ROXANN MILLER Senior correspondent, Public Opinion

Rarely a day goes by that Elisabeth von Trapp doesn't get asked the same question: "Are you that von Trapp?"

But she doesn't mind talking about her family, made internationally famous by the movie, "The Sound of Music."

During a recent telephone interview, she said she never tires of talking to people about her ancestors.

"I don't think I should get tired of it because for me it always means that the story reached whoever is asking me about it. It's just a wonderful way to honor my father and my relatives," said von Trapp.

It's been 45 years since the movie hit the big screen and it was released on Blu-ray in November, so there's a renewed interest in the story of the family that courageously escaped Nazi occupied Austria. As refugees, the family arrived in New York, where they became popular as The Trapp Family Singers.

But, von Trapp said that Julie Andrews' movie version of Fraulein Maria was quite different than the real Maria.

"There was no comparison," said von Trapp with a chuckle.

"My grandmother was a very strong personality. Just her stature was very strong. She was very tall. She was very outspoken. She was kind but she was not mild-mannered ... when she walked in a room, everybody took notice."

Von Trapp said that while Andrews captured the essence of Maria, there is more to the actual character of the real Maria.

Von Trapp recounted a story about a little boy who met Maria von Trapp, expecting to meet the film version

(Julie Andrews).

"(He) was standing in line waiting to have my grandmother autograph his mother's book," said von Trapp. "When he finally arrives at the desk my grandmother looks down at him and says, 'Good afternoon,' and he says, 'You're not Maria.' He sees this Austrian woman with her white hair in a bun wearing an Austrian dirndl dress and very old. I think she was probably in her 80s.

"My grandmother says, 'I am Maria von Trapp,' and she took a post card nearby on a rack with a picture of herself and hastily signed Maria von Trapp and said, 'this is Maria von Trapp.'"

While Andrews portrayed Maria with beauty and elegance, von Trapp said her grandmother did it with "strength, daring and a strong personality."

Maria and Captain von Trapp raised his seven children and then Maria gave birth to three more children. Von Trapp said most people, including herself, called Maria "Mütter," which means mother.

"At the time I was growing up at the family home in Vermont, the family was having to choose a new career in their life because they disbanded the singing group in 1956. So, my experiences as a child were watching my grandmother make the family home into a ski lodge and a hotel," said von Trapp.

As they were growing up, von Trapp said her siblings -- four brothers and one sister -- were all musical.

"My brother used to practice and would conduct us from an ottoman that he stood on. We all had our Mickey Mouse plastic guitars and played them," von Trapp said.

She said family life revolved around working on her family's dairy farm in Vermont and singing.

"One of my earliest experiences was sitting at my father's knee and just watching how he delighted in us (his children). I think I carry that in my heart as one of my earliest memories. My very, very first memories of singing in front of people was singing 'Silent Night,' at the church and my father standing before us," said von Trapp. "I remember thinking, 'I am not afraid, I am not worried,' because it was the same as standing in our living room (with) our father standing before us, smiling."

Elisabeth was born in 1954, so she never knew her grandfather, who died in 1947. But she heard stories about him.

"The stories of my grandfather were wonderful," said von Trapp. "He was not the disciplinarian depicted in the movie. Of course, they had to make some character so there was a shift. He was a very gentle soul -- but strong character -- and he was very, very devoted to his family and made sure that, in their journey of making it to this country and developing their new life, his family stayed together," said von Trapp.

Her parents had a dairy farm in Waitsfield, Vermont about 40 minutes from the Trapp Family Lodge.

"We (children) all helped them. We worked hard. My father had an ethic of working very hard and that's with the whole Trapp family. They built their whole life up from scratch and they did it all by very hard work," said von Trapp.

In addition to working on the farm, Elisabeth began taking piano lessons when she was 8. By the time she was 16, she was playing guitar and traveling back roads of New England performing with her siblings at weddings, gospel meetings and town halls.

Most of the von Trapps live in Vermont near the Trapp Family Lodge, located in Stowe, Vermont.

"If you get the phone book, you'd see a lot of von Trapps," said von Trapp with her relatable humor.

While the Trapp Family Singers no long perform, the von Trapp Children (great grandchildren of the Captain and Maria) continue to perform for audiences.

"Their legacy is so amazing and is so profound and has reached the globe. I just came back from China. For me it was experiencing once again how far-reaching their story has grown. I can't help being proud of them but also understand their hard work and their faith," said von Trapp.

Elisabeth von Trapp lives and travels about 10 months out of the year with her husband, Ed. They have no children.

Social Share

Collect a few of your favorite things as you browse. Learn More

My Scrapbook