Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Dance Party: My Boyfriend's A Nazi

The New Year is only a week old, and I'm already behind in the obits. Perhaps in the next few days I'll catch up, but in the meantime, the death of an old lesbian from the tail end of last year inspires this week's Dance Party:

Agathe von Trapp


OK, nobody is coming right out and saying this woman was a lesbian, maybe nobody ever saw her play golf or wear flannel. But she left the family lodge in Vermont in 1958 with Mary Louise Kane, who became her "longtime friend." They started a school together in Maryland, and lived quietly on the campus, together, for 50 years. Our gal was named after her mother, who gave birth to seven melodically gifted children before her death; Mom was replaced in the family by an annoyingly perky nun with a guitar:

Agathe's stepmom gave birth to three more little songsters, and they hit the road as the Trapp Family Singers. Oh, and somewhere in there, they escaped the Nazis, though they certainly did not hike the Alps to do so; they took the train. Perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein attempted to keep to the historical truth, but "Ride Every Railroad" doesn't have the same ring as "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," and you know, dramatic license and all.

As you've already surmised, Agathe von Trapp and her family provided the inspiration for The Sound of Music. The character of Liesl was inspired by Agathe, and we can all agree that a name change was in order. An age change was too: though Agathe was indeed the eldest daughter, she had an older brother. That didn't fit in well with the R&H plan, so Rupert was demoted and renamed Frederich.

In her adult life, Agathe wrote a book to correct some of the errors of The Sound of Music, including the impression that her father the Captain was a sour old grump. Dramatic License again. Agathe herself can be forgiven for swearing off men; when your teen-aged boyfriend becomes a Nazi, that's pretty bad luck.
Liesl's big number in the film was introduced by a mysterious young lady named Charmian Carr. This actress's history is worth a note. She was the child of show biz folk in Chicago, and was named after a Shakespearean character who was a serving maiden to Cleopatra ("Charmian!! Bring me the asp!!"). She was pushed into the audition when her mother learned that the producers were having trouble casting the role of Liesl. Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, and Lesley Ann Warren had already been turned down for the part. The Sound of Music was Carr's professional debut, and she was put under contract with Fox.

Long story short: Charmian appeared in only one more high-profile role before leaving the business forever. It is that gig which put her on my radar, much more than The Sound of Music, since I've only seen the movie once all the way through (it makes my teeth hurt). She appeared opposite Anthony Perkins in Evening Primrose, a one-hour TV musical which Stephen Sondheim wrote in the 60s. The show achieved cult status when Sondheim hit it big in the 70s, and there were bootleg copies of it everywhere. Finally, the original tape has been cleaned up and released on DVD. While Carr has the honor of introducing a couple of songs which have since become cabaret standards, the tape proves our heroine to Around the time of the show's airing, she married a man who wanted her to stay home, and, wisely, she did. She ended up as an interior decorator, but in terms of show business, we never heard from her again.

Until now. After exhaustive research, I have unearthed this little gem. Decades after she first sang this song, Charmian Carr was lured out of retirement to perform it again in a concert devoted to Richard Rodgers. You can see that the years have been most kind to her, she hasn't changed a bit since she danced around in that gazebo in 1965. The quality of the clip is a little foggy, but it is more than made up for by the dynamic reemergence of a major musical star: