The “Ghost Singers” Hollywood Forgot to Tell You About

Throughout much of the mid-1900s, movie musicals frequently featured “ghost singers” covering the lead actors’ vocals. While this may seem blasphemous today  – as actors far and wide accept musical roles to prove they can “do it all” – it used to be a prevalent practice. The problem: these “ghost singers” were unsung angels, so to speak, as they accepted a measly payout and were never credited.

Marni Nixon
Marni Nixon | Getty Images

Even on the soundtrack, which features no acting, the singers dubbing the famous performers were nowhere to be mentioned. Why? Hollywood was still in its golden age, still basking in the glory of its grand illusion. Revealing that Christopher Plummer couldn’t indeed produce the heartwrenching “Edelweiss” he’s so famous for in The Sound of Music would have been earth-shattering.

So, who’s dubbing Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, and just how many other famous movie musicals feature “ghost singers?” More than you think have slipped through the cracks over the years, and this list will hit all the major players.

“Fair warning: if you’d like to preserve the illusion Hollywood has fortified for you, do not continue reading. This list may besmirch more than one of your favorite classics.

Bill Lee is Christopher Plummer’s “ghost singer” in ‘The Sound of Music’

The real voice making you sob in the most unappealing way during “Edelweiss” is that of Bill Lee, according to Musical Stage Company. Though Lee is known most today for his vocal dubbing work in The Sound of Music, he was also one of the four singers in a group called The Mellomen.

Lee spent most of his life working for The Walt Disney Company; Lee performed both as Bert and Mr. Banks in the second-cast album of Mary Poppins and sang as one of the barnyard men in the film itself.

Marni Nixon dubbed Rita Moreno, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn

Marni Nixon, often considered Hollywood’s worst kept secret, provided the vocals for some of the most famous film performances in all of history. Dubbing Rita Moreno for parts of “Tonight” and Marilyn Monroe’s high notes in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” Marni Nixon had an unprecedented knack for mimicking actresses’ talking voices when she sang as them.

If you thought Audrey Hepburn was really singing in My Fair Lady, think again. According to The Guardian, Marni Nixon is behind the voice of Eliza Doolittle every time she sings.

Though Marni Nixon was uncredited for much of her work, once her secret leaked in a 1964 Time Magazine article, the truth was out. She went on to interview with CBS Sunday Morning, The Chicago Tribune, and more, before her death in 2016.

Lisa Kirk was Rosalind Russell’s “ghost singer” as Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy’

According to the Musical Stage Company, Lisa Kirk does most of Mama Rose’s singing in the 1962 musical dramedy. Lisa Kirk, known for starring in The Producers, also portrayed Madame Maruska in the famous TV series Bewitched.

Mostly known for her work on television, Kirk also starred in Kraft Theatre, Front Row Center, and The Borden Show. Her uncredited role is, unfortunately, one of the most successful projects the actress ever worked on.

From Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music to Rita Moreno in West Side Story, many of the most famous movie musicals feature “ghost singers.” More recently, Drew Seeley dubbed Zac Efron in the first High School Musical; however, this one is more widely known since he was credited (as should have always been the case).

Is Donna Murphy dubbing Meryl Streep in ‘Into the Woods?’

While conspiracy theorists will say the accomplished Broadway performer Donna Muphy is the one behind Meryl Streep’s vocals in Into the Woods during “Stay With Me,” this has not been proven.

While the vocal inflections are virtually parallel, it is more than possible, and likely, that Meryl simply studied Donna Murphy’s performance before filming the movie. Furthermore, it just doesn’t seem like Streep’s style, but that’s for you to decide.