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The Real Family Behind the Sound of Music

Many people have seen the beloved 1965 musical film The Sound of Music, but not everyone realizes that the film, as well as the Broadway musical that inspired it, are both based on a real family. In fact, the hit film and it’s play were based on a 1949 memoir entitled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp. Although the Trapp family is certainly a real family, there are some liberties that both the stage play and the hit film took in adapting the story for a modern audience. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the real family behind The Sound of Music.

The Sound of Music is perhaps best known for it’s film adaptation, which was released in 1965 and directed by Robert Wise, a genre filmmaker otherwise best known for directing The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting, The Andromeda Strain, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, it was merely a film adaptation of a Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical that originally opened up in 1959. Both the stage play and it’s film adaptation owe their inspiration to another source, though, and that is the 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp, as well as the real-life story that the memoir is based on. The 1965 film adaptation has taken on a life of it’s own, though, and to such a degree that many do not even realize that the film was not only based upon a stage musical, but was based upon the true story of a real family.

The story follows a young Austrian postulant named Maria Rainer, played most famously in the film adaptation by the beloved Julie Andrews, perhaps equally as well known for being the star of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins. She is sent to be a governess to the seven children of a widower naval officer who goes by the title Captain von Trapp. The story of the stage play and film adaptation goes that Maria brings the gift of both love and music into the lives of the family, and then goes on to marry Captain von Trapp- a love story for the ages. It then follows their struggles to adapt to the loss of their homeland, which has been occupied by Nazi forces.

The film was initially released as a limited roadshow, a type of release that was incredibly common for movie musicals of the time. However, it went on to gain massive commercial, and even some critical, success, and stands to this day as one of the most beloved film musicals in history. It became the highest grossing film of 1965, and then eventually was named the highest grossing film of all time in November of 1966, beating out the previous title-holder, 1939’s Gone with the Wind. The Sound of Music would hold on to that title for five years, at which point it was usurped by the 1971 rerelease of Gone with the Wind. The Sound of Music still holds the distinction as the 6th highest grossing film of all time when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, including additional sums garnered from it’s own rereleases.

Not only was the hit musical film a runaway box office success, but it was also universally praised by critics, both of the time and today. The film adaptation of The Sound of Music received a total of five Academy Awards, including what are arguably the two most important ones: Best Picture and Best Director. The film is continually reappraised and included on lists of the greatest films of all time, and transcends the general audience of musicals by telling a timeless story that all demographics can get something out of. At the turn of the century, in 2001, it was added to the Nation Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress, a distinction regarding the film as an exceptionally significant moment in film history.

Given all the attention that the film has drawn over the years, it’s not surprising to learn that the film itself has eclipsed the history of the very family that inspired it. Most people likely don’t even realize that the film, and the stage musical it was derived from, were based on a real life story in the first place! Now that we’ve taken a look at the importance of the film, let’s take a look at the importance of the real Trapp family, without which there would be no film. If you’re enjoying this story so far, hit the like button to support more content! As well, subscribe to Facts Verse to be kept up-to-date about when that content is going to drop.

The Sound of Music is certainly no slouch of a film, with a runtime of nearly three hours. It manages to fit quite a bit of story into those three hours, as well as several important religious and historical themes. However, the true heart of the film is a decidedly Hollywood romance that doesn’t quite do justice to the real human beings that inspired it. This kind of thing is incredibly common with adaptations of true life stories, and The Sound of Music is no exception. In real life, the events that occurred weren’t exactly the love story that the film portrays. So let’s take a look at where the film, and the stage adaptation that it was based on, deviated from the truth!

Though the stage musical was explicitly based on Maria von Trapp’s own memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, it decided to change quite a bit about the real life tale in order to appeal a bit more palatable to audiences. These changes, in turn, carried over to the film adaptation that has gone on to define said story for many generations. Little things were altered, including the number of children that the Trapp family had (10 instead of 7, including 3 from after the marriage), but the biggest alterations involve the personalities and relationship of Captain von Trapp and Maria.

For one thing, Captain von Trapp wasn’t exactly the strict disciplinarian that we find in the film, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. In fact, the real life man was a much more jovial figure to his children, as well as others who knew him. He had a very close and playful relationship with his children, and the family could be found bursting into song long before Maria ever came into the picture. However, this change isn’t the biggest change that was made to make the story more accessible and relatable to American audiences.

The real difference between reality and the skewed version of reality depicted in the stage play and the film is in the feelings that Maria had for Captain von Trapp. Ironically, although Captain von Trapp was likely a bit more like Maria than the film gave him credit for, Maria didn’t initially find herself falling in love with the naval officer. However, Maria did grow a very strong love for the children, and that is the true reason that she eventually accepted the smitten Captain von Trapp’s proposal of marriage.

You see, although Maria didn’t initially have strong feelings for Captain von Trapp, he did have strong feelings for her, and that is what lead him to make his proposal of marriage. Perhaps he grew to fall in love with her based on her interactions with the children. In fact, the way he phrased his marriage proposal wasn’t “will you marry me?” but “will you serve as a second mother to my children?” According to Maria herself in her memoir, it was this unique phrasing of the proposal that enticed her to give her answer, which was, in fact, yes. According to her, she wouldn’t have accepted the proposal if it was phrased any other way, as it struck a chord in regards to the strong bond she had developed with the children. From this, you might infer that there was never any love between the married couple and that the film and stage musical are an outright lie. However, this isn’t quite true, either.

You see, although Maria wasn’t in love with Captain von Trapp when she accepted his proposal for marriage, or when she actually married him, she did learn to love him over time. In fact, she claims that the love that she eventually developed for the naval officer was the strongest and truest love that she had ever felt. So while audience might feel cheated when they learn that the stage musical and film adaptation of The Sound of Music skewed the truth in order to be more warmly accepted, it’s heart was in the right place. Maria, Captain von Trapp, and all of the children certainly did love each other and have an incredibly close and profound relationship, just not exactly how and when you might think based on simply seeing the play or film.

Many involved in the production of the film, including Andrews, voiced concerns that the changes made to the story would make the film come off as a bit too saccharine, or sweet. Some critics at the time mirror this sentiment, although the general consensus, especially over time, was much more favorable. Any way you look at it, though, it’s very unlikely that the film would’ve been as successful as it was without altering the story in the way that it did. And, if the film hadn’t become so popular, the Trapp family themselves likely wouldn’t be as universally and strongly remembered as they have become. The film definitely changed a couple of things from the truth, but it managed to convey a universal truth that was at once an appropriate depiction of the Trapp family and an emotionally honest depiction of love and music conquering all.

The Sound of Music certainly isn’t the only piece of media based on a true story that alters a good deal of the history that it’s supposedly based on, but it’s perhaps the most widely known example. If you’ve got another great example of a film or play that wasn’t completely honest about it’s depictions of history, or if you have another bit of trivia about the real life Trapp family that the play and film left out, share it in the comment section down below. As always, like the video to support more Facts Verse content, and hit the subscribe button and notification bell if you’d like to be made aware when more content is on it’s way!

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