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The Dress Circle: Hollywood's Dubbers Part 1

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The stars and their singing voices: Esther Williams and Jo Ann Greer, James Fox and Jimmy Bryant, Martha Mears and Rita Hayworth, John Kerr, Christopher Plummer, and Bill Lee, Rossano Brazzi and Giorgio Tozzi, Juanita Hall and Muriel Smith, and Jeremy Brett and Bill Shirley.

It wasn’t until the advent of the Internet and sites like IMDB that some audience members realized that their favorite musical stars didn’t really do their own singing, and on this week’s Dress Circle (8/14 7:00 p.m.), we’re presenting the first of three programs looking at a variety of singers who are known as “dubbers” or “ghost singers” who for years were kept a highly guarded secret by Hollywood studios.

Many times, dubbers were used if a star had the looks or the name for a film but either just couldn’t sing, or their voices didn’t quite match their “looks.” For instance, Vera Ellen reportedly had a very deep voice that just didn’t sound right coming out of such a petite person.

Some of the voices you’ll be hearing (often with snippets of the “stars’” voices) include Jo Ann Greer singing for Esther Williams in “Jupiter’s Darling,” and Martha Mears who was one of several singers who voiced Rita Hayworth over the years.

For the men, you’ll hear Bill Shirley singing for Jeremy Brett in “My Fair Lady,” Giorgio Tozzi, whose voice thrilled many at the Metropolitan Opera, singing for Rossano Brazzi in “South Pacific,” and Bill Lee who will be doing double duty supplying the voice for John Kerr also in “South Pacific” and Christopher Plummer in “The Sound of Music.”

There are a few more, including the lady who was nicknamed “The Ghostess with the Mostess,” Marni Nixon whom we’ll be showcasing next week, but here, she’s the singing voice for Natalie Wood in “West Side Story.”

For years, these singers didn’t get their due because of the studios’ policy forbidding talking about them, but that changed when stars like Deborah Kerr openly discussed her dubber, Marni Nixon, in “The King and I,” and we’ll hear from that score next week.

Join us as we celebrate these wonderful singers who performed behind the scenes. We’re not casting aspersions about the stars, we just think it’s time that the singers who helped some of these stars win a variety of awards, including Oscars, got their due.

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Ted Otten is co-host of The Dress Circle
Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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