Eliza and Ice Cream Sundaes; Who Could Resist?

         If I could be an actress in a movie version of one of the assigned literary works, I would choose to play the part of Eliza Doolittle in George Cukor's 1964 musical, My Fair Lady. Eliza's character in My Fair Lady, based on the 1913 play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, is both complex and humorous. Audrey Hepburn, as Eliza Doolittle, does an amazing job in my opinion, and her interpretation and performance are to be applauded.

         As the audience watches Rex Harrison play the part of Professor Higgins, who takes Eliza from the streets as a "squashed cabbage leaf" and transforms her into a duchess, they also witness the growth of Eliza's character. Hepburn portrays this growth through facial expressions that tell of every emotion ranging from happiness to anger to fear. At the film's beginning, Hepburn uses exaggerated facial expressions to convey a picture of a poor flower girl living in London. Her dialect is that of the English lower class, and her grammar is certainly lacking. As the story and the relationship between Higgins and Eliza unfold onscreen, Eliza's expressions become less coarse and increasingly genteel. At the movie's end, she calms and relaxes with a graceful air about her. Everyone who sees her cannot help but stare, and a self-proclaimed linguist mistakes Eliza for a Hungarian princess.

        As the final reel of the film rolls, Eliza returns to Professor Higgins because, even though the professor treats her almost cruelly, the two have formed a bond and a relationship with each other, and Eliza has a certain amount of control over Higgins because, deep down, he cares for her.

        Portraying Eliza required Hepburn to discipline herself in a number of ways. First, she had to learn "proper" English in addition to "lower class" vernacular and be prepared to use both at the same time (for example, in closing scenes when she allows her "lower class" dialect to slip during an argument with Higgins). Hepburn has to be coarse and common as well as graceful and proud and still be able to make the two personas distinguishable from each other. She had to laugh like a silly schoolgirl and cry like a heartbroken woman (as in the scene beside the fireplace after the ball).

        Other "talents" used in portraying Eliza required Hepburn to sing and dance. While much of the singing in the film is not Hepburn's voice, the dancing is performed by Hepburn herself.

Charissa Acree

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