Marni Nixon, who sang for others in movie musicals, speaks for herself in 'My Fair Lady'
By Nancye Tuttle
The Lowell Sun
Marni Nixon can keep a secret.
More than 40 years ago, her voice dubbed in, she sang "I Could Have Danced All Night" while Audrey Hepburn swirled across the screen in My Fair Lady. And she didn't tell a soul.
Nixon, 77, also sang for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story in a well-known Hollywood cover-up.
"I didn't get any credit for years. I was sworn to secrecy -- it was part of my contract that I wasn't allowed to let anyone know my voice was dubbed over theirs. They told me I'd never work again in Hollywood if I let the secret out," Nixon said by phone from Chicago.
Word eventually got out.
She's touring with My Fair Lady playing the non-singing Mrs. Higgins. The new production, from the National Theatre of Great Britain, plays Boston's Opera House Feb. 5-17.
Nixon now talks freely about her role in these classic movie musicals.
"The atmosphere changed over the years, but then no one was supposed to know, although Deborah Kerr, who I was friendly with, did give an interview to Earl Wilson in 1956 after The King and I, where she said it for me. The headline read 'Deborah Tells a Secret.' Eventually it became universally known. But for a long time, I took the Fifth Amendment," she said.
Nixon got to know Kerr quite well.
"We worked extensively together and spent a week on each song. I knew her movements, her vocal inflections, her acting intents. The next year, I dubbed some songs for her in An Affair to Remember, and she told me I knew her well enough that I could make up something," said Nixon.
Her relationship with Wood in West Side Story wasn't as cordial.
"Natalie couldn't accept that I was doing her dubbing. We worked side by side, but she filmed the whole track and didn't acknowledge me. They threw out her tracks and used mine," said Nixon.
Hepburn was taking voice lessons during the My Fair Lady filming.
"She was forthright, honest and giving, but they used my voice," she said.
Nixon wasn't happy about the secrecy.
"I felt that it wasn't fair, since it wasn't taking anything away from the value of the picture. But people did find out and everyone gave the secret away for me," she said.
Her career flourished over the years with roles in other films, including a nun in The Sound of Music, where she met Julie Andrews -- who had lost her Broadway role in My Fair Lady to Hepburn in the film version.
"We are still friendly," said Nixon.
Performing in this acclaimed stage version of My Fair Lady is a joy, so far.
"I've just joined the tour for six months. I have not toured much, but this is an amazing, happy company. And when that happens, the touring is a joy," she said.
While audiences won't have a chance to hear her lovely voice, Nixon still sings extensively -- and for that she's grateful.
"I still do a lot of classical things and feel fortunate," she said.
And that's no secret.