Sound of Music Scion Myles von Trapp Derbyshire on Baroness
The hills are alive with the sound of schmoozing. It’s a rainy weekday at the Upper East Side’s Mark Hotel, where the bar is packed with men’s fashion networking acolytes and well-heeled couples enjoying cocktails. Sitting on a zebra-patterned divan, Myles von Trapp Derbyshire, great-grandson of the only famous naval officer Austria has ever produced, introduces me to the TV drama he is developing about his family history. It’s called Baroness, a title by which his mother is still addressed in the Altes Land, although Austrian nobility has technically ceased to exist since 1919.
Around 100 von Trapps live today, descendants of the ten singing siblings whose childhood was dramatized The sound of music. Myles, 38, dressed tonight in an oatmeal Fair Isle sweater with a mock neck underneath, is not one of the von Trapps, who own the Trapp Family Lodge, the Vermont property where the family eventually settled after fleeing the Nazis. And he’s not one of the von Trapps on whom you can occasionally see “Edelweiss” singing oprah or The view in the past few years. But as a longtime New Yorker, he’s arguably Trapp’s most media-friendly. When journalists wondered what the real von Trapps thought of Carrie Underwood playing Maria in NBC’s 2013 live broadcast of the musical, Myles was the one to give them a disapproving quote.
This occasionally causes problems. Take the word we, which, when Myles uses it, usually just refers to him and his mother. This distinction is often lost in the headlines. “The emails I get: ‘You can’t speak on behalf of everyone in the family.’ Are you kidding? Of course I can’t,” he says.
The development process baroness has the potential to spark more family tensions, so Myles treads carefully. “Most people who are born into public families prefer to have private lives,” he says. “We have a lot of boisterous personalities in the family, but there are a few people who have made it clear that we have to respect their wishes.”
There will be no singing nuns Baroness, which Myles is developing with filmmaker Rebecca Eskreis. In the Mark – which he usually visits with his Pomeranian Fritz in tow – the two give me the elevator pitch for the show: “The hours meets The crown.” If the series is made, it will take place in three separate timelines, each following a different generation of the family: Myles’ grandmother, Henriette von Trapp, who married a man 16 years his senior and contracted polio at the age of 22; Myles’ mother, Stephanie von Trapp Derbyshire, who escaped from an abusive relationship; and Myles himself, whom Eskreis affectionately calls “a multi-faceted character, some of which I can’t stand.” (“I’m not denying that,” says Myles.) The legendary Maria, Henriette’s mother-in-law, will be a supporting character. Her performance, Myles said, “will be a departure from Julie Andrews. It’s well known that she was a tough guy.”
A skeptic might cast a sideways glance at the idea of a show about characters related to fictional characters The sound of music. But team baroness hopes the story will have universal appeal as a cross-generational tale of women overcoming obstacles over the decades. It’s going to be fun, says Myles: “The women in my family are extremely dry.” There will also be a sense of scale. “Can you imagine that you live in this small town and then your family becomes insanely famous?” says Eskreis.
The project not only provides an opportunity to correct the historical record of Captain Georg von Trapp, who appeared to be friendlier than the disciplinarian portrayed by Christopher Plummer, but also acts as a tribute to Henriette, who died in 2013. “Not only was she more of a second mother, she was also one of my best friends,” says Myles. He sees it as a meaty role for a great actress. “You have to love them and you have to be able to hate them. But at the end of the day, when she dies, you cry.”
From the very beginning, the show tests Myles’ diplomatic skills. “I get nervous if I say the wrong thing, because something could be misinterpreted and the project will either be thrown back or be scrapped altogether.” He got a glimpse of it after Page Six falsely reported it baroness would touch on the years-long legal battle surrounding the family lodge, which was detailed in 1998 vanity fair Story “The Sound of Money”. For all von Trapps reading this, rest assured: the lawsuit will not be filed. “It’s irrelevant history,” says Myles.
Nevertheless, it remains a sensitive issue. On the filing, Myles is willing to say he enjoyed visiting the lodge growing up and has a good relationship with his cousin Sam, who now runs the hotel with his father and “does a fabulous job.”
Myles grew up in a coastal Rhode Island town where his mother ran a horse farm and his grandmother ruled the local beach club like a benevolent dictator. He says he grew up with a continental attitude towards his family heritage: “In Denmark there is this unwritten rule called Janteloven: Culturally, you mustn’t think that you’re better than others – which is interesting for Denmark, considering everyone is so good-looking.” For similar reasons, he adds: “You weren’t walking around to show off . You weren’t allowed to think that you were “a von Trapp”. One of his mother’s best friends was a great-granddaughter of Andrew Carnegie. “One Sunday afternoon we were on my parents’ small motorboat, cruising around with her and her children. I must have been 14 or 15 and I say, ‘Look at us, the von Trapps and the Carnegies on a cruise.’ Both moms yanked me a new one for a solid 15 minutes.” He never said anything like that for years.
It wasn’t until Myles attended NYU in the mid-’80s that he realized just how famous his last name was. “I’ve been invited to these clubs in Meatpacking and it’s like, Why? Then it was like, ‘Oh, that’s Myles von Trapp.’ OK, got it. They treated me like Gillian Hearst.”
Through “mutual friends,” Myles entered New York society: “It feels odd to say because I really wasn’t raised that way, but I will go to several nights out a year.” (He has a day job in corporate finance in the fashion industry.) He is director of fundraising for Mommy’s Heart, a nonprofit organization that supports victims of domestic violence, and has attended the Germanistic Society of America’s Quadrille Ball, where he performed the same stately waltz that his great-grandfather performed perhaps a century earlier would have. He says: “Once was enough.”
How many times has he seen The sound of music? “I’ve seen the beginning twice as much as the whole movie,” he says. New friends will want to see him, but they usually lose interest halfway through. “They don’t realize it’s three and a half hours.” Once, during a bout of depression in 2016, he saw the film on TV. “I’ve distanced myself from belonging to the family,” he says. “I was like If they can get through this, so can I. And then I’m like This is your family, so you can definitely do it.”
That’s the kind of reaction he dreams of baroness Inspirational: “I’m sure there are people in my family who would be okay with us being done. The family would just…”
“Drifting into anonymity,” says Eskreis.
“And The sound of music would either play itself off or not,” says Myles. “I don’t know how many people are going to watch a three-and-a-half-hour musical later on. But this is a way of taking that same hope story and making it relevant in today’s society.”