Familie von Trapp
Family Von Trapp singing in a radioshow in London on Dec. 9, 1937  Imagno/Austrian Archives (S)/Getty Images

Behind The Sound of Music: Why the Real Maria Went to the von Trapps'

Mar 02, 2015

When the movie of The Sound of Music premiered 50 years ago, on Mar. 2, 1965, the world learned the story of would-be nun Maria, whose superiors, at their wits' end over her flightiness, sent her to work as a governess for an Austrian naval captain with seven children.

But in reality, though Maria and the von Trapp family were real people, some details differed. For example, as TIME reported in 1949, before The Sound of Music was a play or a movie, her reason for going to the family was not quite like the cinematic version:

As a novice in a Salzburg convent, Maria Augusta began to get "bad headaches," she says, and her superiors decided to give her a vacation helping care for the seven children of the widowed Baron Georg von Trapp . Maria Augusta married the baron, bore him three children.

All the Trapps sang and in 1937 Soprano Lotte Lehmann heard them at it. She insisted that they enter choral competition at the Salzburg Festival that year. They took first prize, but never sang at Salzburg again; ardently Roman Catholic and ardently anti-Nazi, they left home just before Hitler seized Austria.

The story's description of Maria is about as far from the film's flibbertigibbet as possible. Rather, she has "the charm and will of a medieval matriarch."

Interestingly, an earlier TIME story about the Trapp family, from 1938, reported on the Lotte Lehmann anecdote and the family coming to the U.S. to sing, "surpris[ing] many a gas-station attendant with their dirndl dresses and Lederhosen," with no mention of the Nazis, the actual reason they ended up leaving their homeland. Their transition to living in the U.S. was not completely smooth — though Maria loved long-distance calls, she told TIME that she hated that the envelopes were oblong and that people put mayonnaise on pears — but eventually they settled down in Vermont, where the family still maintains an inn.

Read next: Can Even a Cranky Guy Fall for The Sound of Music?

"The Sound of Music" at 50: The Hills Are Still Alive

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music
Actress Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp with her charges in The Sound of Music.Eliot Elisofon—LIFE
Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music
The Von Trapp Family singers warm up before a performance in New York's Town Hall. The musical "The Sound of Music" was based on their life in Austria. December 5, 1938.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Charmian Carr, costume test, 1965. TM and Copyright (c)20th Century Fox Film Cor
Distant view of crew filming actress Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp with the Von Trapp children for a scene from the motion picture The Sound Of Music.
Christopher Plummer and Duane Chase on the set of The Sound of Music.
Director Robert Wise, Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews, on set of The Sound of Music.
Daniel Truhitte, Charmian Carr, 1965.
Distant view of cast in The Sound of Music.
Actress Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp with her charges in The Sound of Music.
Eliot Elisofon—LIFE
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