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Otto Polyakov
Otto Polyakov

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady is a musical based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, with a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so that she may pass as a lady. Despite his cynical nature and difficulty understanding women, Higgins grows attached to her.

My Fair Lady

Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle, stops by the next morning searching for money for a drink ("With a Little Bit of Luck"). Soon after, Eliza comes to Higgins's house, seeking elocution lessons so that she can get a job as an assistant in a florist's shop. Higgins wagers Pickering that, within six months, by teaching Eliza to speak properly, he will enable her to pass for a proper lady.

Eliza's final test requires her to pass as a lady at the Embassy Ball. After more weeks of preparation, she is ready. ("Eliza's Entrance"). All the ladies and gentlemen at the ball admire her, and the Queen of Transylvania invites her to dance with the prince ("Embassy Waltz"). A Hungarian phonetician, Zoltan Karpathy, attempts to discover Eliza's origins. Higgins allows Karpathy to dance with Eliza.[1]

The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins - both reprising their roles from the stage musical - with Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper and Wilfrid Hyde-White in supporting roles. A critical and commercial success, it became the highest-grossing film of 1964 and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.[4] In 1998, the American Film Institute named it the 91st greatest American film of all time. In 2006 it was ranked eighth in the AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list.

The order of the songs in the Broadway show was followed faithfully with the exception of "With a Little Bit of Luck"; the song is listed as the third musical number in the play, but in the film, it is the fourth. On stage, the song is split into two parts sung in two different scenes. Part of the song is sung by Doolittle and his cronies just after Eliza gives him part of her earnings, immediately before she goes to Higgins to ask for speech lessons. The second half of the song is sung by Doolittle just after he discovers that Eliza is now living with Higgins. In the film, the entire song is sung in one scene that takes place just after Higgins has sung "I'm an Ordinary Man." However, the song does have a dialogue scene (Doolittle's conversation with Eliza's landlady) between verses.

Even in this early scene, it is Eliza's will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn't insisted on action. She took seriously his boast the night before, in Covent Garden: "You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady's maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English." The final twist, typical Shavian paradox, is what Eliza hears, and it supplies her inspiration: "I want to be a lady in a flower shop instead of sellin' at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they won't take me unless I can talk more genteel."

That Hepburn did not do her own singing obscures her triumph, which is that she did her own acting. "My Fair Lady," with its dialogue drawn from Shaw, was trickier and more challenging than most other stage musicals; the dialogue not only incorporated Shavian theory, wit and ideology, but required Eliza to master a transition from Cockney to the Queen's English. All of this Hepburn does flawlessly and with heedless confidence, in a performance that contains great passion. Consider the scenes where she finally explodes at Higgins' misogynist disregard, returns to the streets of Covent Garden, and finds she fits in nowhere. "I sold flowers," she tells Henry late in their crisis. "I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me, I'm not fit to sell anything else."

It is typical of Shaw, admirable of Lerner and Loewe, and remarkable of Hollywood, that the film stays true to the original material, and Higgins doesn't cave in during a soppy rewritten "happy ending." Astonished that the ungrateful Eliza has stalked out of his home, Higgins asks in a song, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" He tracks her to her mother's house, where the aristocratic Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) orders him to behave himself. "What?" he asks his mother. "Do you mean to say that I'm to put on my Sunday manners for this thing that I created out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden?" Yes, she does. Higgins realizes he loves Eliza, but even in the play's famous last line he perseveres as a defiant bachelor: "Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?" It remains an open question for me, at the final curtain, whether Eliza stays to listen to what he says next.

Eliza Doolittle is a young flower seller with an unmistakable Cockney accent which keeps her in the lower rungs of Edwardian society. When Professor Henry Higgins tries to teach her how to speak like a proper lady, an unlikely friendship begins to flourish.

In MY FAIR LADY, Audrey Hepburn stars as Eliza Doolittle in director George Cukor's adaptation of the Broadway musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. In 1912 London, cockney street peddler Eliza is handpicked by linguistics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) on a bet that he can reshape her into an aristocrat. Higgins has his work cut out for him -- Eliza turns out to be quite the spitfire. As he struggles to teach her how to speak, walk, and behave like a proper lady, his friend Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) sits back and enjoys the wild ride. Eliza's ultimate transformation is spectacular, and even Higgins is surprised by how she handles herself at upper-crust gatherings. He's also surprised at how he himself is transformed when it comes to his feelings for his fetching protege. With music and lyrics by Lerner and Loewe, this film is truly a classic.

  • In fact, in the history of movie musicals, only GIGI (1958) has earned more Oscar recognition than MY FAIR LADY. Of the twelve Academy Awards for which the film was nominatedin 1964, MY FAIR LADY took home eight statuettes including Best Director (GeorgeCukor), Scoring, Costumes,Art/Set Direction, Color Cinematography and Best Picture of the Year. (In 1958, GIGI had earned nine.)Memorable Quotations: "Yes, you squashed cabbage leaf; you disgrace to the noble architecture of thesecolumns; you incarnate insult to the English language! I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba." --Professor Higgins.

  • "Not a brass farthing." --Eliza.

  • "Andremember, that's your handkerchief and that's your sleeve. And don't confusethe one with the other if you want to become a lady in a shop." --ProfessorHiggins (a .WAV file).

  • "By George, Eliza. The streets will be strewn with the bodies of men shooting themselves for your sake before I've done with you." --Professor Higgins.

(For help opening the multimedia files, visit the plug-ins page.) Footnotes: 041b061a72


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