Not Quite "Based on a True Story"

Do you have some documentation for this? Yes, the story was sensationalized. But they fled by putting on backpacks and pretending they were going for one of their normal afternoon hikes, and instead kept going into Italy. They survived in Italy because the baron had been a submarine captain in the Imperial navy in WWI, and when the Austrian empire broke up, his naval pay got stuck in a bank in Italy. I have read both of Maria’s autobiographies, and talked to one of her nephews, and she seems to have been a thoroughly nice person (not perfect, and not Julie-Andrews-in-the-movie, but thoroughly nice). She objected strongly to the portrayal of her husband in the movies, because she came to love him very much over the years they were together. What makes you say that she was an abusive mother?

Also, as Eve can tell you in detail, Mommie Dearestwas fiction.

That begs the question “why didn’t they live on the Italian funds when they were penniless in Austria?”. Baron von Trapp was an extraordinarily wealthy man due to his first marriage; his first father-in-law was an English engineer who developed the most effective torpedo yet seen and, like Krupp in Germany, got filthy rich from the war and the fortune was left to his daughter and son-in-law. (Imagine her life: an English woman in Austria during WWI). However, his fortune was completely annihilated by the Depression to the extent that the von Trapps took in borders and began singing at competitions not due to their love of music but because they needed the money. (The baron was offered positions in various companies but felt that work was beneath an aristocrat and war hero.)

Autobiographies and relatives rarely give the full picture. (Personally I thought her autobiographies were studies in egomania- honey, two chapters on starting the gift shop at your lodge?)

She refused to allow her stepchildren to get married because they would leave the singing group, which to me was abusive. When she and the baron fled Austria she was pregnant and their travels took a serious toll on her and she was advised to have an abortion but, because of her religious beliefs, refused, as was her right (I’m not villifying her for this) and she gave birth to a perfectly health son (Johannes). HOWEVER, years later she used this story to prevent and guilt one of her stepdaughters (who had literally eloped with her husband to escape Maria- she was in her 30s at the time) into not having an abortion with a very seriously troubled pregnancy and, consequently, the stepdaughter and her baby both died in childbirth. Maria felt no remorse, chalking it up as the will of God.

Christina Crawford is definitely mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean she’s a complete liar. However, I was referring more to the personality type than to Crawford.

The main thing I wondered about from the book was if the depiction of the French prison at Perpignan was accurate; are their really hellholes like that in civilized countries? (I despised Abagnale and routed for his arrest because I found him less a charming character than a sociopath who probably got countless innocent people chewed out and fired, but NOBODY deserves the confinement he described in the book unless they’ve done violent and bloody crime.)

Sampiro, thanks for all that. That does sound abusive. I remember her describing her decision not to abort Barbara/Johnannes, and saying that she was opposed to abortion because of it, but I didn’t realize how far she took that. (I didn’t remember the two chapters on the gift shop, but I’ll take your word for it!)

Where did you find all this? Is there a good biography out there?

I found the Von Trapp Family Lodge web site, and they mention that she spent years in the South Pacific with several of the kids. It says the details are in the second book, but I don’t remember that either. I wonder what else I missed.

BTW, we were both right about their leaving Austria; they went on their daily hike but kept going til they got to a train depot in another town.

BIOGRAPHY did a 2 hour special on the family. There’s a good bio of the Baron (who was basically the underwater equivalent of the Red Baron during WW1) here .

How about SLEEPERS, based on the book by Lorenzo Carcaterra which claimed to be a truthful account of the author’s life? Subsequent investigations revealed that the story did not match Caraterra’s life history at all, that the trial never took place and that it is basically a complete fiction. I recall an article with the priest who was the model for De Niro’s character…a basketball shooting, Hells Kitchen priest who was close to Caraterra when he was a child. He acknowledged being the inspiration for the character but totally disavowed any the other events in the movie. They have to run a little disclaimer at the end of the movie. It is very strange that an otherwise interesting project has to be marred by a transparent publicity hoax.

Well, I find it hard to believe that Chuck Barris was really a CIA assassin, so Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is probably appropriate for this thread.

How about Spinal Tap?

When the movie was in theaters a CIA spokesman on CNN made a comment to the effect “It is not CIA policy to confirm or deny the identity of any operative CIA agent past or present. But in this case, we will make an exception. Chuck Barris was never in any way associated with the CIA.”

Catch Me if you Can

Basically I would take the book and the film with many many many grains of salt.


The studio publicity department is full of PROFESSIONAL EXAGGERATORS.

Frank wanted the film to succede so he endorsed the film fully and completly and do you really think he would be above lying to help the box office?

Now True Stories, is based on stories from supermarked tabloids.

Now that’s a True Story you can trust.

Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Anniston was publicized as being based on/inspired by the story of tribute band singer Tim “Ripper” Owens who wound up joining Judas Priest.

Black Hawk Down was a highly fictionalized account of the events that occurred in Mogadishu, Somalia. A Ranger who was there said in an interview just the other day that the book was about 50% accurate, 50% fiction, and that the movie cut the accuracy in half again. So, that puts the movie at about 25% accurate, 75% fiction.

Interestingly, many of the character names in the film are the same as the Rangers who were there, except for Grimes, the character played by Ewan McGregor. The soldier in question was later convicted of a sexual battery-type crime, and the Army requested that his real name not be used, so as not to make him “famous.”

Another famous war movie that got it mostly wrong- A Bridge Too Far. But it wasn’t their fault- the author of the book by the same name was a terrible researcher and Operation Market Garden didn’t resemble what he wrote at all. The facts in the book are way off- even the direction the tanks moved in is wrong! As a tourist, you can go there today and see the tracks and where they lead.

Actually, that’s totally wrong. Blackhawk Down was a very accurate movie that portrayed the events very well. Of course characters and events had to be conflated and condensed because of time and pacing restraints, but every single interview I have read or seen with participants in the events has said the movie was quite accurate.

Did these three ever pretend to be based on a true story?

Absolutely meaningless?

In practice, perhaps, On most occasions. But not entirely or on all occasions.

Huh? If anything, the movie was tamer than the book. I’m guessing that the filmakers thought it would be a Bad Thing™ to show American soldiers shooting women and children, even though it apparently happened several times in the course of the book (and IRL). It was a nasty business and it had to be done, but I can see why that didn’t make it to the big screen.

Another famous war movie that got it mostly wrong- A Bridge Too Far. But it wasn’t their fault- the author of the book by the same name was a terrible researcher and Operation Market Garden didn’t resemble what he wrote at all. The facts in the book are way off- even the direction the tanks moved in is wrong! As a tourist, you can go there today and see the tracks and where they lead.[/QUOTE]

I’d have to disagree with you here. I’ve read extensively about Market-Garden, and while A Bridge Too Far (both the movie and the book) get some of the details wrong, the basic narrative is accurate.

Also, the historiography of Market-Garden is very interesting - the battle has been so extensively studied over a long period of time that many formerly accepted “facts” have been disproven. For example, in the book and in the movie, it’s reported that the Reconnaissance Squadron jeeps intended for the coup-de-main attack on Arnhem bridge had failed to arrive on the Landing Zones due to glider accidents. This was once widely accepted as fact. Later historical research showed that the Jeeps did arrive safely at Arnhem, although most did not manage to reach the bridge, as 2 of the 3 planned routes into Arnhem were quickly blocked by the Germans.

One of my sources is my brother, a US Army Ranger. He strongly disagrees with you, but YMMV.

Most of the great Hollywood biographies from the Golden Age were more myth than fact. Yankee Doodle Dandy, for example, portrayed George M. Cohan as a scrappy character who so adored his wife that he wrote his most famous song, Mary, about her; in reality he was married three times and none of them were named Mary. (The movie also omits his children, the constant lawsuits against him,a nd the fact that he was considered one of the most unpleasant people ever to work on Broadway.)

Similar liberties were taken with biographies of Jolson, Jerome Kern and Lon Chaney. Their historical epics were even worse, with Alexander the Great suddenly becoming completely hetero and Cleopatra becoming beautiful (none of the contemporary accounts credit her with beauty, only incredible sexual abilities) omitting her children with Mark Anthony, and having her procession into Rome pass by landmarks that wouldn’t be built for centuries.

It has nothing to do with opinion, though. The people who were there in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu have commented on the movie. THEY are the authoritative source for opinion on the realism of the movie, not some guy in the Ranger Bats 10 years later.

Slight correction…it’s Point Pleasant WEST Virginia.