Movers and Shakers of Movie Musicals

The Sound of Music

Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews (Captain and Maria von Trapp)

On the set Plummer, who played the curmudgeonly von Trapp père, referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus. And while many of the kids remember him as aloof, his distance “made the children’s performances better,” says Charmian Carr, who portrayed his daughter Liesl, “because they were really intimidated by him.” Costar Julie Andrews told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News last year that Plummer’s approach tempered the film’s “potential sugary sentiment.” Now 72, the actor, who last appeared as Russell Crowe’s psychiatrist in A Beautiful Mind, lives in Connecticut with his wife of 31 years, actress Elaine Taylor, 58. Time has softened his views on The Sound of Music. On CBS’s The Early Show last year he said, “I know I was particularly irreverent about the piece many times, but underneath it all I am grateful for it.”

Unlike her irascible leading man, Andrews was “a dream lady to work with,” says director Robert Wise. “Between scenes, she was teaching us songs and had us in fits of giggles,” says Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich). “She knew it was important that when the cameras went on, we just adored her, and we did.” So did Oscar: Andrews earned her second of three Best Actress nominations for Music (she won for 1964’s Mary Poppins). In 1997 Andrews, now 66, suffered severe damage to her vocal cords after minor throat surgery. She continues to act and writes children’s books in East Hampton, N.Y., and Manhattan, where she lives with her second husband of 32 years, director Blake Edwards, 79, with whom she raised five children. Of her 55-year career, Andrews told Larry King last year, “Imagine being asked to do Mary Poppins, and then somebody comes along and says, ‘Would you like to do The Sound of Music?’ My God, how lucky I got!”

Debbie Turner (Marta von Trapp)

With dozens of commercials behind her by age 7, Turner impressed director Robert Wise with her audition—but distressed him during filming. “He had a screen to soften the background,” she says. “I fell through it and put a body-sized hole in it. I don’t think he ever forgave me.” Turner, 45 (with her mixed-breed dog Mr. Bare, above), did more commercials and modeling in L.A. until her early 20s, when she married aircraft mechanic Richard Larson, now 44, and moved to Chanhassen, Minn., where they raised four daughters, ages 9 to 19. Now freelancing as a floral designer and marketing homemade collectible Santas online, Turner, who e-mails the other “kids” regularly, says the film’s message of love and honor explains its enduring popularity. “It’s a very heartfelt story. You walk out of the movie singing.”

Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp)

It’s a credit to director Robert Wise for casting “normal children,” says Hammond, 51, that he and his movie siblings—whom he still counts among his closest friends—have turned out so well. “None of us are on drugs, none of us are in jail. We are all in relationships, we all have normal working lives.” For Hammond that has meant playing Peter Parker in the ’70s TV series The Amazing Spiderman and guest-starring on some 100 other shows. While filming a miniseries in Australia in 1987, the Washington, D.C., native fell in love with the country and moved to Sydney, where he lives with girlfriend Robyn Nevin, 49, artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. Though Hammond won a screenwriting award in 1999 for an Australian miniseries, Music remains an unsurpassable touchstone: “My mum still has the telegram saying ‘Nicky got the job.’ It was a total thrill.”

Kym Karath (Gretl)

This was the plan for the rowboat scene: When the boat tipped, Julie Andrews was to catch the 5-year-old Karath in her arms as they fell into the lake. Instead, on the second take, Andrews and Karath landed in the water on opposite sides of the boat. “That was a little traumatic—someone had to save me!” says Karath, now 43. After what she refers to as too many “dumb blonde” roles in films and TV, she moved to Paris, where she met banker Philippe L’Equilbec. Married in 1985, they have a 10-year-old son, Eric. She took time off to be a stay-at-home mom, but now Karath, who shuttles between homes in L.A. and Connecticut, is back on the audition circuit.

Duane Chase (Kurt)

When director Robert Wise asked Chase to come to Austria, the California native replied, “Oh, sure, and you don’t even have to pay me!” A veteran of TV commercials (one for IHOP led to his Music audition), the then-13-year-old says that he “never intended acting to be a lifelong career.” He made just one film after Music, then went on to earn a geology degree from UC-Santa Barbara and a master’s in geology from the University of Alabama. In 1988 he married Petra, 54, a nurse, and settled in Redmond, Wash. Though he is now a software engineer, Chase, 51, finds that his life is still filled with The Sound of Music. “Ironically Petra’s mom is Austrian and Petra originally came to the U.S. as a nanny—and her middle name is Maria,” he says. “But it’s all coincidence. My attraction to her had nothing to do with any of that!” Still, 37 years later, Chase says, watching the film is “like watching a giant home movie of my childhood.”

Heather Menzies Urich (Louisa)

“Some movie being filmed in Australia starring Julie Harris” is how 13-year-old Menzies described her Music audition to a friend. But after six months of try-outs, she says, “I wanted it more than anything.” In the 1970s Menzies, now 52, starred in the TV series Logan’s Run, posed for Playboy (“I thought, ‘Ooh, let’s see what it’s like to be sexy’ “) and met her husband, actor Robert Urich, 55, while filming a commercial for Libby’s Corned Beef Hash. They live in L.A. and have three children—Ryan, 23, Emily, 21, and Allison, 4.

Charmian Carr (Liesl)

When a 21-year-old Carr trilled the lyrics “I am 16 going on 17,” that wasn’t the only subterfuge going on. After spraining her ankle in an earlier take, she had to wear a camouflaged bandage. “You can see it if you know to look,” says Carr, now 59. “I don’t know how I managed to dance that dance.” She gave up acting for interior design because, she says, “I wanted children and a career I could control.” With husband Jay Brent (they divorced in 1991), she had daughters Jennifer, 32, and Emily, 28, and worked as Michael Jackson’s interior designer through the ’80s. (Current clients include several Music alumni.) Now living in Encino, Calif., and dating forest ranger Gary Oldham, 59, Carr appears at “Sing-A-Long Sound of Music” events across the country. “They show the words onscreen and the audience sings along,” she explains. “Going back to performing was seamless for me. Liesl takes over and I stay in the background.”

Angela Cartwright (Brigitta)

After seven years on TV’s The Danny Thomas Show, the British-born Cartwright was a professional on the Music set and an 11-year-old off it. When she wasn’t debating the cutest Beatle with Heather Menzies (Louisa), she was learning to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” backward from Mary Poppins herself. (“I still can,” the 49-year-old says proudly.) Three years of TV’s Lost in Space followed, then acting took a backseat as she and husband of 26 years Steve Gullion, 53, opened a gift boutique (now online) in Toluca Lake, Calif., where she sells her own hand-tinted black-and-white photos. Life came full circle as she watched daughter Rebecca, now 20 (she also has a son, Jesse, 16), play Maria in a summer-theater production of Music eight years ago. “When she came out singing ‘The hills are alive…,’ ” Cartwright remembers, “tears streamed down my face.”

Daniel Truhitte (Rolf)

Truhitte says that he landed the part of Liesl’s Austrian boyfriend because “I could sing and dance and play a Nazi.” He later turned down similar roles, eventually choosing to run dance studios over acting. “I was raising a family,” says Truhitte, 58. “There was no security in it.” Living in North Carolina, the husband of Tarealia, 54, and father of three sons from two previous marriages is attempting a comeback as one of “the last song-and-dance men.” If that doesn’t work out? “I was Rolf,” he says. “What more could a person ask for?”

George Chakiris (Bernardo)

Shooting dance sequences on the streets of New York City gave the film a gritty realism. “Actual gang members were used for security,” says Chakiris, who played the leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks. “Some of them wanted to know how they could join the Sharks or the Jets.” But the location also gave the cast a grueling drill. “Working on pavement all day was probably a little harder than a studio floor, but it was the right place to be,” says the Ohio-born actor. The never-married Oscar winner, 67, launched a successful nightclub act in Las Vegas in the ’70s and last appeared onstage in the 1996 musical Jane Eyre in London. He now designs a line of jewelry at his home in L.A. “I was inspired by a scarab I’d seen from the King Tut collection!” he says.

Rita Moreno (Anita)

One of the few native Puerto Ricans cast in the film (she played the girlfriend of Sharks leader Bernardo), Moreno had less authentic dance credentials. “I have never claimed to be a great dancer,” she told NPR in 1999, and she admitted to PEOPLE in 1998 that West Side Story’s strenuous choreography “damn near killed me.” Not only did she survive, she went on to add a Tony, a Grammy and two Emmys to her Oscar over a 57-year career. Now 70, Moreno lives in Berkeley, Calif., with her husband of 36 years, retired cardiologist Leonard Gordon, 81. The mother of actress Fernanda Luisa Fischer, 35, and grandmother of two is winning new fans as Sister Pete on HBO’s Oz.

West Side Story

Russ Tamblyn (Riff)

A Champion gymnast at North Hollywood High and an acrobatic dancer in 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Tamblyn was more than ready for the rigors of playing the Jets gang leader in Story. “We would rehearse and rehearse, and Jerome Robins would always want more,” Tamblyn remembers. “Bob Wise would say, ‘Geez, Jerry, that looked good to me.’ ” Story fans saw a very different Tamblyn on TV in the early ’90s when he played Dr. Lawrence Jacoby on David Lynch’s surreal Twin Peaks. Today the 67-year-old actor lives in Santa Monica with folksinger wife Bonnie Murray, 54, and manages the career of 18-year-old daughter Amber Rose (right), who recently ended a six-year run on ABC’s General Hospital. “She’s really cooking,” he says. “She’s keeping me very busy.”


Ron Moody (Fagin)

“It was the most wonderful summer,” Ron Moody says of the Oliver! shoot at Britain’s Shepperton Studios. “All the boys and girls were out there sunbathing. It was a joyous film to make.” But the London-born Moody, 78, who starred as Fagin in the original West End stage production in 1960, had to drag himself to the film’s first screening. “I thought I was terrible,” he says. “All I could see was disaster, all that work for nothing—and all around me people were cheering.” The role earned him an Oscar nomination but, ironically, may have hobbled his career. “I was spoiled by Oliver!,” he says. “I didn’t want to do anything that would be less. I should have done everything.” He has continued to work in U.S. and British television as well as in small films and stage productions, but nothing except his home life has rivaled the success of Oliver! Married for 16 years to Thérése Blackbourn Moody, the father of six children, ages 5 to 15, now attends a weekly Pilates class taught by his wife near their home in Southgate, London. “I love it when I finish it,” he says, laughing. “I’m a lazy so-and-so.”

Shani Wallis (Nancy)

Born in North London, Shani Wallis was a musical veteran already living in Los Angeles when she landed the role of Nancy, the evil Bill Sikes’s partner in crime and passion. After a year of tryouts, Wallis, now 68, convinced producers she could do a Cockney accent—her own. She remembers a lively set, thanks to the children who played the street urchins. “You had to keep them in line,” she says. Together for 37 years with her husband, agent Bernie Rich, 70, Wallis is stepmother to three, mother to Rebecca, 30, and grandmother to 8-month-old McKenna. She has done some TV work (Columbo; Murder, She Wrote) but is most proud do Oliver! “People have told me it made such an impression on their lives.”

Mark Lester (Oliver)

When he learned he’d won the role of Oliver Twist, an 8-year-old Mark Lester thought, “That’s brilliant, no more school.” Not quite. With three hours of lessons a day and a lot of waiting for scenes to be set up, Lester, now 43, found filming dull, preferring to be “outside mucking about” during the six-month shoot. He followed Oliver! with a dozen films but quit acting at 18. These days the Oxford-born Lester has an osteopathy practice with his wife, Jane, 44, in Cheltenham, England, where they live with their four children, ages 2 to 10. Though he recently attended Liza Minnelli’s star-studded wedding, Lester doesn’t miss show business. “It’s quite amusing to see that world,” he says, “but it’s quite nice to be on the outside of it.”


Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles)

Watching Liza Minnelli take the stage as Sally Bowles was “a magic moment,” says her costar Michael York. “It was wonderful to see her seize her destiny.” Her signature role led to an Oscar win and, sprinkled between singing engagements, other films, like 1981’s Arthur. Her personal life was more precarious. Enduring weight problems, drug and alcohol addictions and three divorces, Minnelli, 56, has also undergone three hip-replacement surgeries in the past eight years. In June, however, Minnelli met event producer David Gest, 48, whom she married last month in a lavish New York City ceremony. Some 90 lbs. slimmer than she was when she began dating Gest, and drug-free, Minnelli is healthy and happy at last. “I’ve never felt like this,” she says. “It’s like my feet are planted firmly on the ground, but my head is somewhere in the clouds with the angels.”

Joel Grey (Emcee)

After originating the role of the Kit Kat Klub’s androgynous host on Broadway in 1966, for which he won a Tony Award, Joel Grey “was a natural to follow himself,” says the film’s producer Cy Feuer, 91. “We didn’t think of offering it to anyone else.” Grey, 69, won Best Supporting Actor for his edgy portrayal, but theater remained his first love. Starring in productions both Off-Broadway and on, including Good-time Charley, The Grand Tour and Chicago, Grey earned three more Tony nominations. Father of actress Jennifer (of Dirty Dancing fame) and James, a chef, Grey, who has been divorced from singer Jo Wilder since 1982, splits his time between New York City and Los Angeles and shot guest spots last year on TV’s Touched by an Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He still reserves his highest esteem for musicals. “They’re very touchy, risky and hard to make work,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1998. “When they do work, they’re magical.”

Michael York (Brian Roberts)

Clearly he was perfect for his part. “I heard they were looking for a ‘Michael York’ type,” says the now-60-year-old actor, who played Sally Bowles’s beau, Brian Roberts. “So I called my agent and said, ‘Do you think I pass as the Michael York type?’ ” After being cast in one of the screen’s more sexually progressive love triangles, York, primarily a London stage actor before Cabaret, continued to act in films—his most memorable role was that of D’Artagnan in 1973’s The Three Musketeers and its two sequels. Living in Los Angeles with his photographer wife of 33 years, Pat, 72, the classically trained York, whose acting manual A Shakespearean Actor Prepares was published last year, can next be seen reprising his role as Basil Exposition in this summer’s Austin Powers 3. “Shakespeare would have loved Austin Powers,” he says. “He had an even bawdier sense of humor.”

Funny Girl

Barbra Streisand (Fanny Brice)

The Brooklyn-born singer and actress was a natural to play Fanny Brice, the great Ziegfeld comedian, says Ray Stark, 86, producer of the 1968 biopic and Brice’s real-life son-in-law. But the suits at Columbia weren’t convinced. “She’d been great in the role on Broadway,” says Stark, “but the studio wanted a movie-star name.” In the end, Funny Girl earned seven Oscar nominations and its star won Best Actress. Streisand, 59, who married her second husband, actor James Brolin, in 1998, has settled into what she has called “semi-retirement.” She told the Los Angeles Times last year, “I don’t pursue anything that vehemently anymore.”

My Fair Lady

Audrey Hepburn (Eliza Doolittle) and Rex Harrison (Henry Higgins)

“The loverliest motion picture of them all,” as the 1964 film was tag-lined, received eight Oscars, including Best Actor (Rex Harrison). Still, Theodore Bikel (who played Hungarian Zoltan Karpathy), now 77 and touring in Fiddler on the Roof, believes Audrey Hepburn should also have won for her “beautiful, nuanced performance” as Eliza Doolittle. Hepburn died in 1993—Harrison in 1990—but the voice of Eliza Doolittle lives on in Marni Nixon, who dubbed Hepburn’s singing parts. “I was trying to make Audrey look good, not trying to insert my personality into her,” says Nixon, 72, who dubbed the voices of many other stars, including Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and now tours in a one-woman show, Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood.

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Sissy Spacek (Loretta Lynn)

Country music queen Loretta Lynn chose Spacek to star in her 1980 cabin-to-castle story because, she say, “that freckle-faced girl looked just like I did.” But when director Michael Apted heard that the star of 1976’s Carrie wanted to do her own vocals instead of lip-synching, “a good half of me was panicking,” he says. Apted was unaware of Spacek’s early stint as an aspiring singer (calling her self Rainbo, she recorded a single in 1968) or that “she’d gone off to Nashville to work with Loretta and her producer.” Recalls Lynn: “I didn’t know Sissy was fixin’ to work me to death, studying me for a whole year.” Spacek’s dead-on mimicry of Lynn’s twang paid off in a Best Actress win. In 1982 Spacek left L.A. with husband Jack Fish, a film art director, and headed to a farm in Virginia, where they raised two daughters, Schuyler, 19, and Madison, 13. The 52-year-old actress’s quasi-retirement ended when In the Bedroom set off a storm of adulation. Says Apted: “It’s wonderful she’s got this big success to bring her back.”

Leslie Caron

An American in Paris; Gigi

Handpicked by Gene Kelly as his leading lady in An American in Paris, the 19-year-old Parisian ballerina (who had auditioned only to please her mother) made a faux pas the night before filming began. “In total innocence, I cut my hair,” recalls Caron, now 70, who remembers Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli wondering, “What shall we do with this little skinned rat?” (They postponed shooting.) Seven years later Minnelli again directed her as the up-and-coming courtesan in Gigi (inset, above). “It was lavish and beautiful,” says the thrice-divorced mother of two and grand-mère of three (right, walking Toto, her Jack Russell, near her Paris home). “I couldn’t have been happier.” In 1992 she opened an inn in Burgundy but still makes room for acting, appearing as a villager in 2000’s Chocolat and as a domineering mother-in-law in Merchant Ivory’s upcoming Le Divorce with Glenn Close. The pace fits Caron, for whom one thing hasn’t changed. “I was just not a star at heart,” she says. “I didn’t want to be a Hollywood freak.”

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