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West Side Story continues to be a popular musical movie, with fantastic singing and dancing. It features memorable songs like “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” and “America.” It also stars Natalie Wood in one of her most famous roles.
While Wood does her own dancing in the film, she didn’t do her own singing. Or rather, she did her own singing, and later found out she had been dubbed in the film. Here’s what happened.
The story of ‘West Side Story’
West Side Story began as a Broadway musical and then was turned into a 1961 Hollywood musical film, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.
It’s based on Romeo and Juliet, but rather than the Montagues and Capulets, its star-crossed lovers are from the feuding gangs of the Sharks and the Jets on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, according to Little Things.
Tony, a former Jet, and Maria, sister of the leader of the Sharks, fall in love. The cultural themes center around the conflict between the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white Jets.
Like Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story also ends in tragedy. Natalie Wood was cast as Maria, the Juliet of West Side Story. The film also starred Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno.
Natalie Wood’s career
Wood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko on July 20, 1938. Her first appearance on film was in a small part in 1943’s Happy Land at age four.
She first became a star after her appearance in Miracle on 34th Street in 1947. Wood became even more famous when she co-starred in Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean and Sal Mineo in 1955, according to Biography.com. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the film.
The same year as West Side Story, Wood also starred in Splendor in the Grass (1961), with Warren Beatty, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1962, Wood starred and sang in Gypsy, a musical about the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
She co-starred in Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice in 1969. She was well-received in televised versions of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1976 and From Here to Eternity in 1979.
After several unpopular films, Wood’s last film was Brainstorm in 1981 with Christopher Walken. She drowned in 1981 in a mysterious boating accident while with her husband Robert Wagner and co-star Walken.
Natalie Wood’s singing in ‘West Side Story’
There’s quite a bit of singing in West Side Story, since it’s a musical. Wood believed she would be doing most of her own singing in the movie. She recorded all her own songs in the studio with an orchestra, according to NPR.
Wood did know that Marni Nixon had been hired to sing, but she was under the impression that only some of the high notes would be dubbed rather than all of her singing, according to Stephen Cole, who co-authored Nixon’s memoirs, I Could Have Sung All Night.
After Wood sang in the studio, Nixon would then sing the same song over again. “Marni thought it was barbaric,” said Cole, “because Natalie was not good and everyone would tell her she was wonderful, she was fabulous, knowing that they would not be using her tracks.”
The relationship was not a friendly one between the two women. Nixon had better relationships with Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn when she dubbed their singing in The King and I and My Fair Lady.
While it may have been an unpleasant shock to Wood to find that all her songs had been dubbed with Nixon’s voice, the film is still an enjoyable one for viewers. Its Shakespearean story and themes still have an impact and are paired with entertaining songs and dance numbers.
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