Higgins the Bachelor

         In George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion and the 1938 film adaptation, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, the character Henry Higgins refers to himself as confirmed old bachelor. What does this mean exactly?

         For one, it is made apparent that he means he is not available to Eliza as a love interest. Higgins makes it clear in so many words that he will not be more than her adopted father, even though he claims to have made her "a consort for a king."

         In the film, Higgins is played by Leslie Howard. He is young, in good shape, and always well dressed. He is shown as expressively close to two specific individuals--his mother and his colleague, Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland). Higgins describes Pickering as sharing his position as a confirmed old bachelor. All of these particulars could very easily add up to a gay stereotype, which could explain his confirmed bachelorhood.

         The Eliza in Shaw's play appropriately moves on and marries, while the film portrays the situation as a bit more confused. Played by Wendy Hiller, the film Eliza stays with Higgins. During a final scene (in both the movie and play) where she attempts to dig up some compassion from Higgins, she indicates her understanding of things, "I came… not to want you to make love to me…but more friendly like."

         For this reason, I was even more upset with the musical adaptation, in which a romance is heavily implied. In the 1956 musical, written by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the love story replaces the theme of class struggle that Shaw had based his play on.

         In George Cukor's 1964 film, My Fair Lady, Eliza is paired up with an older, more masculine-featured Higgins. Rex Harrison plays Higgins and the considerably younger Audrey Hepburn plays Eliza. Even though these characters are supposed to be attracted to one another, there was no chemistry to be found between these actors. Consequently, the imposition of romance into this story was not only unnatural, but also very unsuccessful.

Annmarie Campbell

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