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Classically Speaking:
Promoting Classic Movies in a Jaded World!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Curtain Reveals...MARNI NIXON!

Marni NixonMARNI NIXON (1930-2016), born Margaret Nixon McEathron is actually before the camera in the film, The Sound of Music (1965). Here, she is a singing nun named Sister Sophia with only a couple of speaking lines in the musical number "How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?" The rest of the time, where films were concerned, she was known only to the cast and crew as "The Ghostess With the Mostess" or the "Singing Voice of the Stars". Heard, but not seen, as a ghost singer, Marni Nixon went uncredited until VHS came on the scene and now with special features found on DVDs and Blu-Ray, Marni Nixon is given the credit she deserves.

Despite the appearance that all performers in musicals do their own singing, many of the big stars of the classic films were dubbed despite their having musical talent. Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Marilyn Monroe, all needed to be dubbed by Marni Nixon. A soprano trained in opera, she possessed a versatile voice that could imitate different women, despite their ages and type of songs. Marni was often used when particular stars didn't have quite the range that was needed or the ability to sync up their own voices to film sequences. Marni could do both, sustain all the high notes for longer periods and match her singing to the other women's mouth movements. She was the first one Hollywood thought of use to touch up a star's performance and fix any inconsistencies. Marni's last singing voice over was in 1998, when she sang for Grandmother Fa in Mulan. Although she was kept behind the camera as "the voice of Hollywood" where films were concerned, she was not that way everywhere else. Much of her career, she could be seen and heard in the concert halls in front of major symphony orchestras throughout the world, such as the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Marni Nixon toured extensively with Liberace and Victor Borge and recorded songs by Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Arnold Schönberg, Charles Ives, and Anton Webern. Throughout the United States, she performed in operas with the Los Angeles Opera, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Tanglewood Festival, musicals on the stage, and on television. It was when she hosted her own children's television show Boomerang, during the late 1970s and early '80s, that Marni Nixon earned four Emmy awards. In 2008 Marni Nixon was given in New York City, the Singer Symposium's Distinguished Artist Award. She also taught musical education for many years at both the California Institute of Arts and the Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara. Then later joined a group of volunteers to bring musical education to children. On the stage, she was able to play Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, and later Professor Higgins' mother in My Fair Lady, a non-singing role. I personally would have liked to have seen her performance as Violetta in La traviata, as well as her promotion from Sister Sophia to Mother Superior in The Sound of Music in 2006 when she performed at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Sound of Music (1965)Possibly you've caught a glimpse of Marni Nixon in The Sound of Music (1965)? She was seen in front of the camera in only four films, counting those on the big screen and those made for television. Marni Nixon can however be seen in several documentaries as herself. The Sound of Music was the first place that I caught a glimpse of Marni Nixon. She plays Sister Sophia.

Watch this and then listen for Marni in the following five films.

My Fair Lady (1964) as Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle's singing voice. She does a lovely job of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" In the finished film, the only remaining singing vocals by Audrey Hepburn herself are a portion of the song, "Just You Wait", one line of "I Could Have Danced All Night" – "Sleep, sleep, I couldn't sleep tonight", and a portion of the "Just You Wait" (reprise).
The King and I (1956) as Deborah Kerr's Anna's singing voice. She later did Kerr's voice again in An Affair to Remember (1957).
West Side Story (1961) as Natalie Wood's Maria's singing voice and Rita Moreno's Anita's singing voice in one song "Tonight" when her ghost singer Betty Wand developed bronchitis. According to Marni Nixon's autobiography, I Could Have Sung All Night (Billboard Books 2006), she sings both Maria and Anita's lines in a portion of the quintet setting of the song "Tonight".
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) as Marilyn Monroe's touch up artist. Marni Nixon dubbed Marilyn's higher notes in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," and the phrase, "These rocks don't lose their shape."
The Secret Garden (1949) as Margaret O'Brien's Mary Lennox's singing voice.

*Contributed by: "Elizabeth Van Cleve" Date: Sun, Aug 28 2011 / 16:24:57 PST