Monday, October 26, 2009 10/26/09 - the sound of music

In today's excerpt - The Sound of
Music, which, in its day, was the
highest-grossing Broadway play and then the
highest-grossing film in entertainment
history. It originated as a 1959 Broadway
production starring Mary Martin:

"Vincent J. Donehue was a former actor and
Tony award-winning stage director who had
gone to work at Paramount late in 1956. One
day he was asked to look at a German film
called The Trapp Family Singers which
had been
a big success in Europe and South America,
with a view to his directing a movie in
English based upon it and starring Audrey
Hepburn. The German film told the life story
of Maria, Baroness von Trapp, and her
beginnings as a postulant nun in Austria who was
sent to be governess to the seven children of
the widowed Georg von Trapp. They were
later married and escaped from Austria just
before the Anschluss, finding their way across
the Alps into Switzerland and from there to
the United States, where they became famous
as the singing Trapps.

" 'It was in many ways amateurish,' Donehue
said of the film, 'but I was terribly moved
by the whole idea of it, almost sobbing.' He
saw it immediately as a perfect vehicle for
Mary Martin, whose husband, Richard Halliday,
was one of his closest friends. When Audrey
Hepburn's interest in the project faded,
Paramount lost its enthusiasm and let its option
lapse. Donehue sent the German film to
Richard Halliday. Both he and Mary Martin loved
the film. 'The idea was just irresistible,'
Mary said, 'a semi-Cinderella story, but

"Actually, it wasn't true at all. The
real-life Maria Rainer had had a loveless
as the ward of a provincial judge and joined
a monastery where, far from being a ray of
sunshine, she became so ill she was sent
'outside' to be a governess to one of Georg von
Trapp's daughters, who was bedridden. Unlike
the music-hating martinet portrayed in
the [Broadway] version, von Trapp was a
loving parent who encouraged his children to
play instruments and sing. Nor did they
escape over the Alps pursued by the
Nazis; they took a train to Italy and reached
America by way of England.

"Nevertheless, there was not the slightest
doubt in Halliday's or Mary Martin's minds
that it would make a great musical, and both
agreed from the outset that they wanted
Rodgers and Hammerstein to produce it. But
there were all sorts of obstacles to be
overcome before anything like a Broadway show
could be mounted. First, Halliday had to
try to locate Maria von Trapp and her
children, all of whose permissions would be
required if they were to be portrayed live on
stage. The Baroness, however, was hard to
find. She was on a world tour, establishing
missions in the South Seas. Letters addressed
to her in Australia, Tahiti, Samoa, and other
locations failed to reach her. In addition, the
seven von Trapp children were scattered in
various places around the world and were
proving just as elusive.

"At this point, Halliday's lawyer Bill
Fitelson brought
in producer Leland Hayward,
and Hayward became as enthusiastic as
everyone else about the possibilities of the
story. Together,
Hayward and Fitelson chased all
over Europe picking up hints and
clues as to the whereabouts of the
Trapp children. By the autumn of
1957, they had all the necessary
permissions sewn together. The
seven von Trapp children had
been traced and had signed on
the dotted line. The contract with Baroness
von Trapp was finalized in a hospital ward in
Innsbruck, where she was recuperating from
malaria contracted in New
Guinea. Leland Hayward, who
spoke no German, concluded
his negotiations with the representative of
the German film
company, who spoke no
English, in Yiddish!"

Frederick Nolan, The Sound of Their
Music, Applause Books, Copyright 2002 by
Frederick Nolan, pp. 244-246


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