Marni Nixon, Whose Voice Was Featured in West Side Story and My Fair Lady Films, Has Died

Nixon was 86.

Marni Nixon has died at the age of 86.
Marni Nixon has died at the age of 86.
(© David Gordon)

Marni Nixon, whose voice graced movie screens in The King and I, West Side Story, and My Fair Lady, died Sunday, July 24, at the age of 86. The cause, according to published reports, was breast cancer.

Only Nixon's singing voice was featured in those films. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she dubbed the likes of Deborah Kerr (as Anna Leonowens), Natalie Wood (as Maria), and Audrey Hepburn (as Eliza Doolittle), and usually went uncredited.

Born February 22, 1930, in Altadena, California, Nixon worked during her teenage years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios as a messenger. Her career in film began when she sang the voices of the angels in the 1948 film Joan of Arc. She dubbed Margaret O'Brien's singing voice in Big City that same year, as well as a year later in 1949's The Secret Garden. She sang the high notes for Marilyn Monroe in the classic tune "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in the 1953 film of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her first on-screen role was as Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music.

On Broadway, Nixon made four appearances. Her debut came in The Girl in the Pink Tights (1954), followed by James Joyce's The Dead (2000), Follies (2001), and Nine (2003). She received a 1984 Drama Desk Award nomination for the off-Broadway musical Taking My Turn.

To younger audiences, Nixon is perhaps best known for singing the role of Grandmother Fa in the Disney animated feature Mulan. She also hosted the children's television series Boomerang throughout the 1970s and 1980s. "I moved up to Seattle, Washington," Nixon told TheaterMania in 2013, and was asked "if I would do a children's show, so we improvised with some students of mine who had puppets. I wrote a little script for the hand puppets…that became the focus of the show, and then I officially got the part. We won twenty-six Emmy awards and I got four of those for my performing."

Throughout her life, Nixon also toured with Liberace (''He was a spectacular showman," she said) and Victor Borge ("I never knew if what I did or said was good"), and released, under her own name, several albums. She received two Grammy Award nominations for albums devoted to the works of Arnold Schönberg and Aaron Copland.

Nixon is predeceased by her son, the singer-songwriter Andrew Gold, who died in 2011, as well as her husband Albert Block, to whom she was married from 1983 to his death in 2015. She is survived by her children Martha Carr and Melani Gold Friedman, who she had with her first husband, composer Ernest Gold.