1. The real Maria was not in love with Captain von Trapp …
… At least not at first. In the movie The Sound of Music, Maria fell for the children and Georg von Trapp simultaneously. But in real life when he proposed, “I really and truly was not in love,” Maria wrote in her 1948 memoir. “I liked him but I didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, and so in a way I really married the children.”
2. Maria was not the one who taught the von Trapp children how to sing.
In 1935, a young priest named Father Franz Wasner came to the von Trapp villa. When he heard the family sing in four-part harmony, Wasner thought they had potential and began teaching them more complicated material. About a year later, they caught the attention of Lotte Lehmann, the muse of composer Richard Strauss and Vienna’s premier soprano. That summer, she was performing at the Salzburg music festival and insisted that the von Trapps sing at its competition. They won first prize, which helped launch their career. By 1937, the Trapp Chamber Choir was well known enough to go on a European concert tour.
When the stage version of The Sound of Music was being written, Maria von Trapp was very upset that Father Wasner (shown left, center left, next to Captain von Trapp) did not exist in the show. The writers told her that the show could contain either Father Wasner or Maria, but not both.
3. The eldest von Trapp was not a daughter who was “16 going on 17″—and none of the children fell in love with a Nazi.
While the main story of The Sound of Music was taken from the biography of the Von Trapps, the subplot of Liesl and her romance with Rolf, a telegraph delivery boy who became a Nazi, was the invention of the writers. Of all the changes made to their story, the Liesl/Rolf subplot most stupefied the von Trapps. The eldest von Trapp child was Rupert, a strapping, 54-year-old Vermont physician when the movie was released. For years, when people asked him which of the von Trapp kids he was, he’d curtsy and say, “I’m Liesl.”
4. While the von Trapps did walk out of Austria with a knapsack each, they had something valuable waiting for them in America.
They had one thing that most refugees can only dream about: a job. A year earlier, an American impresario had offered the family a chance to sing in New York. In August 1938, each family member packed one rucksack, pretending they were going on a family vacation to Italy.
5. The von Trapps did not escape Austria by climbing a mountain.
Instead, they calmly boarded a train, which took them into the south Tyrol, part of Italy. It turns out that they did leave in the nick of time—the next day, the Nazis closed the border. The family was always amused that the musical’s creators took them over the Alps to Switzerland: “Don’t they know geography in Hollywood? Salzburg does not border on Switzerland!” Maria told a reporter in 1967.
6. In real life, Maria von Trapp was the taskmaster, while the Baron was the softy.
Maria set the priorities, managed the finances, and determined the artistic direction of their singing group. She was the martinet, dictating economy, discipline, and focus when they toured. Georg—whose performing role was largely limited to being introduced to the audience before the finale—attended to domestic details and provided moral support.
7. After arriving in America, the Trapp Family Singers became Columbia’s most successful choral group.
For nearly a decade—from roughly the mid-1940s into the mid-1950s—the von Trapps toured three seasons out of the year. During World War II, they averaged more than 100 U.S. concerts in the a year, earning average fees of $1,000 per concert.