stage, the star of the stage musical in Salzburg, Uwe Kröger, who plays Captain von Trapp, linked the songs – accompanied by the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg – with short chats with the special guests. There was laughter as the adult “SOM children” met their counterparts in today’s show; but when the audience rose to its feet to sing Edelweiss, Johannes von Trapp wiped away tears.
It’s been an incredible journey for the von Trapps and the cast of The Sound of Music, a story with which they’ll always be associated.
As for Julie Andrews, while her waxwork will live on forever as a 29-year-old in Madame Tussaud’s in Vienna, the doyen has not slowed down. She’s currently busy preparing to direct an Australian production of another of her great hits, My Fair Lady, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a season at the Sydney Opera House, from August 30–November 5, 2016.
The London Palladium stage production of The Sound of Music is playing at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre until May 1, 2016. The Australian production stars Amy Lehpamer as Maria Rainer and Cameron Daddo as Captain Georg von Trapp, alongside Marina Prior as Baroness Schraeder, Jacqueline Dark as Mother Abbess, and Lorraine Bayly as Frau Schmidt. After the Brisbane season, the production moves to Melbourne (from May 13) and Adelaide (from August 9).
A Glass Half Full travelled to Salzburg as a guest of the Austrian National Tourism Office.