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Marni Nixon may be the embodiment of behind-the-curtain singing in big Hollywood musicals. But there have been other incidents of singers surreptitiously subbing the vocals of stars.
Al Jolson — The subject of Hollywood’s first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, provided his own voice for The Al Jolson Story in 1943, with actor Larry Parks mouthing the parts. Similarly, Jessica Lange lip-synched to Patsy Cline records in 1985’s Sweet Dreams and Jamie Foxx mouthed Ray Charles classics in 2004’s Ray.
Kathy Selden — A film about lip-synching and ghost singers at the dawn of talkies, 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain had its own head-spinning dubbing secrets, as when actress Jean Hagen provided the voice for Debbie Reynolds’ character, Kathy Seldin, in a scene where she is dubbing for Hagen’s character, Lina Lamont, on screen. And Betty Noyes sang for Reynolds in the ballad “Would You?” in the climactic scene where Gene Kelly’s character declares, “That’s the girl whose voice you heard and loved tonight. She’s the real star of the picture!” Er, not really.
Christopher Plummer — Captain von Trapp may have been charming as he sang “Edelweiss,” but it was Bill Lee, a singer whose voice was used on many Disney cartoons, who provided his singing voice in 1965’s The Sound of Music.
The Partridge Family — Studio musicians played and sang the songs of the fictional TV family band in the 1970-74 sitcom, until David Cassidy convinced them he could sing along with them. They managed a No. 1 hit, “I Think I Love You,” as well as 88 other songs on nine albums. But no tour, despite the colorfully painted school bus.
Milli Vanilli — Pop music’s greatest ghost vocal fake was German dancing duo Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan, who had their 1990 Grammy for Best New Artist revoked when the real voices behind their songs were revealed to be unknown studio singers Johnny Davis, Charles Shaw, and Brad Howell. After selling 7 million copies of its debut, “Girl You Know It’s True,” the record company was forced to offer refunds.
C & C Music Factory — Martha Wash, the big voice behind such previous hits as the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men,” was used on C & C Music Factory’s No. 1 dance anthem, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” in 1990, but she wasn’t credited initially and didn’t appear in the group’s video, which featured a much thinner model. Similarly she was the lead voice on the hits of the group Black Box, such as 1990’s “Strike It Up,” but wasn’t in any videos. Her fighting back led to legislation requiring singers to receive credits on recordings.
Soggy Bottom Boys — George Clooney tried to sing the lead vocals of the bearded group doing “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” in the Coen brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? But in the end, the vocals of Dan Tyminski, a bluegrass musician from Alison Krauss’ Union Station, were used in the film and on the soundtrack.
High School Musical — Drew Seeley provided the voice of Zac Efron in his 2006 breakout Disney Channel hit about the captain of the high school basketball team who goes out for the school musical because he has a crush on a girl. What would she think if she knew someone was subbing his vocals for the play?
Beijing Olympics — Amid its elaborate 2008 opening ceremony, a song by Lin Mioke, 9, nearly stole the show, until it was revealed that she was lip-synching a track sung by Yang Peiyi, 7, who was initially deemed not pretty enough to take part in the ceremony.