This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 release of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Academy-Award-winning film musical The Sound of Music.
For me, the movie triggers a very special moment in my family’s history.
I was 7 years old in 1965 when my parents took my three sisters and me to see the film at the Madison Theatre in downtown Detroit, one of an exclusive list of theaters in major cities chosen to show the film before its general release nationwide.
If I remember correctly, the outing marked my sister Laura’s 12th birthday.
Our moments together that day are captured in my mind as a series of vivid snapshots. I am a round-faced, chubby little girl with buck teeth and dark brown hair cut bob-style, pulled back on each side with barrettes. I can hear the swish of the tulle fabric lining my Sunday-best dress as I move anxiously in my seat, clicking the heels of my black patent leather shoes over lace-trimmed ankle socks.
We are sitting toward the back of the theater, maybe in the balcony. I can touch my mom sitting next to me. I can see my sisters and dad further down the row. Later I am standing, stretching, maybe at intermission during the three-hour and 10 minute film that, according to journalist and film historian MIchael Coate, grossed $57 million in its first year of release.
As the memory continues, the movie is over and we are down the street having dinner at Flaming Embers Restaurant in the old Broderick Tower at Woodward and Grand Circus Park. I am awestruck watching flames of fire kicking up in the faces of white-coated, high-hatted chefs who are flipping steaks on a massive grill.
I am amazed that I am sitting in, what for me, has to be the most expensive restaurant in the world. When, in reality, you could get “a T-bone, baked potato, salad and soft drink for $1.19” at that time.
I am looking across the table at my father who appears god-like to me for having orchestrated this monumental moment in my life.
Why so monumental?
Moments like this didn’t happen very often for a middle-class family like mine. Going to a movie theater was special, let alone going to one in downtown Detroit. But going out to dinner anywhere was over-the-top exceptional.
Unlike today’s 58 percent of American adults who eat out at least once a week, I can count maybe two or three times during all my growing up years that my family dined at a restaurant. And, unlike my daughters who consider eating out a routine experience, I was very aware of what a special treat it was to have that rare breakfast at Blazo’s on Michigan Avenue in East Dearborn.
For my dad, that downtown movie and dinner experience in today’s dollars would have felt like 225 bucks out of his pocket, no small change for a man making a living as a tailor at J. L. Hudson’s. No drop in the bucket for my family today.
A classic revisited
Like the Broadway musical that inspired it, The Sound of Music tells the story of the Georg Ludwig and Maria von Trapp family, who fled their beloved Austria after the Nazi annexation in 1938. According to Coate, the film remains the third highest in overall box-office performance behind Gone With the Wind and Star Wars when adjusted for inflation.
The movie’s golden anniversary sparked publication of a new book and special-edition magazines, release of a new DVD and Blu-Ray, and special screenings and television interviews with the film’s stars, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
I was actually teary-eyed watching the Diane Sawyer special “The Untold Story of ‘The Sound of Music’” on ABC’s 20/20 back in March.
My heart has been blessed
The significance of my memories of the film goes beyond the uniqueness of the experience. The Sound of Music struck a chord with me because the von Trapp family’s story was in some way my family’s story.
My sisters and I could identify with a family life alive with music as my father prepared his voice every Sunday morning to sing the mass at Holy Family Church or entertained guests in our home and elsewhere with songs from his native Italy.
We felt the sense of security that comes from having a mother who taught us to mind our manners, calmed our fears when it rained in the night, and was present in both the mundane and transformational moments of a girl’s life.
We knew the tears shed after harsh words spoken in the heat of the moment and the struggle to find our way in an often scary world where freedom comes at an enormous cost.
We learned the value of working together to reach our goals and saw the determination it took to climb over our own mountain of obstacles on our way to making a good life for ourselves.
And, like the von Trapps, our faith in God fueled the journey and inspired us to live out our callings in a way that was good for us and helpful to others.
Since that first viewing of The Sound of Music, I have watched it on TV or DVD a dozen times. When prompted, I can do a decent impression of the nuns singing about their problematic Maria and belt out the high notes of “Climb Every Mountain.” I have “blessed” my own daughters with my rendition of “You are Sixteen …” and “My Favorite Things.” And because my father bought her the musical score for piano, my sister, Laura, can still play “Edelweiss” by heart when she has to.
My memories of The Sound of Music will forever have the power to twirl me around and transport me back to a most magical moment in my life. I think I’ll go watch it again now.
© JoAnn Amicangelo 2015