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SGN EXCLUSIVE - Giving up the ghost - An interview with Marni Nixon
SGN EXCLUSIVE - Giving up the ghost - An interview with Marni Nixon
by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Have you ever heard a ghost? If you've ever seen the movies The King and I, My Fair Lady or West Side Story, then you have. Marni Nixon did the singing voices for the leading ladies of those films, but she is far more than that. She is an Emmy Award winner, a classical opera artist, both film and stage stars and currently touring in Paramount Theatre's revival of My Fair Lady (April 29 - May 4). Through a phone interview, I was able to ask "The Ghostess with the Mostest" a few questions on her illustrious career.

Andrews-Katz: I know that you lived in Seattle performing with Seattle's Opera, Symphony and taught at Cornish. When were you here last?

Nixon: I try to come through once a year, for various reasons - for my book and my one-woman show. I've even sung with the Gay Men's Chorus.

Andrews-Katz: Your autobiography, I Could Have Sung All Night, is very insightful. Your work in Hollywood as "The Ghostess with the Mostest" has become legendary. What was the first movie that employed the infamous "No Credit Clause"?

Nixon: The King and I. It was a double-edged sword. Then it was a financial decision and I also thought that it would lead to other jobs and help get myself better known. Eventually it helped open doors.

Andrews-Katz: Many rumors surfaced about the "spilling of the beans" in The King and I. Do you think Deborah Kerr intentionally let the truth slip out, or was it an accident?

Nixon: Oh it was intentional. She wanted to be very honest with the information. She said that she was happy to have her voice upgraded, and accepted that it was part of the artistic output of the complete product.

Andrews-Katz: Of all the films in which you were either seen, heard (or both), which one makes you the most proud?

Nixon: All of them for various reasons - even with the problems involved. Probably My Fair Lady for being such a complex role. She not only learns how to act, but how to communicate. Her voice changes steadily throughout. Psychologically, that was fascinating how language can change to express so much.

Andrews-Katz: Which experience did you enjoy the least?

Nixon: West Side Story. Natalie Wood didn't want to accept that fact that she was going to be dubbed. She wasn't co-operative and I couldn't learn to imitate her directly. Eventually I was able to work it out in my own way.

Andrews-Katz: Most people don't know that aside from musicals, you sing classical opera. Which do you prefer to sing - classical or musicals?

Nixon: That depends. Classical music has great depth and warmth in its expression. I was doing opera and concerts during the Hollywood stages because the dubbing was always a sideline. Later on, I've really enjoyed doing recordings.

Andrews-Katz: When you were approached to do Boomerang in Seattle in 1975, did you have any clue that a children's puppet show would eventually earn you four Emmy Awards?

Nixon: I think that because it was television, I believed it would bring me more exposure on a syndicated level. It never made it that far. In the Seattle area, kids grew up with the show and it reached out to many people. I really enjoyed doing it. I've been fighting to get it released [on DVD] for a long time. Hopefully it will be.

Andrews-Katz: You've performed the role of Eliza in My Fair Lady on stage and screen. Now you're in the new production as Mrs. Higgins. How do your experiences compare?

Nixon: Eliza is such a multi-dimensional role. Going from "guttersnipe" to "lady" is quite a challenge. Mrs. Higgins performs a different function. She helps Eliza and is crucial in the final development of class transformation.

Andrews-Katz: Working with Liberace, it's clear that you're "Gay-friendly." How does your Gay fan base show their support?

Nixon: My friends are a combination of Gay and straight people. They always have been. So is so much of everything. Having done many of the Gay Choirs, the fans have become a great value to me.

Andrews-Katz: Having survived two bouts of breast cancer, a lumpectomy and a mastectomy, what advice would you give the women of today?

Nixon: If any health problems arise, investigate immediately. Catching it early can make all the difference. And get a mammogram at least once a year. Don't be afraid of getting a second or third opinion, either.

Andrews-Katz: In your career, you have worked on Oscar winning pictures, earned four Emmy Awards, two Gold Records, was nominated for two Grammy Awards, appeared on Broadway, did a Disney character, wrote an autobiography, and now you are performing in the new production of My Fair Lady. What is next for the unstoppable Marni Nixon?

Nixon: Keeping my mind together.

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