Maria von Trapp: nun, singer, mother, refugee… and the inspiration for The Sound of Music. The life of von Trapp was heroic, shocking, tragic, and almost unbelievable. It seems fairly safe to say that their story will not be forgotten anytime soon. This is truly a case where life is stranger than fiction. Here are 50 melodious facts about Maria von Trapp and her legendary family.
1. She Made An Entrance
Maria von Trapp, then Maria Kutschera, was born in peculiar circumstances. Her mother gave birth to her on a train, mid-journey! Von Trapp’s parents were taking the train from their little Austrian village to Vienna, where the nearest hospital was located. Unfortunately, little Maria couldn’t wait and was born halfway there. What a fitting introduction to the unexpected twists her life would bring.
2. Her Early Years Were Tragic
Von Trapp’s mother, Augusta Rainer, contracted pneumonia and passed when she was just two years old. After this untimely passing, Karl Kutschera, von Trapp’s father, left his daughter in the care of a cousin. Unfortunately for the young girl, this was just the first in a series of devastating childhood tragedies.
3. Her Father Was Not Around
After her father left Maria with his cousin, he spent most of his time traveling the world. Occasionally, Maria was lucky enough to visit him when he was in Vienna. As a result, the young girl did not have much of a relationship with her parents. She would spend most of her childhood with various relatives.
4. She Became An Orphan
From an early age, von Trapp must have known that her life was unusually unlucky. She’d already lost her mother when, in 1912, Karl Kutschera passed on. Maria was just seven years old. The poor girl became an orphan. Maria then passed into the care of her foster mother’s son, a man known as Uncle Franz. Unfortunately, Uncle Franz was not the perfect guardian.
5. Her Uncle Was Cruel
Von Trapp had a complicated relationship with her new guardian, Uncle Franz. At times, Franz was a thoughtful man and cared intensely about social inequality. However, he also had a terrifying dark side. He suffered from mental illnesses and treated Maria rather cruelly. Oftentimes, he would punish her for acts that she had not actually committed.
6. She Made A Great Escape
At 15 years old, shortly after graduating from high school, Maria ran away from home. She stayed with a friend and tried, unsuccessfully, to find work as a tutor. Eventually, Maria managed to secure a job and began to save money. She used it to pay for teacher’s college. However, her teaching career was short.
7. She Made A Life-Changing Decision
The former class clown decided that a life change was in order. After graduating from teacher’s college in 1923, von Trapp moved into a convent and began to live the life of a nun. Though she eventually changed her opinion about having an exclusive marriage to God, von Trapp’s candidacy for the Benedictine novitiate changed her life forever.
8. She Was Given An Assignment
This is where the story might start to sound familiar. In 1926, Maria received orders to go to Baron Georg von Trapp’s house. She worked as a governess. Though she was hired to tutor one of his seven children, she eventually began to take care of them all. When the Baron saw how much she meant to the children, Maria’s entire life was thrown off-kilter.
9. She Received An Unexpected Offer
Not long after she came to his house, Baron von Trapp shocked Maria right to her core. To her complete surprise, he proposed to her. Von Trapp was 25 years older than her. Maria was confused and scared, and she ran back to the convent. After a crisis of faith, and a little prompting from her convent, the nun-to-be chose to marry the Baron. However, there was a minor catch in this unusual love story…
10. She Did Not Love Her Husband
Maria von Trapp has said that she did not love the Baron. She did, however, love his children deeply. Effectively, she married into the von Trapp family so that she could be a mother to the children. Her love for her husband developed as years passed. Once it did, she said that it grew into a true and all-encompassing love.
11. She Did Not Teach The Children To Sing
Despite what the well-known movie depicts, Maria von Trapp did not actually teach the children to sing. Instead, the seven von Trapp kids grew up in a musical household. Georg encouraged and loved song. Later, the band received training from a classical singing teacher and priest named Father Franz Wasner who came to live with them.
12. Her Husband Was A Catch
Maria was not taken by her groom. However, the former nun’s new husband was quite a catch. Von Trapp was a decorated submarine captain and a national hero. He was an officer in the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy, and received a number of awards and medals for his service. In fact, he was actually knighted, and also received the highest military honor in the nation.
13. She Got Sick
On a family hike, the von Trapp’s took a much-needed rest at a farmer’s house—but there was a dark twist to the innocent encounter. What they didn’t know was that the farmer’s family had scarlet fever. Maria and two of the children contracted the deadly illness. The children recovered, but Maria was left with serious complications and was left with lifelong kidney problems.
14. Her Husband Had Money
Most of the Baron’s money actually came from an inheritance… from his first wife. Before he was married to Maria, Georg was married to a woman who contracted scarlet fever and did not survive. Prior to this tragic event, his wife collected a very sizable inheritance. Before their singing careers, the von Trapps lived off of this money.
15. She Lived Under Authoritarian Rule
In 1938, the Germans annexed Austria. Like the rest of the country, the von Trapps were forced to live under authoritarian rule. Georg von Trapp was offered a respectable position in the navy, which was tempting because of their financial situation. However, the Baron was ideologically opposed to the government and refused.
16. Her Family Went Broke
Though the Baron was a rich and famous man when Maria met him, the family soon fell on hard times, like much of the world, during the 1930s. The country was in crisis. Due to financial hardship, the family dismissed the many servants that kept the von Trapp estate running. The family moved into the top floor of their house and rented out the rest.
17. Her Family Had An Idea
The famous Soprano Lotte Lehmann heard the von Trapp family singing. She invited them to take part in a music festival. The family ended up winning a big prize. They decided to try their luck on the circuit and began to perform as a group at concerts. They were highly successful. As a result, the Austrian Chancellor invited them to perform in Vienna.
18. She Witnessed Cruelty
Life under German rule was not kind. Though the von Trapps were not an oppressed family, the von Trapp children found themselves in an increasingly hostile school environment. They regularly witnessed serious acts of hatred toward Jewish classmates. The parents became ever more disheartened with their country.
19. She Met Someone
In 1938, von Trapp and her family happened upon the Fuhrer in a restaurant. The family took a trip to Munich, where they came across the leader of the Third Reich at the dinner table. Little is known about this meeting. However, given the family’s position on the Fuhrer, it can be assumed that it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience.
20. She Was Asked To Sing
Soon after, the struggling family choir received a really big invitation—but there was a disturbing dark side. The invitation was not one that they had hoped for. Hitler invited the von Trapps to perform for him, personally. Unsurprisingly, the family refused the prestigious invitation. It is likely that this refusal became one of the major driving forces behind their next life altering move.
21. She Made Another Break For It
The mid-30s were not a good time for anyone in Austria. The family’s recent experiences made them even more unhappy with their country. In the end, the von Trapp family fled Austria. It wasn’t like the movie depiction, however, and the family did not escape in the dead of night. Instead, they simply took a train to Italy.
22. Her House Was Repurposed
After they left, the von Trapp estate in Austria took on a new, sinister purpose. Instead of housing a wholesome family choir, the estate became the new headquarters for Heinrich Himmler, one of the highest ranking members of the Third Reich. It even had a special room designed to host The Fuhrer when he visited Austria.
23. She Made A Big Move
The von Trapps had a job lined up in American when they left Austria. Though they traveled Europe for a while, their plan was always to cross the pond. They set sail in 1939. Then, they embarked on their very first professional concert tour with the man who had helped to set up their immigration.
24. She Made It In America
In America, the von Trapp family began touring under the name “The Trapp Family Singers.” The group was an instant success throughout the US and Canada. Though they made little money, they toured constantly and had no trouble finding gigs. Their wholesome, melodic vibe was a huge hit in the Depression era.
25. She Had A Lot Of Children
Georg von Trapp already had seven children when Maria entered the family. Once she eventually connected with her husband, the couple had three more, making Maria the mother to ten children. This large stock actually ended up being rather convenient, as it was easy to substitute members of the band when they had other commitments.
26. Her Family Built An Estate
When they achieved success in America, the von Trapp family bought a huge property in Vermont and turned it into a family estate. They built a lodge where the family lived. Their close family bond became a source of great interest to the public. The Trapp Family Lodge is still run by the Trapp family and is now a huge tourist destination.
27. She Described Herself As Horrid
Maria von Trapp was a self-proclaimed troublemaker. According to her memoirs, she spent her youthful years as a “horrid” child, causing mischief and mayhem just for the fun of it. In retrospect, the life that she was allotted might have had a lot to do with her “bad” behavior. In any case, she more than made up for it in her later years.
28. She Inspired Two German Films
After they arrived stateside, The von Trapp story became a global sensation. Even prior to their Hollywood debut, Maria and her family were the subject of multiple film adaptations. In 1956, a comedy called The Trapp Family was released in Germany. Two years later, another German film, titled The Trapp Family In America, was released. Both films were big hits.
29. She Was A Tough Mother
You’d never know it from The Sound of Music but, by all accounts, Maria von Trapp was a strict, disciplinary mother. She really kept a tight leash on all ten children. Likewise, Georg von Trapp was not the strict man that the adaptations of his life suggest. Instead, he had a reputation as a warm, kind, and gentle father.
29. Her Family Became Incredibly Famous
The world truly could not get enough of this family. For a number of years, the von Trapp family was the most successful group signed to Columbia. They permanently settled in the United States, and then toured North America and Europe, almost year-round, for 20 years. They released at least four full records during their years as a group.
30. She Renounced Show Biz
After many years in the spotlight, the Trapp Family matriarch stepped away from it all. At first, Maria von Trapp simply moved back to Vermont to run the family lodge. Soon after, however, she turned her back on everything she’d known. She renounced her singing career and headed to the South Pacific to work as a missionary. When producers tried to contact her about a film adaptation, she ripped up the contracts.
31. She Inspired A Broadway Play
The family exploded on the live circuit. As a result, the von Trapp name carried serious weight in the mid-20th century. Even better, their story was inspiring and exciting. Even before Hollywood decided to adapt the Trapp story for the big screen, The Sound Of Music appeared as a Broadway play starring the incredible Mary Martin.
32. She Inspired A Classic Film
This fact will not surprise you. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Maria von Trapp and her family are the real life story behind The Sound of Music. This film was actually an adaptation of the Broadway play, which was itself adapted from Maria’s autobiography. This classic really cemented the Trapp family’s place in the history books.
33. Her Role Was Offered To Another Star
The iconic Julie Andrews was not always slated to be the star of The Sound of Music. In fact, prior to her selection, producers were considering other actresses for the role of Maria, the loving mother. When casting, filmmakers strongly considered Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn for the role. Other possibilities included Grace Kelly and Shirley Jones.
34. Austria Hated The Film
The Sound of Music was a major success in America. However, in Austria, it was a flop. Apparently, the Austrian audiences did not like the stereotypical, Americanized version of their country that appeared on screen. Apparently, even the songs were not authentic Austrian songs! In contrast, the von Trapp family itself was still wildly popular in Austria.
35. Her Family Was Changed
The von Trapp family might have had an exciting and fascinating life; however, that was apparently not enough. Producers dramatically changed the family for film. For the sake of cinema, the oldest von Trapp child, Rupert, was removed from the family. Filmmakers created a character, Liesl, and replaced him. She had a well-known love story with a young German officer. However, in real life, this romance never happened.
36. She Wrote A Bestseller
Maria was not only a world famous singer—she was also a bestselling author. In 1949, Maria released an autobiography of her family titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Apparently, it took a lot of coaxing from friends to get the pious woman to record her tale. Eventually, she did. It’s a good thing too—the autobiography served as the basis for all later adaptations of her life.
37. She Didn’t Like Her Portrayal
Maria liked the cinematography, but thought that the American film was entirely inaccurate. Not only did she take issue with the course of events and geographical errors, she took particular issue with her own depiction on screen—but not for the inaccuracies, or any other reasons you’d expect. Her own life had been wild and untamed in her early years, she said, and the on-screen depiction was far too ladylike.
38. She Kept The Band Together
It was through sheer willpower and task mastering that Maria kept the family group together. Just imagine trying to corral 10 children along day after day on the road! According to her children, Maria was the anchor and captain of the entire group. She kept the band together when it would, otherwise, have fallen apart!
39. She Gave It All Away
Maria von Trapp signed away the rights to her story when the German film adaptations of her autobiography were being made. This was not one of her wisest moves. When Hollywood decided to make a movie about the von Trapp family, the producers purchased the rights from the Germans. Despite being one of the most successful films in history, the von Trapps made almost no money from The Sound of Music.
40. She Made A Surprise Appearance
von Trapp did not like the film adaptation of her life. That didn’t stop her from participating in its making. If you watch closely, you can actually see the real Maria von Trapp in the background of The Sound of Music. In one scene, Maria, her daughter, and another child walk through an archway behind Julie Andrews.
41. She Taught Julie Andrews To Yodel
Though Maria did not find more than a brief place in the iconic film about her life, she later taught the Hollywood superstar who played her to yodel. The fun lesson was even caught on camera and recorded for a television special. You really have to wonder if Andrews ever had the chance to try out her new talent afterwards.
42. She Ran A Weird Summer Camp
The von Trapp family’s close, and profitable, bond amazed the world. Their family structure was in such demand, in fact, that Maria ran a summer camp out of the von Trapp family lodge for a number of years, teaching people the family ways. Of course, it will come as no surprise that the camp also doubled as a music camp.
43. She Was Fiercely Religious
Maria von Trapp may have left the convent life behind, but her faith never wavered. For the entirety of her life, Maria was fiercely religious. In fact, she believed that singing was a form of praying and that her musical career was an ode to God. The von Trapp matriarch ensured that her household was pious and humble no matter how successful they became.
44. She Struggled In America
Like many newcomers, the von Trapp family had difficulty with the customs and language in their new home. Though they eventually achieved huge success, the family entered the country as refugees and their first few years were difficult. Still, it was a small price to pay to dodge invitations from authoritarian rulers.
45. Her Husband Never Performed
After marrying in, Maria really became the center of the household, and the face of the von Trapp Family. Through all the years of fame, Georg von Trapp never actually graced the stage as a singer, though he was a huge music fan and a big supporter of the group.
46. She Sent Relief To Austria
After WWII, the global financial crisis smashed Austria, leaving it poverty-stricken. Maria founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief Fund and began to send food, clothing, and supplies to people in need in her home country.
47. Her Home Burnt Down
After making it in America, and building a massive state in rural Vermont, the von Trapp family fell victim to tragedy yet again. A fire broke out and quickly spread through the von Trapp family home, decimating the lodge. Talk about bad luck. Fortunately, everyone made it out with no injuries, but that didn’t mean everything was hunky-dory.
48. A Fire Destroyed The Originals
In 2008, a huge fire broke out in Universal Studios, which took over 12 hours to extinguish. The fire was disastrous. It destroyed 175,000 original audio recordings. Unfortunately for the von Trapp legacy, a huge collection of the family’s recordings were among those lost. Thankfully, copies of most exist.
49. They Snubbed Her
When it was time for The Sound of Music to make its premiere, Maria von Trapp patiently waited for an invitation—only to be the victim of an act of heartbreaking betrayal. When she called the producer, he told her that there were no seats left. Talk about disrespect. It seems that the famous von Trapp temper did little to sway the producer, and the real-life Maria did not end up making it to the premier.
50. She Had A Bad Temper
If all you knew about Maria von Trapp was from the Julie Andrews character, this will likely come as a shock. Von Trapp actually had a famously bad temper. However, it seems that Hollywood decided that this wouldn’t go over well with audiences. When her likeness appeared on screen, von Trapp became a warm, loving, and angelic figure.