Marni Nixon, 1930-2016

You may not know her name or recognize her face but you’ve probably heard her singing hundreds of times. She gave the songs to Anna in The King and I, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Maria in West Side Story, and dozens of others. She was the greatest movie “ghost singer” in history. Marni Nixon has died at the age of 86. From the New York Times:

Marni Nixon, the American cinema’s most unsung singer, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 86.

The cause was breast cancer, said Randy Banner, a student and friend. Ms. Nixon, a California native, had lived in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, for more than 40 years.

Classically trained, Ms. Nixon was throughout the 1950s and ’60s the unseen — and usually uncredited — singing voice of the stars in a spate of celebrated Hollywood films. She dubbed Deborah Kerr in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” among many others.

Her other covert outings included singing for Jeanne Crain in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Janet Leigh in “Pepe” and Ida Lupino in “Jennifer.” “The ghostess with the mostest,” the newspapers called her, a description that eventually began to rankle.

Before her Hollywood days and long afterward, Ms. Nixon was an acclaimed concert singer, a specialist in contemporary music who appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic; a recitalist at Carnegie, Alice Tully and Town Halls in New York; and a featured singer on one of Leonard Bernstein’s televised young people’s concerts.

Her concerts and her many recordings — including works by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Webern, Ives, Copland, Gershwin and Kern — drew wide critical praise. Yet as late as 1990, decades after Ms. Nixon had made good on her vow to perform only as herself, she remained, in the words of The Los Angeles Times, “the best known of the ghost singers.”

A great and far too little appreciated talent.

Hollywood was funny about singing voices. Even actors or actresses with legitimate voices were sometimes dubbed. The most egregious example I know of that was George Sanders in Call Me Madam. Despite his having a legitimate classically-trained bass-baritone voice, his singing in that movie was dubbed, I believe by Giorgio Tozzi although there’s still some argument about it.

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