Recognition: The Ghost Singer
In my history of working at various managerial positions, I have discovered that the most important act, and frankly the easiest act to perform as a boss, is to give recognition for good work done by an employee. It is so easy to do, that most managers forget to do it.
I was recently at a meeting where staff helped a manager with information and data to help create a brilliant presentation to the employee base. This presentation was well received and the boss was given accolades and recognition for his inspirational talk. Unfortunately all the people who had helped him in his content were left alone without a thank you for their intrepid work to help him look good in front of his management team. The employees had been “Marni Nixoned” and it didn’t feel right.
You are now sitting there wondering why did I end this little story about recognition with an obscure made up phrase. As with all poorly written prose, the author relies on obscurity, just to get your attention. This technique tends to irritate the reader and most intelligent people stop reading any article that uses this manipulative approach. Well to help elevate my habit of annoying people, I am going to refer to a few classic Hollywood musicals to really lose your interest. Referring to Hollywood musicals is a well known literary method that immediately stops the other readers from continuing to read any further. So in conclusion, nobody will be reading what follows and in a cruel twist of irony, I will get little recognition for the work I have done.
Marni Nixon was a classically trained soprano vocalist from the middle of the last century. She had a relatively unremarkable career that supports most people’s response ” I have never heard of her!” This phrase is slightly altered at the dinner table when my siblings say, “Who the hell is Marni Nixon, stop talking about her and could you pass the salt.”
In the 1950s the movie industry had an approach to casting that was a formula for success. Hire well known movie stars to act in movies and the chance of making money on those movies was virtually guaranteed. This is why many movie goers at the time would ask “Have you seen the new Humphrey Bogart movie?” more often than asking friends “Have you seen Casablanca?” Star power eclipsed movie title power much of the time.
This well tested method was used in the popular “Musicals” genre and this is where things get interesting. In 1956 Roger and Hammerstein’s popular Broadway hit “The King and I” was being transferred to a movie. Deborah Kerr, who had just lost an Academy Award for her role in “From Here to Eternity” was at the height of her popularity. was cast in the lead role. Perfect casting and all was set. One little problem, Deborah Kerr, could not sing. The studio hired Marni Nixon to dub in the singing voice. This was an “uncredited” contribution to a movie that helped Deborah Kerr receive an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actress Category. Marni Nixon was chosen because she had dubbed in for Marilyn Monroe’s voice when she sang “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” and seemed to flourish in “uncredited” roles of popular movies. The movie industry covered up this little secret as she became affectionately known as The Ghost Singer.
In 1957 West Side Story was a massive musical hit on Broadway. Naturally the industry once again converted this into a movie. Casting decisions were made and Natalie Wood was secured to play the lead female role of Maria, to ensure star power was part of the casting approach. One little problem, Natalie Wood could not sing. Once again an uncredited Marni Nixon dubbed in all the vocal contributions for Natalie Wood’s Songs. West Side Story went on to win 10 Academy Awards, including best picture.
My Fair Lady was another broadway smash and once again the movie industry rushed to get that musical on celluloid. Audrey Hepburn was cast as the lead role of Eliza Doolittle, even though an unknown Julie Andrews had wowed the theatre community with that role on Broadway. Star power mattered when casting. One little problem, Audrey Hepburn could not sing. Marni Nixon was once again asked to perform all of the many songs Audrey Hepburn was to sing, and the beautiful voice your hear coming from Audrey Hepburn’s perfectly lip synched mouth, are delivered by a once again uncredited Marni Nixon. My Fair Lady went on to win 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Audrey Hepburn did not win Best Actress. That award went to an unknown actress for her role in Mary Poppins named Julie Andrews. Recognition occasionally occurs with a pinch of irony and a small dose of revenge.
The next year Julie Andrews went on to star in the musical Sound of Music because star power matters. in recognition of Marni Nixon’s incredible talent she was cast as a nun and for the first time a camera captured her face and voice as she sang “How do You solve a problem like Maria. If you look far down the casting information for the Sound of Music, a credited Marni Nixon appears in the role of Sister Sophia. I suppose even small recognition for your work is better than no recognition. Maybe this is where the phrase “give credit where credit is due” came from. I cannot confirm this, as my credit rating is too low to comment on credit cliches. Oh how I long for the days when I was uncredited in the financial world.
Marni Nixon went on to perform many other uncredited roles. At the end of her career she eventually toured with great musicians to share her fabulous voice and unrecognizable face to adoring crowds. Sometimes recognition takes time.
She had three sons, and one of them went on to become a rather famous singer songwriter in the 1970s. Andrew Gold had hits like “Lonely Boy” and “Thank you for being a Friend” . That song went on to be the theme song for the TV series Golden Girls, as the Nixon family contributions, recognized and more often unrecognized, continued as little notes in the soundtrack of our lives.
The Next time you are at work and your boss “Marni Nixons” your contribution, understand you are in good company. Some of the greatest contributions never get truly recognized. To the managers and bosses out there I offer one piece of advice. After you have recognized the stars in your organization, because star power matters, do one more thing. Search for the others. There are many ghost singers throughout your institution. Seek them out, thank them, recognize them to others, and change their status from uncredited to credited. It is the best work you will do all day. Or to quote Marni Nixon through the voice of Audrey Hepburn, Wouldn’t It be Loverly? if you raised the credit ratings of your employees.
PostScript: If you do take a moment to offer recognition, please use specificity in what you recognize. My son told me that his boss said “You are doing a great job.” When my son asked what he was doing well, his boss couldn’t tell him as he thought his job of recognizing was done. Hollow praise is very close to no praise at all.
Cue the Blong. Sometimes the title of a song is superior to the song itself….Ghosts in the Mirror.