Even if you don’t know Marni Nixon by name, you’ve almost certainly heard her sing. During the golden age of Hollywood musicals, the versatile soprano, who passed away yesterday at the age of 86 from breast cancer, provided uncredited vocal performances for actresses with underwhelming singing voices, including Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. Dubbed “the ghostess with the mostess” by Time in 1964, Nixon acquired modest fame for her particular skill of mimicking stars’ voices in song, even if the film studios themselves rarely acknowledged her contributions. “They didn’t want it to be known that dubbing was going on,” Nixon told Philadelphia magazine in an interview last year. “They thought the value of the picture would be diminished and people might not want to go see the picture if it was known.” Here are 5 of Nixon’s greatest hits.
“Tonight” from West Side Story (1961)
Nixon provided the angelic singing voice for Maria, played by Natalie Wood, in this classic adaption of the Broadway musical. In the reprise of this number (watch it here), she also sang harmonies for another character: Anita, played by Rita Moreno.
“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Marilyn Monroe could sell a song like nobody’s business, but her breathy alto couldn’t conquer the high notes. Nixon sang both the operatic intro and part of the refrain (listen for the line “These rocks don’t lose their shape”).
“I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady (1964)
Nixon sang every note for protagonist Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn, in the film version of My Fair Lady. Hepburn wasn’t a terrible singer (that’s really her crooning “Moon River” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s), but My Fair Lady gave her a lot to live up to: By the time the film came out, the score had already been popularized by original Broadway star and vocal powerhouse Julie Andrews.
“Shall We Dance” from The King and I (1956)
Deborah Kerr was dubbed by Nixon for The King and I, the Rogers and Hammerstein musical about a Victorian-era English governess employed to teach the royal children of Siam. Nixon also provided Kerr’s singing vocals for the 1957 romance An Affair to Remember.
“Honor to Us All” from Mulan (1998)
Later in her life, Nixon sang for Grandmother Fa in the musical fairytale Mulan. The singer had a long history with Disney animation: Nixon also sang for the opening titles for Cinderella, the flowers in Alice in Wonderland, and the animated geese in Mary Poppins.
(Photo: Everett Collection)