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Marni Nixon's autobiography is a treat, Depp bio a dud, while new Alwaleed biography offers real insight into the financial bail-out of Disneyland - Paris

Jim Hill

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Marni Nixon's autobiography is a treat, Depp bio a dud, while new Alwaleed biography offers real insight into the financial bail-out of Disneyland - Paris

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Danni C. writes in to say:


Don't let those cynics who've been posting negative comments on JHM get to you. I for one love your website. It's the first place that I go to every morning after I turn on my computer. Why for? Because I just love all of the stories that you tell!

Speaking of which: Where do you get all the great information that you use in your articles?

Dear Danni --

Thanks for your kind words about JHM. As to where I get the info that I use in the articles that I write for the site ... Well, some of it comes from fairly confidential sources. People I've either interviewed and/or befriended in the 20+ years that I've been writing about the Walt Disney Company.

But -- as for the rest of the info -- a lot to it comes from plain old fashioned research. Reading everything that I can get my hands on that touches on (even in a peripheral sort of way) the Mouse House.

Take -- for example -- Marni Nixon's wonderful new autobiography, "I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story" (Billboard Books, September 2006). Film fans probably know Ms. Nixon best known as the talented singer who over-dubbed Deborah Kerr's singing in the film version of "The King and I" and Audrey Hepburn's singing in the movie version of "My Fair Lady" AND Natalie Wood's singing in "West Side Story" ...

But to try & define this performer just by the people she replaced does Marni a great disservice. For this performer has had a long and illustrious career. Ms. Nixon has appeared on Broadway, performed in operas, sung with orchestras, worked in television for more than 50 years (Mostly recently on "Law & Order: SVU"), taught, traveled ... And -- along the way -- Marni's also done a few things for the Walt Disney Company.

Copyright 2006 Billboard Books

"Like what?," you ask. Well, do your remember the "Jolly Holiday" sequence in "Mary Poppins"? Particularly that moment in the song where Mary is serenaded by a trio of geese? Well, it's Ms. Nixon who does the singing for all three of those waterfowl.

Speaking of "Mary Poppins" ... According to Marni, Julie Andrews supposedly thought that much of that film's success came about as a direct result of Irwin Kostal's fine orchestrations as well as Marc Breaux & Dee Dee Woods' clever choreography. Which is why -- when Julie was hired to appear in the movie version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" -- she immediately insisted that 20th Century Fox go out and hire Irwin, Marc & Dee Dee to work on this production. Just so Ms. Andrews could then be working with members of a creative team that she already knew & trusted.

There's lot of great little tidbits like this in "I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story." Like when Ms. Nixon (with the help of Stephen Cole) talks about how Roy O. Disney himself tried to recruit her to teach voice at CalArts. Or how Marni's audition for the singing voice of Grandmother Fa in "Mulan" (Where -- it should be pointed out -- that Ms. Nixon was competing directly for this role with screen legend Lauren Bacall) was so strong, WDFA actually turned around and fired the actress that they'd originally hired to provide the speaking voice for this character. The studio then hired animation legend June Foray. Why For? Because June's speaking voice was a far better match for the singing voice that Marni had created for Grandmother Fa.

Which is why -- if you're looking for a juicy read that's full of show business insider stories -- you'll probably enjoy reading Marni Nixon's autobiography.

Mind you, not every book that you read actually offers useful information. Take -- for example -- Nigel Goodall's "The Secret World of Johnny Depp" (John Blake Publishing, June 2006). Given that this book's subtitle says that it's "The Intimate Biography of Hollywood's Best-Loved Rebel" ... Well, I was kind of hoping that I might learn something new about Disney's two "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, "The Curse of the Black Pearl" and "Dead Man's Chest." Maybe gain some new insight about how Johnny created his Capt. Jack Sparrow persona.

Copyright 2006 John Blake Publishing

But -- as it turns out -- "The Secret World of Johnny Depp" doesn't actually contain any secrets. Goodall seems to have done all of his research by reading old copies of  "People" magazine and/or cutting & pasting information straight out of the press kits for Depp's movies. And how exactly can a book claim to be an "Intimate Biography" when it becomes increasingly clear as you read through the thing that the author has never actually talked to the person that he's writing about?

So do yourselves a favor, folks. Give Mr. Goodall's "Secret World" a wide berth. Don't waste your time or money on this empty promise of a book.

On the other hand, if you'd like some decent information about the financial underpinnings of the Disneyland - Paris Resort, then I suggest that you pick up a copy of Riz Khan's "Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince" (William Morrow, October 2005). Since this is an authorized biography of His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, you won't find any juicy secrets about the Saudi Royal Family. But -- that said -- there's a surprisingly large amount of info in here about the Prince's dealings with the Walt Disney Company.

Copyright 2005 William Morrow

Take -- for example -- the Prince's $345 million bail-out of the Euro Disney resort back in 1994. A deal that almost fell through because then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner had trouble wrapping his head around all the protocol that was involved here (I.E. Michael kept forgetting to address the Prince as "Your Royal Highness" while the two of them were on the phone, trying to hammer out a deal to save EDL).

However, even though Alwaleed initially found Eisner to be a bit rough around the edges, the Prince eventually grew quite fond of Michael. Which is why -- at the height of the Disney shareholders revolt in 2004 -- when a reporter contacted Alwaleed to ask him what he thought about the "Save Disney" movement, the Prince thundered into the phone: "I'm a friend and ally of Eisner's. I'm no Roy Disney!"

To get back to Danni's original question now: It's these sorts of tidbits (I.E. Lauren Bacall auditioning for "Mulan," Prince Alwaleed venting his anger to a reporter about what he perceived as Roy's disloyalty to Disney Company shareholders) that you file away while you're doing research. With the hope that someday you'll be able to use that anecdote in the context of  telling a larger story.

Speaking of doing research ... I've really got to get back to researching tomorrow's installment in JHM's on-going "A Christmas Carol" series. So let me close by saying that I think that these new Marni Nixon & Prince Alwaleed biographies are worth picking up.

But as for "The Secret World of Johnny Depp" ... Well, let's all try & keep Nigel Goodall's new book a real secret by not reading and/or buying it.

Your thoughts?

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  • Hahahaha, that last sentence is pure beauty. "But as for "The Secret World of Johnny Depp" ... Well, let's all try & keep Nigel Goodall's new book a real secret by not reading and/or buying it." Made me smile for a minute there.

    I'm certainly going to by the Prince Alwaleed biography, 'cause I'm very interested in the financial position and everything about the relationship Euro Disney SCA <> Prince Alwaleed. (since I'm from the Netherlands, and France is like a 'second home'.)

    Nice, and interesting article, Jim.

  • Agreed, it was good for a chuckle.  It's all of these unknown and interesting tidbits that got me reading the site in the first place, and why i keep coming back and also digging through the archives...so many more to read still.  Thanks for the neat tidbits!

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