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“Where the devil are my slippers?” October 11, 2007

Posted by Jeff in 1961 through 1989, Legit, Movies, Musicals, Theater.

When Gabriel Pascal, the producer of the 1938 movie of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, first showed their movie to GBS, he was understandably nervous. Although Shaw had insisted on co-credit for the screenplay (as a result of which he won an undeserved Oscar), in fact he had not had a hand in the writing or the production. Shaw’s play ended with Higgins and Pickering sharing a good laugh at the realization that Eliza was, indeed, going to marry Freddy. Shaw wrote a prose epilogue (lengthy even for him) in which he explained that Eliza started a flower shop with Higgins and Pickering’s assistance.

Pascal had nothing to worry about, though. Shaw left the screening smiling, and never mentioned the changed ending, either to Pascal or to the co-directors, Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith. (They must have breathed a loud sign of relief, as Shaw was merciless to those he felt had defamed his work. There’s a reason Pygmalion wasn’t turned into a musical until six years after he died.)

Perhaps GBS realized the play’s ending was its weakest point. If Shaw wanted Eliza to marry Freddy he should damn well have shown it onstage; if he had I have little doubt he could have made it work. I’ve seen Pygmalion twice onstage, once wth Shaw’s ending and once with the musical’s ending, and there’s little doubt which ending works better..

The ending of Pygmalion, followed by the equivalent final sequence from My Fair Lady:

There’s nothing in the Pascal/Howard/Asquith ending, or in the ending of My Fair Lady, that says or implies that Higgins and Eliza will marry, or grow any closer than they already are. This is entirely in keeping with Shaw’s epilogue:

People in all directions have assumed for no other reason than that she became the heroine of romance, that she must have married the hero of it.*

Leslie Howard was forty-five when he played Higgins; Rex Harrison was forty-seven in the original Broadway production and fifty-four in the movie. The difference in age between Howard and Wendy Hiller (nineteen years) was almost exactly the same as that between Harrison and Audrey Hepburn (twenty years)**. Yet I’m left with much more of a spark between Howard and Hiller, in part because Howard’s silent reaction to Hiller’s re-appearance shows more dramatic truth than the on-the-nose meanderings of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”.

Did Higgins end up with Eliza? In spite of my most romantic tendencies, I think not. I still love My Fair Lady, but point and match to Pygmalion, and to GBS.

Trivia answer: Eliza Doolittle’s future husband in the movie of My Fair Lady was portrayed by Jeremy Brett, later and better known as the best Sherlock Holmes of our times.

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* Those who believed that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were fated to end up together should should have paid close attention …

** Julie Andrews was twenty-seven years younger than Harrison. Cathleen Nesbitt who played Mrs. Higgins in the original Broadway cast, and Gladys Cooper who played her in the movie, were, respectively, ten and eleven years older than Harrison. In Harrison’s last Broadway appearance as Higgins in 1981, the Eliza, Nancy Pinkham, was forty-six years younger.


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