I girded my aching loins, bid a sad farewell to my bouncing Rhine maiden and emerged from the dream a little the worse for wear. The smiling faces of Fritz, Karl, Bruno and the Count cheered me up immeasurably. I was further honoured by Gretl, who came down from her rooms and threatened to court martial me for desertion. Gil Stewart, now drenched in whiskey and more pukka sahib than ever, thundered an earsplitting war cry from his accustomed headquarters at the end of the bar. He had remained there for the duration of my absence, having not yet been called to work. "I'm vurried about Stewart," Gretl whispered in my ear; "he's looking so ill. I haf tolt Bruno to vater his drinks, but he steals ven Bruno iss not looking!" It was good to be back with Mutter Courage and her little army again. I had missed them.

Robert Wise took one look at me and turned pale. "Young man, you better go on a diet right away. How are you going to get into your clothes?" He was right—the good life was showing only too obviously. All my costumes had to be let out to their fullest, a couple of them were entirely remade and the makeup man was obliged to use an inordinate amount of dark shading as I was beginning to resemble Orson Welles.

However dissipated I appeared, I was obviously presentable enough for one person who had arrived out of the blue—the real Baroness von Trapp—the actual Maria, a jolly, chortling frau of ample proportions who could not have hidden her oversized shoes under any convent bed in Europe and escape detection. The baroness did not exactly boost my confidence by informing me how much more handsome I was than her husband. My God! What could he have looked like?! But she was very bouncy and bossy, laughed a lot and really was most likable. Incongruously for an ex-nun, she was an expert channel swimmer, a prizewinning world-class champion, in fact. All at once she announced in booming tones that she couldn't stay with us very long and I imagined that yet another channel somewhere was already bracing itself for her plunge. The baroness remained long enough to watch Julie and me shoot our first meeting in that glorious mirrored room, which had been a part of the great Max Reinhardt's old mansion on the outskirts of town. To see this buxom, bovine Maria gazing at the other Maria—her slim, trim alter ego—was quite uncanny.

The second scene on my agenda was with Julie and the children singing "Edelweiss" to the townspeople at Salzburg's Riding School. Back in the forties, Germany and Austria had barely surrendered when the real von Trapp family had given a concert there. They had not been received with the usual enthusiasm they expected. At that moment, they were extremely unpopular, having just returned from America where they had safely lived out the war while their countrymen suffered humiliation and defeat. To drive the stake in deeper, the von Trapps had insisted that the poor audience put on black tie and evening dress! But the fictional scene we were to shoot took place before the family's escape; we were all attired in more modest Tyrolean peasant costumes and the general reception was meant to be one of warmth and emotion, a Teutonic love-in, one might say. The Riding School was in the open and the dark night air combined with Irwin Kostal's lovely arrangement on the guide track gave the proceedings an aura of wistfulness that quite infected us all. "Edelweiss" was also, thank God, the easiest song of the bunch to sing, and my favourite.

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.


Next Story