Interview by Gail M. Burns, July, 1999
If you are looking for a night on the town this weekend, head to the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield to hear Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood. Who’s Marni Nixon and how can she be the voice of Hollywood if I’ve never heard of her? You may well ask. Nixon, who was also dubbed the “ghostess with the mostess” many years ago by Time Magazine was the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”, for Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” and for Natalie Wood in “West Side Story”. Younger audiences will recognize her singing voice from the Disney film “Mulan” in which she sang Grandmother Fa. Nixon has also sung and recorded with major symphonies here and abroad.
“This show was conceived on Sanibel Island in Florida a few years ago. We took it to Savannah, Georgia, and now to Pittsfield. I think it is ready to be booked across the country now,” Nixon explained in an interview Tuesday, “It is more than just a cabaret show. It features songs and video clips from the films that I’ve dubbed, and also other things that I’ve done. It is really about discovering what your personal journey is and sticking to it, regardless of all the detours it takes. It can be insprirational to here how one person puts life’s conflicts and possibilities together and makes something of it. It is a very simple show, just me telling stories about my life.”
And Nixon has had and is still engaged in a long and fascinating life. Born to a show business family in southern California in 1930, Nixon has been performing all of her life, “I started as a violinist at the age of 4,” she said, “By the time I was seven or eight I had a singing act with my sisters and was doing concerts and bit parts in movies. Music was something our whole family did, so it was no big deal. Singing has always been fun for me.”
But Nixon had to face two of life’s detours. The first when she realized she was destined to be a singer, not a great violinist. And the second when she realized that the career as a dubber, which she thought was merely supporting her career as a concert and opera career, was actually what she would be best remembered for.
“I thought of dubbing as being better than doing chorus jobs in jingles and commercials,” Nixon explained, “Then suddenly I woke up and said, ‘Hey, I guess this is where I’m going, and maybe its as good or even better than where I thought I was headed.’ Some of the hardest lessons for me have been learning to sort life’s wheat from its chaff, and learning that sometimes just doing nothing isn’t really doing nothing. Now I can enjoy the privilege of wasting my time because I have learned that nothing is really a waste.”
Nixon says she developed her current show to answer the many questions people constantly ask her about the films she has dubbed, the actresses she has sung for, and how dubbing is done. She promises a helping of the beloved songs from her most famous dubbing roles by Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Bernstein and Sondheim – as well as some Kurt Weill, Stephen Schwartz, a song by her son Andrew Gold, and an operatic aria. Nixon spent the 1970’s living in Seattle ,singing with the Seattle Opera and hosting a local children’s TV show called “Boomerang” for which she won four Emmys.
Asked to take a quick backward look over her life and career before proceeding on to her next adventure, Nixon cites her work with some of this century’s great conductors as her favorite professional accomplishment, but points to the lives of her three children and five grandchildren as the thing that gives her the most satisfaction, “I think if you can look at your grown children and see that everybody is okay and happy and accomplishing things and able to solve their problems then you can say ‘Well, maybe I did something right.”
This is far from Nixon’s first trip to Berkshire County, she came to Tanglewood as a young singer, and then returned to appear as Fraulein Schneider in Barrington Stage’s opening production of “Cabaret”, which later toured the state, ” I greatly admire Julianne Boyd, the Artistic Director of Barrington Stage, ” Nixon said, “I told her that I was developing this show and was anxious to get her opinion on it because every performance is really just a work in progress. She wanted to bring it to the Berkshires and here I am. I just love the Berkshires. Every summer my heart goes there.”
“Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood” is running July 30 and 31 at 8:30 PM at the Crowne Plaza, One West Street, Pittsfield. A reception with Marni Nixon follows each performance. For tickets and information call the Barrington Stage Company box office at 413-528-8888.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999