A singer, the New York Times says Nixon was “American cinema’s most unsung singer” — a “Ghost Singer” (and Nixon was sometimes called “The ghostest with the mostest.”) That is, she dubbed singing voices for other actresses with …well… less able voices in Hollywood musicals, including Margaret O’Brien in The Secret Garden, Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember and The King and I, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc, and even Natalie Wood in West Side Story — usually with no credit as studios didn’t like to acknowledge their actresses couldn’t sing well enough. Nixon wasn’t totally anonymous, though: she was a well regarded singer under her own name, including in a stage production of My Fair Lady. Sometimes she only dubbed in a line or two, or a hard-to-hit high note. Marilyn Monroe, for instance, sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but Nixon did one extra-hard line with a high note.
Kerr received an Academy Award nomination for her “King” role, and the soundtrack album was a best-seller, yet Nixon was paid only $420 for her part in the film. “You always had to sign a contract that nothing would be revealed,” Nixon said in 2007. “Twentieth Century Fox, when I did ‘The King and I,’ threatened me. They said, if anybody ever knows that you did any part of the dubbing for Deborah Kerr, we’ll see to it that you don’t work in town again.” But those who knew of her work blabbed, and Nixon’s fame grew without her ever having to break her word. “It’s fascinating, getting inside the actresses you’re singing for,” she once said. “It’s like cutting off the top of their heads and seeing what’s underneath. You have to know how they feel, as well as how they talk, in order to sing as they would sing — if they could sing.” Nixon worked until she was in her 80s, and died July 24 from breast cancer. She was 86.