I remember watching The Sound of Music as a child. The beautiful songs, the breathtaking scenery… it was an oasis of a movie, huddled inside the darker story of the Nazi takeover of Austria. The music stayed with me my whole life, just as it did for so many others.
The film was something of a phenomenon when it was released in 1965, holding the title of biggest box office success for several years, surpassing even Gone With the Wind, the previous movie to hold that record. There have been numerous re-releases and new productions, because each new generation keeps coming back to the classic musical. So I know I must not be the only one struck with sadness upon hearing the news that Maria von Trapp, the final surviving member of the Trapp Family Singers, has passed away at age 99.
Maria von Trapp was the third child of Captain von Trapp and his first wife. She was changed into the character Louisa for the film adaptation. The movie (and the Broadway musical that preceded it) was inspired by the book written by the other Maria von Trapp, Captain von Trapp’s second wife who would become Fräulein Maria (played by Julie Andrews, in one of her most iconic roles) in the movie. The real life Trapp Family Singers became a successful singing group and toured and eventually settled in the United States in the 1940s. Their story would go on to become a part of the cultural fabric of many generations.
Maria von Trapp passed away on February 18th, 2014. Her brother, Johannes von Trapp, called her “a lovely woman who was one of the few truly good people. There wasn’t a mean or miserable bone in her body. I think everyone who knew her would agree with that.” She will be missed by many, it would seem.
The power of movies to immortalize their subjects is breathtaking. So perhaps, in a way, the Trapp Family Singers will never truly be gone. In the form of a beautiful and much-loved movie, their family and their musical gifts continue to affect entire generations. And it may not be a completely realistic or entirely factual account of their story, but that does not lessen the impact of a story that portrays the triumph of something good over the worst sort of evil. It seems like a great legacy for any family. Rest in peace, Maria von Trapp.