Marion Bell, an award-winning actress and singer who charmed audiences 50 years ago as Fiona in the original Broadway production of the musical “Brigadoon,” died Dec. 14 of natural causes in Culver City. She was 78.
Bell’s delicate, shy manner and clear, ringing soprano captured audiences’ hearts and the praise of theater critics. She won a New York Drama Critics Circle award and the Donaldson Award for best New York debut of the year for her role as Fiona.
Born in St. Louis, Bell was performing on local radio with Ted Straeter’s Orchestra by the age of 8.
While she was singing at a family gathering after the family had moved to Los Angeles, veteran MGM film director Robert Z. Leonard heard the 15-year-old Bell and decided to sponsor her training and career.
She was signed by MGM to tour with the Marx Brothers in vaudeville and appear in the famous stateroom sequence in “A Night at the Opera,” in which she pushes her way into the crowd to telephone her Aunt Minnie.
In 1937, Bell went to Rome to study voice with Mario Marafioti, the teacher of opera and film star Grace Moore. Upon returning to Los Angeles, she continued her studies with Nina Koshetz.
In November 1941, Marion appeared at the Shrine Auditorium with the visiting San Francisco Opera, and sang the Shepherd in Wagner’s “Tannhauser” and the young girl in “Love of Three Kings” by Montemezzi.
During World War II, Bell entertained soldiers at various military camps and appeared in the all-star MGM revue “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946).
After opera appearances in Mexico City and St. Louis, Bell landed the part of Fiona in “Brigadoon” (1947) on Broadway.
Bell continued to appear in major theaters throughout the U.S. and also toured extensively in such hits as “Roberta” (1949), “Chocolate Soldier” (1950) and “Three Wishes for Jamie” (1951).
Although light opera held her heart through the years, Bell appeared in more than 200 concert engagements. Her recordings include “Brigadoon” and selections from “Roberta,” “Rose Marie” and “The Three Penny Opera.”
Uncertain health led to the slowing of her career in the late 1950s. For the past 15 years, Bell lived in Culver City, where she taught voice and was actively involved with the local light opera company and other community activities.
Bell is survived by two sisters and a son.