Agathe von Trapp of Trapp Family Singers dies

Member of fabled singing family moved to Baltimore County in 1958 and lived a quiet life as a teacher's helper

  • Agathe von Trapp, known as Lisel in the movie "The Sound of Music," has lived a quiet life in Pikesville since 1958. At age 91, she self-published her memoirs, "Agathe von Trapp: Memories Before and After The Sound of Music," She died Tuesday at a hospice in Towson at the age of 97.
Agathe von Trapp, known as Lisel in the movie "The Sound… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
December 29, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Agathe von Trapp, the eldest daughter of the von Trapp family made famous in "The Sound of Music," who took exception to the way her father was portrayed, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at Gilchrist Hospice Care. She was 97 and lived in Brooklandville.

"She had been rabidly negative about the musical and film," said her physician, Dr. Janet Horn, who with her husband financed the publication of 3,000 copies of Miss von Trapp's memoir, which she wrote to set the record straight about her family's exploits.

Miss von Trapp, who had performed and toured with her siblings as part of the Trapp Family Singers until she was 43, had lived a quiet life in Glyndon for much of the past five decades. She was a kindergarten teacher's helper at a private Catholic school affiliated with the Sacred Heart Parish for many years, said a friend, Mary Louise Kane, with whom she lived.

"She was a shy, private person, who did not like attention. She was kind and gentle," Ms. Kane said. "She was patient with children and loved nature. She loved to sing and was a fine artist."

She said that Miss von Trapp, who was depicted as Liesl in the musical, continued to sing around the house until about three years ago.

Miss von Trapp's brother Johannes also described her as "very private" and artistic. "She was a talented painter," he said. "She was 97, but she had a good life. We will miss her."

Friends said she spoke matter-of-factly and did not care for some of the twists added to her family's story for the 1959 Broadway musical and 1965 Academy Award-winning film.

She wanted people to know that her father, Capt. Georg von Trapp, a widowed Austrian aristocrat who was played by Christopher Plummer in the film and Theodore Bikel on Broadway, was not cold, unfeeling and distant. She insisted that he was a kind and loving father who helped her and her siblings to sing. She also adored her mother.

"Agathe von Trapp cried when she saw the show at its Broadway opening in 1959. She would have been just as enchanted as the rest of the audience had the characters' last name been Miller. But this was her family's name, and it was not her family's story," according to an article in The Baltimore Sun in 2003.

Agathe von Trapp was born in a town called Pola in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Born into nobility, she was educated initially by a governess. When Miss von Trapp was 10, her mother died of scarlet fever.

"I first attended school at the age of 11. It was terrifying," Agathe von Trapp said in a 1987 Sun article. "They made us stand up in front of a big class and talk. I never could get used to it. I was afraid of people then and have never really gotten over it."

In 1938, when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria, her father, Baron von Trapp, was asked to serve in the German navy. He refused. They were pressed to fly the Nazi flag at their home and to say, "Heil Hitler." They refused.

By that time the family, including her stepmother, Maria, portrayed by Julie Andrews in the film, had begun singing folk songs and performing in public. They initially gave concerts in Vienna and Salzburg and then toured in Germany, France, Belgium and Scandinavia. They made two trips to the United States, requested asylum and were accepted. She and her siblings appeared in Baltimore in 1944 at the Lyric Opera House and in 1949 at the Peabody Conservatory's concert hall.

While in the musical group, she did not stray far from her stepmother, by then widowed and running the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt.

Miss von Trapp and Ms. Kane, who worked at the lodge in the early 1950s, started a private kindergarten in Stowe. In 1958, when the town's public schools began offering kindergarten, they moved to Maryland, where they established a private kindergarten on the grounds of Sacred Heart School in Glyndon.

Miss von Trapp and Ms. Kane lived on the Sacred Heart grounds. While Ms. Kane taught, Miss von Trapp kept house — tracking expenses, leading German music and art lessons, answering phones, supervising on the playground and making snacks. She also exhibited her watercolors.

For a while, Miss von Trapp went by "Miss Trapp," dropping the "von" in an attempt to fend off questions about whether she was part of the family. When asked, she sometimes said no.

The 2003 Sun article said Miss von Trapp "was 43 before she stopped relying on someone older and wiser and went to the grocery store and the bank herself."

The article noted that in the movie that broke box-office records, she came out of her shell at "16 going on 17," but the reality of her life was different.

"It's very strange for me; I've been living a very quiet life. All of a sudden, these people want to see me," she said at the time she published her autobiography, in which she sought to differentiate between fact and fiction in the Broadway libretto and screenplay.

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