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Johannes & Sam von Trapp

The youngest of the real von Trapp children and his son on the trouble with The Sound of Music

Johannes I admit I have mellowed and changed my opinion

When people ask me how the 1965 movie The Sound about the movie over the years. I’ve come to realise that
of Music affected our lives here, I am quick to tell them it means so much to so many people because it expresses
that after it appeared, everything — and I mean such universal themes as love of country, of a man and
everything — changed. We became instant celebrities. a woman, and of family.
Before the movie and the earlier Broadway musical, my Of course it has been good for business, it has
family, the Trapp Family Singers, were well known certainly brought us guests. But we haven’t raked in
among people who liked baroque music but we were as much money in royalties as some may suspect. My
not widely famous. But once the film came out we mother is partly to blame. Instead of having an agent
became the property of the public. and a lawyer advise, she sold the movie rights to her
Suddenly the clientele that came to our small lodge book to a German company for a pittance. The
here in Stowe, Vermont, where we settled in 1942 after producers of the Broadway musical felt badly about this
we left Austria [in 1938, after it was annexed by Nazi and cut my mother in on some of the royalties. We do
Germany] were very different. And instead of asking us have a participation in royalties but not a huge amount.
to sing madrigals and classic songs they expected us to I was the only one of the children who was born in the
sing Do-Re-Mi. Believe it or not, some lodge guests still US; most of them came to this country as adults and
expect to be greeted by the singing von Trapp children, their lives changed drastically. I may have found things
even though the movie is almost 60 years old. Of ten easier because of that but I had never intended to end
children only Rosmarie and I are still alive [Georg von up running the family business [the Trapp Family
Trapp had seven children with his first wife, Agathe. Lodge, a Austrian-styled mountain resort in Stowe].
Johannes, Rosmarie and their late sister Eleonore are the I earned a master’s degree from Yale University’s School
children of Maria von Trapp, who became the matriarch of Forestry and intended to get a PhD, but I came back
of the family when she married Georg in 1927]. to help with the lodge and left again to operate ranches
Incidentally, it’s no secret that I am not a great fan of in British Columbia and Montana before returning
Do-Re-Mi. It’s not exactly that I hate it, I’ve just heard it here to take over the running of the place.
a million times. In fact for years the piano player here at My time away from home helped me eventually to
the lodge had an agreement with me. If he were playing tell Sam to go off and do his own thing for ten years.
Do-Re-Mi or Edelweiss for our guests and he saw me I thought it was important he experienced the real
come in, he’d immediately switch to play a different tune.
The rest of the family also had some issues with the
movie. For example, my father was nothing like the
cold, strict, disciplinarian depicted in the film. My
mother was more like that — very determined and less
like the sugary-sweet character Julie Andrews portrayed.
There are a lot of other mistakes in the movie but we
realised that was par for the course with a Hollywood
production. After all, the film is a Hollywood version of
the Broadway version of the German film version of the
book that my mother wrote. So it’s not surprising that it
was less than accurate.

“It’s no secret that I am not a great

fan of Do-Re-Mi. It’s not that I hate
it, I’ve just heard it a million times”
8 • The Sunday Times Magazine
world and not just this little island we have created After college I left home and taught skiing in Aspen
here. I remembered it was crucial for me to get away and in Portillo, Chile. I think my father thought it was
from the family mystique for a while and do my own important for me and my sister to have experiences in
thing. That helped me balance my outlook on the world other places. He thought that if you are going to live the
and I felt it could do the same for Sam. rest of your life in the town you were born in, it’s
beneficial to live somewhere else for a while so as not
Sam to have regrets later in life. After ten years I got the call
I’ve often described my own relationship with The Sound that he wanted help. He called me up one day and said,
of Music as confusing. I’ve only seen it once, when I was “If you don’t come back, son, I am going to sell the
about seven or eight, and it wasn’t a big part of my life place.” A couple of months later I was back.
growing up. Thinking back, I realise my sister, Kristina, It has certainly been a dynamic 18 months for our
and I grew up watching some of our relatives who were industry since the pandemic began. First we closed
tired of constantly having to answer questions about it. everything down, then we learnt to navigate operating
Over time, we had a chance to form our own a people-centric business during a pandemic, and now
relationship with the musical. I eventually felt it we’ve just had our busiest summer ever.
was quite selfish to see it only from our own My father is a little bit of a rogue as a business person.
perspective. More than a billion people have seen the His attitude or philosophy is often, “Damn the
musical and we’ve heard so many stories of its positive torpedoes, full speed ahead!” For example he planned
james buck for the sunday times magazine, patrice cleaves

impact on so many of them. And I don’t know if Dad our first brewery in the middle of the recession, with
knows this, but I actually like Do-Re-Mi. I know he the understanding that he needed to do something
hates it. In fact, a week or so ago I sang it to my two that was uplifting for us, our employees and our guests.
sons, who are five and three. It was an exciting project at a time when life was
Dad was careful to never spoil us. Or let us feel that Main: Johannes, 82, somewhat pessimistic. He was not the banker’s best
we were movie stars. Kristina and I started working at and Sam, 49, at the friend — they want to know what’s happening in the
the family lodge when I was eight and she was ten. Our lodge, and, above, next six months — but my dad with a degree in forest
first job was cleaning the coffee station in the ski centre, with Sam’s children. ecology thinks in hundred-year time frames. He has a
then we both worked as bellhops. I had a hard time Left: the von long-term approach. And it has worked wonderfully n
carrying bags because I was so short but I loved being a Trapps perform at
bellman because it gave me interaction with the guests. Christmas, 1943. Interviews by Robert Kiener
I did it through high school and college. I liked being Johannes is the boy Photograph by James Buck
the first and last contact the guest had with the lodge. in the centre Visit

The Sunday Times Magazine • 9

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