Hills are alive to Trapp family row

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The Independent Online
The family inspired the film The Sound of Music, but 60 years after they escaped the Nazi takeover of Austria, the Von Trapps are no longer singing from the same hymn sheet.

Instead, the cosy clan celebrated on screen for its exemplary family values is involved in a most unharmonious struggle for control of the family business, an Austrian-style lodge at Stowe, in the hills of Vermont.

Lawyers representing two branches of the family appeared before the Vermont Supreme Court this week to argue whether one branch shortchanged the other by $3m (pounds 1.9m). "It's sad," said Johannes von Trapp, youngest child of Maria von Trapp. "It wouldn't have happened while my mother was alive." The convent girl who Climbed Every Mountain when she was played by Julie Andrews died in 1987.

Tension blew up between the descendants of the entertainers from the Alps in 1993 after family members ousted Johannes von Trapp as president of the corporation running the Trapp Family Lodge. He then regained control of the company the following year, after which his sister and some of his brother's children objected and cashed in their shares, receiving $2.5m from the business. However, they later challenged the payment in court, saying they were due roughly twice as much and in May a County Superior Court ordered Trapp Family Lodge Inc to pay the higher value, about $3m.

Johannes von Trapp's lawyers have now appealed. But if the Supreme Court upholds the award, Johannes von Trapp says he may have to sell the lodge, which comes with restaurants and more than 2,000 acres.

The Von Trapp family fled Austria in 1938, eventually settling in the hills above Stowe. The first lodge burned down in 1980 but was rebuilt as a hotel with cottages and time-share units. Drawn no doubt by curiosity fuelled by the continuing popularity of the famous film, the lodge has about 150,000 visitors each year.