My Fair Lady and Pygmalion: Connections and Contrasts Through the years, countless film directors have adapted and recreated various novels and plays to make them ideal for the big-screen. In many cases, directors strive to keep their screenplay adaptations true to the original literature; however, viewers often find contrasts in certain areas of the film. George Bernard Shaw, author of the play Pygmalion, who had passed away prior to the production of My Fair Lady in 1964, therefore, he could not assist in the transition from play to musical. For this reason, director George Cukor has attempted to retain some similarities and also incorporate a few changes of his own. Although readers can discover numerous similarities between My Fair Lady and Pygmalion in certain aspects such as character interaction and the portrayal of social status, one can also detect several contradictions in the two plots, especially during the conclusion. Among the number of similarities readers will come across are the likenesses between the two works in character interaction.
For example, in both the play and the film, Professor Henry Higgins has an overbearing paternal mentality regarding Eliza Doolittle. In accordance with the dialogue that Higgins speaks in the film regarding Eliza’s filthy disposition, readers of Pygmalion discover practically the same words: “You know, Pickering, if you consider a shilling, not as a simple shilling, but as a percentage of this girl’s income, it works out as fully equivalent to sixty or seventy guineas from a millionaire” (Shaw 21).
Pygmalion & My Fair Lady The play Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, the musical, are the same story. The only major difference between the two, is that My Fair Lady has songs added to the dialogue. I believe the musical version is more enjoyable because the music adds more feeling to the story. The opening scene is after an opera. The higher class people spill out into the streets. It is here that ...
In addition, in both the film and the play, Eliza and Colonel Pickering share a bond that stems from her vulnerability and his compassion. For the duration of her stay at 27 A Wimpole Street, Eliza often seeks comfort in the sympathetic Colonel because without this ally, she knows that she will not survive the wrath of Henry Higgins. In Shaw’s original version, readers can interpret Eliza’s trepidation through the dialogue. Similarly, in Cukor’s musical adaptation, viewers have the ability to watch Eliza’s facial expressions and body movement to understand her emotions.
The videocassette offers the viewers a whole new world that they did not experience during their novel reading. Although the presentation of character interaction differs slightly in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, the same themes occur. Another evident similarity in the two works is the portrayal of social status. Since the plot of Pygmalion describes a girl rising from rags to riches, the emphasis of the portrayal of social status in the musical and the play makes the whole story intriguing.
To begin with, Shaw and Cukor introduce the importance of social status in the opening scenes of their works. When Henry Higgins analyzes Eliza Doolittle in the film, he keeps a dry, condescending tone to make it clear that she should look up to him. On the other hand, in the play, Higgins speaks unsympathetic, degrading words and vilifies Liza’s whole existence. Unquestionably, during this time period, it is rather unlikely for aristocratic society to associate with the low-class citizens. The critic, Roger Ebert, states the modifications of the play and then the movie in the Ebert articles: “The story… began as a Greek legend and was retold in Elizabethan and Victorian times and reached its present form as George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ (1912), with its clear-eyed dissection of the British class system” (Ebert 1).
Therefore, Cukor preserved a great deal of Shaw’s characterizations and utilized them for My Fair Lady. Along with the aforementioned similarities in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, one can also stumble upon a number of contradictions, including conclusions. Shaw had originally written his play without music, but Cukor later incorporates a score with the text. Critic Liz Burroughs believes that these changes are for the better.
... of the play, even though that was Shaws initial intentions. My fair Lady on the other hand is a musical based on Pygmalion, and the ... the play she does not show her sincere feelings as Shaw first wrote it. However, even though when Eliza leaves Higgins in Pygmalions ... Higgins actually shows true feelings for Eliza in his own disguised way. In My fair Lady, when Eliza returns from the ball, she is ...
“The additions of the Lerner & Loewe songs provide an extra dimension to the story, even if you don’t like musicals” (Burroughs 1).
In Pygmalion, Shaw opts for an ambiguous conclusion that does not categorize as either a romantic or tragic ending. Cukor, on the other hand, probably believes that a pleasant, more finite ending attracts more moviegoers. This contradiction in conclusions causes the whole theme of the plays to contrast.
Readers consider Pygmalion to be a drama, whereas viewers consider My Fair Lady a love story. In Shaw’s original version, readers conclude that Eliza will stay with Freddy Eynsford-Hill; however, in My Fair Lady, when Eliza returns to the home to see Professor Higgins, audiences deduce that they love each other although the two characters take part in no physical affection, nor do they express their feelings. Harry T. Moore, a disappointed critic writes, “The distinction between My Fair Lady and Pygmalion is not one of degree but of difference: My Fair Lady is on the intellectual level of such television programs as The Beverly Hillbillies” (np).
Most likely, a number of people probably agree with Moore because the alteration is so drastic. After reading the novel, readers who expect or hope that My Fair Lady will be true to the book may find themselves dissatisfied when they see the conformed conclusion. Despite the different endings between Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, the filmed musical version stays true to the play. Both versions have interesting variations that grab their audiences’ attention; therefore, one is not superior to the other in any way.
In the play Pygmalion by George Shaw, Eliza experiences a type of transformation. Before Eliza first encountered Mr. Higgins, she was a dirty, improper, poor young girl. During her time with both Mr. Higgins and Colonel Pickering, Eliza did change. Her change seems so go in somewhat of a cycle, however. For the fist few weeks of her stay she questioned everything that Higgins asked her to do. She ...
Certainly, George Cukor only establishes the variations in order to achieve a decent reception from moviegoers, because in most cases, people would rather see a film with a romantic, happy ending than see an unclear, ambiguous conclusion. Although there are more similarities than differences, a slight change, such as the emotions that the conclusions conjure in both readers and viewers, could change the entire theme and conclusion of the play. Bibliography Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion. New York: Pocket Books, 1957.
My Fair Lady. Dir. George Cukor. Videocassette. Warner Brothers, 1964. Burroughs, Liz.
“EUFS: My Fair Lady.” EUFS: The Film Society. 5 March 2001. Online. Available web fair lady. html. 30 October 2001.
Ebert, Roger. “My Fair Lady.” Ebert. 23 September 1994. Online.
Available web reviews/1994/09/941937. html. 30 October 2001. Moore, Harry T. Preface to George Bernard Shaw, Creative Artist by Homer E. Woodbridge.
Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw.