Marni Nixon, the unsung singer of many Hollywood classics, died of breast cancer yesterday at her in Upper West Side home Manhattan. She was 86
In Hollywood movies throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Marni was the unseen — and usually uncredited — singing voice of stars like Deborah Kerr (The King and I), Natalie Wood (West Side Story), and Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) among others.
From the New York Times:
“It’s fascinating, getting inside the actresses you’re singing for,” she told The New York Journal-American in 1964. “It’s like cutting off the top of their heads and seeing what’s underneath. You have to know how they feel, as well as how they talk, in order to sing as they would sing — if they could sing.”
Over time, however, Ms. Nixon came to regard her spectacular mimetic gift as more curse than blessing. For despite her myriad accomplishments as a singer of art songs, she was obliged to spend years exorcising her ghostly cinematic presence.
“It got so I’d lent my voice to so many others that I felt it no longer belonged to me,” she told The Times in 1981. “It was eerie; I had lost part of myself.”
Marni continued singing well into her 80s – she was the singing voice of Grandmother Fa in Disney’s Mulan – and eventually came to regard her legendary ghost-singing gigs with affection, paying homage to them in her one-woman show, Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood, which toured the country for years.