Chapter 25: "S&M"

The Sound of Music is like being beaten to death by a Hallmark card.

—Doug McClure (actor and wit)

The Bristol Hotel, which still stands in the midst of Makartplatz at the center of Mozart's Salzburg, invariably threw open its doors to artists of every shape and species, particularly musicians engaged by the world-renowned festival. The more gregarious of these, famous or infamous, regularly sought shelter within its walls. Upon my arrival at the front desk, back in the early sixties when we were shooting that celebrated film, I was greeted by a grinning desk clerk who informed me that two great nighthawks of the opera world, Giuseppe di Stefano and Ettore Bastianini (apparently steady customers), had just checked in. With the prospect of such easy access to confidential information of this sort, the Bristol promised to be a welcome change from the somewhat austere Osterreichischer Hof down the street where I had begun my Tyrolean sojourn. The instant warmth and relaxed sense of improvisation about my new surroundings made me realize at once that here I could be as free as I chose. What I did not foresee was that in the next few weeks, in spite of my obnoxious shenanigans, I would come to be treated and accepted as a proud member of the family. There is no better way to describe the old place other than to say, quite simply, that I had come home. The reason for this was mostly due to a pint-sized powerhouse of a lady who possessed two entirely contrasting personalities—a fearsome steel-like authority and the softest heart in Christendom. Her name was Gretl Hübner.

The Hübner family had, in the past, successfully owned and operated a chain of first-class hotels throughout eastern Europe. But times had changed, fortunes had been lost and they were now reduced to one, the Bristol, which Gretl, the last of her line, had inherited and was caring for with a devotion that only a mother might have for her ailing offspring. The hotel was, for her, both a toy and a roof over her head, which she shared with her American husband, a comfy old codger, General MacKristol, retired from the U.S. Occupation Forces in Germany after World War II. But the general rarely appeared, spending most of his days fishing at Bad Ischl and anyway, everyone at the hotel, staff and guests alike, were quite convinced that the real general was Gretl. She also ran the place as if it were a ship foundering in heavy waters, heavy waters she herself stirred up, if for no other reason than to keep things from being boring. Certainly during my stay it was far from boring. In fact, at times it rather resembled a reform school presided over by a strict, slightly wacky headmistress! Once inside the Bristol, there was something about the heady, pungent air that made you want to be naughty. Diabolically, Gretl seemed to encourage this just so she could come along later and straighten you out!

Excerpted from In Spite of Myself by Christopher Plummer. Copyright ?? 2008 by Christopher Plummer. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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