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The new small talk October 10, 2007

Posted by Jeff in 1961 through 1989, Movies, Musicals, Theater, Trivia questions.
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My Fair lady cover

Of those of us who have actually heard of George Bernard Shaw (the answer to yesterday’s question), the image at left is most likely what we think of when we think of him.

When I saw the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, I was young enough that I remember equating Al Hirschfeld’s image of GBS in the clouds, with the strings tied to his fingers, with my image of God. This proved an even more appropriate metaphor as I grew older: by high school, my two favorite playwrights were Shaw and Bertolt Brecht.

Other children acquire their spirituality from church, or their parents. I got mine from the cover of a Lerner & Loewe album. Ah, but I was a strange child …

As soon as I could after seeing My Fair Lady, I went to the library to read Pygmalion, the play on which My Fair Lady was based. This may have been my first serious experience of comparing a theater work to its original. As much as I loved (and still love) My Fair Lady, I couldn’t make up my mind which I preferred — a conundrum that grew even more confusing when I took the train into Manhattan with my friend Paul Shackman on a Saturday to see the movie version of Pygmalion, starring and co-directed by Leslie Howard, at the Elgin Theater in Chelsea.

In GBS’s original, and in the Pygmalion movie, Eliza’s first public appearance during her lessons is at a tea at the home of Higgins’s mother:

The musical and the movie of My Fair Lady transform this sequence into the opening day at Ascot:

Now, can you seriously imagine Higgins, or even Pickering, choosing that dress for Eliza? And if Higgins is so concerned about giving away Eliza’s secret before he has won the bet, what could have possessed him to choose such a conspicuously public event? Even at the age of eleven, this made no sense to me …

The Ascot sequence is really little more than an excuse for costume designer Cecil Beaton to go completely and totally over the top … it simply makes no sense, dramatically or character-wise. Point to GBS.

No-fair-cheating-with-IMDB trivia question: who plays Freddy Eynsford-Hill in the movie of My Fair Lady, and what was he later best known for? Answer tomorrow

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