Wendy Hiller versus Audrey Hepburn:

Casting the Perfect Doolittle

     Recently, I had the opportunity to view two classic films based on George Bernard Shaw's wonderful 1913 play Pygmalion. The first of these two films, Pygmalion (directed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard), stars Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins, a master of phonetics and teacher of the perfect English dialect, and Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle, a young, Cockney flower girl who comes to Higgins to learn how to speak as a lady. The second film, My Fair Lady, a musical version of Shaw's work, (directed in 1964 by George Cukor), stars Rex Harrison as Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle. After viewing these two wonderful films, I found that a thought occurred to me. I wondered, "What if there could be only one film and I had to chose between Wendy Hiller and Audrey Hepburn for the role of Eliza? Whom would I chose?" Both actresses are wonderful in their respective roles, but to choose only one is an intriguing idea.

     The first area I looked at to judge who would make the perfect Eliza was at their opening scenes. Hiller's Cockney accent was amazing; she was very believable as a poor flower girl in London. Hiller's performance was quite convincing; she looked the part of the dirty little flower girl peddling her wares as well as sounds the part of a poor Cockney girl. Hepburn's performance, on the other hand, was not quite as convincing. She seemed too pretty and clean to be a poor flower girl making her living selling flowers on the street. Also, her Cockney accent was not quite convincing; to me she seemed to be a refined lady in disguise as a flower girl. If the role of Eliza depended on this side of her character alone, Wendy Hiller would have the part, hands down; however, there is another aspect of this character to take into account.

     The second aspect to consider is their performances as the refined, lady-like Eliza. Hiller's performance as the refined Eliza, in my opinion, was not quite as convincing as her portrayal of the guttersnipe Cockney girl. Although her performance was not a totally unconvincing, I felt her performance lacked something that Hepburn seemed to capture. Hepburn's performance as the refined Eliza was perfect. When Hepburn comes on the screen as the refined Eliza, elegance pours out across the screen. Hepburn looks like a duchess in her dress and walks, talks, and holds herself like royalty in the party scene. I found that it was no problem to believe that Hepburn was an elegant, refined lady. I feel that if this was the only aspect to consider Hepburn would have to receive the part of Eliza over Wendy Hiller.

     Now that I have compared the two actresses, whom will I choose for the part of Eliza Doolittle? If I could have Hiller playing the Cockney Eliza and suddenly transform into Hepburn portraying the refined Eliza, it would be perfect. However, since I cannnot have two actresses playing the same part I would have to choose Hepburn. I feel that she makes the part of Eliza stand out above the rest because of her elegance, and personally I love the elegant Hepburn's performance better than that of Wendy Hiller, although her performance was great too.

Nolan Patton

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