Marni Nixon died last month at 86, and I have been intending to write about her ever since. An accomplished soprano with perfect pitch and a rare gift for mimicry, Nixon secretly dubbed in the songs for Deborah Kerr as Anna in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood as Maria in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” three of the most successful and honored Hollywood adaptations of Broadway musicals. In doing so she was assisting in the perpetration of a fraud on critics and audiences, but one that had, and indeed has, some legitimate ethical arguments, and rationalizations too, to justify it. Why is using a stunt singer any more dishonest than using a stunt man? Isn’t film about making the audience accept illusions in pursuit of art? If an audience member will be more likely to enjoy a film thinking that a major star can really sing, why is it wrong to make it possible for them to believe that, at least for a while?
The reasoning would have more power if long before Marnie did her secret singing Hollywood hadn’t already made a classic musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” that pronounced the practice fraudulent. Marni Nixon was a real life Cathy Seldon, the Debbie Reynolds contract player forced to supply the singing and speaking voice for a talentless silent film superstar, Lina Lamont, whose real voice would make dogs run for refuge and men claw off their ears, and whose continued status as a money-making asset for the studio depended on making her successful in talkies.
Ironically, even “Singin’ in the Rain” engaged in the same fraud it was ridiculing. Debbie Reynolds was a competent singer, but a richer, more mature voice was needed to match the image of Jean Hagen, the terrific comic actress playing Lina. So when Debbie was shown secretly replacing Lina’s nightmarish singing voice with her own, another singer was secretly used, uncredited, to dub Debbie. Her voice fit Lina perfectly, because the voice put in Debbie’s mouth while she was supposedly putting her voice into Lina’s was the real voice of… Jean Hagen. Continue reading
A “justice-involved individual”
At what point did the Obama Administration become immune to recognizing the ridiculous?
In its ongoing effort to make criminals and felons a Democratic voting bloc, the Obama Administration has rechristened them “justice-involved individuals.” Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason was the designated messenger for this official effort to make criminals respectable by creative terminology. In The Washington Post, she explained that “many of the formerly incarcerated men, women, and young people I talk with say that no punishment is harsher than being permanently branded a ‘felon’ or ‘offender.’”
Don’t break the law, then. It’s always unpleasant being called what you have allowed yourself to become, and having to avoid that fate is an important element of deterrence.
I heard about this and—I swear—I thought it was a joke. How addled by rainbows and unicorns does a mind have to be to hear a proposed euphemism like this and not react by pointing, laughing, and firing?
To begin with, it’s an inept and ambiguous euphemism that doesn’t effectively distinguish what it is supposed to describe. I’m lawyer; I’m a justice-involved individual. Judges, juries and police officers are justice-involved individuals. Criminals, in contrast, are justice-adverse individuals. Criminals and felons are clear words and concepts. “Justice-involved individuals,” in contrast, hides the truth. That’s what cover-phrases like that are supposed to do. They make deception and counter-factual policy-making easier.
Why does the administration, Democrats, Obama, social justice warriors, wackos—who IS responsible for this?—want to make criminals seem like innocent bystanders in their own criminal activities? Here’s is section from a DOE publication that is part of the roll-out of this latest Obama foray into Orwellian Newspeak: Continue reading
Northern Virginia’s most acclaimed and honored musical theater, Signature Theater (not to be confused with also well-honored NYC regional theater of the same name) is currently presenting “West Side Story.” A feature article about the sold-out production noted the fact that the show’s marketing prominently features dancer Gustavo Ribeiro, a former member of the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company, whose career has been soaring of late, just like the photo of him mid-air that has appeared in Signature’s season announcement, show posters, program covers and in “West Side Story” reviews and features.
In addition to inducing potential audience members to believe this superb dancer is featured in the show, the fact that he is apparently Latino creates the assumption, suggests the article’s author, that members of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, are played by Hispanic actors.
They are not. Neither is Ribeiro in the show his image advertises. Nor, I strongly suspect, are any dancers of his caliber.
For your first Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of 2016, I ask you:
Is this ethical advertising?
Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” is a fascinating reflection on a remarkable career and the craft of making musicals by the greatest living master of the form. In the course of recounting his formative years, triumphs, failures, and duels with producers, authors and composers, Sondheim also critiques the lyrics of his predecessors, contemporaries and role models—as long as they are dead. In a nod to gentility or cowardice, the only living lyricist he subjects to his expert critiques is himself.
Sondheim is a tough judge, as one might expect from a composer/lyricist who meticulously measures each vowel sound and stressed syllable for maximum effect. He is also, by virtue of both his reputation and technical expertise, an influential one. The lyricists he grades highly in the book, such as Frank Loesser, Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields, are likely to have their reputations burnished by his praise, and those he slams, like Lorenz Hart and Noel Coward, will suffer by comparison. Because of this, Sondheim had an obligation, as a respected expert in his field, to make each case carefully and fairly. To his credit, Sondheim seems to recognize this, and all of his critical discussions of an individual lyricist’s style and quirks include specific examples and careful analysis. We may disagree with Sondheim as a matter of personal taste, but it is difficult to argue with his specific points, because they are backed up by examples, technical theory, and the weight of his authority.
It is therefore surprising and disappointing to see Stephen Sondheim slide into expert malpractice when he undertakes, clearly half-heartedly, a critique of the lyrics of W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. Continue reading