Outside of classic film fans, Marni Nixon is not a well-known name today, but if you’ve seen The King and I, West Side Story and My Fair Lady, then you have heard her voice. Nixon, who died on July 24 at the age of 86, famously sang for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and 1960s when they couldn’t hit the high notes or just couldn’t sing at all.
Although Nixon’s work went mostly unaccredited, she was one of the worst-kept secrets in the business. As the New York Times notes, she was even named “the ghostess with the mostest” because her work was so well known.
Nixon was an accomplished singer and stage performer and even won four Emmys for hosting a children’s show in Seattle during the 1970s and 1980s.
Here’s a look at five times you heard Nixon’s voice, even if you didn’t know it.
1. Nixon Sang Marilyn Monroe’s High Notes in ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’
Although Mariyln Monroe did most of her own singing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Nixon was still called in to perform high notes in the song. It’s Nixon who sings, “These rocks don’t lose their shape.”
This was just the start of Nixon’s voice being used to help even small sections of a song. It allowed studios to have bankable stars in musicals, even if singing wasn’t their strong suit.
2. She Sang All of Deborah Kerr’s Songs in ‘The King and I’
Deborah Kerr might have been one of the best actresses of Hollywood’s golden era, but she couldn’t sing. Kerr knew this and worked hard with Nixon to make sure that her on-screen performance matched the performance Nixon gave on the recording. But Nixon wasn’t credited, even when her singing appeared on the best-selling soundtrack. Nixon earned just $420 for her work on The King and I, while Nixon earned an Oscar nomination. In a 2009 WNYC interview (seen below), Nixon said that she had to sign agreements that she wouldn’t reveal her work publicly.
Nixon also provided Kerr’s singing voice in An Affair to Remember.
3. She’s Singing ‘I Feel Pretty’ in ‘West Side Story’
Nixon was recruited to perform all of Natalie Wood’s numbers in West Side Story, including the famous “I Feel Pretty.” While Wood did do most of her singing in Gypsy, Nixon also worked on that film. Wood was not told that she would be dubbed in West Side Story and was “enraged” when she heard about it, Nixon said.
“Hollywood wanted recognizable stars. And the fact that a lot of the stars couldn’t sing was only a minor inconvenience to the big producers,” Nixon told the New York Times in 2007.
4. Nixon Sang in ‘My Fair Lady’ for Audrey Hepburn
Nixon was picked to sing for Audrey Hepburn in 1964’s My Fair Lady. Jack Warner cast Hepburn over Julie Andrews, who played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway but had never made a movie before. Of course, 1964 saw Andrews make her film debut in Disney’s Mary Poppins and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. While My Fair Lady won Best Picture for that year, Hepburn was noticeably not even nominated.
In her 2007 interview with the Times, Nixon said she was uncomfortable with the job because she was worried about how Andrews would take it. But Andrews liked her performance and helped Nixon out when she played Eliza in a My Fair Lady revival in the ’60s. Nixon also appeared on screen in The Sound of Music as a nun.
5. Nixon Sang for Mulan’s Grandmother in the Disney Movie
The singing voice behind Mulan’s grandmother in Disney’s 1998 film Mulan was Nixon. She got to sing “Honor To Us All” in the film. Jane Foray was the character’s speaking voice.
In 2006, Nixon came out of the shadows again with a memoir called I Could Have Sung All Night, a reference to the My Fair Lady song. She worked with a ghost writer, Stephen Cole and made sure he didn’t meet the same fate she had. His name was right on the cover.