Monday, March 2, 2015

Tom Santopietro: The Sound of Music Story

You know how Sister Berthe always makes me kiss the floor after we've had a disagreement? Well,
Julie Andrews and co-stars perform The Lonely Goatherd. Photo: Associated Press
lately I've taken to kissing the floor whenever I see her coming, just to save time.

-Maria, The Sound of Music

Elysa Gardner wrote in USA Today, "Fifty years ago today, one of our most enduring film love affairs began with the delivery of raindrops on roses." How right she is!  
The Sound of Music is a 1965 American musical drama film directed and produced by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film is an adaptation of the 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music, with songs written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the musical book written by the writing team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and the screenplay written by Ernest Lehman.It is hard to believe that it was fifty years ago (March 2nd, 2015) that The Sound of Music premiered. I still remember the marquee of the Holiday Theatre in Conway South Carolina on Main Street with The Sound of Music for what seemed like, at the time, forever. I,unfortunately, did not see it until I was an adult. I can't believe that either. I also have never seen it in a movie theatre! Only on television. It is one of my favorite movies and the next time it is shown in a movie theatre, I am there!
One other place that I am going to be on March 2nd is Barnes and Noble on 86th and Lexington at 7PM.
The actual von Trapp family
Author Tom Santopietro will be interviewed by Ted Chapin from The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. 150 East 86th St, New York, New York 10128 7PM to discuss his latest book The Sound of Music Story.
Tom has written four books prior to this one. The first book, The Importance of Being Barbra, was about Miss Streisand. The second book was Considering Doris Day. The third was Sinatra in Hollywood and the fourth was The Godfather Effect. The first two books were about these great singing actresses. The next two books were very Italian American. Now, he is on to an iconic film.
When it was released 50 years ago, The Sound of Music became one of the most successful films of all time. It was based on the true story of the von Trapp family.
 The Sound of Music made Julie Andrews — who by then had also filmed 1964's Mary Poppins, which earned her an Academy Award, and The Americanization of Emily — one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Last week , Lady Gaga surprised the world with her outstanding singing of a medley of songs from The Sound of Music on the Oscars. First of all, she sang it in Julie Andrews' original key. It was a throwback for us baby boomers of a time when these great songs would be performed on the Oscars. I especially loved the fact that there were no gimmicks! Just great talent showcased! Kudos to Stephen Oremus, musical director for this years Oscars.  
It brought the past to the present in rich clarity.

Michael Reidel had this to say in The New York Post: This year’s Oscars ceremony was, by all accounts, a letdown. But I confess to enjoying Lady Gaga’s medley from “The Sound of Music,” and Julie Andrews gave the evening something it’s lacked for years — the elegance of old Hollywood.

One thing is certain, The Sound of Music has not diminished in appeal over the past fifty years. If anything, it has gotten stronger.
Audrey Hepburn was the studio’s first choice for the part of Maria. Julie Andrews was cheaper and younger.
As much as I am looking forward to seeing Ted Chapin sit down to interview Tom Santopietro tomorrow night, I wish it was me! I got my chance last week. Tom and I sat down to discuss his latest book and this blog is the result of that interview.
The actors who played the von Trapp family were reunited on Oprah Winfrey's TV show. Photograph: George Burns/AP
From the beginning, nobody loved The Sound of Music but the audience. When it was announced that Ernest Lehman would write a script based on the Broadway hit, Burt Lancaster told him: “Jesus, you must need the money.” When asked to direct, Stanley Donen refused to have anything to do with it. When Lehman sounded out Gene Kelly about directing, he led his questioner to the door of his home and said, “Go find someone else to direct this piece of s---!”(Source: The Wall Street Journal)
How did Tom settle on The Sound of Music for his latest book? First of all, it is a topic that he is really interested in. When he chooses a topic for a book, it has to be something that he is willing to live with for two years. From the day he starts research to the day it comes out is usually two years. He always wonders how someone writes a book on Hitler or Stalin. He wouldn't want to live with those subjects for two years.
For Tom, before he writes a word, he does a lot of research.He tries to do as much research as possible before beginning to write. With The Sound of Music, there have been a couple of books on the film before. He read all of the books on the von Trapps and Rodgers and Hammerstein. He read about Robert Wise's career. By the time he starts to actually write something, he wants everything readily accessible in his brain.Then, he's off and running.

Let's start at the very beginning...  
The very first interview that Tom did on this book was Johannes von Trapp. He is the youngest of Maria's children with the Captain. It was a great way to start because he is in such a unique position, not only as an actual von Trapp, but also from a surreal position.
Photo of Tom with Arise and Shine hosts Priya and Rain Pryor during his appearance on the ARISE TV network
He has watched a world famous movie that gives a "version" of his family's life. It was a great way to get a view of The Sound of Music myth.    
There were no "official" obstacles in Tom's way in terms of writing this book. The Rodgers and Hammerstein's organization, headed by Ted Chapin, were great and very supportive. Ted Chapin and also Bert Fink.
Julie Andrews has said on camera that Bert knows more about The Sound of Music than anyone else. 
Tom wanted to interview Julie for the book and her manager wrote back very quickly and said that Miss Andrews is not talking to anyone regarding the subject of The Sound of Music right now because she is saving all of her stories about the film for her upcoming sequel to her autobiography. That is not something that Tom could argue with, obviously.
There is a new documentary that is part of the 50th Anniversary DVD. There seem to be new versions every five years, each time there is a momentous anniversary. Tom is not part of that. That was all done through Twentieth Century Fox. Tom's book is an independent project, but he considers it an "outsider's" book because it comes from someone who really loves the film. He is trying to analyze what it is about this film that speaks to
people all around the world.
Tom also did not interview Christopher Plummer. Ironically, Tom interviewed him at Barnes and Noble for the launch of his autobiography. Tom corresponded with Plummer's agent. He "almost" had the interview and he wrote back and said, "Christopher really feels that he has put the official record of all of his thoughts on The Sound of Music into his autobiography."
Tom did have a great interview with Dan Truhitte, who played the role of Rolf.
He had a really interesting perspective on the process. Tom also had an interview with Marni Nixon which was a lot of fun. He also had a terrific interview with Dede Wood, the choreographer of the film.He also interviewed Georg Steiner who was Robert Wise's assistant director on the European shooting. Tom got actor, choreographer, someone associated with the director. Tom was trying to cover various areas of the film. Unfortunately, so many of the creative personnel beyond the actors are no longer with us.
Peggy Wood
Robert Wise and Boris Levin (production designer) and Ted McCord (cinematographer) are all gone.
The one thing that really jumps out at Tom with his journey on this book is the fact that the von Trapp children all felt that their father was not captured accurately in the film. He was, in truth, a very warm man who loved music. They grew up, basically, with lots of music. They also played instruments.
When Tom spoke with Johannes and read the comments of the other children, this all really surprised him. The Captain was very different in real life.
A glimpse of the world premiere of The Sound Of Music, exactly 50 years ago today!
The musical continued screening at the Rivoli Theatre for 93 weeks after its release date on March 2, 1965.
One of the criticisms of the film is that it is "sugar coated" and sentimental. The film shows the von Trapps defying the Nazis with the Captain refusing to serve in the Navy. What Tom really learned was that the von Trapps defied Hitler three times.They could have been killed for that. That took real courage and those scenes dealing with the Captain and his interactions with the Nazis are Tom's answer to the film being "sugar coated".
As of this writing, at Barnes and Noble tonight (March 2nd, 2015) at 7PM, Tom Santopietro's book launch takes place for The Sound of Music Story. He will be interviewed by Ted Chapin of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization (86th & Lexington).
He also has a couple of events coming up at a couple of libraries here in New York and Connecticut. He has a talk coming up in Ohio, so he gets to do this in a different part of the country.
He recently did a TV show in Connecticut on the afternoon of the publishing date on a show called The Better Connecticut.There is some television interest in the book. There are foreign publications coming up so Tom is very happy about that.
There are a lot of little facts sprinkled throughout this book that will surprise some readers. They will see the breadth of the fan base.  That is another aspect that Tom really wanted to talk about. So you have a rock star like Gwen Stefani saying it is her favorite film of all time. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the fact that when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, they were having an economic summit in Virginia and they had prepared a briefing book for him and the next day James Baker noticed that the book had not even been touched the next morning. He said, Mr. President, you haven't read this. You haven't touched this." Ronald Regan said, "Jim, how could I have done that? The Sound of Music was on television last night." That really astonished Tom.
Another interesting fact is that they could not use the real von Trapp villa because the house was taken over during World War II and a wall was built around the house. It was horrifying. Another interesting fact is that the von Trapps did not escape over the Alps. They took a train. The Sound of Music was one of only five films that Chairman Mao would allow to be shown.
The advice that Tom would offer any aspiring writer who wishes to write a book celebrating a film or person is to make sure that it is a topic that will appeal to a "general" audience.Also, think about what you can bring to it that is unique.
What Tom tried to do with this book is to tell the "making of..." story. The filming stories are always fun. The people reading the book will read about Julie Andrews' experiences filming the title song. The draft of the helicopter was so severe that she kept getting knocked over into the grass.There are those kind of "fun" moments. Tom wanted to mix that with a bit of a film historian's viewpoint. This is why the film is so great. Robert Wise was one of the greatest directors of all time. Tom would say, once again, to aspiring writers, make sure you bring your own unique perspective.
Tom will never understand why detractors of the film deny their very own emotional response to the film.
The book is now in stores. If you are unable to attend Barnes and Noble HERE.
Maria von Trapp
tonight (86th and Lexington), you can order the book
The book is being published around the world! It certainly has universal appeal. Tom knows it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with The Sound of Music.
His only regret with the book is not getting the opportunity to interview Julie Andrews. He did the best job he could do and there is a satisfaction in that.
Tom absolutely remembers the first time he saw The Sound of Music. He talks about this in the book. Not only do people love the film, but it is a touchstone to their own childhood. People always remember when they saw it for the first time. People are reacting to it on two levels. He was eleven years old and at the Hamden, Connecticut Cinema and the film just imprinted itself on his brain. He watched it over and over again in preparation for this book. It is going to be re released for three days in various movie theatres. I have never seen it in a movie theatre and I hope that Tom will join me! Twentieth Century Fox has planned this but dates and locations have not been released yet. It is being planned over a weekend arc.
The moment in the film that touches Tom among all others is when the Captain sings with his children for the first time. That is the reconciliation among them and that is so genuinely touching. The original director of the film was William Wyler and he was the wrong person for this film. He never connected to the material, but he said the one moment that made him choke up was when the Captain started singing with his children. Even a tough guy like William Wyler was affected by that moment.
Now that Tom has really dissected the film, he has even more admiration for the craftsmanship of the film. All along he knew Julie Andrews was fantastic in it, but when he really looks at the film now, he thinks about Robert Wise and cinematographer Ted McCord. the costume designer, Dorothy Jeakins. The reason why the film is so great is that it was the tail end of the Hollywood Studio system, the Golden Age. These were old school pros still at the top of their game. That world has vanished now.
Julie Andrews Maria jumper and autographed guitar from The Sound of Music
We live in a world today where everybody is "ironic". Everyone views the world through the prism of irony. The Sound of Music has what Tom calls "heart on its sleeve" emotion. Now, that is startling today and pretty terrific.
When Tom thinks about the appeal of the film, he thinks, at heart, is the fact that it is about family. It is all about the love within that family. THAT is why it has such universal appeal.
It makes Tom sort of laugh when he thinks that his previous book was about The Godfather. Nothing could be further from The Sound of Music except that both of those films are about family.
They are both about the love and support you get from your family. Of course, one family solves its problems by singing show tunes, the other by using machine guns, but, at heart, you know the family is going to be there for you. We live in an imperfect world and everybody knows that families are not always "happily ever after" the way the von Trapps are on screen, but that's what we all want.
What gets Tom out of bed in the morning? There is always something new to discover.
In closing, what Tom wanted to get across in The Sound of Music Story, is a deep respect for the craftsmanship on the part of ALL the creators and an understanding of the heartfelt emotion that makes people embrace this film around the world.

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

The Sound of Music at 50: Our favorite thing?
By Nicholas Barber

It’s a good time to read “The Sound of Music Story,” Tom Santopietro’s excellent behind-the-scenes account of a phenomenon that, despite critics who hate nuns and children, seems destined to delight audiences “for a thousand years.”
-Michael Reidel, The New York Post
Check out Susan West's Pinterest page celebrating The Sound of Music 

Thank you, Tom Santopietro!

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,



 
Check out my site celebrating the legacy of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!


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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
            
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REINHAGEN REDUX
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