"von Trapps" reunite for dedication

06/19/09 7:50AM By Charlotte Albright
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VPR/Charlotte Albright
Elisabeth von Trapp prepares for the dedication with Duane Chase, who portrayed her father in the film

(HOST) Ever wonder what happened to the actors who portrayed the singing von Trapp children in the wildly popular 1965 movie, "The Sound of Music?"

As most Vermonters know, the real von Trapp family emigrated to Stowe to open a lodge and ski resort.

And this week, a double family reunion in Stowe, brought together surviving von Trapps with five of the actors who portrayed them on screen.

VPR's Charlotte Albright was there.

(Singing) "So Long, Farewell, auf weidersehen good-bye. . ."

VPR/Charlotte Albright
Maria von Trapp watches the apple tree dedication
(Albright)  In the movie, when the von Trapp family sing that finale on stage, they exit, one by one, to make a daring escape from the Nazi regime in Austria. Baron von Trapp, his second wife, ex-nun Maria, and seven children from his first marriage, take a harrowing hike over a mountain to reach freedom in Switzerland.

But that's fiction.

In fact, says descendent Elisabeth von Trapp, crossing that mountain would have just led them into Germany. It's one of many historical inaccuracies, as she learned by watching the film with her father, Werner, the Baron's second eldest son:

(von Trapp) ". . .and I was watching his reaction of how confused he was-you know all these characters that were sort of put in to add to the story line."

(Albright) Elisabeth's low-key, humble father told her the escape from Hitler's Germany was in fact the "easy part." Harder, he recalled, was making a new life in America. But the immigrants succeeded, first by singing on tour and later building their mountainside resort at Stowe. Despite a few business squabbles, they've hung together, united, Elisabeth says, by music. And what about the actors that Elisabeth affectionately calls the "non-Trapps"?

VPR/Charlotte Albright
left to right, Angela Cartwright (Birgitta), Duane Chase (Kurt), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl), and Heather Menzies (Louisa) pose outside the Lodge for a "non-Trapp" family picture.

(Duane Chase) "Over the years, we've always been brought back together, the kids from the movie, mostly for fifth year reunions, tenth year, etcetera, but in between there we've always stayed in touch."

(Albright) That's Duane Chase, who portrayed Werner von Trapp.  He was re-named Kurt in the film. Chase left acting after high school, and became a software engineer. A few fellow cast members have also abandoned the theater. One became an amateur ski champ. Another arranges flowers and sells hand-crafted Santa Clauses. A third is an artist and novelist. When Werner von Trapp, a Waitsfield farmer, died following a stroke a year and a half ago, Chase was, by cruel irony, en route to visit him. To honor his memory, Chase and his movie siblings planted an apple tree planted near the family cemetery next to the Lodge.

Five of the non-Trapps gathered for the dedication... Chase, Heather Menzies, Angela Cartwright, Debbie Turner, and Kym Karath.

VPR/Charlotte Albright
Johannes von Trapp, right, mingles with audience members at the dedication

(Albright) Werner's brother Johannes is the youngest surviving sibling-his mother, the former novice Maria, was pregnant with him when the family escaped Hitler's grip.

(vonTrapp) "Even though my brothers and sisters have been very long lived, slowly I'm losing them, so as I walk around here I see things that one of my sisters did or one of my brothers did and it's evocative of my memories of them, and this will be the same way. When I see this apple tree I'll think of my brother Werner."

(Albright) After the five "non-Trapps" presented a plaque to 94-year-old Maria, step-daughter of the original Maria von Trapp, the family sang one of the film's most beloved tunes.

(Albright) For VPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright.

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