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About Utah: Park City woman Heather Menzies still feels 'Music'


It's been 47 years since they appeared together as the seven von Trapp kids in "The Sound of Music," and if you'd like some heartwarming news to start your day how about this: They're still the choir children they were back then. Only older.

I have heard this from no less an authority than one of the seven herself, Heather Menzies, a Park City resident who was cast as the film's 13-year-old Louisa — the mischievous one.

Menzies is a mom and grandmother now, with a family of her own, but she's never lost touch with her famous film family, and she says they're all still as squared away as when Julie Andrews was raising them.

"Everybody's healthy and happy with beautiful families," she reports. "Nobody's taken drugs. Not a Lindsay Lohan in the bunch."

And they call themselves movie stars!

The kids who played the von Trapp kids have had their ups and downs, of course, but not only have they weathered the storms, they've helped each other weather theirs. Ten years ago, when Menzies' husband, actor Robert Urich, died of cancer at 55, every one of them stopped what they were doing and flew to her aid. They reached out to her as if they were still on the set together.

"We've never lost touch," says Menzies, just as America has never lost touch with the movie the kids helped make in 1965. And now that Louisa, Liesl (Charmian Carr), Friedrich (Nicholas Hammond), Kurt (Duane Chase), Birgitta (Angela Cartwright), Marta (Debbie Turner) and little Gretl (Kym Karath) are in their 50s and 60s, the fuss over "The Sound of Music" — and hence, them — seems only to increase.

Name it, they've done it, been asked to do it or they're about to do it: celebrity tours back to Austria, where the film was shot on location; specially themed ocean cruises; reunion shows on television; and no telling how many invitations to Sound of Music sing-alongs (one was held this past summer in Park City).

And the latest — the family scrapbook.

Responding to fan demand, Menzies and her screen siblings have collected memorabilia they saved from their filming days and assembled it all into a kind of yearbook. In "The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook," there are copies of diaries, letters, marked-up scripts, hundreds of snapshots and even a DVD of the 8 mm home movies their parents took of them while they were busy making the film.

Menzies will be at Dolly's Bookstore on Park City's Main Street today at 6:30 p.m. to sign copies of the book and talk about the movie phenomenon that spawned it.

Menzies can remember as if it were yesterday auditioning for the part of Louisa.

It was 1963, and she was a 14-year-old aspiring singer/dancer/actress living in suburban L.A. She had one small part to her credit in the television show "My Three Sons."

Hundreds of kids auditioned in the first wave. Over months, director Robert Wise whittled them down to 14, and then announced just before the weekend that he'd let the seven who got the parts know on Monday.

"It was the longest weekend of my entire life," Menzies remembers. "I had to go to school on Monday and kept waiting for the call. I thought someone would get me out of class and say the studio called. No word. Finally, I got home and my mother was in the bathtub. 'Did I get the part?' I asked her. She said my sister had an audition to go to in 20 minutes and I needed to help get her ready. I asked again, 'Did I get it?' and she said, 'Yes, now will you please go get your sister!' So that's how I found out I was in 'The Sound of Music.' I screamed bloody murder, I was so happy."

But not in her wildest dreams did she envision how long the role would endure.

"Nobody did," she says, "I remember 20th Century Fox had just lost a bundle on Cleopatra and people were saying they were taking a big gamble on this new musical with a budget of $20 million, which was huge in those days."

When the filming was over, she recalls that Nicholas Hammond/Freidrich came up to her and, in a prediction equally as accurate as the one that said man would never walk on the moon, announced, "I know we're really close right now, but we'll probably never see each other again."

The reality is, they've never stopped seeing each other. Fortunately, they get along famously and wouldn't have it any other way — just as you'd hope for Julie Andrews' kids.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.