Alfred P. Doolittle: The Recipient of My Fair Lady's Best Additions

         If you read George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, then watched Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film adaptation, you would not imagine that, if the piece were adapted into a musical, that Eliza's father would have the two very best songs, but he absolutely does. Actor Stanley Holloway took the scene-stealing role originally in Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical play and later in the movie version, directed by George Cukor, and ran with it, earning himself an Oscar nomination in the process.

         In Asquith/Howard's Pygmalion, Alfred Doolittle was the "easy" comic relief. He entered into Higgins' study; clothes tattered, braying like a donkey. Wilfrid Lawson does a great job with the role, breezes through his two scenes, and then he is out of the picture, which is now ready for the focus to shift back to Eliza and Higgins.

         This happens in My Fair Lady, and Doolittle is once again the "easy" comic relief, but not before the show-stopping numbers, "With a Little Bit of Luck" before Doolittle's initial meeting with Higgins and Pickering, and the raucous "Get Me to the Church on Time." which is a song celebrating the excess Doolittle is enjoying in the hours leading up to his nuptials.

         It is all an aside and does nothing really to advance the plot, but these two numbers are what take My Fair Lady to the level of masterpiece. Holloway, who was unbelievably seventy-three years old at the time of filming, nimbly makes his way through the routine as if he were born to do it.

John Null

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