By Penny Landau ~
Back in the old days, before airplanes, we had things called records. One of my first records as a kid was Toscanini’s “Nutcracker,” followed by the Broadway cast album of My Fair Lady. But it was my third album that I cherished the most; that of my favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein show, The King & I. This album wasn’t from the Broadway show, but the film, starring the divine Deborah Kerr and, unknown to me at the time, the voice of the equally divine Marni Nixon.
A classically trained soprano, Nixon appeared with the New York Philharmonic, at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall and The Town Hall in New York City, as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic (with Leopold Stokowski) and studied opera with the brilliant Sarah Caldwell.
As a messenger at MGM, she came to the attention of the powers that be who realized that she could sing. Possessing perfect pitch and impeccable sight reading abilities, Nixon was hired to sing for those actresses who, although huge stars, couldn’t sing well enough to please movie audiences. She followed The King & I with West Side Story (for Natalie Wood) and My Fair Lady (for Audrey Hepburn). Although the soundtrack for The King & I sold hundreds of thousands of copies, Marni received a total of $420 and was sworn to secrecy for her role in the films. She also “ghosted” for Marilyn Monroe and Margaret O’Brien, among others.
Nixon did appear on Broadway in Sigmund Romberg’s The Girl in Pink Tights (1954), the 1964 revival of My Fair Lady at City Center in NYC, James Joyce’s The Dead (2000), the 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies and the 2003 revival of Nine. She also originated the role of Edna Off-Broadway in Taking My Turn (1984), receiving a Drama Desk nomination. She can also be seen in the film of The Sound of Music, as a nun.
Ms. Nixon, who continued singing and performing well into her 80’s, came to terms with her “off-screen” film career and toured with her one-woman show, Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood. Her memoir, I Could Have Sung All Night, written with her own “ghost,” Stephen Cole, was published in 2006.
She was the recipient of four Emmy Awards for her children TV show “Boomerang” and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
Marni is survived by her two daughters from her first marriage to film composer, Ernest Gold (Exodus), Martha Carr and Melani Gold Friedman, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her son, Andrew Gold, a songwriter whose hit “Thank You for Being a Friend” became the theme of the NBC sitcom “The Golden Girls,” died in 2011. Her third husband, Albert Block, died in 2015.