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Marni Nixon: Hollywood's Invisible Voice

You might not know Marni Nixon's name, or recognize her face. But it's very likely that you have heard her sing.

Nixon dubbed the voices for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady -- three of Hollywood's biggest movie musicals. Her new memoir, I Could Have Sung All Night, is being published this week.

Nixon, 76, has had a career that defies categorization. She has performed on Broadway and in opera houses, hosted an Emmy Award-winning children's television show and is a well-regarded singing teacher in New York.

Born in Southern California, Nixon had become a sought-after singer by the time she was a teenager. She had perfect pitch, and an ability to read any piece of music handed to her, no matter how difficult. She even premiered works by composers such as Igor Stravinsky.

Because she was such an excellent musician, Marni Nixon worked constantly, dubbing voices for Hollywood studios. In 1954, she got a call to ghost Deborah Kerr's voice in The King and I. Kerr understood that she needed to be dubbed, and Nixon says their relationship was very collegial.

"Whenever there was a song to be sung in a scene, I would get up and stand next to her and watch her while she sang and she would watch me while I sang," Nixon says. "After we recorded that song, she would have to go to the filming of it and mouth to that performance."

Twentieth Century Fox was so protective of Kerr that Nixon had to sign a contract saying she would never reveal the ghost-singing on The King and I. The story later came out in the press, when Kerr herself credited Nixon's work in an interview.

In the more than 40 years since My Fair Lady, Nixon has only appeared in one movie. In The Sound of Music, she plays Sister Sophia, one of the nuns singing "How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?"

Nixon never became as famous as the actresses she worked with. But she is hoping her new book will set the record straight about her very recognizable voice.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.
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