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12 Surprising Facts About “The Sound of Music”

The only thing more unexpected about the romance between a young nun and a widowed captain during Nazi Germany’s takeover of Austria is how its 1965 film retelling has become one of the most beloved movie classics. Not only did The Sound of Music win five of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for in 1966, including Best Picture, but it’s also become a holiday viewing tradition, aired annually in December.

So, let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!) — here are a dozen facts you might not know about the beloved movie musical.

The Film’s Opening Number is Different Than the Broadway Show

Few movies open on a scene as iconic as The Sound of Music, with Maria (Julie Andrews) twirling through the green hills of the Untersberg mountains in the Alps singing, “The hills are alive.” But the original 1959 stage production — which was the final collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II — opened in a very different way: with the nuns chanting “Dixit Dominus.” The switch was one of the first things that screenwriter Ernest Lehman did when he got his hands on the stage script.

Mia Farrow Was Considered for the Role of Liesl

Mia Farrow with husband Frank Sinatra.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

The casting team interviewed hundreds of actors in New York, Los Angeles, and London to play the children, and about 200 of them ended up auditioning for director Robert Wise. Eventually, he had two sets of seven kids and mix-and-matched until Heather Menzies was cast as Louisa, Nicholas Hammond as Friedrich, Duane Chase as Kurt, Angela Cartwright as Brigitta, Debbie Turner as Marta, and Kym Karath as Gretl, according to Laurence Maslon’s book The Sound of Music Companion. The role of Liesl was a bit more challenging because of the romantic storyline. Stars on the rise, including Mia Farrow, Victoria Tennant, Teri Garr, and Lesley Ann Warren, were all on the list. But Charmian Farnon rose to the top, even though she had no experience and producers were worried her name was too difficult to say. So the then-21-year-old actress took on the stage name of Charmian Carr and kept the role.

Mother Abbess and Maria Originally Sang “My Favorite Things”

A delightfully free-wheeling scene is when Maria leads the von Trapp kids in remembering their favorite things during a frightening thunderstorm that makes Gretl want to cry. But in the original musical, the song had a completely different feel since it was performed by Mother Abbess (played by Peggy Wood in the film) and Maria. There still was a thunderstorm cheering-up tune in the stage play — but the song they sang was “The Lonely Goatherd,” without a puppet show.

Christopher Plummer’s Voice Was Dubbed

Captain Georg von Trapp, sitting with a guitar singing “Edelweiss” to his children.
Credit: Pictorial Press Ltd/ Alamy Stock Photo

One of the most heart-tugging moments of the film is when Christopher Plummer’s character, Captain Georg von Trapp, sings “Edelweiss” to his children. Though the moment feels raw and real — some of what we hear isn’t actually Plummer. “The entrances and exits from the songs were my voice, and then they filled in — in those days, they were very fussy about matching voices in musicals,” the actor told NPR in 2012. “And Julie, of course, had been trained since Day One, I mean, she was tone perfect since she was in her cradle, which is an exasperating thing to admit. And it was awfully hard to match her and her sustained, long notes … they did it very well ‘cause it sounded very much like me.”

Liesl Introduced Rolf to Maria in a Cut Scene

Maria taught the von Trapp children the beauty of music while prancing around Salzburg in the musical number “Do Re Mi” — but originally there was a more serious moment in between the frolicking. According to Julia Antopol Hirsch’s book The Sound of Music: The Making of America’s Favorite Movie, Liesl saw Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) delivering telegrams amid the song sequence and beckoned him over to introduce him to Maria. The moment was cut because it “interrupted the flow of the montage,” the book said.

Andrews Didn’t Dangle from the Tree

When the Captain returns to Salzburg with Baroness Schraeder (Eleanor Parker) by his side, he drives down a road with children hanging from trees who he calls “street urchins” before he realizes they are his kids. While Maria was also up in the limbs in the scene, Andrews never made the climb. It was one of the few scenes where her stand-in Larri Thomas can be spotted on screen, according to Hirsch’s book.

There’s a Historical Mistake at the Fruit Stand

Maria and the von Trapp children at a fruit stand.
Credit: Ronald Grant/ C20TH FOX/ TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX/ Alamy Stock Photo

One of the most light-hearted moments of the film is the visit to the marketplace fruit stand in the middle of “Do Re Mi.” But keen-eyed viewers will see that a crate is totally out of place since it’s marked with oranges that are “produce of Israel.” The problem? The story is set in the 1930s — and Israel didn’t become a country until 1948.

A Normally Off-Limits Nunnery Let the Production Film Its Exterior

View of Salzburg, Austria showing Nonnberg Abbey.
Credit: Fabio Lotti/ Shutterstock

Though Nonnberg Abbey is such a crucial part of the story, the actual working Benedictine nunnery was off-limits to the Hollywood production — but they did make one exception. The crew was allowed to film the scene where the children visited Maria after she suddenly left them at the actual exterior of the nunnery. In the scene, the children use a pull bell, which was added by production, to seek permission to enter the abbey. The abbey’s Mother Superior liked the bell so much that she kept it up after shooting, according to Maslon.

Rainy Weather Kept Prolonging Production

What was originally supposed to be a six-week shoot nearly doubled to 11 weeks because of the constant rain in Salzburg — after all, Austria’s Alps regions can get more than 78 inches of rain a year. The result was a lot of waiting around, as well as a lot of time exploring the city. Plummer was known to frequent the piano bar of Hotel Bristol where he stayed, while Andrews stayed at the Hotel Sacher.

Firecrackers Went Off in Hong Kong When the Movie Won Best Picture

Wise was hard at work on another film, The Sand Pebbles, in Hong Kong the night of the Oscars in 1966. Andrews ended up accepting his trophy for Best Director, and when the film was announced as the Best Picture winner, the gunboat where Wise was filming erupted in celebration. “Firecrackers went off, and Chinese dragon dancers that the crew had secreted in the hold came charging out, banging drums,” Carr wrote in her memoir Forever Liesl.

The Oscar-winning Film Wasn’t the First Movie About the von Trapps

Still from Die Trapp-Familie In Amerika showing the Von Trapp family singing to a couple.
Credit: FilmPublicityArchive/ United Archives via Getty Images

After moving to the U.S., the real Maria von Trapp wrote her memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was published in 1949. She eventually sold the film rights to German producers, who made two movies: Die Trapp-Familie in 1956 and the sequel, Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika in 1958. In the process, she also gave up the rights to her story, so the American producers bought the rights from the German ones and the von Trapps, despite being world-famous, never saw the profits from the blockbuster film.

The von Trapps Now Run a Lodge in Vermont

The actual von Trapps ended up taking their act on the road, eventually touring in the U.S. as the Trapp Family Singers in the 1940s before settling in Stowe, Vermont. “As soon as they saw the views, they fell in love with Vermont,” Maria and Georg’s grandson Sam von Trapp told Airbnb Magazine, adding that it reminded them of Austria. In 1950, they opened the Trapp Family Lodge, which can still be visited today and is still run by the family.

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