The Ghostess with the Mostest
July 25, 2016 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Marni Nixon, the Singing Voice Behind the Screen, Dies at 86.

Marni Nixon was an American soprano and playback singer for featured actresses in movie musicals. She is best known for having dubbed the singing voices of the leading actresses in films, including The King and I, West Side Story, and My Fair Lady, and dubbed Marilyn Monroe's high notes in "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Via Wikipedia:
In 1956, Marni worked closely with Deborah Kerr to supply the star's singing voice for the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, and the next year she again worked with Kerr to dub her voice in An Affair to Remember. [...] In 1961's West Side Story, the studio kept her work on the film (as the singing voice of Natalie Wood's Maria) a secret from the actress, and Nixon also dubbed Rita Moreno's singing in the film's "Tonight" quintet. She asked the film's producers for, but did not receive, any direct royalties from her work on the film, but Leonard Bernstein contractually gave her 1/4 of one percent of his personal royalties from it. In 1962, she also sang Wood's high notes in Gypsy. For My Fair Lady in 1964, she again worked with the female lead of the film, Audrey Hepburn, to perform the songs of Hepburn's character Eliza. Because of her uncredited dubbing work in these films, Time magazine called her "The Ghostess with the Mostest".
Marni appeared as herself in a delightful episode of "To Tell the Truth" in 1964, just before My Fair Lady was set to premiere. She -- and her imposters -- coyly respond to those who inquire after her status in the movie, "My contract does not allow me to discuss it."

A sampling of songs Marni lent her voice to: Besides her voice work in films, Nixon's varied career included some film roles of her own, television, opera, concerts with major symphony orchestras around the world, musicals on stage throughout the United States, and recordings. She passed away at age 86 on July 25th from the effects of breast cancer. Marni was first diagnosed with the disease in 1985, and wrote in her autobiography of the trauma of appearing on Broadway as chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out when the cancer returned in 2000.
posted by Hermione Granger (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to mention that Marni's son Andrew was the creative genius behind, "Thank You For Being a Friend", the much beloved theme song for The Golden Girls.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:27 PM on July 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

posted by brujita at 5:43 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by tzikeh at 5:45 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by droplet at 5:46 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by town of cats at 6:01 PM on July 25, 2016


What a wonderful tribute post, Hermione. A rare talent and exceptional performer.
posted by ApathyGirl at 6:09 PM on July 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

What an amazing woman - thank you for this post. An incredible spirit and a great loss.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:18 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by lysimache at 6:22 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by LynnDee at 6:39 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by oneswellfoop at 6:49 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by ZeusHumms at 6:54 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 6:59 PM on July 25, 2016

The voice of an age.
posted by sbutler at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by Melismata at 8:24 PM on July 25, 2016

posted by MexicanYenta at 8:35 PM on July 25, 2016

Her voice was a constant presence throughout my childhood. I nearly wore out my parents old record player with their dusty West Side Story soundtrack and sang along with our My Fair Lady and King and I VHS tapes until my throat hurt.

I also remember instantly recognizing the grandmother's singing voice in Mulan, then being super disappointed because my friends all thought I was ridiculous for liking old movies and had no idea who I was talking about, but she was amazing and I thank her for bringing so much music into my life.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:49 PM on July 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by sallybrown at 9:08 PM on July 25, 2016

More songs to share via Yahoo!

Before voicing Grandmother Fan in Mulan, Nixon had a long history with Disney animation: she also sang the opening titles for Cinderella, the flowers in Alice in Wonderland, and the animated geese in Mary Poppins!
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:53 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a Northwest native, my first exposure to her was the local kids show Boomerang, which she hosted on channel 4 in the late 70s. I didn't know she was also Maria till many years later.
posted by lovecrafty at 10:08 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by Lynsey at 10:54 PM on July 25, 2016

I am so sad to hear this.

There is a wonderful BBC 4 Documentary on the ghost singers of Hollywood that I will watch every time I find it on ( This looks like the full thing on YouTube).
posted by halcyonday at 11:36 PM on July 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

posted by bryon at 12:25 AM on July 26, 2016

posted by kariebookish at 2:48 AM on July 26, 2016

posted by Gelatin at 2:50 AM on July 26, 2016

posted by Etrigan at 3:21 AM on July 26, 2016

posted by double bubble at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2016

I had access to this tiny lighting booth just above the stage in an old school theater in Seattle and used it to curl up with a book and escape. I was sitting quietly when a rehearsal for Liebeslieder Waltzes happened just below. Ms Nixon was the soprano and of four of the best singers in town she was distinctive and wonderful. I did not intrude they never knew there was an audience, but from what I remember she was considered a lovely person.
posted by sammyo at 6:51 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by dlugoczaj at 7:22 AM on July 26, 2016

posted by mubba at 7:48 AM on July 26, 2016


2016. ::sigh::
posted by Faintdreams at 9:30 AM on July 26, 2016

posted by seyirci at 9:49 AM on July 26, 2016

I was reading Ferdy On Films' latest post on West Side Story just yesterday.... so Marni Nixon has been on my mind. She's never been terribly far from my mind, since her voice was a constant presence in my childhood just as it was for so many others.

posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:09 AM on July 26, 2016


She made everyone sound so damned great. None of those films would have been the same without her, not even close. It always seemed a shame to me that few people knew of her and just assumed that Natalie Wood etc could sing, even when the voice was just too good to possibly be theirs.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2016

posted by ubiquity at 1:27 PM on July 26, 2016

By the way, that Secret Voices of Hollywood documentary that halcyonday linked to upthread is fantastic. Just fantastic.
Though the YT comments suggest there's a good 30m missing from it, which makes sense considering they didn't talk about My Fair Lady at all.
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:34 PM on July 26, 2016

Like many others, I grew up with the soundtracks she sang on. I've lived in the Seattle area most of my life, except for the time she hosted Boomerang, so I have no image of her in my mind, but I've always known her voice. So sorry she's gone.
posted by lhauser at 7:28 PM on July 26, 2016

« Older Breast-Feeding the Microbiome   |   Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments