Why Change the Ending?

         When I first saw the musical film, George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, I was in high school. At the time, I was not even aware that it was based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion. Still, when the film was over, I could not help but think that the ending just did not seem to fit with the movie. I thought it was entirely too sappy when Higgins (Rex Harrison) was dancing through the streets singing, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." I was very unhappy when the movie ended like some cheesy love story with Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) running back to Higgins, and looking at him adoringly with a tear in her eye.

         When I watched My Fair Lady for the second time in this class, I was not any more happy with the ending. In fact, I was probably even more displeased. Having now read Pygmalion, I have seen Shaw's original ending. When Pygmalion ends, Eliza has left Higgins and has run off to marry Freddy. Shaw did have them ending up as friends, though. However, when the movie was adapted for the screen, first with Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film Pygmalion and later with Cukor's My Fair Lady, the ending changes. In both versions, Eliza (Wendy Hiller in 1938) comes running back to Higgins (Leslie Howard in 1938) in the end as though they were feuding lovers that have gotten back together. I think that having them end up as friends fits much better.

         In an interview with Shaw on January 22, 1939, Dennison Thornton of Reynold News in London, asks Shaw, "In a note to the stage version of Pygmalion, you deplored what you called 'ready-made, happy endings to misfit all stories.' Yet you allowed such a ready-made happy ending to be substituted in the film version of Pygmalion. Why?" Shaw's answer was as follows:

         I did not. I cannot conceive a less happy ending to the story of Pygmalion
         than a love affair between the middle-aged professor, a confirmed old bachelor
         with a mother-fixation, and a flower girl of 18. Nothing of the kind was emphasize
         in my scenario, where I emphasized the escape of Eliza from the tyranny of Higgins
         by a quite natural love affair with Freddy. But I cannot at my age undertake studio work,
         and about 20 directors seem to have turned up there and spent their time
         trying to sidetrack me and Mr. Gabriel Pascal, who does really know chalk from cheese.
         They devised a scene to give a lovelorn complexion at the end to Mr. Leslie Howard,
         but it is too inconclusive to be worth making a fuss about.

         So apparently Shaw did not think that the change at the end was significant enough to really change the story line. I disagree. I think that Shaw should have held his ground and kept the original ending instead of allowing it to be changed to the sappy romantic ending portrayed in the movies.

Kayla Shewcraft

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