How does the old saying go: "Give credit where credit is due?" Well, this must not pertain to a "squashed cabbage leaf," as put by Professor Higgins in the 1913 play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw; the 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard; and the 1964 musical My Fair Lady, a cinematic version of the 1956 play, directed by George Cukor and produced by Jack Warner. Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison) gets all the credit for pulling Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) out of the gutter. Eliza gets no acknowledgment for the work and pressure she endures to better herself and her way of life. The worst part is that she has to put up with Professor Higgins' rude comments, his yelling at her, and his downright meanness. Not too many women then or now would have put up with half the stuff Eliza puts up with. Living with two old bachelors, this young lady does not get the attention or love she needs, but then again she is from the poor gutters of London society, so she does not get much love or affection. Poor Eliza she has to go through hell in order to better herself, and she does not get any of the credit.
In both film versions of the play and the musical, Eliza is portrayed as a poor common flower girl who is snatched up by the rich Professor Higgins in order to teach her how to speak correct English and win a bet. We lose sight of the fact that Eliza went there on her own, to pay for lessons to learn how to talk properly so that she could get a better job and move up the social ladder. Throughout both the film versions we just see Professor Higgins pushing her and being rude to her through his words. She first begins her struggle with the bathtub, in which she has never ventured before. This is a symbolic point in the movie because it introduces Eliza to modern ways; and it also a symbol of rebirth, this time into the upper class. She also hears Higgins calling her a guttersnipe, a squashed cabbage leaf, and an idiot. She is fighting her demons, struggling with Higgins, and pushing herself to do and become better. In the musical version there is even a song scene, in which the servants sing about poor Professor Higgins and all the hard work he does. What we do not see is Eliza pushing herself to do better, pronounce the letters and phrases correctly, and learn how to be a lady from two gentlemen. This is an important part of the story. Most common flower girls would not take the effort to go to the professor's house and offer to pay for lessons with their hard-earned cash, but Eliza does, and I believe that deserves a lot of credit on Eliza's part. That is just the beginning.
As Eliza is shown pushing herself, there is no credit given to her by Higgins and Pickering (Scott Sunderland/Wilfred Hyde-White) for her work. Of the two film versions, Pygmalion shows or gives more credit to Eliza. In the black and white 1938 version, we see Eliza tossing and turning in her sleep, going over letter sounds and phrases that she must pronounce correctly. She seems more genuine and real than the Eliza in My Fair Lady. In the Pygmalion version, one also sees how hard Eliza is trying to do her best when she goes to Mrs. Higgins for tea one afternoon. When some of the others there laugh at her, she questions Higgins to see if she has said anything incorrect or anything. She wants to do well for herself.
Another place Eliza does not get credit for is her manners, her looks, and the way she carries and presents herself. There is no way a man or two can teach a young lady how to act or carry herself as a lady. They can tell her what to do and not do but not know to truly be a lady. This is proven when Eliza, Higgins, and Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland/Wilfred Hyde-White) enter the ball. Everyone wants to know who Eliza is; the Queen of Transylvania (Baroness Rothschild) sums it up best by touching Eliza's check and uttering one word, charming. Then the prince wants to meet her and they dance together. I do not believe that a male can teach a female how to be charming. Eliza does not realize what an honor all this is because, when she gets home from the ball, she never says or mentions anything about it to anyone. In reality not too many young ladies get to dance with a prince or get complimented by a queen. In both film versions Eliza does not seem to care anything about her accomplishments or extra rewards she got at the ball. Let us not forget to mention that by the end of the ball everyone except Higgins and Pickering thinks that she is a Hungarian princess. Not too many ladies are mistaken for a princess.
After the ball is the time that Eliza needs to get angry or upset which she does. When Higgins, Colonel Pickering, and Eliza return home from the ball, not one thing is said to Eliza about her performance. Plenty is said between Higgins and Pickering about how pleased they are of the accomplishment, but not one word is said to Eliza. She got no response from the gentlemen, not even a thank you, good job, or even any criticism. Eliza is upset, and she should have been because both Higgins and Colonel Pickering are congratulating one another on a job well done and glad it is over. The servants give praise to Higgins, but do any of them say anything to Eliza?--No.
In my opinion, Eliza has done a lot to help herself. She has become a better person, and all the credit should not have gone to Higgins. Eliza deserves as much of the credit as Higgins. She had come to him, put up with his nature of rudeness, pushed herself to the fullest, and finished with the quality of a royal lady. All this could not have
happened had it not been because of one man's teachings and another's money. Eliza has put her whole self into it; therefore, she needs a huge pat on the back and to get praised for her strength. If only more people could be like Eliza Doolittle--I mean DooAlot.