Fans of movie musicals will probably recognize the singing voice of Mulan's spunky Grandmother Fa in Disney's current animated hit musical, "Mulan."
Though June Foray, alias Rocky of "Rocky & Bullwinkle" fame, is the speaking voice of the spry senior citizen, it is Marni Nixon who supplies Grandmother Fa's lilting soprano singing voice.Nixon, 68, is cinema's most famous ghost singer. She trilled such standards as "Shall We Dance?" for Deborah Kerr in "The King and I," "I Feel Pretty" for Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" for Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady."
But her dubbing duties have just been one aspect of her long, eclectic career. Nixon was a child actress who segued into opera and choral work as a teenager. She played Sister Sophia in the 1965 Oscar-winner "The Sound of Music" and played Jack's mother in a TV musical special of "Jack in the Beanstalk," which aired on NBC in the late '60s.
Question: Does "Mulan" mark the first time you have sung in a Disney movie?
Answer: I have done a lot of Disney movies over the years, way in the past. This is the first one I've done recently, within the past 10 years.
Q: What other ones did you do?
A: One was called "Perri" and I did, of course, "Mary Poppins." I did three Cockney geese in the movie. Three of them, harmonizing with myself.
Q: And now you are the singing voice of Mulan's feisty Grandmother Fa. When you provide the singing voice for an animated character, do you try to match your voice with the actress who is the speaking voice of the character?
A: Doing the voice for a Disney film is different than dubbing for an actress because they are writing and changing the storyboard and what the character looks like and their concept of what it sounds like all along (during production).
Q: Even as a teen you dubbed Margaret O'Brien's singing voice in 1949's "The Secret Garden." How did your dubbing career begin?
A: Well, it's sort of done behind the scenes. When Ingrid Bergman hears the angel voices that drive her crazy in (the movie) "Joan of Arc," I was one of those voices. Word just gets around that you can use your musicality.
Q: How did it become known that you were the singing voices for Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn?
A: Well, I don't know. It was very carefully guarded. I was sworn to secrecy. I just think other people began to know and gradually people became more aware of that process over the years. As the movies were reissued, everybody was much more open about it. Now, even though the movies don't give me credit, some of the albums, without my raising a finger, have given me credit.
Q: Are you still performing in concert?
A: I am preparing to tour around the country with (a one-woman show), which is the story of my life.
I don't even think of myself as a dubber anymore. When this Disney thing came along, I thought, "Oh, gosh. I don't do that anymore." But this is different. It's not really dubbing. So I said, "Why not?"