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The Irony in My Fair Lady (1964), or the Triumph of the Aristocracy.


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As has been noted here (by jamesjazzguitar and possibly others), the ending of the 1938 movie version of PYGMALION is the same as the ending of MY FAIR LADY. The stage musical MY FAIR LADY is therefore more accurately an adaptation of the screenplay of the 1938 movie than of Shaw’s original play. The movie MY FAIR LADY is an adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s stage musical.

Shaw always insisted that a romantic pairing (much less a marriage) between Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins was impossible and would undermine his intended message. He was so irritated by implications of a Higgins/Eliza romantic “happy ending” being injected into productions of the play that he wrote an epilogue in essay form called “Sequel: What Happens Next” for a published version of the play. I read this essay in college and found it rather tedious. In it, Shaw details how Eliza marries Freddy and how the couple (with the help of Colonel Pickering) eventually open a flower shop/green grocer business which ultimately becomes successful. Higgins and Pickering remain a part of Eliza’s life after her marriage, but Eliza is able to hold her own in arguments with Higgins, so much so that Pickering occasionally asks her to be kinder.

The final scene of the PYGMALION movie (which would become the final scene of MY FAIR LADY on both stage and screen) ---where Eliza returns to Higgins’s home as he’s listening to recordings of her voice --- can be attributed to the movie’s producer Gabriel Pascal. Shaw didn’t see this ambiguous ending until the movie’s sneak preview.  Shaw apparently didn’t hold the ending against Pascal: he granted him rights to his other plays, and Pascal later produced film adaptations of MAJOR BARBARA, CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA and ANDROCLES AND THE LION.  Shaw, in fact, publicly referred to Pascal as a “genius” and a “godsend” to the art of cinema, and Pascal was able to convince Shaw to make adjustments to his scripts, which no one had been able to do before.

My first introduction to Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins was the original Broadway cast recording of MY FAIR LADY (my grandmother had an extensive record collection that she shared with me as a child). Later, I saw the movie adaptation of MY FAIR LADY on video. I read Shaw’s play PYGMALION in high school and again in college. I was surprised that “the rain in Spain” speech exercise is not in Shaw’s play.  When I finally saw the 1938 PYGMALION movie a few years ago, I heard Eliza drilling to eliminate her Cockney vowel sounds with “The rain is Spain stays mainly is the plains” [plural versus the singular in MY FAIR LADY]. So what I previously thought was the invention of Alan Jay Lerner was actually the contribution of PYGMALION producer Gabriel Pascal, according the biography of Pascal THE DEVIL AND HIS DISCIPLE, written by Pascal’s widow Valerie. The biography includes correspondence between Shaw and Pascal over the years as well as rather graphic accounts of Gabriel and Valerie Pascal’s sex life. It was also Hungarian-born Pascal who had the translator at the embassy ball mistake Eliza for a Hungarian princess. The language expert who blackmails his clients was named Nepommuck in Shaw’s original play and is discussed but not seen. In the Pascal-produced movie, the translator is actually seen, but his name is changed to the Hungarian Astrid Karpathy. In MY FAIR LADY, his name is Zoltan Karpathy.

Pascal had actually tried to convince Shaw to allow PYGMALION to be adapted into a musical, but despite his faith in Pascal’s “genius,” Shaw could not be persuaded. After Shaw’s death, Pascal, who still had the rights to the play, was able to interest Alan Jay Lerner in the idea. Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe began work on the adaptation, but they gave up when they couldn’t make the source material fit the existing “rules” of musical theater: there was no love story, no subplot and no place for large ensemble dance numbers. When Lerner saw Pascal’s obituary a couple of years later, he became interested again in a musical about Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. When he and Loewe resumed their work, the obstacles no longer seemed insurmountable. By that time, MGM was also interested in the musical rights to PYGMALION, and this competition put Pascal’s estate in a very lucrative position. Gabriel Pascal had told his wife that he would leave her millions (a declaration she recounts in THE DEVIL AND  HIS DISCIPLE),  but he died penniless, having broken himself keeping up the options payments on Shaw’s plays.  Valerie Pascal’s book ends with the opening night of MY FAIR LADY!

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tumblr_nd4p5a3NYq1rtontio2_250.gif

Thank you for that historical view! I too grew up listening to the LP of the Broadway Cast (my favorite childhood record) and spent hours looking at that great Hirschfeld cover illustration:

myfairladytheoriginalbroadwayproductionv

So I only knew the story through the songs, didn't see the MY FAIR LADY movie until TCM premiered it in the mid 90's and have always disliked the "slippers" ending. 

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I'm surprised it got this many pages of debate.  I always took Shaw to be the "Irish Mark Twain" insomuch as being more satirist than serious playwright, and his PYGMALION to be a sort of sneer at class distinction/ segregation. Proving that in many cases, the mastery of the language and grammar is based on an old maxim I've always liked.....

"If you can't blind them with your brilliance, then dazzle them with your bullsh*t!"  ;) 

And unrelated, but still words I live by are-----

"Never have a method to your madness without a madness to your method!"  ;) 

Sepiatone

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On 8/4/2020 at 7:12 AM, TikiSoo said:

Thank you for that historical view! I too grew up listening to the LP of the Broadway Cast (my favorite childhood record) and spent hours looking at that great Hirschfeld cover illustration:

myfairladytheoriginalbroadwayproductionv

So I only knew the story through the songs, didn't see the MY FAIR LADY movie until TCM premiered it in the mid 90's and have always disliked the "slippers" ending. 

That's the same record that my grandmother had that I listened to so many times as a child! Like you I loved the cover illustration by  Al Hirschfeld.

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On 8/4/2020 at 7:12 AM, TikiSoo said:

tumblr_nd4p5a3NYq1rtontio2_250.gif

Thank you for that historical view! I too grew up listening to the LP of the Broadway Cast (my favorite childhood record) and spent hours looking at that great Hirschfeld cover illustration:

myfairladytheoriginalbroadwayproductionv

So I only knew the story through the songs, didn't see the MY FAIR LADY movie until TCM premiered it in the mid 90's and have always disliked the "slippers" ending. 

Tiki-- I grew up listening to the original Broadway cast recording of the London production of "My Fair Lady".

I can remember wondering what the Spanish Inquisition was, so I had to look it up in the "World Book"  encyclopedia.

The record was an education into itself. I had to join the Columbia Record Club to get it for "free". LOL

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On 8/4/2020 at 8:50 AM, Sepiatone said:

I'm surprised it got this many pages of debate.  I always took Shaw to be the "Irish Mark Twain" insomuch as being more satirist than serious playwright, and his PYGMALION to be a sort of sneer at class distinction/ segregation. Proving that in many cases, the mastery of the language and grammar is based on an old maxim I've always liked.....

"If you can't blind them with your brilliance, then dazzle them with your bullsh*t!"  ;) 

And unrelated, but still words I live by are-----

"Never have a method to your madness without a madness to your method!"  ;) 

Sepiatone

Shaw, as I gather from reading, was deeply concerned with the conditions of the working classes and the poor.  You can catch on to that in works like Major Barbara.  He used comedy and satire as a way of selling his social program (a spoonful of sugar, so to speak).  He sincerely thought 'proper' diction, as the gentry and nobility decided it was to be spoke, was critical for people to raise their status and transcend their class boundaries.  This was understandable, as at the time he wrote Pygmalion he could hardly imagine the social upheavals in British society that would dismantle the class system to a great extent, though not completely.  So today you can have successful people in all walks of life with Cockney, Bristol, Liverpudlian, or Yorkshire accents.  Even on the Antiques Roadshow.

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6 hours ago, slaytonf said:

He sincerely thought 'proper' diction, as the gentry and nobility decided it was to be spoke,

"spoken"

46577.jpg

6 hours ago, slaytonf said:

...was critical for people to raise their status and transcend their class boundaries.  This was understandable, as at the time he wrote Pygmalion he could hardly imagine the social upheavals in British society that would dismantle the class system

I really enjoy the insights about Shaw in this thread-sadly, I'm completely unaware. Enlightening. It came as a real shock to me realizing Shaw was "God" on the album cover.

All this talk has made me see just how much influence hours of listening to that LP as a child had on me, obviously got the gist of the story through the songs. I take pride in having good diction & was interested enough in improving my speech by taking broadcasting classes in high school. 

I often emphasize "speaking well" in my classroom (and especially with apprentices) as being an asset, a reflection of your knowledge, a tool for good communication. I don't just correct a child who says ain't, I explain why they need to make good grammar second nature,  a habit that will serve them well in the competitive world.

When someone mispronounces a word, I ask them to break it into syllables and repeat, repeat the word until it flows naturally. 

I grew up to be haughty Henry Higgins!

02a.jpg

(that just goes to show you the power of art)

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4 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

Surely, you must have read a fair share of EDWIN NEWMAN

If this is directed towards me, no! Of course I recall him as a broadcaster. Um, I see looking at his wiki page you may be referring to Strictly Speaking: Will America be the Death of English? 

Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I've requested it from the library.

The things you learn from internet message boards!

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19 hours ago, TikiSoo said:

If this is directed towards me, no! Of course I recall him as a broadcaster. Um, I see looking at his wiki page you may be referring to Strictly Speaking: Will America be the Death of English? 

Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I've requested it from the library.

The things you learn from internet message boards!

You won't be disappointed.  It's high on my top 5 list of favorites.

Sepiatone

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On 7/23/2020 at 10:22 AM, txfilmfan said:

Interesting that Pygmalion in 1938 was deemed "not suitable for children", at least in Australia.

It was Eliza's use of the word "bloody" (in her line "Not bloody likely")   that caused PYGMALION to be labeled as "not suitable for children" in Great Britain and British Commonwealth nations like Australia in 1938.  At the time the movie was released, public use of the word was  shocking to the general British audience.  At the time when PYGMALION is set (early 1900s), it was considered quite obscene, on a level equivalent to the f word.

Today it is a rather mild expletive in British English.  For Americans, the word never had an obscene overtone.  

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On 7/24/2020 at 7:13 AM, TikiSoo said:

I do think HH's homosexuality was implied in the story (& movie) making a romantic/marriage angle unlikely.

I think the implication is not so much that Henry Higgins is gay, but more that he is what we would now call asexual.

There is a line in PYGMALION (it's been awhile since I've seen MY FAIR LADY so I'm not sure if it's there as well) where Higgins's mother bemoans that he's never interested in any woman under 45. At that time a woman over 45 was considered past the point of sexual desirability.

 

On 7/24/2020 at 5:16 PM, misswonderly3 said:

 It's impossible to imagine Henry and Eliza kissing, let alone anything else.

I know!

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1 hour ago, HoldenIsHere said:

It was Eliza's use of the word "bloody" (in her line "Not bloody likely")   that caused PYGMALION to be labeled as "not suitable for children" in Great Britain and British Commonwealth nations like Australia in 1938.  At the time the movie was released, public use of the word was  shocking to the general British audience.  At the time when PYGMALION is set (early 1900s), it was considered quite obscene, on a level equivalent to the f word.

Today it is a rather mild expletive in British English.  For Americans, the word never had an obscene overtone.  

Yep, pretty much what I said to Tex about this whole "bloody" thing back on page-1, Holden.

(...guess you must have missed that, eh ol' boy?!...well, in your case I suppose, "young man" NOT "ol' boy")  ;)

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On 7/23/2020 at 3:26 PM, Dargo said:

And I'd guess primarily due to Wendy Hiller's closing line in it, which included the word "bloody". Note how that word is just implied in that movie poster up there? 

(...cultured and refined English speaking people didn't dare utter THAT word in polite company back in 1938, ya know...it was similar to how the "F-word" is regarded today)

Dargo, yes, I did miss your response about the word "bloody" being the likely reason the movie PYGMALION was "unsuitable for children"  at least for British audiences of the day. For Americans, the word would have been more of an amusing British-ism than an obscenity .

The word wasn't part of the closing line by  Eliza (Wendy Hiller) though.  She said "not bloody likely" earlier in the movie at the social gathering at Mrs. Higgins's home  where Henry Higgins was  trying out Eliza before the big test.

In MY FAIR LADY, the setting was changed to Mrs. Higgins's box at Ascot, and Eliza instead says "Move your bloomin' arse!" ---- which would have been more shocking to American audiences.  

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35 minutes ago, HoldenIsHere said:

Dargo, yes, I did miss your response about the word "bloody" being the likely reason the movie PYGMALION was "unsuitable for children"  at least for British audiences of the day. For Americans, the word have been more of an amusing British-ism than an obscenity .

The word wasn't part of the closing line by  Eliza (Wendy Hiller) though.  She said "not bloody likely" at the social gathering at Mrs. Higgins's home  where Henry Higgins was  trying out Eliza before the big test.

In MY FAIR LADY, the setting was changed to Mrs. Higgins's box at Ascot, and Eliza instead says "Move your bloomin' arse!" ---- which would have been more shocking to American audiences.  

I dunno about that, Holden. You see, for some reason the word "arse" seems somehow more acceptable to American ears than the word, well, I'll have to infer a synonym here, "another word for a mule or donkey".

Take for instance, IF someone DARE actually write THAT word out around here, for SOME damn reason our moderator corps get ALL up in ARMS if you spell THAT word out, BUT for some strange reason the word "arse" is perfectly acceptable to 'em, and I'd guess ONLY because it reeks of being "British" perhaps???!!! LOL

(...note for instance how the word "arse" in THIS posting and YOUR above posting isn't automatically replaced with a bunch of asterisks, and like it would be IF I "dare" type the word we Americans generally use instead...nope, there's NO sense to this AT ALL!!!)

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1 hour ago, Dargo said:

I dunno about that, Holden. You see, for some reason the word "arse" seems somehow more acceptable to American ears than the word, well, I'll have to infer a synonym here, "another word for a mule or donkey".

Take for instance, IF someone DARE actually write THAT word out around here, for SOME damn reason our moderator corps get ALL up in ARMS if you spell THAT word out, BUT for some strange reason the word "arse" is perfectly acceptable to 'em, and I'd guess ONLY because it reeks of being "British" perhaps???!!! LOL

(...note for instance how the word "arse" in THIS posting and YOUR above posting isn't automatically replaced with a bunch of asterisks, and like it would be IF I "dare" type the word we Americans generally use instead...nope, there's NO sense to this AT ALL!!!)

Good point, Dargo.  While the British "arse" is equivalent to American  "a**" [both referring to, um, posterior of a human or other animal],   Americans would take less offense to hearing  "arse" pronounced as a British speaker of English  would say that than hearing "a**" with an American pronunciation.

In America "a**" developed as a variant of "arse" [meaning buttocks].

In American English, the word "a**" is used for "buttocks" and for "donkey."

In British English, "arse" only  means "buttocks" and "a**" only means "donkey."

 

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