I began to hit the schnapps with a vengeance and vent my spleen on the poor innocent baby grand in the Bristol bar night after night. There was no one around to take me in hand and snap me out of it. The only ones who would listen to me were that faithful little staff who indulged me most dreadfully. As I moaned on, they sat attentive and quiet, but I knew what they were thinking: "What is this bloody idiot complaining about? He's the male lead in a big Hollywood movie, making terrific money, probably more than we'll ever see and he's young to boot! What the hell is he bitching about?" Very gradually, Fritz, Karl, Bruno, the Count and Gretl herself soothed the savage hyena in me. I slowly began to see the error of my ways. The cure was working; I was off the critical list, and pretty soon primed with beer and schnapps we were falling off our barstools laughing at the utter absurdity of it all.

Part of the problem from the start was that most of us on the film were lodged in separate hotels. The only other cast member at the Bristol was Gil Stewart, usually to be found holding up the British Empire at the end of the bar, happy in his own little world. Every now and then his loud guffaw would resound above the din—the only evidence of his presence. None of us, therefore, could really share our cares and woes so, once on the set, a certain aloofness prevailed. Probably due to an excessive number of nuns in the cast, there was also, at times, an atmosphere of overreverence which irritated me no end. I was determined in my resolve to take the opposite view, to play the cynic, to be Peck's bad boy—anything to prevent my character or indeed the film from becoming dangerously mawkish or ultrasentimental. Although Mr. Wise, true to his name, was tolerance itself, the one person who seemed to understand my motives completely and acted as if there was nothing untoward was Julie, the busiest of us all. I was so grateful to her for that, but I never told her. Away from work we hardly ever saw each other. At the then gloomy Osterreichischer Hof where she was staying, her hands were full tending to her child Emma, then a tiny tot. She was also in the midst of a painfully sad separation from her husband, the well-known stage designer Tony Walton, and of course, as Maria she was never off the screen.

All this combined to make of her life one long list of gargantuan responsibilities; the pressures were tremendous. Yet she never wavered. Her optimism, delicious humour and selfless nature were always on parade. It was as if she'd been hired not just to act, sing and carry the entire film, but to keep everyone's spirits up as well. She did. She held us together and made us a team. Julie was quite transparent. There was no way she could conceal the simple truth that she cared profoundly for her work and for everyone else around her. I think that beneath my partly assumed sarcasm and indifference she saw that I cared too. As two people who barely came to know each other throughout those long months of filming, we had somehow bonded. It was the beginning of a friendship—unspoken, but a friendship nonetheless.

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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