Sam von Trapp spends a lot of time explaining his family's real legacy to people acquainted only with its Broadway and Hollywood versions.
He loves telling the real story, but it's still a tall order for the articulate grandson of Maria and Georg von Trapp, the governess and German U-boat commander whose story was launched to fame by "The Sound of Music".
"When I was younger, I tended to hold the musical at arm's length," said von Trapp, who was in Mesa over the weekend. "But over the course of time it was a huge step for my sister and me to make peace with the story. It has had such a positive impact on society. Instead of focusing on the things they (the musical) got wrong, we now focus on the things they got right."
Von Trapp, a businessman and ski instructor, recounted segments of his family's compelling history - first as he and his wife, Elisa, waited at a Newark, N.J., airport for a plane to Phoenix - and later in Mesa at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre.
Their trip was part of a promotional tour for the family's ski lodge and resort in Stowe, Vt., and the theater was the perfect marketing venue with its performances of "The Sound of Music."
But most of von Trapp's conversations and speech-making in Mesa centered on his family and famous grandparents.
"They don't aggressively market the lodge, they promote their family's values and patriotism and the marketing takes care of itself," said Gary Kimble, the theater's director of marketing and public relations. "We told him that we would tell people how wonderful the family's resort is, and he talked about how wonderful the theater's production of 'The Sound of Music' is."
It was difficult, however, not to notice that von Trapp was in town.
He was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Chicago Cubs-Cincinnati Reds baseball game at Hohokam Stadium and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith proclaimed March 20-26 as "Sam von Trapp Week."
As he forgives show businesses' fictionalizations of his family history, the 38-year-old Vermont native rides the musical's endless wave of popularity, and the Trapp Family Lodge, which von Trapp runs with his father, Johannes, is benefitting as well.
"The lodge is doing fine," Johannes von Trapp said from Vermont. "The cross-country skiing area is very busy."
The vacation retreat is the main source of income for the family which was powerless to negotiate a major chunk of the huge profits generated by the 1965 movie, starring Julie Andrews, and the 1959 Broadway musical from which the film was adapted, Sam von Trapp said.
Maria, the singing novitiate-turned-governess of Captain Georg von Trapp's children, sold the film rights to the family story to German filmmakers in the late 1950s for $9,000, he said. The movie, which was produced at a cost of $8.2 million, has grossed more than $286 million in revenue internationally, according to published reports.
The von Trapps eventually started receiving a small percentage of profits from the movie and the musical under an arrangement made exclusively "through the generosity" of the musical's composers, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and its writers, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, Samvon Trapp said.
How Hollywood and Broadway's productions have affected the family financially and socially over the years is one of the most asked questions by visitors to the resort, Sam von Trapp said.
Answers are provided on nearly two-hour tours of the sprawling lodge and wooded estate, trips that give Sam von Trapp and members of his family time and a relaxed setting to talk about the real family history.
Such facts include:
- Maria and Capt. von Trapp were married in 1927, 11 years before the family fled from Austria to escape the Nazi regime, not shortly before the Nazi occupation of the country.
- They were brought together after Maria was sent by the Abbey to tutor Marta, one of the Georg von Trapp's children, not to act as governess of all the children.
"I couldn't believe that the movie and Broadway musical didn't include the fact that my grandfather refused to command a submarine for Hitler and that he refused to sing at Hitler's birthday party at Hitler's personal invitation," von Trapp said.