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Nixon, Marni - Interview
Written by Diana Saenger   

Robert Osborne interviews Hollywood singer Marni Nixon

marni__robert.jpgFollowing a Saturday evening Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival screening on March 24 of An Affair to Remember, Marni Nixon, who dubbed Deborah Kerr's singing voice in the film, appeared on stage for a Q&A session with festival host Robert Osborne.

Robert Osborne's introduction:  Few people know that Marni was the singing voice for Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember and  The King and I, the singing voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and sang for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. She's a star in her own right and just finished a Broadway run of My Fair Lady staring Kelsey Grammer as Professor Higgins, Kelli O'Hara and Brian Dennehy. Marni played Kelsey Grammer's mother.

Robert O: How does the dubbing work. Do you do the singing first and does she mouth to you?

Marni N:  First of all, I've seen this movie many times and it just makes me weep! In The King and I, when I first worked with Deborah Kerr, we prepared for a week at a time to get into her character. We stood side by side and rehearsed the scenes together. She would look at me, and I would look at her -- both singing. Then I would go to the recording stage with the orchestra and record the number. Then she would mouth to that when it was filmed. That's the best way to do it.

When An Affair To Remember came along shortly after, I had a year contract on the Ernie Ford show and was there every single day. So Deborah said, 'Marni, you know my voice so much you just sing it the way you think I'd sing it and I'll just follow along.' And that's the way that one happened.

Robert O: It's an incredible voice match though, you sound so much like her vocal.

Marni N:   We had a great kinship, the same color hair, and it turned out our ancestry was actually from the same part of Scotland so we felt this kinship. I was able to take from her speaking voice the way she articulated and other things.

Robert O: My Fair Lady, how was that processed?

Marni N:   Audrey Hepburn did not know how much of her voice was going to be used, but she was very smart and she knew she was going to be dubbed, as Deborah Kerr did. She was taking voice lessons every day, and I was permitted to go to those voice lessons and observe her and figure out how I would sing it. She recorded "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" to her own track. They eventually cut that out, and I had to dub in my voice after it was filmed, but all the other sings except of the beginning - Just You Wait - that was her - was me.

Robert O: Did it ever bother you that you were doing all of this silently"

Marni N:   In those days I was warned - dubbing was not to be known about. After The King and I, the studio called and warned   me if anyone ever found out that I did any part of Deborah Kerr's singing that they would see to it that I wouldn't work in Hollywood again. Can you imagine that? I was doing a lot of classical singing in my Hollywood area but people didn't know me as anything else but a classical singer. I was doing chorus work just to make a living, like they do now days as waitressing, and I did jingles and commercials. My husband, at the time, wasn't affluent. We had had two kids and at that point I needed to make a living, so after their warning, I was very scared. We had just bought a house.

But over the years I think the atmosphere changed and people started wanting to know about these things. Deborah Kerr herself said she admired me a lot and that she didn't know what was in my contract.  and she went to Earl Wilson, a famous syndicated columnist and he interviewed her and his headline was, 'Debra Tells a Secret.' She said I had done the dubbing for the picture and that was before the picture was out. I was very nervous but nothing happened, and gradually everyone started knowing that I was doing it, and when West Side Story came along they still didn't give me credit for it or My Fair Lady, but everybody started talking about it

Robert O: Interestingly, in those days there wasn't a lot of curiosity about the background of films, and no seemed curios that Rita Hayworth or Cyd Charisse never sang although they sang in their movies. I think the only time during that era that it was publicized was when Larry Parks did the Al Jolson story and they used Al Jolson's real voice.

Marni N:   Someone said Vera Ella, who was a wonderful dancer at MGM, had 35 different voices in pictures and no one thought it was strange. I think over the years we've become very curious about how the movies are made and the special effects, but I think they thought -

Robert O: That the magic would be gone.

Marni N:   Yes, and then they wouldn't come see the movie.

Robert O: Your  book,   I Could Have Sung All Night is doing wonderfully. What's a good secret about Marni Nixon that we don't know?

Marni N:   Hmm...I have three children, six grandchildren, been married three times, 27 years to my third husband and it may last! My son is Andrew Gold, who wrote the song for the Golden Girl's theme, "Thank You For Being A Friend."

Marni was then asked to sing and closed out the evening with her lovely voice.

Read Classic Movie Guide's book review of Marni Nixon's book I Could Have Sung All Night.

Interview presented with permission from Grady College's Classic Film Festival, 2007.

Photo credit: Diana Saenger




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