Friday, February 27, 2015

Tom Santopietro's "The Sound of Music Story"

Tom Santopietro is the author of The Importance of Being Barbra, Considering Doris Day (a New York Times Editor’s Choice), Sinatra in Hollywood, and The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America, and Me. He has worked for the past twenty years in New York theater as a manager of more than two dozen Broadway shows.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing Von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time, and reported the following:
Open The Sound of Music Story to page 99 and you land smack in the middle of the discussion of alternative casting: Jeannette MacDonald as the Mother Abbess? Dame Edith Evans? Irene Dunne? They were all seriously considered—as were Doris Day and Grace Kelly for the role of Maria. (Grace was otherwise occupied in Monaco, and Doris smartly stated: “I’m too American for anyone to believe me as a nun from Austria.”)

In starting the book, my hope was to provide a mix of behind the scenes stories--the filming of the title song ran into big problems when the farmer whose land they had rented grew furious at his cow’s lack of milk production, and took a pitchfork to the brook the production team had so artfully constructed--casting ideas (Noel Coward as Max)--and analysis of the film’s staggering popularity. In the end, page 99 actually fulfills the first two goals, but not the third--that arrives 90 pages later.

That said, I’ll take 2 of 3 goals achieved on page 99 as a good scorecard.

As for the film’s never-ending-50-years-and-counting-appeal, the underlying message of the healing power of family love proved universal. Except to Germans, Austrians, and big city critics like Pauline Kael, who called the film a “sugar coated lie.”

Exactly why were Pauline Kael and her cohort Judith Crist so vitriolic? Were they trying to prove their counter culture bona fides in 1965? Yes, events were compressed and changed, but Ben Affleck did the same at the end of Argo and nobody really objected. Instead, it was the sheer effectiveness of Robert Wise’s filmmaking that seemed to incense. Awful imitations like Song of Norway and Doctor Doolittle never inspired the same level of derision as did The Sound of Music, but the film’s essential truth remained: Maria did enter the abbey, leave to marry her naval hero employer, inherit seven step-children, give birth to three children of her own, organize a singing troupe, and outwit the Nazis. And while the von Trapps didn’t escape over scenic Alps--they simply took a train to Italy one day before the borders were sealed--in real life they were brave enough to defy Hitler not once, as shown in the movie, but three times. In these overwhelmingly ironic times, The Sound of Music’s heart on sleeve emotions seem almost revolutionary, providing, as they do, the most elusive commodity of all--hope.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Santopietro's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Godfather Effect.

Writers Read: Tom Santopietro.

--Marshal Zeringue