The Pygmalions

         The 1938 film Pygmalion directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard was based on the 1913 play of the same title by George Bernard Shaw. Shaw titled his play Pygmalion after a Greek character with that name. He was a sculptor who had created a female sculpture that he fell in love with. He asked a Greek god to make her real so that they could be together. Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) is supposed to be the Pygmalion who creates the new Eliza (Wendy Hiller) from practically nothing. Professor Higgins could not have possibly sculpted Eliza on his own, though. If it had not been for the other characters circled around Higgins and Eliza, then Eliza might not have been changed in any way.

         Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) is Professor Higgins' main sidekick. When Eliza comes to ask Higgins for lessons, Pickering is the one who treats her like a lady. He refers to her as Miss Doolittle and offers her a seat. Pickering is the one who helps to shape the new way that Eliza feels about herself. He makes her feel respected and appreciated, which is just as important in sculpting her as changing her speech.

         Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper (Jean Cadell), at Professor Higgins also helped to shape Eliza. When Professor Higgins decides to help Eliza, he tells her she will live with him and study every day. Mrs. Pearce gets irritated and tells him he cannot keep her like a pet that he has found and that he should send her home to her family but relents when Eliza claims she has no family to go back to. Mrs. Pearce also teaches Eliza about hygiene and proper attire. These are things Higgins could not have done himself.

         Although Mrs. Higgins (Marie Lohr) is only a brief part of the film, she has a bigger impact on Eliza than one might think. Since Professor Higgins had barely any manners or social skills, it is implied that Eliza learns them from Mrs. Higgins as well as from Colonel Pickering. When she goes to visit Mrs. Higgins, Eliza learns to sit when she enters and how to hold a teacup when she is talking. Eliza learns from Mrs. Higgins' example.

         Freddy Enysford-Hill (David Tree) may have been one of the most important characters to transform Eliza. When he meets her for what he thinks is the first time, he instantly falls in love with her. He becomes obsessed and would wait outside her door for her. He thus gives Eliza self confidence. With his love, he gives her something more important than a different accent. Freddy bestows upon Eliza the self esteem to like herself and demand respect from others.

         If Higgins had been the only Pygmalion, Eliza would have only learned to speak properly, but she would not have acquired any social skills or pride. It took the whole cast to turn Eliza into a masterpiece.

Jessica Critchlow

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