60 Years Later: Annette Warren Returns, Talks Vocal Dubbing for Ava Gardner, Aggravating Ed Asner and More

Show-Score | By Steve Schonberg | Mar 28, 2017

Annette Warren will make a triumphant return to NYC on Thursday after a nearly 60-year absence. The now 94-year old will share some of her favorite songs, and tell stories from her long and illustrious career. Warren shared some of these stories and her own treasured memories with Show-Score. More below!

Annette Warren Annette Warren | By Publicity Photo

Dubbing and recording artist, Annette Warren hasn’t performed in New York City for 59 years. The 94-year old, best known as providing the singing voice to Ava Gardner (“Show Boat”) and Lucille Ball (“Fancy Pants,” “Sorrowful Jones”) will now mark her return with a performance at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Thursday at 7:00 p.m

What to expect? “I’m going to sing some songs that I love and songs that I’ve sung for a long time,” she told Show-Score about her show titled, “I Ain’t Done Yet”. 

Show-Score got a preview of some of Warren’s incredible stories as she told us about being vetted by the whole cast of “Show Boat” (1951) to sing for Ava Gardner, aggravating Ed Asner when she got a laugh in “The Threepenny Opera”, and more. Check out some of Warren’s incredible tales from behind-the-scenes, below!

S-S: Annette, it’s so incredible to hear you’ll be doing a concert here later this week. Why did you wait so long to return to New York?

Warren: Well, I was in “The Threepenny Opera” with Bea Arthur and Ed Asner and Jerry Orbach [playing Mrs. Peachum, opposite Asner]. I was in the show and my husband [jazz pianist] Paul Smith kept coming to New York to woo me and to get me to marry him. So finally he won out, and in 1958 I met him in Las Vegas and he took me home to the house that he bought for me, and there were my two [step]children, Lauri, eight years old, and Gary, four years old, and I was an instant mother. [Warren later adopted a child, and had a fourth via childbirth] 

S-S: What was it like working with that incredible star-studded cast? Do you have any fun stories from it, to share with fans?

Warren: Sure! I got a funny one with Ed Asner. He was playing Mr. Peachum, and I was Mrs. Peachum… In one scene I got a really big laugh and he was furious at me. And after the show he said, "Why did you do that?" And I didn't know... I'm very spontaneous on the stage, it's the feeling in the moment. I did some expression and the audience fell out laughing and he was furious. 

Annette Sings for Lucille Ball

S-S: What about vocal dubbing for Ava Gardner, providing her singing voice in the 1951 film adaptation of “Show Boat”? How did that come about? 

Warren: Well that’s one of my lovely memories. I saw that MGM was looking for a girl to be the voice of Ava Gardner in “Show Boat”... and I said out loud to myself, "That's my job." That night, I went to a party and someone pointed out Marvin Saltzman. They said, "Annette, talk to him. He's an agent." He was the son-in-law of Alfred Fried, who produced “Show Boat”.

I went up to him and I said, "I would like you to get me an audition to be the voice of Ava Gardner." He looked at me and he said, "How do I know if you can sing?" And I said, "Well you'll just have to take my word for it." And he gave me his card. Well, I went to the audition. He arranged it. 

I've known dubbing a long time, and never does the entire cast go to a dubbing audition. But, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, William Warfield, Johnny Green (the orchestrator), [Gower and Marge] Champion, Agnes Moorehead… the entire cast was there. I sang, “Can't Help Lovin' That Man”. 

They had auditioned all kinds of girls: Dinah Shore, Lee Wiley and Ginny Simms, all the leading singers wanted to get that job… I finished singing “Can't Help Lovin’...” and Roger Edens, the pianist, stood up and walked over to John Green and said, "Well, we've found her." And Kathryn Grayson came up to me and said, "My dear, we could all learn so much from you." Isn’t that the sweetest thing you ever heard?

S-S: You also served as a ghost singer for Lucille Ball and others. What was it like supporting performers like that while balancing with your own recording career? Which has been the most rewarding?

Warren: You know what, I'm kind of weird. Whatever I'm doing at the moment, that's what I like. That's the way I am. I've never, ever listened to a recording that I made. I've made lots of albums, and I've never listened. Once I've done it, once I've sung the song, then it's in the past… It's the doing of it that I love. Once I've done it I could care less about it.

Annette in all white for her burlesque show

S-S: We’ve been talking about you as a singer, but you’re also of course an accomplished pianist. Any fun stories from that part of your career?

Warren: I’ve got to tell you this funny one because you gotta write this, because it's the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me. I used to look at [the paper] and there was an advertisement. It said that the Mayan Theater, the burlesque theater in downtown LA, needed a piano player and it paid $175 a week. So boy I got my ass down there. I auditioned playing Clair de Lune, because I'm a classical pianist. So I played Clair de Lune at the burlesque house to play for the strippers, and the guy hired me.

Now this is a burlesque house. All male audience, and I said to the manager, "Can I sing a song in the show? I'd like to sing." 

Okay, you gotta picture this now in a burlesque house. I had on a white sweater with a Peter Pan collar, a white skirt, white stockings, white shoes and a white cap. And I came out to this all male audience in the middle of a strip show. I sang “I'll Be Seeing You.” 

I had called this agent, and was so excited. I said, "Come and hear me. I'm singing at the Mayan Theater.” I was so proud of myself. He came and after I sang, he came backstage and this is what he said, "Jesus Christ Annette, you look like a goddamn milk bottle up there." That is the funniest thing that's ever happened to me in my whole career, because I thought I [looked] smashing.

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