Things had begun to markedly change on the "S & M" lot. There was a low buzz that seemed to indicate early hints of success. Reporters began skulking about; celebrities paid visits to the set. I remember a delectable Shirley MacLaine popping in quite frequently (she was on the next stage filming Irma la Douce). Agents and managers in growing numbers appeared more regularly. Well-respected directors would turn up to pay homage to Robert Wise. There was a distinct scent of success in the air. Julie took me aside one day and whispered, "Do you get the feeling we might be famous one day?"

Well, the rest is history of a kind. Here was a forgotten story that had collected dust at the bottom of a studio drawer for eight years, which would one day save that same studio from bankruptcy. Cleopatra had totally wasted the Twentieth lot and The Sound of Music became the Good Samaritan and put it safely back on its feet once more. I have never recovered from my shyness toward the glaring lights of a film premiere. I am a complete hypocrite, of course, torn between the thrill of mob recognition on the one hand and my aversion to the sheer vulgarity of it on the other. I therefore spent most of our premiere with a few chums including Robert Wise in the bar next door. The critics generally pooh-poohed the enterprise and it's always been my opinion they were too ashamed to admit they liked it lest their cynical, hard-boiled comrades of the press might call them sissies and banish them to the nearest convent. However, the film won the Oscar and the public, eager for a "family feature," wasted no time in boarding the speedily revolving roller coaster of praise; by the year's end, most countries had cheerfully risen to its bait. Most, that is, except Austria, which, for some time, had been fairly saturated by an onslaught of Trappamania. A well-made, detailed German documentary on their lives had been shown ad nauseam when "S & M" was a mere embryo; not to mention the family's persistent habit of yodeling themselves sick whenever an alp or two loomed into view. The Austrians too had somewhat understandably objected to the liberties taken by our costume department and regarded our apparel as so much Hollywoodized lederhosen. They also, not quite so understandably, decried the movie as being painfully schlag and sentimental, which, coming from that country, was tantamount to calling the kettle black.

More than frequently, over time, I have found myself returning to that part of the world, almost as a force of habit. I have appeared in other films made there and have visited as an admiring tourist and an avid fan of the festival. With each visit I noticed how much more prosperous everything seemed to appear, Austria having submitted to a major face-lift. No matter how modest, every schlöss had been freshly painted, their window boxes by the thousands overflowing with fresh multicolored flowers. The restaurants had made giant steps towards improvement and were booming. The hills and valleys, more alive than ever, were manicured to the bone—there was nary a blemish on the landscape. In fact it almost cried out for dear Mr. McCord, who had sadly left us to come back from the dead with his filters to make the whole countryside look less like a fairy tale. There was no doubt that "S & M" had helped turn Austria into a far richer country. Almost a billion dollars has poured in due to the avalanche of tourism the film has generated. Over the years, the people's attitude has altered considerably. They have entirely come to terms with it; there are "S & M" tours by the cartloads and Julie, Robert and I have accepted honours from both Salzburg and Vienna for our contributions to the pot. Every time I arrive there I feel rather like a Hapsburg reclaiming the throne. The old charm still exudes everywhere—the one and only disappointment was the little Bristol Hotel.
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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