All's 'Fair' for Marni Nixon
By Lenny Megliola, DAILY NEWS STAFF
So what's it like being picked up in Audrey Hepburn's limo and riding with the star to the MGM studio?
"She was smart, intellectual," says Marni Nixon. "An introvert, actually. But she had a great sense of humor, and depth."
And what brought these two women together? Hepburn could act, but she couldn't sing. She was making "My Fair Lady" at the time. This is where Nixon comes in. Next time you see the movie on one of those movie channels, and you listen to those classic songs coming from Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, well, they're really being sung by Nixon.
Flash forward to today, and now Boston theater fans will get the chance to see if Nixon can act, too. In a bit of irony, the veteran performer will be playing Mrs. Higgins in "My Fair Lady" which begins a two-week run Feb. 5 at The Opera House.
She's done recitals and concerts in Boston, and appeared in a Hasty Pudding production, but it'll be Nixon's first appearance on a big stage here.
Nixon also dubbed for Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and twice for Deborah Kerr, in "The King And I" and "An Affair To Remember."
"I was at the premiere of 'The King And I' in Los Angeles," says Nixon.
Nixon's musicality began with her playing the violin in a makeshift family orchestra when she was growing up outside of Los Angeles. Nixon was one of four children. "We'd have neighbors over and we'd play in our living room."
Even though Nixon played the violin, it was during these little performances that "I learned I could sing. I'd sing at PTAs, bar mitzvahs, anything to make money for my violin lessons."
When she was 10, Nixon won a singing contest at the Pomona State Fair and won $100. "That's when I decided I'd sing. I forgot about the violin after that. By the time I was 20, I'd done 15 or 20 operas."
Nixon appeared in several movies, but it was dubbing that jump-started her career. As for the actresses she dubbed for, it wasn't always easy. "It was hard on their egos to accept they were being dubbed, and not resent it. It was up to me to do their job."
By the same token, Nixon never got as much credit as she probably should have. "I thought it wasn't fair that I didn't get credit, but audiences began to know it wasn't the voice of the actresses. My reaction to dubbing has changed over the years. At first it was a thrill to work with wonderful actresses." She would get a screen credit at least. "I started thinking my ego wasn't being put down that much."
For someone who once felt "I always thought I'd be a concert violinist," Nixon had found her niche. It was in her voice. But by the time she got to Hollywood, she reassessed her career path.
"I thought I was going to be an actress. But (the studio) didn't give me a contract." What she did, besides the dubbing, was "deliver mail and packages to stars in their dressing room."
She attended the University of Southern California and UCLA, enrolled at opera workshops and landed more singing jobs, including one with the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. She supplemented her income by doing commercials.
Nixon has also done straight plays. "One of my favorite was James Joyce's 'The Dead,"' she says. It was in New York in 1964 that she played Eliza Doolittle. She's played numerous roles in "Sound of Music" and most recently was cast in the musical "Nine" on Broadway.
Nixon lives in New York with her husband Al Block, a retired musician who likes playing tennis and poker.
Nixon has always enjoyed the vibrancy of Boston. Now she's back in the area with "My Fair Lady." The show and the woman are hardly strangers. Does she ever get tired of the association? "Never," she says.
Curtain up, please.
"My Fair Lady" runs Feb. 5 to 17 at the Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.