Here's a bit more about “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.”
We left off last week where Baron Georg von Trapp had decided to decline the invitation of the Nazis to command a German submarine.
At about the same time his son, Rupert, a recent medical school graduate, was asked to serve the Third Reich as a physician in Vienna. In good conscience he had to turn it down, but it had to be done diplomatically. The same week the family received a call from Munich telling them they had been selected to sing for Adolf Hitler's birthday
Although their future would have been secured, and a fortune made had they chosen to do these things, they chose not to. The family knew that saying no to Hitler three times was dangerous. They conferred with their archbishop, who assured them that turning down these offers was the right thing to do. The von Trapp priest and musical director, the Rev. Franz Wasner, concurred with them.
The baron said, “We now have the precious opportunity to find out for ourselves whether the words we have heard and read so often can be taken literally: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.'”
Leaving the country was not as dramatic as portrayed in the movie. To throw people off their trail they said they were going mountain climbing in Southern Italy. An American agent sent them an advance on future salaries, and boat tickets. The Austrian border was closed the day after they crossed it. In September 1938, they boarded a ship for New York. All were seasick except for Maria, and she was pregnant.
They arrived in New York nearly penniless. The following day their agent gave them another advance. Their tour was to start a week later. They ate all their meals in a cafeteria, spending no more than 15 cents for breakfast, 35 cents for lunch and 50 cents for dinner. Happily they found out museums and art galleries could be visited free of charge.
Soon after their bus tour of 18 cities ended, it was time for Maria's baby to be born. Because she was afraid of hospitals, she found a young doctor to deliver her 10 pound, 2 ounce baby boy at home. Their American baby was named Johannes Georg.
Shortly after the arrival of the baby they received a “fatal letter” stating their application for extension of temporary stay was denied, and they would have to leave the U.S.
Remembering they had an offer from a Danish impresario for a tour of Scandinavia, they sent him a cable. They quickly received word their first concert was scheduled for March 12. They booked third-class passage on the Normandie.
When war broke out in September 1939, all borders were closed and foreigners had to depart. Fortunately the U.S. allowed them to return to New York. Their concerts were not well-received. One producer said it was the worst program he had ever heard.
“Who wants to listen to a piece by Bach that takes 45 minutes?” he asked. But the worst thing was their appearance — solemn and deadly serious.
They lightened up their program and costumes, added some makeup, and were well-received. They traveled from September through April, with only a short stop around Christmas. Soon their debts were paid, and they looked forward to spending summers somewhere other than humid Philadelphia.
After much consideration they bought a farm in Stowe, Vt., a spot that reminded them of Austria. It was cool, sunny and had a glorious view. They ran a music camp there when not on tour. The Trapp Family Lodge opened to guests in 1950. The family stopped touring in 1955.
Though it seems the movie was more myth than fact, it is beloved, and has been seen by millions. In 1965 it was the winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.