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The Truth about the Sound of Music Family

The Truth about the Sound of Music Family

The Truth about the Sound of Music Family 

The best kept secret is that of the real von Trapp family. Fifty years after The Sound of Music became one of the most successful films of all the time, the truth behind the film has finally come out.

Johannes of the real von Trapp family believes that everyone thinks The Sound of Music is exactly the way things happened. Johannes is the youngest son of Georg and Maria – the decorated Naval Commander and singing nun turned governess of the film.

The musical is based on the German film version of the book that Johannes’ mother, Maria wrote about the family, The Story of the von Trapp Family Singers, which was published in 1945. When The Sound of Music film came out, starring Julie Andrews, in 1965, 20th Century Fox put on a special screening for the family in New York. Johannes states that he was told by family and friends who went that it was a very emotional and powerful experience. His mother during the wedding scene got up from her chair and started walking towards the screen, she was so impacted.

In real life the oldest von Trapp child was Rupert and not Liesl the sixteen year old girl who falls in love with Rolfe. Johannes states that his oldest sister Agatha was very introverted and the thought of her singing and dancing with the telegraph boy gave the whole family the giggles.

There are many other differences from the von Trapps in the film and the real von Trapps. Firstly Johannes was born in 1939, by which time his mother and father had been married 12 years and already had two children together as well as the seven that his father had from his previous marriage. In the film however, the von Trapp’s married in 1938.

The real von Trapp’s played music before Maria came into their house as a governess but Johannes states that his mother took them to “concert quality”. Although the film forgets another important figure that helped their musical success: Father Franz, who was instrumental in their success, touring with them in Europe and America.

Another hurtful change was the portrayal of Georg von Trapp as he was far from the distant and domineering father that he was made out to be by the Sound of Music. Johannes says that his father was a very charming man, generous, open and not the martinet he was made out to be by both the stage play and in the film.

The family lost all their money when the Austrian bank that held it failed in the 1930s but, after the Nazi annexation of Austria in March 1938 life became increasingly untenable and a year later they left. They did not cross the mountains as it is depicted in the film. They travelled by train and boat to New York, arriving with only a few dollars to their name.

The von Trapps gave performances and later bought a farm in Vermont where the family still runs a hotel today. However, when Georg died in 1947 Maria was left with 10 children to support. That is when she wrote the book which went on to be a best-seller- a German language film and musical followed. Maria only learned that Hollywood was turning the book into a film by reading the newspaper.   

This has got to be one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets.


Nina is in her Honours year at The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow studying History. She loves keeping fit and healthy at the gym and singing to her hearts content. Because of Nina's love of all things history related, she has a passion for reading, writing and researching. Nina is the Editor-in-Chief for an online magazine for female students at Strathclyde called Her Campus Strath and wants to continue her passion for writing after graduation. 


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