Alchemy?

     When George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1913, English men and women were preoccupied with class status. A person's birth, education, profession, manner of dress, and social conduct determined his position in Britain's rigid social structure. Alfred Doolittle, the unprincipled dustman in Pygmalion who is proud to be one of the "undeserving poor," unexpectedly inherits a sizeable fortune. Much to his chagrin, this places him in a higher social class--a class that insists on adherence to "Christian" responsibilities and morals. Are wealth and overt changes in conduct enough to change Doolittle's base nature? After meeting Doolittle in Pygmalion (script and 1938 movie, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard) and Allan Jay Lerner's 1956 musical adaptation, My Fair Lady (script and 1964 movie, directed by George Cukor), I do not think so. It is impossible to transmute base metal into gold.

     Alfred Doolittle, a middle-aged but lively dustman, makes his first appearance in Pygmalion when he discovers that his daughter Eliza is living with a "swell" (Professor Henry Higgins). Seizing on the opportunity of blackmailing Higgins, Doolittle adopts the role of an outraged father who has come to save his daughter.

     Hypocrite, liar, shiftless, womanizer, blackmailer, irresponsible, unnatural father,immoral--Doolittle is imbued with all of these unsavory traits. But I LIKE the little scoundrel. I liked him when I read Shaw's Pygmalion. I liked him in the movie adaptation of Shaw's play, as depicted by Wilfred Lawson.. I liked him even more when I read Lerner's My Fair Lady. Doolittle fascinated me when I saw Stanley Holloway bring that little dustman to life in Lerner's movie adaptation of My Fair Lady. He would hold little allure for me if he had the remotest possibility of actually becoming socially acceptable.

     Lerner evidently knew what a captivating character he had in Doolittle. He adds several scenes featuring Doolittle that do not appear in Pygmalion. In Act 1, Scene 2, the bartender tells Doolittle to pay up or get out. Doolittle meets Eliza and asks her to "slip your old Dad half a crown to go home on." A low-down thing to do, but he does such an admirable job of justifying his request!

     Doolittle and his cohorts proclaim their topsy-turvy philosophy when they burst into song: "With a little bit of luck ... someone else will do the work; you can drink without feeling guilty because liquor was made by the Lord ... you don't have to marry a woman to gain the benefits of a wife ... being neighborly isn't necessary if you're never home ... you can avoid being good if you look the other way ...philandering is not a crime if you cover your tracks ...." In Scene 4, Lerner adds another scene not found in Shaw's play. Doolittle assumes that Eliza is living with a "sugar-daddy" (Higgins). He immediately sees a way to take advantage of his daughter's new career. Doolittle and his friends sing another verse of "With a Little Bit of Luck," which sets forth Doolittle's attitude toward paternal responsibilities: "They'll (your children) go out and start supporting you! ... He'll (poor bloke) be movin' up to easy street...."

     Another addition to Pygmalion appears in Act 2, Scene 3. Doolittle tells Eliza of his new-found wealth and the burden that goes with it--middle class morals and manners, including marriage to his mistress. Doolittle's friends lift him high in the air and carry him off to his inevitable fate as he sings "Get Me To the Church on Time." Doolittle's intriguing, eccentric character precluded me from giving much thought to what Shaw intended to be the serious side of Doolittle's fate. Stanley Holloways's lusty portrait of an exuberant member of the undeserving poor made me want to ring the Liberty Bell--not because I approved of Doolittle's lifestyle, but because I admired his love of freedom from social dictates. Holloway sings the two Cockney numbers in fine music hall style. He SOUNDS woebegone when he sings his last line, "For Gawd's sake, get me to the church on time!" His voice rings false to me. Being on time for his wedding--actually getting married--is not going to change him, and he knows it. I do not think those old-fashioned rules of "proper behavior" which were once so unpalatable to Doolittle will prove to be so unsavory to Alfred Doolittle. I would like to write a scene depicting Alfred Doolittle on his wedding night.

     Alfred Doolittle stands in front of the bathroom mirror, admiring his reflection. He is still wearing his formal wedding attire. He hums a new verse of his theme song:

I've got plenty of money in my pocket.
As rich as any man'd want to be.
I've plenty of money in my pocket--and
With a little bit of luck,
With a little bit of luck,
With a little bit of luck,
I'll be on the road more'n I'll be home.
With a little bit of luck,
With a little bit of luck,
I'll have my cake and eat it too.
With a little bit ... with a little bit ...
With a little bit of bloomin' luck,
I'll see the bloodhounds don't find out!
He throws his top hat in the air and dances a jig. He hears his wife calling to him. A last smile in the mirror and Alfred Doolittle sings out, "Be right there, luv."

     Alfred Doolittle was born Alfred Doolittle and will always be Alfred Doolittle. He never did believe in alchemy.

Barbarn Locke Chorn

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