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IT'S an image Heather Menzies has never really been able to shake off - 35 years on, she's still known as one of those singing kids in The Sound of Music.

At the age of 15, she went from promising ballet pupil to international movie star when she starred with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the blockbuster musical movie.

Heather played Louisa Von Trapp, the second eldest girl in the famous family - but she spent the next 10 years trying to live down her goody-goody image.

She even stripped off for Playboy magazine when she was 23, under the headline The Tender Trapp.

Heather, now 50, recalled: "I did this science fiction film called Sssssss and was asked to pose in the magazine to promote the movie.

"Naively, I thought it would help me move on from The Sound of Music but, of course, the magazine made a big deal out of me being a former Von Trapp.

"I don't regret doing it. The photos were done quite tastefully - not the gynaecological stuff you see these days."

But tasteful was not the word her strict Presbyterian parents - who emigrated from Scotland to Canada after the Second World War - would have used.

"They were horrified," she said. "It took quite a time to calm them down, although it gave my family back in Scotland quite a laugh."

Despite being born and raised in Canada, Heather shares her parents' love of their Scottish homeland.

And when her father, George, died, she returned to his home town of Perth to scatter his ashes on a hill.

She said: "I think that after the war, there was a migration of people who were down and looking for a new way of life.

"The funny thing is, for the rest of their lives my parents regretted leaving behind everything and everyone they loved."

While Heather's mother, Mary, served with the ATS during the war, George was with the 51st Highland Division, which fell to the Germans at the Normandy port of St Valery-en-Caux in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.

His division, together with Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland, Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders, were given the impossible task of fighting on after the rest of the British army had slipped away from the beaches at Dunkirk.

It was part of Winston Churchill's bid to persuade France to continue fighting. But the French army collapsed and the Scots were outnumbered by German Panzers.

Many were killed, including Major Stewart Ritchie, grandfather of Madonna's new hubby, Guy Ritchie.

The survivors were placed in prisoner-of-war camps for the rest of the conflict. George himself spent five years as a PoW, as did film star Hugh Grant's grandfather, Major James Murray Grant.

Heather said: "Before the war, dad had worked for the insurance company General Accident in Perth.

"When he and Mum decided to leave Scotland, they left their whole family, knowing they might never see them again.

"In those days, people couldn't just hop on a plane or pick up the telephone. It was too expensive."

Upon arrival in Toronto in 1949, George got a job as a commercial artist, a career which sustained him over the years as his family moved from one town to the next.

Heather said: "My father had itchy feet. I think his homesickness meant he was always looking for greener pastures. But he never found anywhere to compare with his beloved Scotland."

Heather now lives in California with actor husband Robert Urich, the star of American TV's Spenser For Hire detective series. They have two grown-up children and a two-year-old daughter, Allison.

Over the years, Heather has learned to accept the unbreakable connection to the famous musical.

She recently jumped at the chance to return to Salzburg with the other Sound of Music children to film a documentary. It brought back vivid memories of how she was plucked from obscurity as a ballet student to become a Von Trapp.

She said: "A friend had an agent who was sending her to audition for The Sound Of Music. She persuaded her to send me, too.

"I didn't really know what I was letting myself in for - I had never heard of Julie Andrews.

"But the day I arrived at 20th Century Fox for the audition, the halls were lined with children and their mums and I thought, 'This must be something special.'

"At the audition, they were aware of my dancing background, but they asked me to sing, accompanied by some guy on a piano. I just wanted it to end."

However, she must have made an impression, and she was repeatedly called back, until finally she got the part of Louisa.

"By that time, I was very excited," admitted Heather. "I knew this was going to be something great."

Her mum accompanied her to Salzburg in Austria, where the movie was filmed.

She went on: "It was a wonderful experience, and I made some lifelong friends. I've been close to Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta, ever since. Julie Andrews was like a mother to us all but Christopher Plummer was a bit more distant - very like his character at the beginning of the movie. We all watched our Ps and Qs around him."

But the kids still found plenty of time to get up to mischief. Heather revealed: "Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich, was the worst and would lead us to do the silliest things.

"In our hotel, they had a system where the guests would leave their shoes out at night to be polished.

"All seven of us would creep out later, take the shoes, and swap them all around, often taking someone's shoes right to the other side of the hotel.

"We also enjoyed throwing wet tissues out of our windows on to unsuspecting tourists below."

Returning to Salzburg for the After They Were Famous special, and getting to meet the real Von Trapps, proved a very touching experience for Heather.

"My equivalent as Louisa - Maria Von Trapp - was in tears when she saw me. It was like meeting a relative I'd heard about all my life.

"Part of the magic of The Sound of Music is that it's actually a true story. A real love story."

Heather feels that she's been living a love story herself since she met her husband while filming a commercial for corned beef hash 27 years ago.

Their marriage has survived both their fame and a life-threatening illness. For Robert was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer - synovial cell sarcoma - five years ago. And when things looked at their bleakest, Heather reached out to her closest friends - screen siblings Charmian Carr, who played Liesl, and Angela.

She said: "Robert was suffering from cancer of the tissues that surround the joints. There are only 80 known cases in the world.

"We were determined to fight it. He had to have nine months of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and, thankfully, he came through it.

"He was lucky. If he'd contracted it just a few years earlier, doctors would not have known which chemical cocktail could combat the cancer." Because of their experience, the couple have now set up the Robert and Heather Urich Foundation for Sarcoma Research, to raise money for the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre, where Robert was treated.

Heather said: "We're so grateful to the staff for helping us get through such a harrowing time and we're doing all we can to help fund research to help other sufferers."

Given a second chance at life together, Heather and Robert like nothing more than to visit her beloved Scotland.

"Whenever we go over, we are lucky to get out of Glasgow, there are so many relatives to visit."

The Sound Of Music Children - After They Were Famous will be screened on ITV later this year.

Details of Heather and Robert's cancer foundation can be found on

Where are they now?

Charmian Carr (Liesl):

Charmian, now 57, married a dentist and had two daughters. She is an interior decorator, with Michael Jackson among her clients.

Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich):

Nicholas, now 50, won new fans playing Spiderman in the 70s. He is now a television writer and producer in Australia.

Kym Karath (Gretl):

After playing the youngest Von Trapp, Kym, now 41, appeared in TV shows Dr Kildare and Lassie. She lives in New York with her nine-year-old son.

Duane Chase (Kurt):

Now 49, Duane took small acting roles until he was 18, then did a geology degree. He is a computer software designer in Seattle.

Angela Cartwright (Brigitta):

Angela, who is now 47, went on to star in the series Lost In Space. She still acts and also runs a gift shop in California.

Debbie Turner (Marta):

Now 43 and a mum of four, Debbie went into modelling after the film. She later worked in a ski resort, where she met her husband.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 7, 2001
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