My Fair Lady
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion and the Lerner/Loewe musical play, two experts on spoken English make a bet whether a poor flower-girl can be taught to act like a lady at a ball.
Well dressed people leave a theater. Outside it is raining. Mrs. Eynsford-Hill (Isobel Elsom) asks Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett) to find a cab, and he bumps into Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) and spills her basket of flowers. She complains she lost a full day’s wages. She talks to his mother who ignores her. Col. Hugh Pickering (Wildrid Hyde-White) tells Mrs. Eynsford-Hill there are no cabs to be had, and Eliza tries to sell him a flower. He gives her pennies. A man warns Eliza that a man is taking down her words. She says she is respectable and shouts angrily. She is afraid he will take away her character. Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) comes out from behind the pillar and says he is not hurting her. He reads what she said in her cockney accent. She complains to Pickering who takes her side. Higgins tells a man and Eliza where they are from by their speech and others too. He says Pickering came from Cheltenham, Harrow, Cambridge, and India. Pickering asks how he does it, and Higgins says he does it by studying speech, his occupation and his hobby. He tells Eliza to stop boohooing. He reminds her that she is a human being who speaks the language of Shakespeare, Milton, and the Bible. He sings “Why Can’t the English?” He tells Pickering that he could pass Eliza off at an embassy ball or get her a job in a shop by teaching her how to speak. She asks Pickering if he believes that. Pickering says he studies Indian dialects, and Higgins and he realize they have been wanting to meet each other. Higgins invites him to stay with him. Eliza tries to sell Higgins a flower and says she is short for her lodgings. He calls her a liar because she said she could change half a crown. He throws money on the street for her and leaves with Pickering. She picks up the money and with the men there sings “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” and she dances with the men. She sits on the back of a garbage truck and is given a ride.
Alfred P. Doolittle (Stanley Holloway) asks why he should go home at 5 in the morning when Eliza is coming by and will give him some money. He says he gave her the greatest gift—life. Then he left her on her own. He asks men for money, and they say no. People bring produce to sell. Doolittle looks for Eliza and finds her in the flower market. She says no too, and he sits next to her on the curb. He says he is willing to marry her step-mother. She says she had luck last night and gives him a coin. He thanks her and says he is ready for beer. Eliza thinks about what Higgins told her about being able to help her get a better job.
At home Higgins goes over the vowel sounds with Pickering and says there are more than a hundred. Eliza is let in by the butler, and the housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Mona Washbourne) offers to help her. Eliza says she has business of a personal nature. Mrs. Pearce tells Higgins that she is a common girl; but she thought he might want her to talk into his machine. Higgins tells Pickering he will show him how this works. Higgins sees her and says he has all he wants of her dialect. Eliza says she came in a taxi. She says he is not above giving lessons. She says she wants to take lessons and pay for them. She says he could ask her to sit down. He insults her, but Pickering politely asks what she wants. She says she wants to work in a flower-shop, and she says he treats her like dirt. Higgins asks how much she will pay and tells her to sit down. Pickering offers her a chair, and she sits. She says a friend of hers pays 18 pence for French lessons, and she will only pay a shilling for learning her own language. Higgins calculates what percentage of her income this is and says it would be like a millionaire paying many pounds. She stands up and complains, but he orders her to sit down. He hands her a handkerchief and tells her not to use her sleeve. Pickering asks about his boast he could pass her off at an embassy ball. He offers him a bet that he cannot do it and will pay for the lessons. Higgins says she is deliciously low and dirty, and he accepts the wager. He tells Mrs. Pearce to burn all her clothes and have her washed. Eliza says she is a good girl. Higgins tells Mrs. Pearce that she can wallop her. Pickering and Mrs. Pearce tell him he cannot walk over her like that. Higgins says he did not want to hurt her delicacy. Mrs. Pearce asks about her parents or husband, and Eliza says, “Garn” and asks who would marry her. Higgins promises that many men will want to marry her. Eliza says he is balmy, and Mrs. Pearce tells her to go home to her parents. She says she has no parents. Higgins says she will only drink if they give her money. Pickering asks Higgins if he realizes that she has feelings. He asks her if she has any. Higgins says after they are done, they can throw her back in the gutter. Eliza starts to leave and says he should be ashamed, but Higgins offers her a chocolate and shares one with her. He promises her boxes of them every day and gold and diamonds. She screams and says she is a good girl. Pickering says she must understand what she is doing. Higgins says she will stay there for six months learning how to speak well. If she is good, she will have rewards; but if she is naughty, she will be walloped by Mrs. Pearce. After six months she will be taken to a ball. If she is found out she is not a lady, she will have her head cut off; but if she is not found out, she will be given money to get a job in a shop. If she refuses this offer, the angels will weep for her. Mrs. Pearce takes her upstairs, and Eliza says she won’t let anyone wallop her. Higgins tells Pickering that he will make a queen of the barbarous wretch.
Mrs. Pearce takes Eliza into a bedroom, and Eliza says it is too good for her. She asks if she has to get into the hot bath. Mrs. Pearce tells her to take her clothes off, and two maids try to help her. Eliza resists.
Higgins and Pickering hear Eliza screaming.
Eliza says she is a good girl and struggles.
The maids bring her clothes downstairs. Pickering tells Higgins that he is responsible for the girl, and he asks him if he is a good man where women are concerned. Higgins asks if he knows any man who is, and he sings, “I’m an Ordinary Man” about what happens if a man lets a woman into his life. He concludes that he will never let a woman in his life.
In the street Doolittle laughs at working because it takes up one’s whole day. He sings “With a Little Bit of Luck” and dances with his friends. A man tells Doolittle that his daughter Eliza has moved in with a swell and has not been home for three days. The man says she sent a message to bring her birdcage and her fan but no clothes, and he gives him the address.
Mrs. Pearce tells Higgins she has the mail. He tells her to pay the bills and decline the invitations. Eliza is attached to a machine making an A sound. Mrs. Pearce asks Higgins when this will stop. She says he got a third letter from an American millionaire. The butler tells him that Alfred Doolittle is there, and Pickering expects trouble from Eliza’s father. Doolittle comes in and says he came on a serious matter. Higgins asks what he wants. Doolittle says he wants his daughter, and Higgins tells him to take her away. Doolittle asks if that is reasonable. Higgins asks him how dare he try to blackmail him. He says he will telephone the police. Doolittle asks if he asked for money. Higgins asks what he came for. Doolittle says he is willing, wanting, and waiting to tell him. He heard that she sent for her luggage and asked for no clothes. Higgins says he came to rescue her from worse than death. Doolittle says they are men of the world, and Higgins tries to avoid his breath. Doolittle asks for his rights as a father, and he asks for £5. Pickering says that the intentions of Higgins are honorable. Doolittle replies that if he thought they weren’t, he would have asked for £50. Higgins asks if he would sell his daughter for £50, and Pickering asks if he has no morals. Doolittle says he can’t afford them. He says if Eliza is getting something out of it, then why not him too. He says he is one of the undeserving poor who is up against middle-class morality. He says his needs are as great as a widow’s. He says he needs more than a deserving man because he drinks more. He likes being undeserving, but he does not want them to take advantage of his daughter. He asks if £5 is unreasonable. Higgins says they could make a preacher or a politician of him. Higgins agrees and offers him ten. Doolittle says that would be too much and asks only for five. Pickering suggests that Doolittle marry his missus because he married Eliza’s mother. Doolittle asks who told him that, and they realize that he did not. Eliza comes out and complains. Doolittle recognizes her and tells Higgins to use a strap on her. He pats her rear and goes out. Higgins tells Mrs. Pearce to write to the millionaire and tell him that Doolittle can lecture on morality. Eliza tries to say her vowel sounds, and Higgins tries to get her to say them correctly. He says if she does not speak them correctly by the end of the day, she will get no food. He goes upstairs, and she sings “Just You Wait,” scheming what she will do to Higgins and fantasizing how she will become proper and prim and have the king order his execution. She sees Higgins looking at her, and they go back to A.
Higgins has Eliza say, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” and he tells her to say it fifty times every night when she goes to bed. He lights a flame and tells her that when she says her H correctly, the flame will move. She tries it, and the flame does not move. He has her say, “Ha, ha, ha.” She keeps saying it while Higgins talks to Pickering. Her paper catches fire in the flame. The servants sing “Poor Professor Higgins” as they work. Higgins has her say, “How kind of you to let me come.” Pickering and Higgins are enjoying tea and snacks, but starved Eliza gets nothing. Higgins gives the last strawberry tart to the bird, and Eliza screams.
The servants sing at night. Higgins puts six marbles in Eliza’s mouth and has her read from a paper. Pickering asks if the pebbles are necessary, and Higgins says they helped Demosthenes. She tries to pronounce the words, and Pickering suggests something easier. She swallows one, and he puts more in her mouth. The servants sing the correct pronunciation. Higgins has an ice pack on his head, and Eliza says she is so tired. Pickering says it must be three in the morning and asks him to be reasonable. Higgins says he is always reasonable and says he has a headache. She has one too, and he gives her the ice pack. He asks her to think about what she is speaking. He says she will conquer this, and he asks her to try it again. This time she says it correctly. He asks her to repeat it, and she does so. She sings “The Rain in Spain,” and Higgins says she got it. He checks her Hs and her kind statement. The three sing together and dance like Spaniards. They all sit down and laugh. Mrs. Pearce asks Higgins if he is feeling all right and asks about a pounding sound. Higgins says they will buy Eliza a dress and take her to Ascot to meet his mother. Higgins and Pickering go to bed and leave Eliza to work some more. Mrs. Pearce tells Eliza to go to bed. Eliza sings “I Could Have Danced All Night” and dances as the servants put her to bed.
At Ascot on a lawn gentlemen and ladies sing and dance “Ascot Gavotte,” and they watch the horses race. Higgins is there and finds his mother Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) who tells him to leave. He says he picked up a flower-girl he is taking to the embassy ball, but he wants to try her out first. She is to talk about the weather and people’s health. Mrs. Eynsford-Hill arrives with her son Freddy. Eliza is dressed as a lady and is accompanied by Pickering who introduces her to Mrs. Higgins who introduces the others who are there. Higgins motions for her to sit down. Mrs. Higgins asks if it will rain, and Eliza recites the lines she learned. Freddy laughs, and she says she bets she got it right. Mrs. Higgins mentions influenza, and Eliza says her aunt died of influenza as they said, but she believes they “done her in.” She says her father ladled gin down her throat, and she came to. She says the straw hat should have come to her. Someone must have pinched it, and so someone must have done her in. The others respond to what she says while Higgins is embarrassed. He says it is the new small-talk. Eliza asks Freddy why he is sniggering. Pickering takes Eliza as everyone gets up for the next race. They watch another race, and Eliza roots loudly for a horse, saying, “Move your blooming ass.” Some ladies faint. As people leave, Mrs. Higgins says that she is ready for a canal barge. She advises Henry to give up this project. He says how they have been doing everything with Eliza including dressing her. She says they are playing with a live doll.
Outside the residence Freddy waits with flowers and tries to talk to Higgins who goes inside.
Higgins asks for dinner and joins Pickering and Eliza.
Freddy rings the bell and sings. Mrs. Pearce answers the door, and he asks to see Eliza and hands her the flowers. Mrs. Pearce asks him to come in, but he says he wants to wait on the street. He sings, “On the Street Where You Live.” Mrs. Pearce comes out and tells him that Eliza does not want to see anyone ever again. He says he will wait, and Mrs. Pearce goes in. He sings happily.
At the dining table Pickering tells Higgins what he has to teach her, and he says he wants to call off the bet. He excuses himself from the table and says it is over.
Pickering and Higgins are dressed for the ball, and they discuss what will happen. Pickering says he has worked her hard for the last few weeks. Pickering drinks port, but Higgins declines. Pickering asks what happens if she does not do well, and Higgins answers he would lose his bet. Pickering asks about the girl, and Higgins admits she matters. He says changing a human being is very important. Eliza in a French gown comes down the stairs, and Pickering says she looks beautiful. Higgins says she does not look bad and drinks a glass of port. They put on their coats, and Higgins offers her his arm.
At the embassy ball ladies and gentleman are announced and come up the stairs. Zoltan Karpathy (Theodore Bikel) sees Higgins and reminds him he was his pupil in speech. He has decorations for language and speaks 32 languages. He says no one can deceive him where they came from. Eliza joins Higgins and Pickering, and Karpathy sees her. They walk up the stairs, and they are announced. Pickering says Eliza is his cousin. Pickering tells Mrs. Higgins they must take Eliza home because there is a language expert there. The hostess summons Karpathy and talks to him. People stand back as princes and their ladies walk past them. The lady calls Eliza charming. Higgins and Pickering shake hands. Mrs. Higgins introduces Eliza, and she goes with an elderly gentleman. She bows to the two ladies, and the Prince of Transylvania dances with her to begin the ball. Higgins and Pickering smile at each other. Higgins asks Eliza to dance, and they waltz. Higgins presents her to Karpathy, and he dances with her. Karpathy speaks to the ladies, and the word is passed. Eliza is dancing with a young man. Higgins hears the rumor and laughs loudly.
At home Pickering tells Mrs. Pearce that it was a “total triumph,” and he asks Higgins if he was afraid. Higgins says no because he was confident. Pickering, Higgins, and Eliza sing, “You Did It,” telling the servants what happened at the ball. Higgins tells how Karpathy tried to find out who she is, and he let him dance with her. Then Karpathy announced that she was a fraud because her English is too good. He said she must be foreign, and he could tell that she was born Hungarian and of royal blood. Higgins laughs, and they congratulate him and sing he did it. Higgins says he is glad it’s over. Mrs. Pearce and Pickering say goodnight and retire. Higgins asks Eliza to leave a note for Mrs. Pearce about his request for coffee in the morning. He walks out and leaves her to turn out the light. She does so and starts crying, kneeling on the floor. Higgins comes back looking for his slippers. She picks them up and throws them at him. He asks her what is wrong. She says she won her bet for him, but he says he won it. She wants to smash his face and wonders if he is going to throw her back in the gutter. She tries to scratch him, and he stops her. She asks what will become of her. He asks if she complains of her treatment there, and she says no. He asks if she is tired and offers her a chocolate. She says no thank you. He says she has nothing more to worry about, and she says he has nothing more to worry about. She says she is too ignorant to understand. He tells her to say her prayers, but she heard him say, “Thank God, it’s all over.” She is concerned about what is to happen to her. Higgins suggests she could marry because she is not bad looking. He advises her to look at herself in the mirror in the morning. He says his mother could find someone for her, but she says she was above that at Covent Garden. He says she does not have to marry. Pickering could set her up in a flower shop. He says he has to go to bed, and she reminds him of the slippers. She asks if her clothes belong to her or to Col. Pickering. She wants to know what she can take away with her because she does not want to be accused of stealing. He says she can take anything she wants except the jewelry which is hired. She asks him to take the jewelry to keep them safe so that they won’t be missed. She says the ring he bought her she does not want now. He takes it and throws it away. She flinches, and he says she made him lose his temper. He curses her and goes upstairs. She looks for the ring in the fireplace and finds it in the ashes. She sings “Just You Wait.”
Outside Freddy sings “On the Street Where You Live,” and Eliza comes out the front door. He runs to her, and she asks what he is doing there. She asks him how he feels about her. He begins to tell her how he feels about her, and she sings “Show Me.” He asks where she is going, and she says she is going to jump in the river. She suggests they get a taxi.
Eliza gets out of the taxi at Covent Garden and tells Freddy not to come with her. She looks at the flowers and buys one. Poor people and Eliza sing, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” Her old friends take her for a lady and offer to get her a taxi. Doolittle comes out of a pub, and Eliza calls to him. She notices he is dressed like a gentleman, and he says he is miserable. He says that Higgins tied him up into middle-class morality because he recommended him to the millionaire. He says he left him £4,000 in his will. Now he has fifty relatives and has to live for others. His friends say they have to be at the church. Doolittle says her stepmother wants to marry him. She asks why he does not give the money back, but he says he is intimidated. He learns that Higgins sent her back. He tells her not to take anything from him because she is a lady now and can do it. Freddy says it is cold in the taxi, and he asks if she is finished there. She says she is and wishes her father good luck. She leaves with Freddy in the taxi.
Doolittle with his friends sings, “Get Me to the Church on Time” in the pub. He dances, and they all sing. Doolittle comes out of the pub, followed by the others. His friends wish him good luck and carry him off.
At home Higgins tells Pickering that Eliza bolted. Mrs. Pearce asks if they frightened her last night. Higgins says she threw his slippers at him. Higgins feels lost, and he tells Pickering to call the police. Higgins claims she belongs to him because he paid £5 for her. Pickering makes the call and reports a missing person, and Higgins helps him describe her. Pickering says she is not a relative but a friend; then he feels insulted. Higgins sings, “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” to Pickering. He calls his friend Boozy and asks if he could come and see him. Pickering tells Mrs. Pearce that he is going to the home office, and he leaves. Higgins asks Mrs. Pearce where Pickering is and then sings to her, “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” Higgins goes out the front door.
Mrs. Higgins asks Eliza what happened after the ball, and Eliza says they just congratulated each other. Mrs. Higgins tells her she behaved like a princess last night and leaves the room. Higgins comes in and sees Eliza who offers him tea. Mrs. Higgins comes back and tells her son to behave himself, or she will ask him to leave. He swears, and Mrs. Higgins asks how Eliza ever learned manners from her son. Eliza says it was Pickering who taught her manners. She says Higgins will always treat her like a flower-girl. Mrs. Higgins tells him not to grind his teeth. Mrs. Higgins tells Eliza she can evict Henry, and she advises him to stick to the weather and his health. She goes out. Higgins says Eliza has got some of her own back. She says he wants her back to wait on him. He says his manners are the same as Pickering’s. He says he treats a duchess like a flower-girl too, the same for all. She does not want to be passed over. He says she treats him like he is a motorbus. She says she can get along without him. He asks if he can get along without her. She says he will have to, and he says he can. Yet he says he will miss her. He has learned from her idiotic notions. She says he can hear her voice on his gramophone. He says he cannot turn her soul on, and she calls him a devil. She asks why she should come back. They agree they can walk out on each other. She says he is not her teacher now. She says Freddy writes her several times a day pages and pages. She says she is not dirt under his feet. She did what she did because she came to care for him as a friend. He says that is how he and Pickering feel. He says she finds him cold and unfeeling. He says she goes from those who give her a black eye to those who write her endlessly. She says she will marry Freddy as soon as she can support him. He disagrees, and she says Freddy loves her. She says she can teach phonetics as an assistant to Karpathy. He says he will wring her neck, and she says go ahead. She thought he would hit her some day. She sings “Without You” to show that she can be independent. He interrupts and sings that he knew he would make a woman of her. She says goodbye and that he will not see her again. She goes out, and Higgins calls his mother. Mrs. Higgins comes in, and he says she is gone. He asks what he is to do, and she says he will have to do without her. He says he can do without her, and he leaves. Mrs. Higgins is pleased with Eliza.
As Higgins walks home, he sings, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” He imagines what would happen if she married Freddy, and he sings how he will never take her back. He goes into his house and into his study. He turns on a machine and listens to her voice on the day she came. Eliza comes into the room and turns off the machine but continues the dialog. He hears her, sits back, and asks her where his slippers are.
This musical comedy entertains with good songs and humor while showing how improving one’s use of language can help a person move from one social class to another. A confirmed bachelor discovers that female companionship can be quite pleasant while the poor girl has her life transformed by learning language skills and manners.