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In Praise of The Baroness

By October 27, 2010September 9th, 2014Uncategorized

Baroness: Why didn’t you tell me?

Max: Tell you what?

Baroness: To bring along my harmonica…

30 Last night I attended one of the nationwide performances of the Sing-A-Long Sound of Music, which is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on (except, of course for carpet shopping in the Middle East which really is the most fun as you can have with your clothes on.)  I love The Sound of Music and I am planning my day tomorrow around the Oprah reunion of Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and all 7 of the kids from the movie for the first time ever.  My copy of the new blu-ray 45th anniversary DVD is already ordered with, and I am looking forward to a three-generation orgy of watching it on the day after Thanksgiving with my three amazing aunts (who gave me their original Broadway Cast recording of the Mary Martin version), my sister, my two nieces and Velvet – all of us diehard fans. 

My companions and I were the only ones in costume, and modest costumes at that: I dashed into my beloved STAPLES at the last moment and rooted around the nascent Christmas displays to find a strip of snowflake stickers.  In the lobby of the theatre, I passed them out to the girls, instructing them to stick the snowflakes onto their nose and around their eye area, so we could be “Snow flakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.”

The Sing-A-Long version of the Sound of Music is an opportunity to really let rip with your enthusiasm for the film.   You can boo and hiss at Herr Zeller, Rolf, and Franz, the slimy butler, and yell things like “The curtains, Maria…use the curtains!”  You can shout, “Better get in the gazebo, Lisel, it’s starting to rain,” and you can sigh audibly when Christopher Plummer finally gets his act together and goes to find Maria at the gazebo.

There were a lot of men in that theatre who, I think, had lost bets.

But what I wanted to mention was how much the Baroness has grown on me as I’ve got older.  In my childhood, of course, she was right up there with Margaret Hamilton in the wicked witch category, but as I’ve got older,  I find myself warming to Elsa.   It is a great shame that “How Can Love Survive” was cut out of the movie, since it has some of the best lyrics in the whole score.  Here are Marion Marlowe as Elsa, Kurt Kasznar as Uncle Max and Theodore Bikel as The Captain:


The Baroness, as I have come to appreciate,  is a class act. She has some amazing outfits – the best in the entire film if you don’t count Maria’s wedding dress —  including that red one with the polka-dot bow that I covet.   She smokes rather elegantly, and the actress, Eleanor Parker, uses her eyes and mouth to show exactly what is going on, and what she thinks about it.  Check it out next time you watch the film.  Watch her shock that the dashing captain is really really unpleasant to his kids at the rowboat scene.   Watch her exasperation at having to watch another goddamn puppet show, her very careful up and down of Herr Zeller at the party, and the verge of-tears-but-keeps-it-together (the new print has a real live glint in her eye) brave and gutsy final moments.

It can’t be easy, even when you have the finest couturier in Vienna, and the most glittering circle of friends, and even though you do give some gay parties, to be gracious enough to realize that, okay, the 22 year old Nanny has snagged the glamorous Naval Captain, and no, she is never going to be a nun.   I like the way Elsa takes control of the conversation that the Captain tries so pathetically to start out there on the balcony. I love the way she says she’ll pack her little bags and go back to Vienna where she belongs.

She knows when to go, and for that, the entire auditorium gave her a very warm round of applause.

I have to think that really, it was all for the best: she would not have done well getting over those Alps, apart from not knowing the way, which Maria of course does…Elsa would not have had appropriate footwear.

And I can't think she would have adored Vermont.


This is not part of The Stunt, but something I felt needed to be said.


Hey There Readers:

This is a little bit of a change of pace, but hey, this is why I do divide my time.

More importantly, what is your favourite part of The Sound of Music?  With whom do you identify?  Would you ever mess with Sister Berta?  Do you number amongst the fifth columnists who think Marta is cuter than Gretl?  What do you think happens to Uncle Max when the dust settles?  Do you think Rolf mends his ways?  

What is your favourite song?  Have you ever been on the cheesy Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg (I've been six times).   

Have you got the TIVO or the DVR all set for Thursday's Oprah reunion?  Or are you just pulling a sickky?   



  • Yes, I love the Baroness. She joins a list of other temptresses who are in many ways so much more appealing than their rivals, including Anne Bsxter in “The Ten Commandments” (as Nefretiri to Charlton Heston’s Moses: “A shepherd girl? What can she be to you unless the desert sun has dulled your senses.Does she grate garlic on her skin or is it soft as mine? Are her lips chafed and dry as the desert sand or are they moist and red like a pomegranate? Is it the fragrance of myrrh that scents her hair or is it the odor of sheep?”).
    But like the Captain, and Don Draper, I find myself ultimately coming home to the pretty girl who sings to the children.

  • Well, time will tell on the DD front, but I find your instant recall of Anne Baxter’s script deeply deeply intriguing. Who knew?????

  • Regina Mooney says:

    The moment when the Captain tells Kurt that he will take over the folk dance at the party is just about my favorite scene. Maria and the Captain each start to reveal to the viewers the spark that they have felt for each other. They also discover that the spark is mutual. Because it’s complicated they snap themselves out of it eventually as it grows too intense. Maria feigns that she is unaware she is blushing as the Captain stands quietly not knowing how to handle it. The dance is both the backdrop and the mediator of the romance as the two lithely and knowingly step out the dance unaware what is happening to them. Yet we, with the children,, and eventually the Baroness, are all there to witness it out on the patio, framed by the tall sculpted shrubs and against the moonlight.

  • Yep, that’s a goodun…

  • Peter Voorhees says:

    Did you know that there are actually people who cannot stand THE SOUND OF MUSIC? I have a very close personalfriend whose three little sisters wore out three LPs of the Soundtrack and drove their older brothers out of the house by playing it so much. They sound just like your three aunts.
    And, my wife and I know a couple — intimately — whose two daughters demanded a visit to Saltzburg where they wore Laura Ashley dresses, bought tickets for THE SOUND OF MUSIC bus tour, and then proceeded to sing 1/2 the soundtrack ont he way to the castle and the other half on the way back — to cheers from the assembled passengers. Did yoiu and your sister do that on your coach tour?
    Needless to say, I skipped the 45th Anniversary film screening, but, hey, I did like Mary martin in PETER PAN when she really flew.
    Keep writing about the oddities of America. We will need your wry humor when some of the Tea Party crowd gets elected next week.
    Peter Voorhees

  • Dear Peter:
    I can’t imagine anyone who cannot stand TSOM…that seems unAmerican to me (with stars from Canada and the UK). Most red blooded Americans I know would dress up in leiderhosen and take their granddaughters to the Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music.
    I’ll bet that is where senatorial candidates who have small children were last night. They know what’s good for Delawareans.

  • Susan Crook says:

    Let’s not get too dewy eyed about the Baroness – we all know she would have run back to Vienna and straight into the arms of some Nazi. There’s ‘collaborator’ written all over that glacial expression and chic up-do.
    More to the point, Jennifer, where on earth were you singing-a-long-a-Sound-of Music and NO-ONE ELSE dressed up?! Isn’t that the whole point? The first time I sung-a-long-a-S-O-M my girlfriend took her (couture)wedding dress out of storage for the occasion and I – being heavily pregnant at the time – turned myself into a rather bulbous ‘brown paper package tied up with string’. The entire audience were suitably dressed and the best costume prize went to a nun with a wimple that would put a hammerhead shark to shame. You were clearly not among your peeps.
    Does your Sing-a-long provide a goodie bag of props to deploy at the appropriate moment? The London one includes an invitation (you may recall we like to call them ‘stiffies’ here) from ‘The Baroness’ to a ‘grand ball’. The idea is that all the audience rip up the invitation and throw the pieces in the air in a huffy mannner when the Baroness high-tails it back to Vienna. I couldn’t bear the idea of ripping mine up and kept it on my mantelpiece for months. I just felt that a stiffy from the Baroness was too good to waste. Sadly for her, the Captain clearly did not feel the same way.

  • No Yummy Mummy, I was clearly NOT with my peers. We did all, however, catch one reference we adored which is when Max says, “Even when its to a height of XX number of feet, Georg always believes in rising to the occasion.” in the new print, Elsa rolls her gorgeous eyes in a very suggestive manner and exchanges quite a smoldering glance with Christopher P. I said, “Oh heavens,” and the entire theatre erupted in laughter. I need to get over to Albion, clearly.

    • Erin says:

      4 years late :), I have to comment on this. I recently became a fan of TSOM after not seeing it since childhood, and have the movie on my computer. The scene as you describe doesn’t happen that way! The Baroness says the mountains are magnificent. Georg says I put them up just for you darling. Max says “Even if it rises to a height of 10,000 feet, Georg always rises to the occasion.” The Baroness laughs pleasantly in Max’s direction. Georg tells him the jokes need to improve or he’ll withdraw his invitation. No smoldering looks are exchanged – Georg doesn’t take his eyes off the road or alter his expression, Parker plays oblivious to any double meaning. Robert Wise (director) was no dummy. I’m convinced the “even if it rises to a height of 10,000 feet” was there to take the double entendre out of the exchange, as did the direction that Plummer keep his eyes on the road and Parker smile pleasantly (not knowingly) at Max.

      I just watched the scene after reading your description to see what I missed. But it doesn’t play that way.

      The two raciest parts of the film in terms of dialogue are probably Plummer’s “Ho HO!” when Maria says she’s not sure she’ll make a very good nun, and when Max asks Herr Detweiler how many men he knows are in touch with their children when on their honeymoon.

      I must also address this:

      “I like the way Elsa takes control of the conversation that the Captain tries so pathetically to start out there on the balcony.”

      It is Elsa who pathetically tries to start a conversation on the balcony. The Captain is out there, looking down at Maria. Elsa joins him, see where he’s looking, and takes a breath. She then tries to start a pathetic conversation about finding him a wedding present (yachts for bath or Mediteranean, a fountain pen) all very arch and tense (she must grab his arm or shoulder four times, trying to get some response or affirmation – while he continues to look down at Maria!) or where to go on the honeymoon (around the world or some place better to go). It is Georg who stops it with “Elsa, it’s no use, you and I.” That is when, with him having plainly told her the jig is up, Elsa face saves by saying “Don’t say another word.” saying she thinks he may not be the man for her. Until he said ‘No use.’ she was desperately trying to make it work in the most pathetic circumstances imaginable – the captain next to her ogling someone else. And she doesn’t call him on it.

      I recently read an interview with Ernest Lehman (screenwriter) who said after working with Christopher Plummer to flesh out/backbone the captain, he gave some thought to the Baroness. The focus of the movie was the love story, so Lehman wanted The Captain to explicitly choose Maria over The Baroness, and not have their different views on Nazi Germany play as big a role as in the play (that difference between them is mostly implied/suggested in the film). The balcony scene, where the Baroness is STILL trying to make it work in the face of the obvious, was part of an agenda to make The Baroness more vulnerable and the Captain’s choice more personal and romantic, per Lehman.

      I don’t want to presume, but sometimes I think viewers conflate Parker’s impeccable performance with the Baroness herself. In my eyes, Parker’s most brilliant moment is watching the captain look at Maria when he sings “Eidelweiss.” Through the lens of an adult, the Captain is being pretty out of line – here is where there are smoldering looks – at Maria, right in front of his lady friend’s face. (well, the first look is extremely warm, the second a little warmer, the final one burning). This is all explicitly directed, because each time he does it, the Baroness gets a reaction shot. Parker parses her reactions with brilliance. The first time he sings a line straight at Maria (“You look happy to meet me”) Parker has an incredible series of nuanced reaction shots – she registers the captain looking, glances at Maria, glances back at the captain and then all of a sudden you can see the thought hit her and she looks back at Maria more narrowly. There’s a second reaction when he looks at Maria again. By the end of the song, Parker has fully taken in what’s up. So we’ve seen her go from what’s this?? to fully comprehending in just three reaction shots. The smile/not-smile (don’t know what to call it) on her face at the end of the song is something to see.

      Agreed that, given the times they lived in, the Captain and the Baroness weren’t going to make it even if Maria hadn’t joined the picture. Elsa would have ended up married to a Nazi U-boat captain (because where would the family have hidden without Maria’s abbey connections?) or the captain would have been in jail refusing. Or she would have had to leave Austria (and her glittering life in Vienna) and expat someplace with seven kids. The life she envisioned having with him was no longer possible, even if they’d gone ahead and married.

      • jennifer says:

        Wow Erin! I’m going to have to go back and take a look a that again. It seemed smoldering to me…
        I totally agree with you about the Eidelweiss interlude. She is absolutely brilliant. It’s interesting, isn’t it, rediscovering these things we know so well in childhood but as adults. Had a similar thing happen recently when I re-read the Little House books and realized that the Ingalls family was starving to death most of the time. Put a new spin on it….

  • Mark says:

    Your impromptu adoption of the snowflake costume reminds me of a joke. This one features a Newfoundlander, because we traditionally make fun of Newfoundlanders, but you can easily substitute Chukchi, or Minnesotans, or whatever.
    Three men, one of whom is a Newfoundlander, are killed in a car crash, and are waiting at the Pearly Gates for admission by St. Peter. St. Peter says, “Since it’s Christmas, and it’s been a slow day, I’ll let you in if you can show me something that illustrates a Christmas theme”.
    The first man reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out his lighter. He flicks it, and says, “This is a Christmas candle”. St. Peter says, “Pass”, and stands aside to let him in.
    The second man reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out his car keys. He jingles them together and says, “These are Christmas bells”. He, too, gains admittance.
    The Newfoundlander reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out a pair of filmy yellow panties. He holds them up, and when St. Peter looks at him inquiringly, says simply, “These are Carol’s”.

  • Mark,
    As ever, right on the money!! Tell me now, as you are my resident expert: does your Russian spouse like The Sound of Music? I have seen the magic work, and I’ve seen it bomb. What’s your take?

  • Michele says:

    I have to say that your comments are spot on. The baroness has indeed grown on me as my age is closer to hers than to the 22 yr old nanny. There are so many wonderful scenes that it is hard to choose just one. Having said that, the scene where Maria is watching as the Captain sings and plays the guitar with his children is one of the tenderest moments of TSOM and the scene when she allows herself to be in the moment with her feelings for the Captain. Her face says it all.

  • Michele: I agree with you that the Edelwiss scene is a doozy. Of course, if you read “Forever Lisel” by Charmain Carr, you will understand that the real tension was between her and CP — and very sadly one way. Silly him. But if you are in to the fiction, then obviously, yes, this is where she is really very natural and he is beginning to tip over the edge….

  • Ann-Tyler Konradi says:

    I love the posting. Thanks for the blog and to all those who have commented. You’ve been the highlight of my coffee this morning. One of my favorite scenes with the baroness is when the intermission is over and the scene opens with the kids and the Baroness outside playing ball in a circle. There is no enthusiasm among any of them and the Baroness has given up pretending to be fun as well. The children decide to sing a melancholy version of My Favorite Things, and of course, it all climaxes when Maria comes up through the garden to join in the singing. The audience and the kids all cheer together that she’s come to her senses and is back.
    I can’t imagine anyone could hate TSOM. I have never been to a sing-along, but I logged many hours with my sister in our childhood living room leaping from wingback to sofa arm to sofa arm to coffee table in our reproduction of the gazebo scene.

  • Cindy Niles says:

    I always thought the baroness was classy, but I wanted to be Liesl so I could jump around the benches in the gazebo.

  • Teri Lindeberg says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    This post and the comments were so much fun to read. I have indeed been on the tour in Salzburg and of course sang every word to every song -it was such fun! I was unable to watch the Oprah special… was it great?
    Miss you over here,

  • Lioness: it moved me to tears, I don’t mind telling you. will bring the new print over and we will have our OWN SASOM.

  • Dear Ann-Tyler:
    How nice to see you back here. The ball scene is a great one as well…and you just see she is thinking about packing her little bags and going back to Vienna where she belongs. Quite right too!

  • Teresa Wong says:

    This letter made me think of your blog post:

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