Cast & Crew
Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle is selling her flowers to theater goers when she is warned by friends that a policeman is writing down everything she says. After confronting the man, she learns that he is not a policeman, but Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetics scholar. As it turns out, one of the theater goers is Colonel Pickering, a fellow scholar. Higgins lectures the group that their speech pattern is the only thing separating them from the upper classes in England and that he could pass off a poor flower girl like Eliza as a princess with a mere six months of training. The next day, Eliza arrives at Higgins' home, offering to pay for speech lessons. Pickering challenges Higgins to make good on his boast and Higgins takes the bet. While at first hesitant about Higgins' intentions, Eliza agrees to move into the professor's home and begins her intensive instruction. Her father, dustman Alfred Doolittle, comes to Higgins' home, seeking a financial agreement with the professor in exchange for his daughter's virtue. Rather than becoming upset, Higgins is fascinated by the dustman's original views on morality and agrees to pay him. After months of long lessons and abuse, Higgins decides to test Eliza's progress at a lunch held by his mother. Eliza's "small talk" makes a sour impression on the group, except for young Freddy Eynsford Hill, who is immediately smitten by the young girl. After several more months of lessons to smooth out Eliza's rough edges, Higgins prepares the flower girl for her greatest test: a ball at the Transylvania embassy. At the ball, Higgins runs into one of his ex-students, Count Aristid Karpathy, who makes his living by blackmailing social climbers of low origins. Karpathy pronounces Eliza a true fake; he declares that instead of an English social climber, she is Hungarian, and of royal birth. Reveling in their success at the ball, Higgins and Pickering congratulate each other, with no thought of Eliza. Later that night, Eliza confronts Higgins about her future, but he shows little concern, so she leaves the house. Outside she meets Freddy, who proclaims his love for her. The next morning, Higgins and Pickering frantically search London for Eliza, only to return to Mrs. Higgins' home empty-handed. Doolittle joins them there, declaring that Higgins has ruined his life by writing a rich American that he was the most original thinker in Europe. The rich American then died, leaving Doolittle a small fortune that forced him into the "middle-class morality" from which he has run all his life. Eliza then appears and tells Higgins that she plans to marry Freddy and teach what Higgins has taught her. After Eliza tells him off, Higgins declares himself a genuine success, as he has made a truly independent woman of her. Eliza leaves with Freddy and Higgins returns home, only to discover how much he truly misses her. As he listens to a recording of her first appearance at his house, Eliza enters the room. Nonplussed by her return, Higgins leans back in his chair and asks: "Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza?"
Cathleen Nesbitt A Lady
O. B. Clarence
H. F. Maltby
William Axt Dr.
Professor L. Czettel
W. P. Lipscomb
Phil G. Samuel
Worth And Schiaparelli
Best Writing, Screenplay
- Film critic David Ehrenstein
Decades before the 1964 musical My Fair Lady swept the Academy Awards®, the author of Pygmalion, the play on which it was based, became a most unlikely Oscar® winner for the original's 1938 screen adaptation. Possibly the most intelligent person to win the award (he might have claimed to be the only intelligent man to do so), Shaw holds the distinction of being the only individual to win both an Academy Award® and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Given his disdain for the movies, particularly those adapted from his own plays, it's a minor miracle the film even got made and turned out to be a brilliant adaptation.
Pygmalion had been one of Shaw's most popular plays since its English-language premiere in 1914 (it actually premiered in Germany a year earlier; the English premiere had been pushed back so leading lady Mrs. Patrick Campbell could recover from an automobile accident). The story of a phonetics professor (modeled on real-life phonetician Henry Sweet) who turns a Cockney flower girl into a lady by teaching her to speak properly touched a chord with audiences, who viewed it as one of the writer's most romantic plays. It had already been filmed twice, in Germany in 1935 and in the Netherlands in 1937. Shaw had disliked those versions so much that when producer Gabriel Pascal first approached him about filming an English version, the writer turned him down. Only when Pascal promised not to change a word and agreed to cast Wendy Hiller, whom Shaw had admired in stage productions of Pygmalion and St. Joan, did the great writer accede. Although she had already made one film, the low-budget 1937 comedy Lancashire Luck, Pascal gave her introductory billing in Pygmalion at Shaw's request.
The author did not get his way in casting the male lead, however. His first choice for Henry Higgins was Charles Laughton, but Pascal convinced him that Leslie Howard would make the film more marketable in the U.S. That choice may not have been based solely on the stars' box-office appeal. In the mid-'30s, Laughton was riding high on a series of popular films, including Ruggles of Red Gap and Mutiny on the Bounty (both 1935). Rather, Pascal may have been appealing to the popular notion that the leading characters eventually married. Shaw had resisted the notion and even wrote a 1916 essay describing Eliza's life after parting ways with Higgins and decrying the more sentimental interpretations as "lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of the ragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of 'happy endings' to misfit all stories." With the more romantic Howard cast as Higgins, however, Pascal may have hoped to weight the story towards a more romantic interpretation that would have sold more tickets.
One way Pascal got around Shaw's insistence on a word-for-word filming of the play was by hiring him to write the screenplay. That gave the author a chance to incorporate scenes cut from most stage productions because they would have added too many sets (Shaw even had said such scenes were best suited to a film version). The writer also got to expand the scene at the Embassy Ball, where Higgins wins his bet to pass Eliza off as a lady. As a result, Shaw agreed to cut some of the play's more philosophical speeches, including several of the longer speeches delivered by Eliza's father. He also grudgingly agreed to include a final scene in which Eliza returns to Higgins, who, unable to express his love for her, demands "Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza?" Shaw would later disavow this ending, insisting that Eliza instead married her high society admirer, Freddie Eynsford-Hill.
Nonetheless, Shaw was delighted with the film version of Pygmalion and made arrangements for Pascal to film all of his plays (the only ones completed were Major Barbara in 1941, Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945 and Androcles and the Lion in 1952). The film proved a hit in both Great Britain and the U.S. (where Henry Higgins' "damns" had to be replaced with "hangs"). At year's end, it was nominated for four Academy Awards® -- including Best Picture, Best Actor (Howard) and Best Actress (Hiller) -- years before foreign films were regularly honored at the Oscars®. It won for Shaw's screenplay, but the author was hardly grateful. Instead, he announced, "It's an insult for them to offer me any honor, as if they had never heard of me -- and it's very likely they never have. They might as well send an honor to George for being King of England." His private views may have been more appreciative. Mary Pickford would later report that when she visited Shaw the award was prominently displayed on his mantelpiece.
When novelist Lloyd C. Douglas announced Pygmalion had won Best Screenplay, he quipped, "Mr. Shaw's story now is as original as it was three thousand years ago." But though Shaw had, indeed, been inspired by the Greek myth about a sculptor who falls in love with his female statue, his version of the story became as much a part of popular culture as the original legend. In addition to inspiring the hit stage and screen musical My Fair Lady (stage, 1956; film, 1964), Pygmalion has inspired dozens of imitations, including the romantic comedy Pretty Woman (1990), the porn film The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976) and the Bollywood film Santu Rangili (1976). It also inspired episodes of such TV series as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Family Guy and The Simpsons.
Producer: Gabriel Pascal
Director: Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard
Screenplay: George Bernard Shaw, W.P. Lipscomb, Cecil Lewis, Ian Dalrymple, Anthony Asquith
Based on the play by Shaw
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Art Director: John Bryan
Score: Arthur Honegger
Cast: Leslie Howard (Prof. Henry Higgins), Wendy Hiller (Eliza Doolittle), Wilfrid Lawson (Alfred Doolittle), Marie Lohr (Mrs. Higgins), Scott Sunderland (Col. Pickering), Jean Cadell (Mrs. Pearce), David Tree (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Everley Gregg (Mrs. Eynsford-Hill), Leueen MacGrath (Clara Eynsford-Hill), Esme Percy (Count Aristid Karpathy), Viola Tree (Perfide), Irene Browne (Duchess), Cathleen Nesbitt, Leo Genn (Guests at Embassy Ball), Anthony Quayle (French Hairdresser).
by Frank Miller
SOURCES: Sequel: What Happened Afterwards by George Bernard Shaw
Inside Oscar® by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
Wendy Hiller was born on August 15, 1912, in Bramhall, and raised in Manchester, where her father was a cotton-cloth manufacturer. Educated at Winceby House, a girl's school in Sussex, Hiller found herself drawn to the theater, and after completing secondary school, Wendy joined the Manchester Repertory Theater, where she was a bit player and later an assistant stage manager. In 1934, she earned critical acclaim and stardom when Manchester Rep cast her as the lead in the popular drama, Love on the Dole, written by her future husband, Ronald Gow. The play was such a hit, that Hiller would repeat her role in London and triumphed on Broadway.
Back on the London stage, she was playing the lead in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan, when she caught the eye of the playwright himself. He cast her as the beloved cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (contemporary audiences will no doubt be aware of the musical version - My Fair Lady) on stage in 1936 and in Anthony Asquith's screen adaptation two years later co-starring Leslie Howard. The film was a smash, and Hiller earned an Academy Award nomination for her striking and original Eliza. Shaw would cast her again as an heiress turned Salvation Army worker in the classic Major Barbara for both stage and the 1941 film version.
The ensuing years could very well have been Hiller's time for screen stardom, yet despite her blazing acting ability, regal presence and distinctive voice, her film forays were too few, as she concentrated on the stage and spending time with her husband Gow and two children. Still, when she did make a film appearance, it was often memorable: a materialist turned romantic in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's glorious, I Know Where I'm Going! (1945); a lonely hotelkeeper in Delbert Mann's Separate Tables (1958), which earned her an Academy Award as best supporting actress; an obsessive mother in Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers (1960); a unfaltering wife to Sir Thomas More in Fred Zinneman's brilliant A Man for All Seasons (1966); and as a compassionate nurse who cares for the deformed David Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980).
Ill health became an issue for Hiller in her later years, but she made one elegant return to the camera when she was cast as a former society beauty who is interviewed 50 years after her fame in Moira Armstrong's The Countess Alice (1992). In a performance that was touching, but never maudlin, Wendy Hiller proved that few could match her for presence, integrity and dignity. Her contribution to her craft did not go unnoticed, as she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975. She is survived by her son, Anthony, and daughter, Ann.
by Michael T. Toole
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
If you can't appreciate what you've got, you'd better get what you can appreciate.- Prof. Henry Higgins
Walk? Not bloody likely. I'm going to take a taxi.- Eliza Doolittle
I washed me face and hands before I came, I did.- Eliza Doolittle
Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza?- Professor Henry Higgins
Shaw's original play opened in London on 11 April 1914.
The first film you use the word "Bloody" in its dialogue.
The play originally ended with Eliza going off to marry Freddy. Shaw wrote a "sequel", actually a body of text documenting what happens after Eliza marries Freddy.
The title frame of the viewed print read, Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. The film begins with the foreword: "Pygmalion was a mythological character who dabbled in sculpture. He made a statue of his ideal woman-Galatea. It was so beautiful that he prayed the gods to give it life. His wish was granted. Bernard Shaw in his famous play gives a modern interpretation of this theme." This was the first filming of a George Bernard Shaw play in which the playwright fully authorized and participated in the production. According to articles in New York Times, producer Gabriel Pascal went to Shaw hoping to produce a film version of his play The Devil's Disciple, but the playwright said he should try Pygmalion first. Pascal received the film rights from Shaw, though he was not connected with any studio at the time. He originally had an agreement with Columbia Pictures to produce Pygmalion, but left the studio when he did not believe the film would be correctly produced. He then formed his own production company in London. The film was made at Pinewood studios for $350,000, with $50,000 of that budget going to the screen rights, to be taken directly out of the film's box-office receipts. Pascal also told New York Times that the film had a two-week rehearsal period and that he hired top London stage actors to work as extras, paying them £15 a day, rather than the traditional £2. Motion Picture Daily reported in August 1938 that M-G-M agreed to distribute the film in the United States, but the studio required some retakes, a new musicial score and other changes to "bring it up to American standards." New York Times review pointed out some of the significant differences between the film and the play, noting the inclusion of the Embassy Ball sequence, which in the play is off-stage action, lengthening of the tea party sequence, and the reduction of the Alfred Doolittle role. The film was released in Great Britain by General Film Distributors at a length of ninety-six minutes. Hollywood Reporter reported that Shaw was so satisfied with this film that he consented to allow Pascal to make two more films based on his plays. The film won two Academy Awards, one for Best Writing (Adaptation), awarded to Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Lewis and W. P. Lipscomb, and another for Best Screenplay, awarded to Shaw. When Shaw learned of his Academy Award, he was quoted as saying: "Of course it was a good picture. It was the only picture, but it wouldn't have been if Hollywood had made it. It's an insult to offer me any honor. They might as well send some honor to George for being the only King of England." The film also was selected by the National Board of Review as one of the best films of 1938, with Wendy Hiller receiving special notice in the "Best Acting" category. Modern sources include Anatole de Grunwald in the scenario credits, and Anthony Quayle and Leo Genn in the cast. Modern sources also state that Shaw told director Anthony Asquith that he thought Leslie Howard was miscast in the roll of Higgins, as the playwright's first choice for the film was Charles Laughton. They also report that the film was the top moneymaker in England in 1939, and that the film was reissued in England in 1944, 1949, and 1953. In 1976, the film became involved in a copyright debate between Janus Films and Budget Film, Inc. Budget claimed the film was a public domain title, as its copyright was not renewed in 1966; Janus had just purchased the film rights for $35,000. In 1980, the courts ruled in Janus' favor, as the play's copyright had been renewed correctly. Shaw's play was first filmed in 1937 by Filmex of Amsterdam, a Dutch production, starring Matthiew von Eysden and Lily Bouwmeester, and produced by Dr. Ludwig Berger. Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine appeared on a radio broadcast version of the play and a television version was made by NBC in 1963 as part of The Hallmark Hall of Fame series, with Julie Harris, James Donald and John Williams in the lead roles, and George Schaefer as producer-director. In 1956, the material was adapted into a Broadway muscial titled My Fair Lady, which in 1964 was made into a Warner Bros. film of the same title, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, and directed by George Cukor (AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.3368.)
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1938
First starring role for actress Wendy Hiller. Screen debut for actor Anthony Quayle.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1938
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A Film Tribute to Nobel Prize-winning Authors) March 13-26, 1975.)