A Pyg or Prince

     Henry Higgins, for whatever reasons, we will not discuss it yet, took a poor flower-selling gutter tramp and turned her into the most talked about, most asked about, most elegant woman at a Royal Ball. One must ask at the end, as Eliza does so eloquently, what is to become of her now? In George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, transformed into a musical, My Fair Lady in 1956 by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, which was filmed in 1964 by George Cukor, Rex Harrison's Henry (or Enry) has totally reconstructed Eliza (as played by Audrey Hepburn, with Marni Nixon's voice) and left her in a state of total chaos. She has grace, style, pronunciation, and manners; but what is she fit for? All she ever worked as was a flower-selling gutter tramp. Now she is a well-spoken flower-selling gutter tramp.

     It was perhaps wrong to take her out of her station in life and provide her with the tools to step up dramatically. If there is once thing people know about themselves and their esteem, it is the place in which they belong in life. Not everyone can be a professional athlete, or a glamorous movie star. A cold, hard fact of life is that the world does need ditch diggers, and there will be people to do it. Higgins showed Eliza Dolittle an entirely new world; and, when his experiment was over, he did not think about how she would feel, how it would change who she was in the inside as well the outside.

     So why do it? Why transform a sewer rat into a shining star? Was it the bet, maybe? Nothing is more fun than a challenge to Henry Higgins. It was the bet and solely the bet that made him create a new thing from old parts as Dr. Frankenstein did. The challenge was all he cared about, not whom it would be done on or what effects would occur as a result of his tinkering and meddling.

     Henry had boasted about his skills, and the Colonel (Wilfred Hyde-White) laid down the wager. To further toot his own horn, he takes the gentlemanly Colonel to his home to bear witness to the transformation but not before taunting him a little. Henry plays a phonograph recording and asks him to count the number of sounds he hears. The Colonel's answer is only about one hundred off the number Higgins himself hears. Cannot you just picture this arrogant teacher breathing on his nails and polishing them on his chest?

     Throughout the training Eliza has an ally in Colonel Pickering. He is kind, supportive, and encouraging, whereas Henry is simply demanding. It was painful to watch and hear Ms. Doolittle repeating the phrase about the rain in Spain and more painful for her to keep hearing Henry say "Again, again." It was symbolic of a sled master yelling "Mush, mush."

     Do the means justify the end? As intelligent as Henry Higgins seems to be he, is only academically inclined. His social skills and concerns are very lacking. It comes to him only at the end when Eliza is gone and he realizes how special she really was and how much he needed her for more than keeping his appointments and winning his bet.

Paul M. Helwagen

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