Notes On A Scandal
Stunned By Normalcy
Published: Sunday, October 31, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Come fall semester, one of the first things I notice is that I have completely lost track of many of my favorite television shows. I was knee-deep in Mad Men, Weeds, and even AMC's new experiment Rubicon as August wrapped up, but these days the only show I manage to catch – though admittedly about three days late – is Glee, which is becoming less and less adept at keeping my interest. (Even Matthew Morrison's shirtless rendition of "Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me" left something to be desired, and that's saying something.) Still, when I read online that Oprah would be doing a Sound of Music reunion episode, I knew I would be tuning in.
Okay, so maybe I watched it online, but I got more than the gist of the episode from all the material on Oprah's Web site, which provides actor "then and now" profiles, behind the scenes clips, and exclusive stories told by the cast members about the filming process. Charmian Carr, for example, who played Liesel (at age 21, it is worth noting, not "16 going on 17"), admitted to being completely charmed by Christopher Plummer, the so-called "bad boy actor" who reluctantly took on the role of the Captain. When asked by Oprah what the most valuable thing she learned from Plummer was, she responded, "He taught me how to drink." You have to love the irony, especially since Liesel once crooned to her on-screen father, "I'd like to stay and taste my first champagne!" in "So Long, Farewell." Of course, the Captain responded with a decided "No."
Still, in hearing about the lives these actors have gone on to lead – namely, those led by the actors who played the von Trapp children – I was surprised to notice a palpable trend: None of them exhibited the often striking effects of a grown-up child star. These were children who were thrust into the spotlight at a very young age and not just in any movie – in the film decided by many to be one of the best of our age and a winner of five Oscars, including Best Picture. It's a story with all the makings of seven child stars doomed to walk constantly through lines of flashing camera lights and turn inevitably to rebellious behavior, a la Lindsay Lohan, Macauley Culkin, Jodie Sweetin, and countless others.
The fact that the complete opposite is true for these seven seems to suggest that there really was a time when child stars could live healthy, even normal lives. Carr dabbled in show business, but settled on starting an interior design company once her children had grown up. Angela Cartwright (Brigitta) has spent more time as an author than an actress, publishing books on her children, photography, and art. When Debbie Turner (Marta) finished high school, she went on to become a professional skier, and Duane Chase (Kurt) obtained a masters degree in geology, which he has put toward creating computer software for geologists. Perhaps the only hint of child star-like rebellion has been seen in Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa), who tried to counteract her goody-two-shoes image by agreeing to a Playboy spread in 1973.
Oprah seems to share my stunned response to these seven normal, healthy people, all who have managed to either stay in the spotlight if they chose or disappear from it and lead a life outside the Hollywood eye. "Wasn't it hard?" she asked them during the episode, but they all calmly shook their heads and shrugged. I can't help but think that if The Sound of Music had been made 45 years later, these people would have had a lot more in common with the Lindsay Lohans and Macauley Culkins of the world, and the fact that they don't makes them lucky. They are relics of a time without E!, without paparazzi waiting at the end of your driveway, and even without my beloved Perez.