Thursday, July 28, 2016

To Absent Friends - Marni Nixon

Marni Nixon

Singer Marni Nixon died ealier this week at the age of 86.  You may not be familiar with her name, you have probably never seen her, but if you are a fan of older movie musicals, there is a very good chance that you have heard her many times.

A classically trained singer, a teen aged Miss Nixon found work -  to help pay for her voice lessons - as a messenger on the MGM lot as teenager, where her beautiful singing voice came to the attention of studio honchos, and she was asked to dub her voice for non-singing actresses in the movies.  According to the obituary in the New York Times, thus began a career that.... 

"starting as a teenager in the late 1940s and continuing for the next two decades, Ms. Nixon lent her crystalline soprano to some 50 films, sometimes contributing just a line or two of song — sometimes just a single, seamless note — that the actress could not manage on her own."

You all remember Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", right?  Remember these lines from that song:

"Square cut or pear shaped/These rocks don't lose their shape."

It seems that Miss Monroe just couldn't hit the note required for the word "their" in that second line, so what did they do?  Yep, hired Marni Nixon to dub that particular note in that song.  

She was most famous, however, for supplying the singing voices for Deborah Kerr in "The King and I", Natalie Wood in "West Side Story", and Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady".  Her work in these films was uncredited and she was paid relative peanuts for working on these huge budget movies, the latter two Best Picture Oscar winners.  Studios at the time didn't want the public to know that their bankable stars such as Kerr, Wood, and Hepburn couldn't sing the roles that they were playing, and Miss Nixon  was contractually forbidden to reveal her part in these movies or she would, as the Hollywood cliche goes, "never work in this town again".

Her secret eventually came out, and her bitterness grew, but she did go on to a nice career as concert singer and performer, and she came to be at peace with her particular role in Hollywood history.  She played a role of a singing nun in the movie "The Sound opt Music" and she even played Eliza Doolittle in a Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady" in the 1960's, which was a bit of show biz justice.  

As the Times obit put it, she was "American cinema's most unsung singer."

In closing, here is one of the great songs from one of the greatest of all musicals. The actress is Audrey Hepburn, but the voice is Marni Nixon's

RIP Marni Nixon.

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