Marni Nixon reveals ‘Lady’ behind the voice
By Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times
She was the on-screen singing voice behind some of Hollywood’s greatest starlets, in some of cinema’s most iconic roles.
Whether it was Natalie Wood in “West Side Story,” or Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” and “An Affair to Remember,” or Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” it was Marni Nixon’s four-octave vocals that brought to life the words and music of Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe and so many librettists.
Nixon, a veteran of hundreds of stage productions, joins the cast of “My Fair Lady” in Chicago, where she stars as Mrs. Higgins, the very elegant mum to Professor Higgins played by Christopher Cazenove.
Interestingly, Nixon made her Broadway debut as Eliza in the New York City Center Light Opera Company’s short-run production of “MFL” in the spring of 1964, just months before the feature film premiered.
You might think a singer-actress would be bummed about never getting the glory for her dulcet tones, but Nixon holds no grudges. She penned her autobiography I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story (Billboard Books) detailing her very successful and generally happy career as a “dubber.”
Nixon recently talked to the Sun-Times about making musicals.
Q. Did you truly enjoy being the voices behind the faces?
A. Immensely. I learned a lot about the roles from the actresses who were playing the parts. When I was able to play various roles, I was always able to use the knowledge I gained from the actresses that I had dubbed. [Laughs] They had done all the research for me.
Q. When Hollywood came calling, were you OK with the fact that they wanted your voice, rather than on-screen persona?
A. It was part of the industry back then. We all knew dubbing was going on at every studio. I was thrilled to be part of the industry in this manner.
Q. You record the vocals with the orchestra and director, and then what happens?
A. The actresses have to sing it back to the track in whatever voice they can to match the recorded track.
Q. What’s the key to successful dubbing?
A. I found it was always important to learn to speak as each actress did and put that into my vocalizing. I carefully studied their speaking voices to learn their nuances and such, otherwise [the singing] wouldn’t sound like them at all.