The American soprano, Marni Nixon, is known in the popular world as the singing voice behind the stars of West Side Story, The King and I and My Fair Lady. An accomplished singer in her own right, she sang opera, classical song and appeared on Broadway. Ms. Nixon worked with Lehmann in a production of Ariadne auf Naxos at the Music Academy of the West and considered her a friend. Besides her singing career, Marni Nixon is also an actress, recently nominated for an Ovation award. She gives master-clases throughout the country in musical theater and classical song.
Marni Nixon was the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, Jeanne Crain and Marilyn Monroe, to name only a few. They, on the other hand, were her face. But Marni Nixon had a face - and voice - all her own, as she demonstrated to audiences for five decades.
Marni Nixon bears an eerie resemblance to one performer she's never dubbed - Julie Andrews. The two, however, are forever linked by My Fair Lady, Andrews for originating the role of Eliza on Broadway in 1956 and then losing it in the 1964 film to Audrey Hepburn, and Nixon for dubbing Hepburn's singing. She and Andrews, however, did appear together in 1965's Sound of Music (Nixon played Sister Sophia, who helped ponder how to solve a problem in the song "Maria").
Marnie Nixon lives in New York where she also teaches voice. "I want to do more movies, but of course, at my age, everybody famous is already there. I have to figure out in a creative way how I can do this. People still look at me and say, 'Is she an actress?'"
Certainly Marni Nixon is a very gifted musical actress, a talent which for years overshadowed her other considerable abilities. A California native, Nixon (no relation to the late, disgraced President) got into the "dubbing" game early. Her first job was singing for Margaret O'Brien in 1949's Secret Garden.
Marni Nixon recalls, "I also dubbed Janet Leigh -- I can't remember for what -- and Jeanne Crain in some of the smaller features. [Jeanne] had a regular person who dubbed for her in the bigger films. My hardest one was Ethel Waters for a TV show. She was supposed to sing an old song of hers, 'I'm Coming, Virginia,' and she couldn't sing it anymore. She stood over me and told me what to do!" Little known is her dubbing of the phrase "These rocks don't lose their shape" for Marilyn Monroe when the blonde bombshell sang "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" in 1953's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." "The studio wanted Marilyn's entire voice dubbed," Nixon says. "They thought her voice was silly. I thought that was awful -- her voice suited her persona so beautifully."
Marni Nixon's chameleon-like singing was soon in great demand. Her first big musical was 1956's The King and I, in which she sang for Deborah Kerr. A year later she did Kerr's crooning in "An Affair to Remember." "People forget that Deborah played a nightclub singer in that film," Nixon says. "They cut out a lot of those scenes. There were some of my phrases used in 'Sleepless in Seattle.' I dubbed 'An Affair to Remember' in five different languages."
But the early 1960’s was the major time for Marni Nixon as the Singing Voice of the Stars - for Natalie Wood in 1961's West Side Story and for Audrey Hepburn, in My Fair Lady. "With dubbing," Nixon says, "you have to feel the people you're singing for are your friends. They have to share themselves with you. Once they realize you're like a sponge and aren't going to take over their performance, it's fine. The important thing is to sound as the actress would sound if she were doing the actual singing."
After the musical boon of the 1960’s, Marni Nixon was not silent. She performed on Broadway, starred in her own TV show (Boomerang) in Seattle, did concerts, theater, night clubs and classical recordings, and toured extensively with both Liberace and Victor Borge. "Borge is a better all-around musician and pianist than Lee was," Nixon says, "but both were brilliant and talented in their own ways. Lee was positively amazing. We would do improvs, and he'd say beforehand, 'Don't worry about what you do on stage, I will make it good.' And he always did. After the shows he'd break out the champagne for the autograph hounds and sit there, soaking wet in his stage costume, autographing and drawing pianos for the fans and speaking to each woman as if she were the most important woman in the world."
Marni Nixon completed a tour as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret and dubbed Grandma Fa for Disney's next release, The Legend of Mulan. Looking back, she says, "Because of my children, I sometimes made career decisions that were devastating for the sake of the family. But the devotion pays off." Her three children are from her marriage to composer Ernest Gold (Exodus). They were divorced in 1969. Her son Andrew Gold, 47, is a rock musician, composer and producer. Daughter Martha Carr, 45, is a Los Angeles psychologist and Melanie Gold, 36, is a singer-songwriter. For the past 16 years, Nixon was married to musician Al Block.
"Stardom isn't the goal," said Nixon, who mouthed songs for so many stars. "Staying in the industry and being successful at whatever you do is."