The name "Festitic" (pronounced Festitich) in Hungary was synonymous with ancient nobility, wealth and power. Their vast estates and numerous castles made them one of the largest landowners in the country. The Count's mother had been companion and bosom friend to Austria's Empress Elizabeth. Young Festitic had grown up on equal terms with the Hapsburgs. As children, they played together in palaces across Europe and were accustomed to armies of servants. So it was all too evident that opening bottles of milk was a mysterious practice that would never have occurred to any of them.
Of course, that was another world, but here and now, at the moment of his ruin, with food finally inside him and freshly attired in brandnew tailcoat and stripes, Festitic must have looked splendidly to the manner born as he eagerly reported for duty. Excited as a baby, he had joined the workers of the world. In his autumnal years his life had some purpose at last. Gretl had made a man of him and he'd never felt so proud or so grateful. He too had come home.
Once acquainted with the background of the "inmates"—that gallant little staff (Karl, Fritz, Bruno, Festitic), all apparently on the rescue list, it took me no time to realize that I too had joined the pack of Gretl Hübner's lost children. Kind and sympathetic, they allowed me to bore them to tears with my daily trials and tribulations. During the early stages of filming "S & M" (my perverse nickname for that musical epic) I was not a happy camper. It did not promise to be one of "my favourite things." I had absolutely no right to feel that way, of course, surrounded as I was with such talented and respected company. Here was I, working with the distinguished director Robert Wise, formerly a top film editor (Citizen Kane, Magnificent Ambersons), a member of Hollywood's old guard and a gentleman to his fingertips; Eleanor Parker, one of the legendary beauties of the forties (who played the Baroness); the irrepressible Richard Haydn (Uncle), inventor of the comical character Mr. Carp, a "fish expert," who kept us laughing at all costs; the charming Peggy Wood (Mother Superior), who had once been Noël Coward's leading lady on the London stage; a gaggle of very personable youngsters playing the Trapp children, all highly professional; Gil Stewart, my limey drinking pal who played the butler as if he'd really done it; the writer Ernest Lehman, ace photographer Ted McCord, designer Boris Leven, the Baird Puppets, the brilliant arranger Irwin Kostal, the music and lyrics of Rodgers & Hammerstein, and first and foremost in importance Eliza Doolittle and Queen Guinevere wrapped up into one magical rosy-cheeked bundle of British pluck, my friend forever, the once-in-a-Blue-Moon Julie Andrews!
Riches such as these should have added grist to anyone's mill, but during the preproduction days back in Los Angeles things had gone badly for me from the start. Originally, I had accepted Robert Wise's offer simply because I wanted to find out what it was like to be in a musical comedy. I had a secret plan to one day turn Cyrano de Bergerac into a Broadway musical. "S & M" would therefore be a perfect workout in preparation for such an event. I also had never sung before in my life, not even in the shower, and obviously needed the practice. Most likely, however, it was due to the vulgar streak in me that made me fancy myself in a big, splashy Hollywood extravaganza.