The voice behind the stars recalls the life behind the voice.
As an infant, Marni Nixon stood up and sang in her crib late at night. By the time she was 11, she performed in professional choruses in Los Angeles and, learning she had perfect pitch, set upon a career as a singer. By the late ’40s, she toiled at MGM, but not always in front of the camera. Producers discovered her particular talent for dubbing, in a voice perfectly matching a musically challenged star’s—a note, a phrase, an entire song. For child wonder Margaret O’Brien in The Secret Garden, Nixon “ghosted” a Hindu lullaby. A major assignment came when 20th Century Fox hired her to blend her voice with Deborah Kerr’s when the latter sang in The King and I. In separate sound booths, Kerr and Nixon carefully cued each other to take over the sections each could handle. Assignments followed to cover a distant Natalie Wood in West Side Story and a lovely Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Fox warned Nixon that she’d never work in Hollywood again if word of her “ghosting” got around, but somehow it did—The Hollywood Reporter quipped that she even supplied the voice of Mr. Ed. The Sound of Music, at last, offered Nixon an onscreen role as a singing nun, and her career, which had already included major roles in musical theater and opera, gained momentum. She teamed with Liberace and Victor Borge in comic musical routines. She brought the company of the 2001 New York revival of Follies to tears singing “One More Kiss.” Apparently upbeat and indefatigable after a long, full career—and a recent triumph over cancer—she might well have sung the show’s survival anthem, “I’m Still Here.”
Spirited, enlightening and entertaining, especially for musical-theater fans.