Fans of the Hollywood musicals of the 1950s and 1960s are frequently surprised to learn that the voices of their favorite actresses are someone else’s. If you listen carefully, you will notice a surprising similarity in the singing voices of Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956), Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961), and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964). While those actresses were more than competent with the spoken word, studio executives did not have confidence in their musical prowess to rely on their own voices. Consequently, Marni Nixon’s voice was dubbed in whenever those actresses broke off into song.
The phenomenon of substituting voices in films is a tradition as American as apple pie. In fact, it is so deeply rooted in American entertainment culture that an even more powerful national symbol than an apple pie needs to be discussed: the bald eagle.
How often have you seen the majestic sight of a bald eagle flying across your television screen and heard its iconic cry? You recognize it as the sound in this video, don’t you?
Would you believe that this is just another example of Hollywood dubbing in someone else’s voice? The sound we have come to associate with the bald eagle is actually the cry of the red-tailed hawk. The bald eagle, while physically impressive, does not have a voice to match. Actual bald eagles sound like this:
The next time you see a bald eagle but hear the substituted cry, take a moment and appreciate the beauty of the scene, but don’t forget to acknowledge the red-tailed hawk, the Marni Nixon of the animal world.