Immerse yourself in the strange subtext of My Fair Lady (2023)

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were gay?" Rex Harrison, the actor who portrayed Henry Higgins in the 1956 Broadway version ofmy beautiful ladyjoked with the show's playwright, Alan Lerner. They were walking down Fifth Avenue, talking about their love life while the play was still in rehearsal. More importantly, they also made sure to discuss the matter with Harrison's character. His presence so faded by the second act that Harrison became uneasy. Past affairs with women left Harrison and Lerner dry. Higgins can feel the same way. Would making Higgins gay solve his star's presence problem?

Higgins is certainly coded as a certain gay stereotype. He is a lifelong bachelor, a well-to-do, upper-class, sophisticated, boring man. He's a snob living with another man. He is well dressed, worldly and knowledgeable about the culture. He also expresses a preference for men, but this being the 50s, sexuality and the act itself must always remain in view, forever the tension beneath the surface of the moment.

“I said I didn't think this was the solution and we moved on,” Lerner later wrote in his memoirs,the street where I live🇧🇷 "But it stuck in my head."

For many viewers, it's the sexual tension between Higgins and Eliza that creates the film's mystique. But for others, it's the tension of ambiguity that draws us in.

When Lerner arrived at the hotel, he already had the idea that would become the song "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" which Lerner calls "a perfect second-act vehicle through which Higgins could release his anger at Eliza for leaving him".

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The possibility of invisible things was tempting to mid-century American audiences.

The anger is there. That's right. But is he gay?

Lyrics to "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" (which is also sometimes referred to as "A Hymn to Him") riff on the title phrase. In the aftermath, Higgins asks his partner, Colonel Pickering, "Well, why can't a woman be like you?" They have a tug of war, with Pickering touting his best qualities in brief banter. Although this song has caused quite a bit of speculation about Higgins and Pickering: do they live together or are they together?living together?—what is most obvious about the song is the overt misogyny it displays in Higgins' character:

Why is thinking something women never do?
And why is the logic not even proven?
Straightening hair is all they do.
Why don't you clean up the mess in there?

Despite an increasingly obvious amount of value dissonance between the era of the musical, the 1950s, and today's consciousness of gender and sexuality in its myriad forms, it's clear that audiences weren't supposed to like Higgins' character at this point. . Even for the 1950s, an era that has become the epitome of sexism, Higgins' lines read like an empty black-and-white misogynistic bubble. Lerner did this on purpose. Because while Higgins is cultivating a little manners in Eliza, she's charming him. Higgins would never have experienced such an emotional response to a woman's actions if she weren't already buried in his heart.

Even inPygmalion, a 1913 play by George Bernard Shaw, the emphasis is on inversion, but this is perhaps more a class inversion than a commentary on gender roles. At thePygmalionCockney florist Eliza Doolittle seeks public speaking lessons from Henry Higgins so that one day she can work in a flower shop. It is true that Eliza is poor, but her main problem is that she has no class. So Higgins tries to shape her speech as well as her etiquette.

The same basic premise is maintained in Lerner's stage musical adaptation. Lerner has retained its source material. But the two plays diverge.Pygmalionde-emphasizes love: Shaw insisted that Eliza and Higgins should not end up together. Instead, he focuses on class and, surprisingly, on women's rights.

Pygmalioncame to light in 1913, five years before women in Shaw's Britain gained the right to vote. Unlike many men of his day, especially old-school academics like Higgins, Shaw believed in women's suffrage. Instead of the romantic comedy the story would becomemy beautiful lady, Shaw intended his work to be a challenge to the classist and sexist status quo in Britain.

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they learnmy beautiful lady, however, brings the possibility of love between Higgins and Eliza back into focus. This chance increases between stage and screen. Onscreen, Higgins and Eliza share no overt affection, but "the tension between them is palpable from beginning to end," writes Dominic McHugh inLoverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady🇧🇷 The possibility of things unseen was far more attractive to mid-century American audiences. This tension between the platonic and the maybe is why McHugh believesmy beautiful ladyit is perennially convincing.

But if the play and the play are basically the same thing, where does this tension come from?

You may know her as the woman in the little black dress. Her name is Audrey Hepburn.


In 1962, the Hollywood studio system was on its last legs, and Warner Brothers was far from immune. They needed a blockbuster, so they decided to choose a well-known one:my beautiful lady, which received wide critical acclaim and six Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1957..Directed by George Cukor and produced by Jack Warner himself, the studio was betting on it all. Warner Brothers spent over $17 million on filming. But still, they were being cautious.

Perhaps Cukor was being too cautious to protect himself. Or maybe he understood how little chance even the tiniest spark of homosexuality had at the 1960s box office.

At the time, Julie Andrews, who played Eliza on Broadway, was not yet nationally known. Audrey Hepburn, on the other hand, quickly became America's sweetheart after starring inroman holidaysand break rules like Holly Golightly inBreakfast at Tiffany's.Because Cukor planned to use the Broadway script and score almost entirely, Lerner remained attached to the production. But when Cukor and Warner decided to have Hepburn play Eliza, it alienated Lerner, and his grasp of the script began to falter.

Interestingly, Andrews may have been very grateful in retrospect that she was passed over for the role; her iconic performance as Mary Poppins debuted the same year asmy beautiful ladyand earned Andrews her first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, while Hepburn wasn't even nominated.

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For the other half of the Higgins-Eliza duo, Cukor and Warner hesitated over casting. They briefly considered Cary Grant (too rude and uninterested) and Peter O'Toole (too expensive) before settling again on Rex Harrison to reprise his stage role as Higgins. Even so, Cukor and Warner had the nerve to ask veteran Harrison to do a screen test. Harrison declined, sending photos of himself. In these photos, he was naked, hidden with a magazine in one photo or a bottle of Chianti in another, according to Patrick McGilligan's biography of Cukor,George Cukor: A Double Life.

"I don't know why, maybe because I was very skinny at the time and George expected me to be quite decrepit, but for some reason these pictures appealed to him," Harrison told the paper.A Double Life."The studios called me and said I had the part."

The fact that Cukor is gay rarely comes up in discussion of the casting, or indeed the film, perhaps because Cukor has separated his private life from his public persona as much as he can. By the mid-1940s, Cukor had become known as a "female director". He has worked with countless leading actresses: Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Katharine Hepburn, just to name a few. But the nickname was not a compliment. With manhood comes privilege, and not just in the film industry. Many mentioned "director" as a homophobic epithet, implying that Cukor lacked the strength of character to deal with the male leads. Even helping to create some of the most iconic films of Hollywood's Golden Age, includinga star was born,the history of philadelphia, youWizard of Oz, Cukor was beginning to realize that he needed to be more cautious.

"Cukor could go to elegant houses at night and drink tea with noble ladies, and he could live an active homosexual life behind closed doors, as long as those two worlds never crossed."

So Cukor cultivated a public image to obscure his private gay life, which, especially at that time, could have been seen as ugly or even illegal. "Cukor could go to posh houses in the afternoon and drink tea with noble ladies, and he could live an active homosexual life behind closed doors, as long as those two worlds never intersected," writes McGilligan ina double life🇧🇷 "If they did, there could be scandal, career damage, exposure and humiliation."

With cukor likemy beautiful ladyFor the director of the film, it is possible that there is a pulsation of homosexuality at the center of the story. But even looking closely, it's clear that any existing homosexual subtext, if any, has been largely downplayed.

An obvious example is the dilution of Colonel Pickering, Higgin's charming friend and life partner.

"The whimsical Colonel Pickering receives so little attention as to be almost irrelevant," writes McGilligan. “The musical's revisionist directors detected the homosexual past between Pickering and Higgins; none of that for homosexual director Cukor. Their relationship is strained, much of the affection and comedy between them is trampled."

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Perhaps Cukor was being too cautious to protect himself. Or perhaps he understood how little chance even the smallest spark of homosexuality had at the 1960s box office. Remember, Warner Brothers was playing it safe withmy beautiful lady🇧🇷 They needed to make money, so they clung to the old heteronormative standby.


The idea that happy endings should involve heterosexual love is an old concept. “All tragedies end in death, / All comedies end in marriage”; Lord Byron writes in his 1824 poem, "Don Juan". It's a sentiment that has echoed through the centuries in Western literature, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen and the cheesiest of modern romantic comedies. (We all know that Katherine Heigl is getting married at the end of27 dressesjust looking at the movie poster.)

what complicatesmy beautiful ladymoreover, it is the end of a century-old telephone game, the result of translations in dissonant times, places and values. It is therefore not surprising that many audiences assume, despite so much ambiguity, despite almost no allusion to it inPygmalion,the play or scriptmy beautiful lady-Eliza and Higgins getting together at the end: that's what we've been taught to expect.

In the tale of OvidPygmalion,A sculptor thinks he's not interested in women until Aphrodite brings his beautiful, perfect statue back to life. Petrarch, poet and Renaissance scholar, took the story one step further (or backwards), using the statue as a critique of idolatry and as a model for women. (No, seriously: “The statue is a literalization of metaphors that depict the beloved Petrarchist as cold, stony and unfeeling, and as such an example of chastity,” writes Sarah Carter inThe myth of Ovid and sexual deviance in modern English literature.) Shaw used the story of his Cockney flower girl to criticize the British class structure and the lack of suffrage for women. Each of these examples reflects concerns at the time they were written. They play with readers' expectations, they try to teach, they try to persuade.

they learnmy beautiful lady,Above all, it seeks to entertain. He still makes comments about gender, but the directors left an undercurrent of sexual mystery to draw in the audience. Cukor tried to remove any elements from the film that might hurt its sales. What he left behind was a film that, while delightful, allows the audience to take whatever they want.

If the only kind of happy ending you know involves heterosexual love, that's what you're likely to see. Use the lesson ofmy beautiful ladyand train yourself to look deeper: there is more than one kind of happy ending.

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Audrey HepburnGeorge Bernard Shawsugar georgeHenry HigginsLGBTLGBTQmy beautiful ladyPygmalionQueerrebeca rennerRex Harrison


What is the famous line from My Fair Lady? ›

Eliza Doolittle: I sold flowers; I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me, I'm not fit to sell anything else.

What the lesson learned about My Fair Lady? ›

From a personal perspective, it's wonderful to play a woman whose strength and ultimate triumph is found in her courage, intelligence, determination, emotional maturity, poise, and compassion.

What does Eliza say at the end of My Fair Lady? ›

Once he's secure that he's won her back, Higgins plops in his chair and utters the last line — “Where the devil are my slippers?” Curtain.

What was Higgins trying to teach Eliza? ›

Henry Higgins, fictional character, a professor of phonetics who makes a bet that he can teach Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle how to speak proper English, in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (performed 1913).

Why did Audrey Hepburn not Sing in My Fair Lady? ›

Audrey Hepburn later admitted she would never have accepted the role of Eliza Doolittle if she had known that producer Jack L. Warner intended to have nearly all of her singing dubbed. After making this movie, Hepburn resolved not to appear in another movie musical unless she could do the singing on her own.

Why is it called My Fair Lady? ›

The Collaborators. Composer Frederick Loewe, left, and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, right, wrote My Fair Lady together. The new title, My Fair Lady, was taken from the last line of the nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down" and appears nowhere in the musical.

Why was My Fair Lady so important? ›

My Fair Lady, their fifth musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, was an unprecedented triumph in American musical theatre. Produced by Columbia Broadcasting System, it set a record at the time for the longest original run of any musical production in London or New

What is the conclusion of My Fair Lady? ›

Eliza and Freddy return to Covent Garden but she finds she no longer feels at home there. Her father is there as well, and he tells her that he has received a surprise bequest from an American millionaire, which has raised him to middle-class respectability, and now must marry his lover.

What are the key themes in My Fair Lady? ›

Well, "My Fair Lady," it should be noted, tackled the issue of wealth, privilege and advanced learning and whether it's vastly superior to the humble ways of commoners decades before this became a political hot potato in our current presidential race.

Do Eliza and Professor Higgins fall in love? ›

Henry Higgins did remain in Eliza Doolittle's life, but Shaw was insistent on the fact that they were no match romantically, that they remained purely friends who saw each other as sparring partners in wit and cleverness.

Does Eliza marry Higgins in My Fair Lady? ›

In the alternate ending to Pygmalion, Eliza does not marry, but she goes back to Professor Higgins. In the original play, Eliza is set to marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill. In some of the movie versions of the play, the ending was changed to a supposedly 'happy' ending, with Eliza coming back to Higgins.

Why did they change the ending of My Fair Lady? ›

When Shaw wrote the 1938 movie, which won him a best screenplay Oscar, the studio was not happy with the unromantic ending. The ending was changed and, to Shaw's annoyance, returned to Higgins. “They made the musical based on the movie and preserved the happy ending.

Why does Higgins put marbles in Eliza's mouth? ›

One famous scene from the classic involves Henry putting marbles in Eliza's mouth to help with her common enunciation.

Why did Eliza not marry Higgins? ›

This depiction is important because Shaw maintains later in his epilogue that one of the reasons for Eliza's rejection of the possibility of marriage to Higgins is that she could never live up to Mrs. Higgins' standards, that she could never equal Mrs. Higgins' grasp of life.

What does Eliza want from Higgins at the end of the play? ›

She tells Higgins that she'll marry Freddy if she has to (Higgins doesn't want his "masterpiece" wasted on such a lout). She even threatens to use her knowledge against him, to teach one of Higgins's competitors the methods she learned or—and this really ticks him off—to go into business for herself.

How old was Katharine Hepburn when she made My Fair Lady? ›

The musical was to have been called Lady Liza until Rex Harrison objected to a title based on the name of the female lead. Although playing a 21-year-old flower girl, Hepburn was actually 34 in real life.

Why did Audrey Hepburn replace Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady? ›

Harrison remained a movie star and so Warner made sure he would reprise his role as Higgins. However, when it came to Andrews, Warner balked. The studio head wanted someone to match or surpass Harrison's wattage. That someone was Audrey Hepburn.

Did Audrey Hepburn have a disease? ›

One of America's most beloved actresses, Audrey Hepburn, dies on January 20, 1993, near her home in Lausanne, Switzerland. The 63-year-old Hepburn had undergone surgery for colon cancer the previous November.

What happens to Eliza at the end of Pygmalion? ›

At the end of the play, after an enormous battle of wills, Eliza decides to strike out on her own. “If I can't have kindness, I'll have independence,” she declares. Then, according to Shaw's final stage directions, Eliza "sweeps out."

What is the Pygmalion effect My Fair Lady? ›

Essentially, the more you believe in your students and show them your belief in them, the more they achieve. An important corollary of the Pygmalion effect is that teachers exhibit differential behavior when dealing with the two different groups based on their perceptions of each group's capabilities.

Who did Eliza Doolittle marry? ›

Eliza Doolittle is a fictional character and the protagonist in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1913) and its 1956 musical adaptation, My Fair Lady.
Eliza Doolittle
OccupationFlower girl
FamilyAlfred P. Doolittle (father)
SpouseFreddy Eynsford-Hill or Henry Higgins
9 more rows

Is My Fair Lady a satire? ›

Parents need to know that My Fair Lady is an entertaining musical for all ages, though it may be too long (almost three hours) for the youngest kids. It's a biting satire that treats both the most egotistical snob and the "lowliest" street person with gentle humor and respect.

Why did Eliza want to improve her English from My Fair Lady? ›

She wants to adopt middle-class manners that both Higgins and her father despise. Eliza's ideal is to become a member of the respectable middle class, and in order to do so, she must learn proper pronunciation and manners.

What is Eliza Doolittle character analysis? ›

While not formally well-educated, she is quick-witted and is a strong character, generally unafraid to stand up for herself. She is a quick learner, and under the teaching of Pickering and Higgins she easily learns to act like a lady and pass as a member of the upper class.

Can Eliza in Pygmalion be termed as feminist conclusion? ›

Answer and Explanation: Eliza can definitely be defined as a feminist. Her principal reason for seeking lessons from Henry Higgins is so that she can seek employment in a proper flower-shop. She has no interest in elevating her status into the upper class or for finding a husband (in either Freddy or Higgins).

Is there a kissing scene in My Fair Lady? ›

My Fair Lady (United States, 1964) Consider this possibility: a romantic comedy with no nudity, no sex, and no kissing. In fact, there aren't even any declarations of love.

What is key theme story? ›

The term theme can be defined as the underlying meaning of a story. It is the message the writer is trying to convey through the story. Often the theme of a story is a broad message about life. The theme of a story is important because a story's theme is part of the reason why the author wrote the story.

What are the global issues in My Fair Lady? ›

In My Fair Lady, Lerner and Loewe explore topics of class discrimination, sexism, linguistic profiling, and social identity; issues that are still very much present in our world today.

What myth is My Fair Lady based on? ›

Shaw took his title from the ancient Greek legend of the famous sculptor named Pygmalion who could find nothing good in women, and, as a result, he resolved to live out his life unmarried. However, he carved a statue out of ivory that was so beautiful and so perfect that he fell in love with his own creation.

Why did Eliza marry Freddy? ›

Eliza, on the other hand, wishes to be the recipient of a little loving kindness, and if it means marrying Freddy Eynsford-Hill in order to find this human companionship and warmth, then she will do so.

Why does Eliza choose to marry Freddy instead of Professor Higgins? ›

Eliza, in Shaw's play, chose Freddy because she could see that he cared for her deeply and would be sure to take care of her.

What does Eliza throw at Professor Higgins at the end of the evening? ›

Here, the slippers are dropped, literally, by having Eliza throw them at the master.

Did Audrey Hepburn actually sing in My Fair Lady? ›

Nixon pointed out that not all the singing in the film was her; Eliza's working-class singing voice was really Hepburn's own, while the "posher" sounding voice after Higgins has worked his phonetic magic is the ghost-singer.

Does Eliza stay with Higgins at the end of My Fair Lady? ›

What happens to Eliza Doolittle at the end of My Fair Lady? Eliza Doolittle feels insulted in the My Fair Lady ending because she does not get any credit for her success. She packs up and leaves Higgins house. She also tells Higgins that she no longer needs him.

Did Audrey Hepburn actually sing the songs in My Fair Lady? ›

Hollywood certainly believed Hepburn could act - she was nominated for five Oscars, winning the best actress award in 1954 for Roman Holiday. On the singing, however, Thompson may have a point. Hepburn's singing voice in My Fair Lady was dubbed by the soprano Marni Nixon.

What is Eliza's accent in My Fair Lady? ›

Eliza and Henry Higgins speak different accents because they come from different regions in London. Besides, from their accents, it is shown that Eliza with her strong Cockney accent comes from lower class while Henry Higgins with his Received Pronunciation accent comes from upper class.

Does Professor Higgins marry Eliza? ›

Henry Higgins did remain in Eliza Doolittle's life, but Shaw was insistent on the fact that they were no match romantically, that they remained purely friends who saw each other as sparring partners in wit and cleverness.

What is Eliza speaking of when she says we were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road? ›

What is Eliza speaking of when she says "We were above that at the corner of Tottenham and Court Road"? She was saying that as a flower girl she at least had the integrity and unlike the upper class didn't have to sell her self to a man . She feels like she had more character as who used to be.

Why did Julie Andrews not play Eliza Doolittle? ›

According to The Hollywood Reporter, lyricist Alan Jay Lerner had his eye on Andrews for My Fair Lady's film adaptation. "I so wanted you to do it, Julie, but they wanted a name," Lerner shared. This was in reference to Hepburn's status in the film industry compared to Andrew's.

Does anyone still speak with a Mid Atlantic accent? ›

“Mid-Atlantic is a made-up accent; no one actually speaks this way naturally,” Holland Taylor's Ellen Kincaid, a studio casting executive charged with training young talent, tells the group of wishful starlets.

Why is My Fair Lady called Pygmalion? ›

Shaw took his title from the ancient Greek legend of the famous sculptor named Pygmalion who could find nothing good in women, and, as a result, he resolved to live out his life unmarried. However, he carved a statue out of ivory that was so beautiful and so perfect that he fell in love with his own creation.

Who falls in love with Eliza in My Fair Lady? ›

Higgins makes a bet that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady and pass her off as a duchess in high society, by teaching her how to speak "correctly." True to the story of Pygmalion, he eventually falls in love with Eliza, however, the story also takes on issues of class and women's independence.

What happens to Eliza after Pygmalion? ›

In a postscript, Shaw wrote about what really happened to Eliza. After leaving Higgins, she opened a flower shop. She married a nice man. They struggled some, but ultimately did all right.

Who does Liza end up with Pygmalion? ›

In the alternate ending to Pygmalion, Eliza does not marry, but she goes back to Professor Higgins. In the original play, Eliza is set to marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill. In some of the movie versions of the play, the ending was changed to a supposedly 'happy' ending, with Eliza coming back to Higgins.

What is the most famous line in Pygmalion? ›

“I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”

What does Eliza represent in Pygmalion? ›

In both Acts IV and V, Eliza is seen as a completely transformed person, outwardly. She is poised, dignified, in control of her once spitfire temper, and she has rejected all of the old common vulgarity of her past life. She is no longer willing to be Higgins' creation; she now asserts her own independence.

Why did Eliza throw Higgins slippers at him? ›

She throws Higgins' slippers at him in a rage because she does not know what is to become of her, thereby bewildering him. He suggests she marry somebody. She returns him the hired jewelry, and he accuses her of ingratitude.


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