Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Marni Nixon: The Ghost Singer Behind the Actresses

Deborah Kerr sang the role of "Mrs. Anna Leonownens", in the 1956 motion picture version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I". Natalie Wood sang the role of "Maria", in the 1961 motion picture version of Arthur Laurents, Leonald Bernstein and Stephen Sonheim's "West Side Story".  Audrey Hepburn sang the role of "Eliza Doolittle", in the 1964 motion picture version of Lerner and Lowes "My Fair Lady", OR DID THEY?

Her name was Margret "Marni" Nixon McEathron and this is her motion picture and television story.

The future Marni Nixon was born on February 22, 1930, in Altadena, California, located in the incorporated Verdugo Mountains of Los Angeles County. Her father was Charles Nixon and her mother was Margaret Elsa Wittke Nixon.

Marni became an accomplished violin player while still in elementary school, but also a recognized singer. On February 18, 1942, lost in the large cast list, as the "Girl at Auditions", uncredited eleven-years-old Margret Nixon first appeared on the motion picture screen, in the long forgotten musical, "Born to Sing".

Margaret's second motion picture appearance was the following month, on April 24, 1942, in another forgotten motion picture, "The Bashful Bachelor. The picture was the second of seven films based upon the popular, 1931 through 1954, comedy radio series, "Lum and Abner". Margaret Nixon's uncredited role did have a name to it, "Angela Abernathy".

In December 1946, Margaret Nixon was one of the thirty-two members of the "Concert Youth Chorus", under director Roger Wagner. The chorus would expand and become internationally known as the "Roger Wagner Chorale". This led to more singing lessons and especially opera, from among others, "New York Metropolitan Opera's", Boris Goldovsky, and in Hollywood, under Austrian soprano Vera Schwarz.

In 1945, British conductor Leopold Anthony Stokowski, founded the "Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra". In 1947, Margaret Nixon took her stage name of Marni Nixon, and had her solo debut, under Stokowski, at the "Hollywood Bowl", singing the cantata, "Carminia Burana", by German composer Carl Orff.

The full title of the composition, which was based upon medieval poems is:

Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris cantandae comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis ("Songs of Beuem: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magical images"). 

In 1948, Marni Nixon's career took an unexpected change of direction into an area she would forever be associated with.

Eleven-years-old child actress Margaret O'Brien had third billing in the Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, 1943, version of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre", in 1944 she had third billing in the Charles Laughton and Robert Young, "The Canterville Ghost", and, second billing in the Judy Garland musical, "Meet Me in St. Louis. For Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's, "Big City", released on March 28, 1948, Margaret O'Brien had first billing, but there was a problem in the production of the motion picture.

Margaret O'Brien couldn't sing and this was a musical drama. 

Louis B. Mayer's secretary was a good friend of eighteen-years-old Marni's mother and knew of her daughter's singing talent. Mayer's secretary convinced her boss to hear the young woman and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired Marni Nixon to dub O'Brien's singing. My reader wouldn't know this fact, because her name is not found on the "Full Cast and Crew" listing, even under the heading, "Uncredited", for "Big City".

Above, Margaret O'Brien at the piano, with Danny Thomas playing and singing, with her dubbed voice, by Marni Nixon.

Ingrid Bergman would be nominated for portraying the French girl who heard voices, "Joan of Arc", her motion picture premiered in New York City, on November 11, 1948.



Look on any list of the "Full Cast and Crew" for the motion picture, and you will never find the name Marni Nixon. However, all the voices of the "Heavenly Angels" heard, by Ingrid Berman's "Joan of Arc", throughout the motion picture were provided by Nixon. This was Nixon's first "Voice Actor" role!

On April 30, 1949, Margret O'Brien was back in MGM's version of Francis Hodgson Burnett's, "The Secret Garden", and so was her singing voice provided her by Marni Nixon.


However, on the "Full Cast and Crew" listing, under the heading of the "Music Department", can be found:

Marni Nixon...musician, singing double for Margaret O'Brien (uncredited).

Nixon sang for O'Brien, the "Hindu Love Song", composed by Bronisiau Kaper and conducted by Andre Previn.

Released on February 15, 1950, in Boston, but with songs recorded in 1949, was Walt Disney's "Cinderella". Although her name is not on that "Full Cast and Crew" listing, Marni Nixon is recognized as being backed-up by Judd Conlon chorus, singing "Cinderella", over the animated classic's main title sequence.

Her name isn't to be found either, on the Clifton Webb, Jeanne Crain, and Myrna Loy, motion picture, "Cheaper by the Dozen", that premiered in New York City, on March 31, 1950, but----

Marni Nixon dubbed the singing voice of second billed Jeanne Crain. Unknown to audiences, but recognized by the studios, Marni Nixon was now a dependable, "Ghost Singer".

Above center, Jeanne Crain with Clifton Webb.

On July 26, 1951, Walt Disney's classic animated version of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland", premiered in London, England.

Marni Nixon had full credit as an "Actress", for voicing all "The Singing Flowers".

On July 1, 1953, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, 20th Century Fox's big musical motion picture, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe premiered.

Marilyn Monroe as "Lorelei Lee", first sang one of her standards, the hit by composers Jule Styne and Leo Robin, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend".

Marilyn could sing and had a throaty-sexy-voice, but, she couldn't hit the high notes in the song. Enter Marni Nixon, and the "Music Department", remixing Marilyn's singing with Marni singing her high notes.

Next, Marni Nixon found herself jazz vocalizing in a strange motion picture.

"Dementia", was originally released in 1953, and pulled after the "New York State Film Board", banned it. The feature was re-released, on December 22, 1955, in other States. Next,, in January 1957, "Dementia" was re-released, yet a second time, but as "Daughter of Horror", with narrative explanation of what was being seen on-screen, provided by Ed McMahon, ruining the original film.

This horror, film-noir, and expressionist experimental film, takes place during one night on Los Angeles' "Skid Row". 

Before I explain Marni Nixon's role in this film, I turn to a 2003 article by Film Scholar, John Paris Springer, entitled, "Daughter of Horror, Low-Budget Filmmaking, Generic Instability and Sexual Politics", for a short explanation of this fifty-eight-minute feature film. He wrote that the picture was actually a:

psycho-social critique of the violence against women endemic to patriarchal society. Within the dark, urban milieu of the film, an obvious metaphor for the mind, resides an equally dark social fact: that the lives of women are often defined ('marked)' by abuse, objectification, sexual threat and violence.

There is no dialogue in the picture and this is where Marni Nixon comes in. The film's score was written by avant-garde composer George Antheil as a jazz composition. Marni Nixon vocalizes Antheil's score and this creates both the tension and mood of the original motion picture. There is a night club scene that shows jazz musician Shorty Rodgers and his band, the Giants, playing and Nixon's vocalizing blends in with Rodgers' music.

THE KING AND I released on June 28, 1956.

20th Century Fox, initially released the motion picture version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's, "The King and I", complete with an Overture, En'tract, and Exit Music, at two-hours-and-twenty-four-minutes. 

Even though he had originated the role of "King Mongkut of Siam" on Broadway. The unknown, to motion picture audiences, Yul Brynner, received second billing. First billing went to the highly recognized actress, Deborah Kerr, as "Mrs. Anna Leonowens". 

The original Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Broadway score had nine songs sung by "Anna Leonowens". The motion picture score reduced the number to four, "I Whistle a Happy Tune", "Hello Young Lovers", "Getting to Know You", and "Shall We Dance?".

Deborah Kerr couldn't sing and the studio brought in Marni Nixon. The two worked together, to get the spoken word segments and singing segments of each song, to flow without seeming to be two different people.

At the time of the release of "The King and I", and for a long time after, the general public believed Deborah Kerr sang her songs.

Below Deborah Kerr with Marni Nixon.

According to the "The New York Times":

Ms. Kerr was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956 for her role as Anna in “The King and I”; the film’s soundtrack album sold hundreds of thousands of copies. For singing Anna’s part on that album, Ms. Nixon recalled, she received a total of $420.

“You always had to sign a contract that nothing would be revealed,” Ms. Nixon told the ABC News program “Nightline” in 2007. “Twentieth Century Fox, when I did ‘The King and I,’ threatened me.” She continued, “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.”

On December 17, 1956, the comedy "Dance with Me, Henry", was released, and would be the last teaming of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. In the motion picture is heard, without credit, Marni Nixon singing the Italian song, "Liblamo ne' lieti calici", known also as, "The Drinking Song".

On April 10, 1957, 20th Century Fox released, "Boy on a Dolphin", starring Alan Ladd, Clifton Webb, and the basically unknown Italian actress, Sophia Loren. Who by the end of that year with, "The Pride and the Passion", co-starring Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, and, "Legend of the Lost", co-starring John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi, wouldn't be unknown outside of Italy again.

Within the sound track is heard, vocalizing without words, Marni Nixon, and, she also provided part of the singing voice for Sophia Loren, as she had did with Marilyn Monroe, for the Greek song, "Tι΄ναι αυτό που το λένε αγάπη (What is this thing they call love?)". Although, many still believe the song was all performed in Sophia Loren's voice.

Marni Nixon would dub Deborah Kerr's singing voice, one more time without credit, for "An Affair to Remember", released on July 19, 1957. Over the opening credits, Vic Damone sings, "An Affair to Remember (Our Love Affair)", by Harry Warren, Leo McCarey and Harold Adamson. Kerr's role was of nightclub singer, "Terry McKay", and she reprises the title song, dubbed by Marni Nixon, during the motion picture.

On April 9, 1961, Marni Nixon appeared on CBS, in a television episode of "The New York Philharmonic Young People's Concerts", conducted by Leonard Bernstein, entitled, "Folk Music in the Concert Hall".

Another unseen, uncredited vocal, came on the popular television series, "Route 66", in the October 6, 1961, episode, "Goodnight Sweet Blues", featuring Rhythm and Blue singer, Ethel Waters.


Marni Nixon was heard singing the 1926 blues number, "I'm Coming Virginia", composed by Donald Heywood and Will Marion Cook, and made popular by Ethel Waters.

Next, came a motion picture that four of the five leading actors, had, at least, one song dubbed by somebody else.

WEST SIDE STORY released on October 18, 1961 in New York City.

As my reader probably knows, "West Side Story", takes William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", and turns his play into a musical about two New York City gangs, one White, one Puerto Rican. 

Natalie Wood was hired to portray "Maria", the "Juliet" of the story, and recorded all her songs. What was  being kept from Wood, was the fact that music supervisors, Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green had decided her singing, though very good, wasn't adequate for the role. They brought in Marni Nixon to record all her songs and used used Marni's vocals instead of Natalie's.

After dubbing Natalie Wood, Marni Nixon made an observation about her own work (See IMDb on Nixon): 
I knew that I would never be cast physically in the role of Maria. In the picture they wanted Maria to sound like a sixteen-year-old and they kept trying out Natalie's voice. Natalie was perfectly musical, but I had the feeling that it was only gradually when they started working with her that they said to themselves, "I don't think she is able to do it at all". I was hanging around and not knowing how much of my voice was going to be used except for a few high notes that she knew she couldn't sustain. In the end, Natalie recorded everything to her own takes and sometimes was even out of synch. My main job was to fix up all the inconsistencies of her original recordings. I had to loop all the vocals after the film was finished.

Marni Nixon also dubbed singer and dancer, Rita Moreno's voice, in the song, "Quintet". She had to replace Moreno's, voice dub, Betty Wand, for "A Boy Like That", because Wand became ill and couldn't complete the dubbing of the song. In short, Marni Nixon dubbed both Wood and Moreno for the very critical song, "A Boy Like That", although, singer Rita Moreno sang all her other songs.

Betty Wand's name appears on that "Full Cast and Crew List" as, "Sing voice for Anita-"A Boy Like That/I Have A Love", uncredited. While, my reader will not find the name Marni Nixon, because the studio had to keep the fact she dubbed Natalie Wood secret. Wood only learned the truth, in the audience of the New York City premiere.

Richard Beymer portrayed "Tony", the "Romeo" of the story, with his entire singing voice dubbed by James Howard Bryant. 

Russ Tamblyn portrayed "Riff, the leader of the Jets", the "Mercutio" of the story. Singer and dancer Tambyln sings all his songs, but the "Jet Song". His voice was dubbed by Tucker Smith, who plays "Ice", in the motion picture.

George Chakiris portrayed "Bernardo, Maria's brother and leader of the Sharks", the "Tybalt" of the story. Chakiris was the only leading actor who actually sang all his songs.

MY FAIR LADY released on October 21, 1964.

Warner Brothers Studio head, Jack L. Warner, wanted to turn the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe Broadway hit, "My Fair Lady, into a big budgeted feature film. He would make a two-hour-and-fifty-minute motion picture, but made one error in casting the three leads.

From the Broadway production, English actor Rex Harrison, reprised his role as "Professor Henry Higgins". 

From the Broadway production, English actor Stanley Holloway, reprised his role as "Alfred P. Doolittle". 

When it came to casting the role of "Eliza Doolittle", Jack L. Warner decided not to have the Broadway leading lady, Julie Andrews, reprise her role, because she wasn't recognizable to motion pictures audiences and had no real film experience. It should be noted that Andrews had starred in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's, 1957, television production of their "Cinderella". Along with a 1959, television version of Hans Christian Anderson's, "The Little Match Girl", entitled, "The Gentle Flame".

So, instead of using Julie Andrews, Jack L. Warner cast motion picture actress Audrey Hepburn as "Eliza".

As with Natalie Wood, Audrey Hepburn's singing voice was considered inadequate for the role. Like Wood's, Hepburn had recorded all the songs. 

Marni Nixon was brought in, and her voice is completely heard for, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly", "I Could Have Danced All Night", "Show Me", and, "Without You".

As with Deborah Kerr in "The King and I", the following songs were a combination of Audrey Hepburn speaking lines and Marni Nixon singing, "Just You Wait", and, "The Rain in Spain".

In only one scene is Audrey Hepburn's singing voice heard, and this is while "Eliza Doolittle" is crying and that helps conceal it ,in a reprise of, "Just You Wait".

While, Jack L. Warner did not want Julie Andrews, Walt Disney did! Andrews was cast in the title role of 1964's, "Mary Poppins", and won the "Academy Award for Best Actress".

Audrey Hepburn was not even nominated for "My Fair Lady", Rex Harrison won the "Academy Award for Best Actor", and Stanley Holloway won the award for "Best Supporting Actor". Although, "My Fair Lady", would win both the "Academy Award's" for "Best Picture" and "Director". The loss to Julie Andrews kept Jack L. Warner from a clean "Oscar" swept and he made that known.

Below, Marni Nixon, in a 1964 stage production of "My Fair Lady", portraying, "Eliza Doolittle".

Speaking of Disney's "Mary Poppins", Mary Nixon voiced the "Geese" in the motion picture.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC released on March 2, 1965.

Marni Nixon was out in the open as "Sister Sophia", in the Robert Wise directed version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Broadway musical.

Julie Andrews as "Maria", thought she could sneak back into the convent. In the above still, Marni Nixon is on the first step as "Sister Sophia".

On May 16, 1965, Marni Nixon sang for actress Viveca Lindfors in an episode of televisions, "Bonanza", entitled "The Spot Light". 

On February 26, 1966, Marni Nixon in one of her many other television appearances as a "Guest", was on the variety program, "The Hollywood Palace", with pianist Liberace.

On February 26, 1967, was a live-action and animated made-for-television movie, "Jack and the Beanstalk". The production starred Gene Kelly, who also directed and co-produced with animators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

Once live-action, "Jack", played by Bobby Riha, and peddler, "Jeremy", played by Gene Kelly, climb the beanstalk, they have to save the animated "Princess Serena", from the "Giant", voiced by Ted Cassidy.

The princess was voiced by Hanna-Barbera voice actress Janet Waldo, but her singing voice was provided by Marni Nixon.

On April 13, 1969, was the episode "The Not-So-Grand-Opera", of the television series, "The Mothers-In-Law", starring comedians Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard, with Marni Nixon appearing as herself. The show has Arden and Ballard competing against Nixon, who they believe is an amateur, for the lead in their club's opera production.

From 1969 through 1971, Marni Nixon taught music at "California Institute of the Arts (CALARTS)", in Los Angeles County's Santa Clarita Valley. After, she moved to Seattle, Washington, and hosted a children's show, "Boomerang", on "KOMO-TV", from 1975 through 1980, and won four "Emmy Awards". As of this writing, the following link takes my reader to the program's opening.


After, "Boomerang", Marni Nixon performed with the "Los Angeles Opera", the "Seattle Opera", and the "San Francisco Opera".  

MULAN released on June 19, 1998.

Marni Nixon returned to Disney animation to provide the singing voice of "Grandmother Fa", in the Buena Vista Production's animated "Mulan".

Marni Nixon's last on-screen appearance was as "Edna Dumas", on the November 2, 2011 television episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit", entitled, "Redemption".

On September 1, 2006, Marni Nixon's autobiography, "I Could Have Sung All Night", was released.

On July 24, 2016, Marni Nixon passed away at the age of eighty-six in New York City. 

This is primarily a motion picture and television blog and I have addressed that aspect of Marni Nixon's career in detail. It should be noted that by the year of her retirement, Marni Nixon had sung on fifty different, either Motion Picture or Broadway, released sound tracks, not including her many albums.

The following is a small selection of Marni Nixon's albums available for my readers enjoyment:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hedy Lamarr: Inventor and Samson's Delilah

She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, on November 9, 1914, in Vienna, in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Five-months earlier, on June 28, 19...