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Maria von Trapp

AKA Maria Augusta Kutschera

Born: 26-Jan-1905
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria [1]
Died: 28-Mar-1987
Location of death: Morrisville, VT
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT

Gender: Female
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer

Nationality: Austria
Executive summary: The Sound of Music

Unlike Mary Martin and Julie Andrews, the actresses who most famously portrayed her, the real Maria von Trapp was not particularly pretty, and not at all lacking in confidence. She was described by those who knew her as "a big woman, ... loud and forceful" and "a bitch." She was prone to outbursts of fiery temper, throwing things and screaming at the top of her lungs when she was frustrated. "Telling her to do something," a family friend explained, "was like telling a stone what to do."

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born on a train en route to Vienna, on 26 January 1905. Her parents both died while she was a young child, and she was raised by a stern judge who was distantly related to her and routinely beat her. She converted to Catholicism when she was 18 the judge, she said, had always mocked religion and despised Catholics and within months she joined the Nonnberg Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Salzberg, intending to become a nun.

After two years at the abbey, she was assigned to work as a tutor for a local baron's 11-year-old daughter, who was too ill to attend school. The Baron was Georg von Trapp, an Austrian submarine commander who had been granted his aristocratic title for heroics in the First World War. His first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp (1890-1922), had died of scarlet fever a few years earlier, leaving the Baron to raise their seven children alone, with only the help of the family's butlers and maids.

In The Sound of Music, the widower von Trapp is a cold and distant character who had forbidden the children to sing; in reality he was warm and outgoing, and often played and sang with his children. As seen in the play and movie, he did have the children wear matching sailor's suits, and he did call them by using a naval whistle. Maria arrived at the estate wearing a frumpy dress and carrying a guitar, but she was never the children's governess. She frequently said, though, that she "fell in love" with the children, much more than she ever fell in love with the Baron. She wrote later that she did not love the Baron when they were married in 1927, and she was dismayed and almost sickened at the thought of sleeping with him.

The Baron and Baroness von Trapp had been married for five years when disaster struck in 1932, but Nazis were not involved. The family fortune was lost when a bank collapsed, causing the Baron to suffer a nervous breakdown, but Maria, as usual, took charge of the situation. She fired the household servants, took boarders in the mansion's many rooms, and decided to put her musically-inclined stepchildren on stage as a singing act. The von Trapp Family Choir, as they were originally called, became and remained very popular in Austria as the children grew up, and their concerts were the family's main source of income. Their career was not managed by anyone like the pushy promoter seen in the film; Maria herself managed the family choir, with the help of their parish priest.

In 1938, when word reached the von Trapps' villa that the Germans had annexed Austria, they decided to leave the country. Their getaway, however, did not involve climbing the Alps or sneaking about in the dead of night or any kind of dramatic escape from advancing Nazis. They simply bought train tickets to England by way of Italy (not Switzerland), and once in London they sailed for America. In the United States they tried to replicate the family's success as a musical act, but there was little audience for adolescents who sang Renaissance, Baroque, and Austrian folk songs with German-language lyrics. Georg von Trapp purchased a 660-acre farm in Vermont, where the family ran a music camp. Dropping the "von," they became known as the Trapp Family Singers, and gradually became more successful as they altered their repertoire.

Largely to promote the family's singing act, Maria von Trapp wrote a somewhat fictionalized autobiography in 1949, titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. The book sold well and sold lots of tickets to their concerts, and became the basis for the last collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, The Sound of Music. The play opened on Broadway in 1959, and it was a smash hit, running for more than three years and adapted into the classic film in 1965. In the play and later the movie, all of the children's names were changed. In the film, the real Maria von Trapp can be briefly glimpsed in the background as Julie Andrews sings "I Have Confidence".

After the family fled Austria, the von Trapp estate was seized and used as Nazi SS commander Heinrich Himmler's Austrian headquarters from 1939 until the end of World War II. On their former farmland in Vermont, several of the family's descendants still run the Trapp Family Lodge, a luxurious, Austrian-style vacation destination, which has been the subject of long-running feuds and a lawsuit pitting Trapp against Trapp. Maria is buried on the lodge's grounds.

[1] Born on a train traveling to Vienna.

Father: Karl Kutschera (d. 1914)
Mother: Augusta Rainer Kutschera (d. 1907)
Husband: Georg Ludwig von Trapp (b. 4-Apr-1880, m. 26-Nov-1927, d. 30-May-1947 lung cancer)
Son: Rupert Georg von Trapp (stepson, doctor, b. 1-Nov-1911, d. 22-Feb-1992)
Daughter: Agathe Johanna Erwina Gobertina von Trapp (stepdaughter, teacher, b. 12-Mar-1913, d. 28-Dec-2010)
Daughter: Maria Agatha Franziska Gobertina von Trapp (stepdaughter, missionary, b. 28-Sep-1914, d. 18-Feb-2014)
Son: Werner von Trapp (stepson, dairy farmer, b. 21-Dec-1915, d. 11-Oct-2007)
Daughter: Hedwig Maria Adolphine Gobertina von Trapp (stepdaughter, b. 28-Jul-1917, d. 14-Sep-1972)
Daughter: Johanna Karolina von Trapp Winter (stepdaughter, b. 7-Sep-1919, d. 25-Nov-1994)
Daughter: Martina von Trapp Dupiere (stepdaughter, b. 17-Feb-1921, d. 25-Feb-1951 childbirth)
Daughter: Rosmarie von Trapp (missionary, b. 8-Feb-1929)
Daughter: Eleonore von Trapp-Campbell ("Lorli", b. 14-May-1931)
Son: Johannes von Trapp (innkeeper, b. 17-Jan-1939)

    University: Vienna University of Education

    Converted to Catholicism (1923)
    Austrian Ancestry
    Naturalized US Citizen (1948)

Author of books:
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949, memoir)
Yesterday, Today, and Forever (1952, Christianity)
When the King was Carpenter (1976, Christianity)
Maria: The True Story of the Beloved Heroine of The Sound of Music (1972, memoir)

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