Hollywood voice double Marni Nixon, whose singing was heard in place of the leading actresses in such classic movie musicals as West Side Story, The King and I and My Fair Lady, has died. She was 86.
Michael Kirsten, senior vice president of Nixon’s talent agency, Harden-Curtis Associates, said she died Sunday of cancer in New York. “She passed away peacefully with her family at her side,” he said.
Nixon, who was initially uncredited for her work, early on resented the dubbing work but later came to terms with it. “I realized now that this was something that would outlive me. Something that would last,” she wrote in her 2006 memoir, I Could Have Sung All Night.
In the heyday of the Hollywood musical, studios often paid big money for film rights to hit Broadway shows, then cast them with popular non-singing actors and actresses. Such was the case with the 1956 hit The King and I, in which filmmakers dubbed Deborah Kerr’s voice with Nixon’s.
“I was brought in and had to follow along with her, getting her diction and acting style,” Nixon recalled in 2004. “She in turn would study how I looked when I hit the high notes.”
Nixon did the same for Natalie Wood in 1961’s West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in 1964’s My Fair Lady, which had starred Julie Andrews onstage. Earlier, she added a few notes to Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
She went uncredited in the films and on their soundtrack albums and was warned by the filmmakers that if she ever let it be known that she was doing the singing, “they would run me out of town.”
Word began to leak out, however, and Kerr herself blew Nixon’s cover when she praised her work on “The King and I.” By the late 1960s, The Hollywood Reporter was joking that “they found out who was doing (talking horse) Mr. Ed’s voice on the television show; it was Marni Nixon’s horse.”
Nixon also appeared before the cameras in 1965, in a small role as a nun in The Sound of Music, and provided the singing voice of Grandmother Fa in the 1998 animated film Mulan.