Howard Not Harrison

     The George Bernard Shaw 1913 Pygmalion and the Alan Jay Lerner- Frederick Loewe 1956 musical adaptation My Fair Lady both show the transformation of a flower girl into a young lady. Even though I enjoyed both film adaptations--the 1938 Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and the 1964 My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor--there was something missing in each. In Pygmalion the absent Audrey Hepburn is the key, and in My Fair Lady the equally absent Leslie Howard is the missing link. Although, Rex Harrison and Wendy Hiller play great counterparts to Howard and Hepburn, I preferred Hepburn and Howard. Together their respective Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins in the musical version would have truly created the relationship Shaw intended.

     On the whole, I thought that My Fair Lady brings about more character development than does the 1938 version to everyone. Through the music, one is able to learn more about Eliza's feelings. Even her father, as depicted by Stanley Holloway, is revealed more through song. Even though Higgins reveals much in Pygmalion, through the music in My Fair Lady one does learn more about and see deeper into his character. But the best character relationship was that of Jeremy Brett's Freddy and Audrey Hepburn's Eliza in My Fair Lady. Their relationship is barely touched in the Asquith adaptation, yet in My Fair Lady one sees Freddy very differently. I felt this changed my outlook on how the Eliza and Higgins relationship should be perceived, which is very important to Shaw in Pygmalion.

     I felt that Leslie Howard far better portrayed Higgins' character. He brought charm and a great sense of humor to Higgins that I did not find in My Fair Lady with Harrison. I felt that the character Howard brought to Higgins was crucial to the role, I did not find that in Harrison, which took away from my liking of My Fair Lady a great deal. Yet the music, revealing of characters and Audrey Hepburn, did a wonderful job at redeeming the musical adaptation.

     I thought that My Fair Lady also did a better job with the phonetics than Pygmalion did. Shaw initially intended for the play to focus on the phonetics; therefore I would say that My Fair Lady did a much better job of fulfilling Shaw's intention than did the Asquith adaptation of Pygmalion, with the lone exception of Rex Harrison. All in all, however, I found both adaptations accurate in staying true to Shaw's play and very enjoyable, but with my overall preference being given to the musical.

Kaycee Cooper

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