Marion Bell, who created the leading role of Fiona MacLaren in the original Broadway production of Brigadoon in 1947, died on Dec. 14 in Culver City, CA, where she resided. She was 78.
A native of St. Louis, Bell was singing on the radio at the age of 8. Her family moved to California when she was still a girl, and she was promptly given a contract by MGM.
Her film credits include the 1935 A Night at the Opera with the Marx Brothers and the 1946 Ziegfeld Follies, in which she sang a duet with the tenor James Melton.
Lerner and Loewe had originally wanted to cast Bell in their first musical, The Day Before Spring, in 1945, but because of her contract with MGM they were unable to do so. They did, however, cast her as Fiona in their next show, the highly successful Brigadoon, which was directed by Bobby Lewis (who passed away in November 1997).
Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times was enchanted by both the show and by Bell's "rapturous" rendition of "Almost Like Being in Love," which she sang with David Brooks, who played Tommy. It was in Brigadoon that Bell also introduced the song "The Heather on the Hill." Bell married Alan Jay Lerner in 1947 and they were divorced two years later. She was the second of his eight wives.
Although Brigadoon was to be the crowning role of her career, in 1948 Bell performed in the world premiere of the Kurt Weill-Arnold Sundgaard folk opera Down in the Valley at Indiana University (a role she later repeated on television). She also sang at the St. Louis Municipal Opera and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and taught voice in Culver City.
-- By Rebecca Paller