With Marni Nixon’s passing July 24, 2016, at the age of 86, we lost one of the iconic musical theatre talents of our generation, but sadly many of the people most touched by her artistry might not have even known her name. That’s because Nixon spent most of her time behind the scenes, dubbing the singing voices for a host of movie-musical leading ladies while more-famous actresses lip-synced and took the lion’s share of the credit.
We’re taking a look back at the incomparable talent of Marni Nixon with five things you might not know about Hollywood’s most-iconic musical theatre voice.
1. Nixon started dubbing singing voices for movies as a teenager.
A young Marni Nixon worked as a messenger for MGM. Once producers learned of her musical skills, she was put to work dubbing the singing voice of some of the studio’s less-musical actresses, notably for Margaret O’Brien in 1949’s The Secret Garden.
2. Her most-notable film dubbing credits include Maria in West Side Story (singing for Natalie Wood), Eliza in My Fair Lady (for Audrey Hepburn) and Anna in The King and I (for Deborah Kerr).
This achievement cannot be overlooked; with these three films, Nixon became a linchpin part of the success and legacy of three classic movie-musicals beloved by audiences worldwide.
3. She also had a healthy career on stage and screen.
In 1964, a year before the movie adaptation of My Fair Lady was released, Nixon appeared on stage in a New York City Center revival of the work—she starred as Eliza! Soon thereafter she appeared alongside original Eliza, Julie Andrews, as a nun in The Sound of Music; she’s Sister Sophia who sings in “Maria” about how Maria “waltzes on her way to Mass and whistles on the stair.” On Broadway, she appeared in James Joyce’s The Dead, Follies and Nine. She even returned to My Fair Lady in 2007, playing Mrs. Higgins in a New York Philharmonic concert (opposite Kelli O’Hara) and a national tour.
4. Her son Andrew Gold wrote the theme song to The Golden Girls.
Among singer-songwriter Gold’s bigger hits is “Thank You For Being a Friend,” which became the theme song to the hit 80s and 90s sitcom The Golden Girls.
5. When a ghostwriter assisted her with the writing of her memoirs, she made sure he was credited front and center.
It took years for Nixon to receive the credit she deserved for her musical contributions to the films her voice appeared in, and she never really saw much monetary compensation. When she wrote a memoir along with ghostwriter Stephen Cole, she made sure he was credited prominently wherever her name was listed as an author.
Logan Culwell is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwell.com.