Pretty Woman--A Modern Day My Fair Lady

     Almost every little girl dreams of a "Prince Charming" or a knight in shining armor who will come to sweep her away. At times, we all wish to escape our daily lives and be rescued by fairy godmothers with magic wands and fairy dust. For this reason, stories like "Cinderella" and My Fair Lady have been favorites for generations. These stories give us hope that our princes or Henry Higgins will someday come for us. The most modern story of this type is the 1990 film Pretty Woman, directed by Gary Marshall. It is the story of a street hooker by the name of Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts). She is picked up by a very lonely, very rich man named Edward Lewis (Richard Gere). She becomes a lady and falls in love with Edward in the end. Although this film has been updated for the 1990s audience, there are a great number of similarities between Pretty Woman and My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion.

     Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) and Vivian Ward are both women working on the streets and struggling to survive. Both women meet the men on the street. Eliza is attracted to Henry's (Rex Harrison) money and his promises to make her a duchess. Vivian is attracted to Edward's expensive car and his handsome face. These men deliver both of these women from rags to riches. The women are dressed in expensive new clothes and allowed to ride in shiny cars and eat plenty of food. Eliza is bribed with mouthfuls of chocolate, while Vivian is bribed with handfuls of money. Both Vivian and Eliza try to pretend as if they are better than their actual status in society. For instance, when Edward takes Vivian to the most upscale hotel in the city, she tries to act as though she has been there many times. The audience can see that she is extremely out-of-place, however. Eliza dresses in her fanciest clothes and declares to Higgins that she came in a taxi. Also, both films have bathtub scenes in which the women are screaming. However, Eliza screams because she is afraid of the water; and Vivian screams because she is excited about her good luck.

     There are also several similarities between Henry Higgins and Edward Lewis. They are both bachelors who place their careers above all else. Both can be very grouchy and demanding at times. In My Fair Lady, Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) helps Eliza by treating her like a lady. In Pretty Woman, the hotel owner helps Vivian buy dresses and teaches her proper table manners. He does not look down on her even though he knows she is a hooker. Both girls learn how to be a lady from these caring gentlemen. Just as Eliza has a drunken father (Stanley Holloway), Vivian has a best friend who is a drug-addict. Also in both films, the women admire and seem to fall in love with the men who rescued them from their struggles.

     There are several scenes in both movies in which the women behave strangely in public. For instance, when Eliza goes to the horse races, she talks too much about her aunt who she believes was "done in." When Vivian goes to a polo game, she talks way too much about Edward's business with one of his biggest rivals. Also, when Viv goes to a fancy dinner with Edward, she accidentally shoots oysters across the restaurant. At the opera, Vivian proclaims to a wealthy elderly woman: "It was so good I almost peed in my pants." This is similar to the scene in which Eliza yells: "Come on, Dover, move your bloomin' arse." Both women have mouths that get them into big trouble in public. The scenes at the horse race and the polo game are very similar. All the women are dressed in expensive dresses with big hats. In both movies, a younger, less popular man becomes attracted to each of the women. Freddie (Jeremy Brett) falls in love with Eliza, and Edward's business opponent takes a strong interest in Vivian.

     When Eliza goes to the ball, she wears rented jewelry. Vivian also wears rented jewelry when she goes to dinner. Before the women leave their respective men, the women ask if the clothes belong to them. Both women have men who are trying to uncover their identities. The Hungarian linguist, Karpathy (Theodore Bikel) attempts to determine Eliza's true identity, and Edward's partner discovers that Vivian is a prostitute. Both women are extremely concerned with the question of what is to become of them. In the end of each of these films, the women leave and then return to the men.

     Eliza Doolittle and Vivian Ward have led very similar lives. Although each of these films was made to fit the time period in which it was produced, they match one another in many ways. The underlying "rags to riches" theme and the "Cinderella" ending can be found in each of these movies.

Megan Douglas

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