death of singer Marni Nixon at age 86 recalls an odd bit of show business history. She dubbed in the singing roles for some of the biggest movie stars of the 1950s and 1960s. Among others she ghost-sang for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
The connection to our little genre is Marni Nixon's appearance on a 1964 episode of To Tell the Truth. (She ended up getting two votes from the panel.) Somehow it seems appropriate that a game show based on lying would feature a singer who was involved in something of a deception. Not that the secret of her ghost singing stayed a secret for very long. In fact, Deborah Kerr herself spilled the beans about Marni's dubbing in The King and I.
The linked story includes some pretty harsh words from Marni Nixon about one of her dubbing partners. "In the case of Audrey Hepburn, she was very smart and could say, 'I know this is not good enough, I want to keep trying myself,' but she had to accept that it wasn't quite what it should be. But I don't think that Natalie Wood's ego could take that. Frankly, I think they used to create that kind of attitude too much — allowing them to have the illusion when they knew all along that she wasn't good enough."
Well, I guess that any movie star has a pretty healthy ego and wouldn't enjoy being told that the singing voice is just too bad. Nowadays ghost singing is verboten in movie musicals, so we get some pretty abominable performances from the stars. Sometimes we have to pay the price for honesty.