The Voice Behind the Screen

 If you go see West Side Story at the Regent Square Theater this Sunday night, note that while you are watching the lovely Natalie Wood singing on screen, you are actually hearing Marni Nixon.  And you are even hearing her sing two voices in the “Quintet” because she also dubbed some lines for an indisposed Betty Wand (who sang the role for Rita Moreno’s character).

You've heard her more than you realize.
You have heard her more than you realize.

Nixon (b. 1930 in Altadena, CA) also dubbed the singing voices of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) and Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956) and An Affair to Remember (1957).  She finally made an appearance on screen in The Sound of Music  (1965) in the tiny role of Sister Sophia, one of the singers of “(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria?”

Her still-active career has always been about much more than Hollywood, including classical stints with Igor Stravinsky, stage appearances on Broadway, children’s TV, voice instruction, and more.  Of course, you can research all that at the library by checking out her autobiography pictured above. 

One of the tiny jewels of Nixon’s book (pp. 73-74) is a story about how she had to mix her voice with Marilyn Monroe’s in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  The studio considered dubbing over Monroe’s voice, but thankfully did not since Monroe’s breathiness suited her sexy image so well.  But since Monroe couldn’t hit the high notes, soprano Nixon had to sing the second half of the line: “But square cut or pear shape, these rocks don’t lose their shape!”

This proves that if you were a leading lady of the 1950s and 60s without a well-trained singing voice, your best friend was not diamonds.  It was Marni Nixon.

— Tim

3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Voice Behind the Screen

  1. I knew that Audrey Hepburn needed to be dubbed singing but I didn’t know that one woman had done so much! That’s really interesting. :)

  2. avid

    Tim –
    Thanks for the informative post. To add my little personal crutón to the Marni Nixon salad, she is the first person I ever heard sing Charles Ives. Beautifully, and with deeply felt love and commitment for his music. She also sang difficult Schoenberg songs as though they were the most natural of vocal tasks. She is, through her voice, a great servant of music.

    David

  3. Rebekah

    Kind of makes you wish she has dubbed for Natalie Wood in “Gypsy,” doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that really is Natalie slogging through her tunes.

    On the other hand, I think Audrey Hepburn’s charming version of “Moon River” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” creates a perfect moment in that film. It’s wistful and really speaks to her character.

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