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Lover-o-Classics

The King and I... Terry Saunders

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There have been several discussions here about racism and the race issue... and rightly so.  What I'd like to touch on is the issue of white actors/actresses being made up to portray people of other races... from Asians to native 'Indians'.  Very often, they are portrayed in a stereotypical way, which comes across as being highly racist.  (Mickey Rooney in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'... a role he later deeply regretted taking.)  But there have also been occasions when white performers have done an excellent job portraying an Asian character, playing the part with the dignity it deserves.  A couple of weeks ago on Noir Alley, Eddie Muller commented on the outstanding job white actress Gale Sondergaard did in portraying the sinister Asian character Mrs. Hammond.  That brought to mind the incredible performances of Luise Rainer and Paul Muni as Chinese peasants in 'The Good Earth'.  Rainer won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.  Which brings me to the musical 'The King and I'.  Yul Brynner's performance as the King was wonderful, but he was from eastern Russia and part Mongol.  The performance I found really outstanding was that of Terry Saunders, who played the part of Lady Thiang with such grace and dignity.  The way she sang 'Something Wonderful'... without dubbing... was magnificent.  Getting off topic, three characters had their voices dubbed in this film.  Deborah Kerr's voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who was paid ten grand for it.  (I'd listened to the sound track for decades thinking I was listening to the beautiful voice of Deborah Kerr.)   Nixon also dubbed for Kerr in 'An Affair to Remember', for Audrey Hepburn in 'My Fair Lady', and for Natalie Wood in 'West Side Story'.  Lovely voice.   

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Also a bit off topic but it's also interesting to think about the reverse-- "typical" Americans of a particular time, say, being played by actors whose ethnicity is not Western European. Yup Brenner playing a cowboy in The Magnificent Seven is an example that comes to mind. His mannerisms, his acting, his presence in that movie quickly make even a first time viewer of the film begin to believe he's a cowboy. And in fact, he's a far better cowboy than Horst Buchholz, a German. 

And now back to musicals... .

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Interesting topic.  I agree about Paul Muni and Luise Rainer.  Myrna Loy was originally cast as "exotic" in a number of early films, a fact that I think puzzled her. And I Totally agree about Mickey Rooney's (mis)casting in Breakfast at Tiffany's. 

A musical we haven't discussed in class, South Pacific, has an African American actress, Juanita Hall, playing Tonkinese character, Bloody Mary.  Apparently she was personally chosen for the role by Rodgers and Hammerstein in the original stage production.  Curious that her singing voice is dubbed for the movie version. She also played a Chinese-American character in Flower Drum Song.

Side-note,you get to see Marni Nixon in The Sound of Music as a nun.  Her dubbing for Audrey Hepburn in MFL caused a bit of a scandal, since people were surprised Julie Andrews wasn't cast, having played Eliza Doolittle on stage. 

 

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14 minutes ago, & i said:

A musical we haven't discussed in class, South Pacific, has an African American actress, Juanita Hall, playing Tonkinese character, Bloody Mary.  Apparently she was personally chosen for the role by Rodgers and Hammerstein in the original stage production.  Curious that her singing voice is dubbed for the movie version.

I have never quite understood dubbing Juanita Moore in South Pacific, then casting her in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song and in the film.  Richard Rodgers writes in his autobiography (I believe) that her voice had deteriorated in the years since her time in South Pacific on stage, and they dubbed her with the voice of the woman who had played Bloody Mary in London.  So in a sense, we get two veteran Bloody Marys in the film.  It does seem to me that in their quest to get the best singing voices for their songs and the best actors for their play, they went overboard with dubbing in South Pacific.

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oh, and I wanted to touch on Lover-o-classics mention of Yul Brenner.  I agree his performance is great, and to my mind he's the best version of this character I've seen.  The version with Rex Harrison as the king felt really weird to me.  Much as I love Rex I just can't love this movie.  Maybe it's because I saw The King & I before Anna and the King of Siam.  I have a hard time believing Rex Harrison is from Thailand. 

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How about West Side Story? Is Natalie Wood playing a Chicano/Hispanic character? It seems to me that a lot of actors in that movie have fake tans.

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On 6/19/2018 at 1:28 PM, & i said:

Interesting topic.  I agree about Paul Muni and Luise Rainer.  Myrna Loy was originally cast as "exotic" in a number of early films, a fact that I think puzzled her. And I Totally agree about Mickey Rooney's (mis)casting in Breakfast at Tiffany's. 

A musical we haven't discussed in class, South Pacific, has an African American actress, Juanita Hall, playing Tonkinese character, Bloody Mary.  Apparently she was personally chosen for the role by Rodgers and Hammerstein in the original stage production.  Curious that her singing voice is dubbed for the movie version. She also played a Chinese-American character in Flower Drum Song.

Side-note,you get to see Marni Nixon in The Sound of Music as a nun.  Her dubbing for Audrey Hepburn in MFL caused a bit of a scandal, since people were surprised Julie Andrews wasn't cast, having played Eliza Doolittle on stage. 

 

Juanita Hall is obviously a mixed-race person. She may have even had some of that genealogy in her DNA  to be so suitable for that part.

Julie Andrews was not cast because Jack Warner had made s very big investment in the film and he wanted to hire at least one big screen name to carry the movie.

 Audrey Hepburn was a well-trained dancer and had been very successful in a movie co-starring with Fred Astaire, Funny Face.

She actually was under the impression that she would be singing this role, which was ridiculous because it's a semi -operatic role.  The same could be said for Natalie Wood in West Side Story. Hollywood hired both of them because they were screen movie stars but they were totally inadequate for semi -operatic singing parts.

Of all the dubbing that Marni Nixon did,  I think her best job was Deborah Kerr in The King and I.

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55 minutes ago, Tomilee said:

How about West Side Story? Is Natalie Wood playing a Chicano/Hispanic character? It seems to me that a lot of actors in that movie have fake tans.

 Natalie Wood was playing a Puerto Rican Hispanic character.

Rita Moreno, who co-starred in the movie playing Anita and won the Oscar, was a Puerto Rican American.

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One thing that seems to be often overlooked about Hepburn in My Fair Lady is that she gives a marvelous performance. Even as the cockney flower girl, which supposedly is the weak part of her performance, her self-reliance, and curiosity, and desire for something better are so beautifully portrayed The struggle between her two selves, old and new, later in the film is so affecting and real. It’s a great performance. And Marni Nixon’s vocal performance is musically and dramatically superb. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess it wasn’t Hepburn. The two together are quite fantastic.

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59 minutes ago, MarkH said:

One thing that seems to be often overlooked about Hepburn in My Fair Lady is that she gives a marvelous performance. Even as the cockney flower girl, which supposedly is the weak part of her performance, her self-reliance, and curiosity, and desire for something better are so beautifully portrayed The struggle between her two selves, old and new, later in the film is so affecting and real. It’s a great performance. And Marni Nixon’s vocal performance is musically and dramatically superb. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess it wasn’t Hepburn. The two together are quite fantastic.

Mark-- The funniest thing-- as a kid I had "The King and I" record and the "West Side Story" record. And nobody knew about Marni Nixon at that time.  And she really made it sound like the voices of those actresses. She did a fantastic job with Deborah Kerr. And for years Deborah Kerr swore in public that it was her real singing voice in the movie.

But I think, as I said on another thread, Marni Nixon could have done a much better job in all of those movies, including "My Fair Lady", if she had been unleashed to really use her own voice and not to try and sound like the actress singing in the part.

  At the time, she was cheated out of royalties  but I believe she sued in later years. As I can recall,  Leonard Bernstein was the only person who shared royalties with her.

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