A person would have to look hard to find someone who has not seen Garry Marshall's 1990 classic film Pretty Woman. Not many people realize, however, that before Richard Gere was transforming Julia Roberts, Leslie Howard had improved Wendy Hiller in 1938's Pygmalion, directed by Howard and Anthony Asquith, and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play.
My first thought when I watched Pygmalion was "This is Pretty Woman!" Granted, Hiller's Eliza Doolittle was not a prostitute like Roberts' Vivian Ward, but the two characters have some striking similarities. Both Vivian and Eliza are uneducated women of the lower class. They work jobs which are seen as demeaning by the upper class, but neither woman seems to care. They both make grave social mistakes, such as Eliza's mispronunciation of words and Vivian's suggestive comments. Underneath all of the "dirt," as Howard's Henry Higgins puts it, both women have good hearts and genuinely care about people. They are resourceful women, and are smarter than Higgins and Gere's Edward Lewis give them credit for. Their respective "transformations" are incredible, but both women eventually feel that they cannot be themselves. In the end, their male "transformers" must convince them to stay.
Gere's Edward Lewis and Howard's Henry Higgins are very similar. Both men are good-looking, rich, and confirmed bachelors who work excessively. Edward buys and sells companies, and Higgins is famous for his work with speech patterns. Both men meet fascinating women and set out to change them to their own specifications. Edward and Higgins both meet the women on the street, where they are working. They offer to bring them home and eventually make ladies out of them. Higgins works on Eliza's horrific speech patterns and teaches her manners, while Edward does basically the same thing for Vivian. Both men "test" the women at social functions. Higgins takes Eliza to his mother's for an afternoon tea, while Edward takes Vivian to a business dinner. Both eventually fall in love with the women. The only difference is Edward shows Vivian that he loves her by driving to her apartment and declaring it from the street, while Higgins is a little more subtle. It is obvious that Higgins is in love with Eliza, because he does not want to be without her and does not want her to marry Freddy.
Often, Hollywood takes a classic premise like this and tells it in many different ways. Both of these movies were hits in their time, and both remain popular. The premise of a rich gentleman taking a low-class woman and turning her into a true lady is a classic, and will be thrilling movie-goers for years to come.