Remembering 'Ghost Soprano' Marni Nixon

Dec 28, 2016
Originally published on December 28, 2016 10:11 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As 2016 ends, we're remembering some of the notable people who died this year. One of them was a singer - a soprano.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

NATALIE WOOD: (As Maria) Rosalia, Consuelo, my adorable friends, can you keep a secret?

SIEGEL: Not her. That's actress Natalie Wood as Maria in the movie version of "West Side Story." Her secret was heard in its full glory the moment Maria started singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

MARNI NIXON: (As Maria, singing) I feel pretty - oh, so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and gay. And I pity any girl who isn't me today.

SIEGEL: That's Marni Nixon, heard but not seen. A ghost singer in the '50s and '60s, she hit the right notes for actresses who couldn't sing or sing well enough to carry the film versions of Broadway musicals.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) For I'm loved by a pretty wonderful boy.

SIEGEL: Call it Hollywood magic or a Hollywood workaround, Nixon was usually not credited for her work. In "My Fair Lady," audiences heard Nixon's voice as Audrey Hepburn launched into song. You can hear the transition. Here's Audrey as Eliza Doolittle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY FAIR LADY")

AUDREY HEPBURN: (As Eliza Doolittle) The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.

SIEGEL: And here's Marni.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY FAIR LADY")

NIXON: (As Eliza Doolittle, singing) The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.

SIEGEL: Marni Nixon also covered for Deborah Kerr in "The King and I."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE KING AND I")

NIXON: (As Anna Leonowens, singing) And all young lovers, whoever you are, I hope your troubles are few. All my good wishes go with you tonight. I've been in love like you.

SIEGEL: Marni Nixon was an acclaimed concert singer who also appeared on Broadway. She died of breast cancer this year at age 89.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE KING AND I")

NIXON: (As Anna Leonowens, singing) Getting to know you - getting to feel free and easy. When I with you, getting to know what to say. Haven't you noticed? Suddenly, I'm bright and breezy because of all the beautiful and new things I'm learning about you, day by day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.