restricted access 11: The Hills Are Alive

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

-=£1-- - - - - - - - - -------TM HlllsAreAlive By 1959, MY FIFTH YEAR IN THE UNITED STATES, I had covered some distances-artistic, emotional, and geographical. I had done well in the theatre, in television, in movies, and I was considered one of the mainstays of the folk scene, the prime exponent of international folk songs. What next? In the summer of '59 I went to Holland and Belgium to work on a film entitled The Dog of Flanders, a nice family type of picture-a genre preferred by its producer, Bob Radnitz. I played an artist, a painter, taking a young boy who shows promise as an artist under his wing. Apart from myself, the only recognizable names were those of Donald Crisp, a veteran of many films, and the youngster, David Ladd, who was not famous himself but had a well-known name long associated with films. We were well under way with the filming, there were some ten days left on the shooting schedule, when I received a telegram from my agents at MCA in New York to the effect that Rodgers and Hammerstein were casting a new musical based on a Gerrnan book entitled The Trapp Family Singers. (MCA eventually ceased to be an agency and became the giant corporation known as Universal.) They had seen an Austrian film version of the same story and liked it. They had screened it for Mary Martin and suggested it as a vehicle for her next starring role. She, too, had been taken by the story of a young postulant nun who captures the heart of seven children and their stern nobleman father. This had transpired months earlier; by now the book, music, and lyrics were done and they were now at the point of casting the major roles. My agents thought I would be an ideal choice to play Captain van Trapp, and I thought so, too. I had seen the Austrian n1ovie. It goes without saying that almost every leading man in the New York theatre was dying to have a crack at the part, which forced my agents to work fast. They managed to do two things: They got me sprung from the movie set for forty-eight hours and they persuaded the play's producers that it was so important to see me that they should fly me in from Holland at their expense. They also arranged for me to work with someone on a couple of songs for the audition. I had never done a musical before. The music I was used to performing was of a different genre from Broadway tunes-not exactly audition material, they said. As it turned out, they were both right and wrong about that. Big question: When you audition for Rodgers and Hammerstein , do you do one of their own tunes and risk running afoul of their concept? Can your interpretation be different from what they have in their ear and in their memory? Even if you're brilliant, if you've shaped their music to your style, will it be seen as chutzpah or even hubris? Maybe you should pick someone else's stuff, in which the two Broadway legends would have absolutely no proprietary interest . 1 chose the latter route, and worked with the accompanist-coach on two Frank Laesser tunes from Guys and Dolls, "Luck Be a Lady" and "My Time of Day." I worked on the songs for much of the day before my appearance. Everything had to be done fast, since I was due back in the Netherlands forty-eight hours after leaving. I did, however, take my guitar along to the audition. What the hell, I thought, that's what I do best; if they'll let me, I'll give them a folk tune. When I got there, I was introduced not only to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, but also to Leland Hayward, the producer, and to Mary Martin. "Introduced" is actually a euphemism; they were in a darkened auditorium and I was on a brightly lit stage. Their names rang out from down there, and I said, "Hello." For all I knew it wasn't Mary Martin at all but Zelda Schwartz. They chatted with me for a couple of minutes-to hear me talk, I guess, or to put me at ease. Somehow I did not need to be put at ease; to me this was just another play, music or no music. I had been through the process before and had no...


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