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14 Facts About The Sound of Music

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With its iconic camerawork, catchy musical score, and great performances, it’s not hard to see why so many people still love The Sound of Music, even after all these years.

1. Julie Andrews Kept Falling Over During The Mountain Scene.

The opening scene of Andrews twirling on the mountaintop may look effortless, but it was anything but. Not only was it raining and cold throughout production, the helicopter kept knocking Andrews over. “This was a jet helicopter,” she said. “And the down draft from those jets was so strong that every time … the helicopter circled around me and the down draft just flattened me into the grass. And I mean flattened. It was fine for a couple of takes, but after that you begin to get just a little bit angry… And I really tried. I mean, I braced myself, I thought, ‘It’s not going to get me this time.’ And every single time, I bit the dust.”

2. It Was The Last Rodgers And Hammerstein Musical.

The musical theatre partnership between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II yielded Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The King and I, among others. The Sound of Music, based on two German films about the von Trapp family (as well as a memoir by Maria von Trapp), opened on Broadway in 1959 to tepid critical reviews. In 1960, Hammerstein died from stomach cancer. The last song he wrote was "Edelweiss."

3. Two Years Before The Movie, Julie Andrews Spoofed The Musical.

In the 1962 TV special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, Andrews and Carol Burnett parodied The Sound Of Music in a skit called Pratt Family Singers. You can watch it above.

4. Andrews Almost Wasn't Cast.

Richard Rodgers knew that Julie Andrews would be the perfect Maria for the role after she auditioned for one of his musicals in 1956, but she starred in My Fair Lady instead. No one felt that the theater actress would work well on a movie screen in color—until Walt Disney showed William Wyler the rushes from Mary Poppins, and everyone realized she was perfect. Except for 20th Century Fox, who wanted a four film contract. Ultimately, it got haggled down to a two film contract, and movie history was made.

And as for the story that Julie Andrews was worried about being typecast as a nanny after Mary Poppins? She said, “Having done the Americanization of Emily between Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, I hoped that would show I didn’t only play nanny roles!”

5. The Boat Scene Traumatized Gretl

The scene where the rowboat overturns and Maria and the kids fall into a lake was hard on Kym Karath, who played 5-year-old Gretl. Since Karath couldn’t swim, Andrews was supposed to fall forward when the boat turned over and rescue her. Instead, Andrews fell backwards and couldn’t get to Karath in time. “I went under, I swallowed a lot of water, which I then vomited all over Heather [Menzies-Urich, who played Louisa],” Karath said.

6. Christopher Plummer Hated The Movie.

Plummer, who played Captain von Trapp, hated the film so much that he called it The Sound of Mucus. “Because it was so awful and sentimental and gooey,” he said. “You had to work terribly hard to try and infuse some minuscule bit of humor into it.” He drank and ate away his sorrows in Salzburg, which caused him to gain so much weight his costumes had to be let out. He also admitted on the DVD commentary that he was drunk when filming the music festival.

7. Andrews Kept Giggling During The Love Scene.

When Maria and Captain von Trapp declare their love in the gazebo, Andrews and Plummer had to stand close together and sing “Something Good.” But the romance was interrupted when the lights above them made rude noises that caused Andrews to giggle. “Christopher would be looking into my eyes and saying 'Oh Maria I love you,' and there’d be this awful raspberry coming from the lights above us,” Andrews said.  Finally, director Robert Wise turned the lights off and filmed the scene in silhouette.

8. Here’s Mia Farrow Auditioning For Liesl.

Farrow was one of many actors who tested for Liesl, but in the end, the part went to Charmian Carr.

9. Carr Injured Herself During “Sixteen Going On Seventeen.”

While filming the song “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” Carr—who, incidentally, was 21 years old at the time—fell through the glass in the gazebo and injured her ankle. In the scene, she’s wearing a bandage covered with make-up on her leg.

10. Friedrich Grew Six Inches During Filming.

Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich, grew from 5-ft. 3-in. to 5-ft. 9-in. during the six months of shooting. Since Friedrich had to be shorter than Liesl but taller than Louisa, the growth spurt posed a continuity problem. At the start of the film, Hammond had lifts on his shoes; by the end, his shoes were off, and Carr had to stand on a box.

11. Julie Andrews Yodeled With The Real Maria Von Trapp.

When the real Maria von Trapp popped up on an episode of The Julie Andrews Hour, she told Andrews that the actress was "absolutely wonderful" in the film, but her yodeling was not quite up to par—which led to this little duet.

12. The Von Trapps Didn’t Escape Over A Mountain.

In the movie, the von Trapp family escapes the Nazis by crossing over the mountains into Switzerland. In real life, the von Trapps took the train to Italy. If they had gone over the Austrian mountains, they would have ended up in Germany—right by where Hitler had his mountain retreat.

13. Overall, The Movie Is Historically Inaccurate.

For instance, there were 10 von Trapp children, not seven. The real Maria von Trapp left the convent to tutor one child, not to be governess to all the children. She and Georg von Trapp were married 11 years before the Nazis took over Austria, and by all accounts, Georg was a kind man, not the harsh disciplinarian from the film. Most surprisingly, Maria wrote that she didn’t love him when she married him: "I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn't love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children.”

14. The Movie Saved 20th Century Fox.

After the financial failure of Cleopatra, 20th Century Fox was close to bankruptcy. Luckily, The Sound of Music was so successful, it surpassed Gone With The Wind as the number one box office to date and went on to win five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Today, adjusted for ticket price inflation, The Sound of Music is the third highest grossing film of all time. It’s considered the most successful musical ever on film.

Bonus: Here’s A Recreation Of “The Lonely Goatherd” With The Muppets

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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