Hollywood’s Musical Dubber, Marni Nixon Dies at 86

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Marni Nixon, the singing voice of the leading actresses in films THE KING AND I, WEST SIDE STORY and MY FAIR LADY, passed away from breast cancer at the age of 86 according to the New York Times.

Ms. Nixon explained her Hollywood singing arrangements to ABC’s “Nightline” in 2007, “Twentieth Century Fox, when I did ‘The King and I,’ threatened me. They said, if anybody ever knows that you did any part of the dubbing for Deborah Kerr, we’ll see to it that you don’t work in town again.” Ms. Kerr was nominated in 1956 for her role as Anna in “The King and I” while Nixon received a total of $420.

Nixon’s career in film started in 1948 when she sang the voices of the angels heard by Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc (1948). The same year, she did her first dubbing work when she provided Margaret O’Brien’s singing voice in 1948’s Big City and then 1949’s The Secret Garden. She also dubbed Marilyn Monroe’s high notes in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). She appeared on Broadway in 1954 in The Girl in Pink Tights.

In 1956, she worked closely with Deborah Kerr to supply the star’s singing voice for the film version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, and the next year she again worked with Kerr to dub her voice in An Affair to Remember. That year, she also sang for Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin. In 1960, she had an on-screen chorus role in Can-Can. In 1961’s West Side Story, the studio kept her work on the film (as the singing voice of Natalie Wood’s Maria) a secret from the actress, Nixon also dubbed Rita Moreno’s singing in the film’s “Tonight” quintet. She asked the film’s producers for, but did not receive, any direct royalties from her work on the film, but Leonard Bernstein contractually gave her 1/4 of one percent of his personal royalties from it.

In 1962, she also sang Wood’s high notes in Gypsy. For My Fair Lady in 1964, she again worked with the female lead of the film, Audrey Hepburn, to perform the songs of Hepburn’s character Eliza.

Nixon’s first onscreen appearance was as Sister Sophia in the 1965 film The Sound of Music. In 1967, she was the singing voice of Princess Serena in a live action and animated version of Jack and the Beanstalk on NBC.

Nixon also toured with Liberace and Victor Borge and in her own cabaret shows. On stage, in 1984, she originated the role of Edna Off-Broadway in Taking My Turn, composed by Gary William Friedman, receiving a nomination for a Drama Desk Award. She also originated the role of Sadie McKibben in Opal (1992), and she had a 1997 film role as Aunt Alice in I Think I Do. Under her own name, beginning in the 1980s, Nixon recorded songs by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Arnold Schönberg, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and Anton Webern. She was nominated for two GRAMMY AWARDS for Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist, one for her Schönberg album and one for her Copland album.

In the 1998 Disney film Mulan, Nixon was the singing voice of “Grandmother Fa”. She then returned to the stage, touring the US as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret in 1997-1998. In 2000, after nearly a half century away, she returned to Broadway as Aunt Kate in James Joyce’s The Dead. In 2001, Nixon replaced Joan Roberts as Heidi Schiller in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.She played Eunice Miller in 70, Girls, 70 in a 2002 production in Los Angeles.

In 2003, she was again on Broadway as a replacement in role of Guido’s mother in the revival of Nine. Her autobiography, I Could Have Sung All Night, was published in 2006. She performed in the 2008 North American Tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s U.K. revival of My Fair Lady in the role of Mrs. Higgins.

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