Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marni Nixon: Getting To Know Her

Photo courtesy: Jud Newburn
People who are in film and television and have a knowledge of our history know of the major contributions that Marni Nixon made to film. There is MUCH MORE to Marni than the fact that she dubbed Deborah Kerr in The King And I, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Natalie Wood in West Side Story.  If you are looking for more details on those aspects of Marni’s career and life, I suggest her incredible autobiography, I Could Have Danced All Night .
Today, I’m going to give you an appetizer into Marni’s life.  On this coming Wednesday night, June 27, those in the vicinity will have the opportunity to savor a full evening with Marni at Long Island’s renowned
Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington (just one hour from Manhattan). There Marni will sit down with film curator Jud Newborn to discuss her rich Hollywood legacy, in an interview interspersed with legendary and rare film clips – including surprise, never-before-screened footage of Marni actually recording for the movies! You’ll have plenty of time to ask Marni your own questions too. Then comes a lovely reception with your chance to meet Marni one-to-one, as she signs copies of her wonderful memoir, as well as a generously retrospective CD of her entire singing career.  (AN EVENING WITH MARNI NIXON:
Roger Ebert wrote when Marni's autobiography came out, "At last in her autobiography she comes out from behind the screen and takes a richly deserved bow." 

When I asked Marni who the most famous iconic person is she ever met and if that person lived up to her expectations, her response is surprising considering the career she has had. The first person who came to her mind is not in the entertainment industry.  It is Bill Clinton. He was speaking at a convention for the National Association of Teachers of Singing before he became Governor of Arkansas. This took place in Little Rock, Arkansas. She didn’t know who he was and this was long before he would become our 42nd President. Her first thought was why is this person in politics speaking for this organization for?  He happened to be, however, very “with it” and knowledgeable about artists’ role in the world.  He was very funny, very astute. She kept thinking afterward, “Oh my God, this is a very famous person.”
She found it interesting how he was connected to the artistic world.
Marni was raised in a family of musicians. Her mother, who was from Wisconsin, insisted that all four of her children play instruments at home. They each had to choose an instrument that they wanted to practice and learn.
Marni chose the violin. When she was four years old, she was practicing the violin and was becoming a violinist. She spent years working on that, actually playing in orchestras and youth symphonies.  It was wonderful training. That eventually led to her singing.
Her sisters and she sang to pay for their instrumental lessons.
They had a trio and started singing at PTA meetings, Kiwanis clubs, things like that just to make a little money to pay for their lessons. It was a wonderful experience.

I asked Marni what she has learned about making her relationships in this industry more solid and resourceful. She says that is a major issue. That’s half the battle, especially at the beginning.  To know with managers, for example, what they do and what they require.  Over the years, she and her sister, learned what was required of the people who hired her.   You got kudos when you did the right thing.  Her mother always resisted the adulation that came from a job well done.  None of “look at these hot shot kids. Aren’t they cute?” It was more of “That’s good. You did well. “ You kept practicing to be even better. They were not allowed to wallow in an ego trip. They did celebrate the success of how something came off. That was something they took pride in. 

Marni Nixon in The Sound of Music
I asked Marni how she would describe the trajectory of her career. Without missing a beat, she sad “weird!”.
Later on when she decided that she wanted to devote more time to singing, she didn’t sing that she would have to practice very much. 
 With the violin, she had to practice every day an our before going to school. She says they lost a lot of neighbors that way. 
 At twelve years old, she decided she was going to become a singer instead of a violinist. She started auditioning around and getting jobs.  She had also studied acting. She went to the Pasadena Playhouse when she was ten years old for summer programs.

Doing Eliza Doolittle on stage Photo credit: Alix Jeffrey
But starting out, Marni was involved in and thought she would have a purely classical career. She thought she would be doing opera and concerts. That was her main source of income. She started out with the usual path: school, local productions, and eventually, larger theaters.  She kept getting hired as a classical singer. Because she could read music right on the spot, she was constantly being hired. She did premiers of Stravinsky’s. She was starting to make a living doing this while also being a messenger girl at MGM. She was having fun. All of this was taking place in Los Angeles.  There were opera workshops in various schools, USC and UCLA where Marni went, City college. There were other musical shows as well. This was Marni’s career. She was discovering it all. She thought she would eventually end up at The Metropolitan. Even though she stopped playing the violin, she was still in the mindset that she was in the classical world. Even though she was still doing musical theater work also and dubbing and group work in choruses and being the ringer for the Roger Wagner Chorale.  They were doing 16th century madrigals and performing all over the place. She became a soloist with them.  Then they would perform at the Hollywood Bowl with well known conductors. They were doing oratorials and became known as the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  Singing with these major conductors, and receiving their encouragement, Marni just “toddled along”. That led to her big time dubbing jobs. Marni says that was a hoot. It combined her skills as an actress and as a singer. She could stretch her voice in different ways. She believes it is her flexibility that kept her going.
She thinks that Broadway today is a completely different thing than what she grew up with.  It seems to Marni as if it is no longer about the wonderful new show, a show that will be a treasure for the rest of our lives. A treasure in the cultural scene of musical theater of great shows, great stories, wonderful singers, and productions. Now, it is more like spectacles, a combination of taking popular songs and throwing them together. Displaying technical things and devices to make it interesting to the average person.  To Marni, it doesn’t have the staying power or the “meat”. It might have what the average person might like but it seems to be more surface-y  and well constructed, although nothing far lasting. She admits that she has seen a few things that she has enjoyed but she doesn’t know if they are major contributions to the repertoire.
The audiences are going but they are temporary and don’t have the lasting power. She feels that the people that are putting these shows together must feel that audiences don’t have the attention span anymore for a good story.
The life lessons that Marni learned from her parents is that whatever you do, do it with your full heart.  The main thing she learned is that you have your own resources to call upon.  To be a well rounded human being, you have to have good principles and what makes you happy and raising a family, you have to pay attention to those values. 

Marni’s Thoughts on Carol Channing receiving the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor (See below on how you can help)  I see no reason why she shouldn’t receive it. She’s very insightful. She’s very clever to identify her own talent. 
Charles Lowe helped her a lot to define the Carol Channing persona. She identified herself with what she could do. She was very aware of how to make things funny, the results of her talent and how she could apply to that. She was a very conscious person while playing the ditzy persona. 

What work is Marni most proud of in her career?
In her early career, it was the Mozart operas she did. Everything made dramatic sense in a very intense pure musical sense.  She loved singing Mozart because the roles she did were the lighter higher roles and they fit her voice very well.  When she was singing with Seattle Opera, her first Traviata was a complete stretch for her because it was a heavy vocal repertoire. She had never gone that deep before. The strength of the voice and the sound and still being able to keep the beauty of the resonance so you didn’t over produce it so it was always centered and real, she thinks Traviata was the hardest role she ever played. When she was doing it, she felt the proudest.
The big musicals she did on stage like My Fair Lady and The King And I. Those roles that take a lot of dramatic sense but also vocal sense.
She loved doing Follies in 2001. The role she played took her back to her operetta days. She played Heidi. Marni tells me that she was born in 1930 and around 1939, a lot of theaters were still operettas.  Heidi was close to her heart.
If she could go back and talk to her 25 year old self, she would say keep on keeping on. Keep your voice in order, because that is your forte. If you are singing “Broadway” and you don’t think that is the way you would sing a Mozart aria, make sure that you do the “Broadway” the way that it is required, that you get back to your center so that you are prepared for what’s next. Keep on discovering what you can do better. She was always trying to sing deeper things and more dramatic things. Work on the act of singing. Stretch dramatically and theatrically. Keep your imagination responsive so you can rely on that from your little “kit of tools” later in life.
The one change she would like to see in today’s industry has to do with something that pains and irritates her daily, the computer and what it causes. People don’t have managers anymore to the extent that it was necessary in the past, someone that you had PERSONAL contact with.
Most communication these days is done through machines without personal contact. It is wonderful to have access to all sorts of information. It is too much, however. We are being inundated with stuff that becomes surface-y.
Does Marni consider what she wears on stage a costume or clothing? It is part of the presentation of the role she is singing. It has to be cleverly considered not only for your body type but also for the venue you are playing. Is it for television? Is it for theater? Is it a big theater? Is it something you will just be standing in? Is it something you will be moving in? Will you be singing really high notes? Will you be bending over? Do you have to run? All those thoughts come into play. Yet, it should also feel as if you were a part of that costume.

I asked Marni about her appearance on To Tell The Truth. She says it was a lot of fun. You had to teach the two other imposters in a day or two, your identity.  You spent a day teaching them your life. Going over all the questions that could be asked of you so they could answer them as if they were you. They had to know about your children and certain key figures in your life. 
 I asked Marni about Just You Wait in My Fair Lady.  There has always been speculation as to how much of that is Marnie and how much is Audrey. Audrey did record the dialogue leading into the song. She also did half the song until she starts emulating a fancy high-fallutin’ society woman.

 “Someday, I’ll be famous. I'll be proper and prim.” Then, it became Marni’s voice.  Dubbing these different voices took a lot of concentration and skill. She loves anything that causes her to stretch. She puts it in her little “stable of tricks.” She had to learn to really identify the accents by what she could get from the library and to learn how each of the women she dubbed spoke as well.

Out of the stars she dubbed, she did become friends with Deborah Kerr. She was the first major dubbing job. That was also the most fun for Marni because she was learning as she was going along. She and Kerr were improvising as they went along. She also got fairly close to Audrey Hepburn.
She would pick Marni up in her limousine on her way to the studio. They would jabber and talk. They discussed their personal lives and got close. Audrey allowed Marni to come into her singing lessons on the film. She was trying to learn to sing better. With My Fair Lady, it had not been decided how much of Audrey’s voice would be used early on.
She was practicing in hopes of doing everything. Audrey also wanted to figure out how Marni was singing certain things. Marni did not coach Audrey at all. There was a coach.
Marni never told her how to do anything.

In today’s  entertainment market, when it is harder to reach an audience, Marni feels that there needs to be a pre-existing interest in the show in order to get those audiences into those seats. There are the curiosity seekers who are curious as to what Marni is like in person. What does she look like? They want to know how she reacted to certain situations. How her life went. Once she is there, Marni knows what to do. How to get them there is another issue entirely. She has a built in luminosity of people who are interested in her. Nowadays, because of the pictures she has dubbed, people are interested in the dubbing process.
Since those pictures are not current, that’s another issue. She hopes that she can titillate people through her life and how she remains viable.  She hasn’t done a Broadway show in several years, but she has remained viable and continues to make a living in this business. People want to know if she still performs? Does she teach? If she does, where does she get her students? What do you teach them? How can she be a guide to help others with her career.
Sister Sophia. Yes, she sang in her own voice! (Nixon is the second from the left.)

I asked Marni if she had any special vocal remedies when she has a sore throat. She advises to drink lots of water and remain hydrated. Make sure especially if you have to do a lot of speaking. One of the challenges of doing a show in an old theater is that they are rampant with dust and particles that have been there for years and years and years. They are constantly being riled up. The theater is a place where people congregate and they are not necessarily all well and it is in a condensed area. The theater is one of the unhealthiest places on the planet.
Be prepared prior to throat issues in terms of taking care of yourself.
Marni feels that at this point in her career, it is a big transition time. You’re only as good as your past show. If you haven’t been on Broadway lately, everybody thinks you’re dead. You have to make sure that you keep alive and keep in contact with others. Keep vibrant and they get ideas of what you can do to help them.
Marni stresses that when she started out that she focused on the work rather than being famous. Everybody, nowadays, wants to be a star. Stardom is something that can happen to you. In England, the market is much smaller and if you work enough, you become a “star”. That means, you’re not just a celebrity. That means you have access to the best roles and that you can fulfill the roles that are offered to you. Here, it is a little more broad. There are some that are "famous" but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “stars” in another medium.
It is about fulfilling the work with the intent of those who originally created it, the artistic integrity of the part that you’ve been hired to do. Do the best you can. You have to bring something to it. You can’t just rely on a director telling you what to do.
Sometimes, you don’t know about a role until you’ve done it over and over. Each day brings new insights into what the play is. It’s easier when you’re doing a musical because with music, you almost know the insight of the character. In a straight play, one needs to have done research into certain areas. Auditioning is a whole other realm. Doing a play, you have to have a strong insight to the time, the place, the era. The clothes your character wears. What does it feel like? You need to be able to fill in all the blanks... Where have I come from that precipitates a certain confrontation?
Why is this person I am meeting in the script so interesting to me? To Marni, it’s all about research and imagination so that when you start performing, you can file that into your psyche and put it out there as if it is you.
I asked Marni if she should hold on to an iconic costume piece or if it should go into a museum. Of course, it should go into a museum. People can get a better sense of our history.
“Oh my God, that person was huge! She didn’t look that way on stage.” Or just the opposite!  Perhaps they were nineteen years old and six inches across in the waist. What kind of undergarments did they wear under that?
It’s interesting to get a fuller sense by actually seeing the costumes.

From Myles Savage of The Platters, Have you shared any love today? Of course!

Marnie’s fondest memory is far from the spotlight. What comes to her mind is sleeping in a sleeping bag on a cot in the Sequoia National Forest.
Her family would pack up and go away for the summer and stay in tents with make shift quarters.
They would swim in the lake and get their own food and cook it. Rock fires were made. No electricity. They were like wild animals all together. Getting back to nature.
She loves nature and hates that she can’t do that in New York. She can’t necessarily go out on her balcony and sleep, even if she had one! The weather is different because of all of the heat from the buildings and the pollution and stuff. To revive yourself, you need to get in the most natural state that you can…at least for a while.
Our culture precludes us from being able to separate ourselves from phones and computers for a long time. ..but you can for a while! Reset your batteries!

Alex Rybeck had the following to say about Marni: Marni's voice and personality have touched countless music and film fans for decades. Like most people, I knew her first as "the voice" of Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn, and Natalie Wood. 
I am so lucky I got to know the person behind the voice(s), and to have been her accompanist for a lovely, instructive, happy stretch of time, during which we traveled a lot together, performing her one-woman show. She has lived a truly rich life, full of giddy peaks and deeply heartbreaking valleys. Her book (I COULD HAVE SUNG ALL NIGHT) is a treasure of wisdom, humor, intelligence, and soul. I am flattered and honored to be among those thanked in the Acknowledgments. 
Any time that Marni's name and career are saluted is worthwhile and an occasion to be cheered. Thanks, Richard, for reminding us of her accomplishments and the musical joy she has spread throughout the world. 

Meet Marni Nixon in person Wednesday night!!!!!
 * "Marni Nixon is the unacknowledged star of some of the greatest Hollywood musicals of all time.” - Roger Ebert


Reception, Book and CD Signing - ("I Could Have Sung All NIght" - Foreword by Marilyn Horne)

with Deborah Kerr
 • The Legendary Hollywood/Classical Soprano Who Dubbed the Voices of Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady)
Deborah Kerr (The King and I), Natalie Wood (West Side Story) - and much more

• Peabody Award Winner for Outstanding Contributions to American Music (2011)

$20 Public / $15 CAC Members

Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets - – or by calling toll free at 1-800-838-3006. They can also be purchased by calling the CAC box office during theatre hours (631-423-7611). No refunds.

* “Marni Nixon has the voice that every actress wishes she had herself.” -Frances MacDormand

* “Marni Nixon is a legend.” -Christopher Walken

Marni Nixon's voice known to millions around the world, Marni Nixon was awarded the prestigious George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to American Music last year, joining such past honorees as Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Ella Fitzgerald, Isaac Stern and Wynton Marsalis.
Also a Four-Time Emmy Winner for Best Actress and 2-time classical Grammy nominee, Marni Nixon has also had an extraordinary career under her own name, performing with Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta and Arnold Schoenberg – as well as Victor Borge and Liberace.
Curated and Produced by Dr. Jud Newborn, CAC Special Events Curator
Thank you to Marni Nixon for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,
Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
I want this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!
Do you have any pics? If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


Join me and Ron Young! (original cast of Hello, Dolly!)
June 29
In his new memoir, "The Only Boy Who Danced: A Journey from Oklahoma to Broadway and Beyond", Ronald Young details an eventful life in the theater.  
The Only Boy Who Danced: A Journey from Oklahoma to Broadway and Beyond.

Sometimes Broadway dreams do come true. Fresh from the obscurity of living in the small farming community of Grove, Oklahoma, Ronald Young, at 22, is catapulted onto New York City's "Great White Way"... BROADWAY. 
After arriving in Manhattan on a Friday, he auditions for his first Broadway show on Monday. Bingo! After three call back auditions he snags his first dancing role in the soon to be mega hit "HELLO, DOLLY!" directed and choreographed by Gower Champion and starring Carol Channing. Armed with three music degrees and lots of enthusiasm he embarks on his career on Broadway.
His resume includes working with some of the legends of the theater: Ethel Merman, Shirley Booth, Angela Lansbury, Tommy Tune, Bernadette Peters, Joel Gray, Chita Rivera, Sandy Duncan, Georgia Engel and many others. He appeared in a host of shows: "MAME," "GEORGE M!" "THE BOY FRIEND," "MY ONE AND ONLY," "A CHORUS LINE" and the films "HAIR" and "ANNIE."

"THE ONLY BOY WHO DANCED" is a series of compelling, riveting stories about Ronald Young's personal quest to make it on Broadway. If you or a friend have hidden aspirations to make it on the New York theatrical scene, you will enjoy his tips and suggestions on how to break through this tough barrier.
Richard Skipper and Ronald Young are sitting down for an exploration of Ronald's incredible career in show business. 
Email Richard at for more info

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
My next blog will be...YOU TELL ME! I'm open to suggestions!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!