Wendy Hiller, Julie Andrews, and Audrey Hepburn. What do these three ladies have in common? Each lady has dazzled audiences in the leading role of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady. These three accomplished actresses transform with Eliza from a Cockney accented flower seller to regal “Hungarian princess”.
Our first notable Eliza is Wendy Hiller, who appears in the 1938 British film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. It was only natural for Hiller to be cast in the lead as she had already portrayed the character on the Festival Theatre stage in Malvern Worcestershire, England in 1936.
The film adaptation featured Hiller as leading lady and Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins. The adaptation itself was an Oscar winner for Best Screenplay and Hiller received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
The film held a first for Ms. Hiller. She became the first actress to utter the word “bloody” in a British film. The line, “Not bloody likely, I’m going in a taxi!” was in the original play and the filmmakers decided to keep the line in the film.
Throughout her 60 year acting career, Hiller was primarily a stage actress, but her most notable film roles include the role of Pat Cooper in the 1958 film Separate Tables, earning her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express as Princess Dragonmiroff, earning her the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress.
Eighteen years after the film Pygmalion, the screenplay was adapted to the hit musical starring Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins and leading lady Julie Andrews as Eliza Dolittle
The musical made its Broadway debut at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in NYC on March 15, 1956. The musical ran for a total of 2,717 performances, with its last being on September 29, 1962. At that time, it was a record breaking run! However, Harrison and Andrews did not appear in all of the performances. In 1957, Harrison was replaced by Edward Mulhare and in 1958 Andrews was replaced by Sally Ann Howes (who you may recognize as the actress who played Truly Scrumptious in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).
In 1958, Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews reprised their roles in the London production of My Fair Lady. The production ran for 2,281 performances, with Harrison and Andrews exiting their roles in 1959.
Accolades all around! In 1957, the Broadway musical was a Tony Award winner with Julie Andrews receiving a nomination for her leading lady role.
For the 1964 film adaptation of My Fair Lady, producer Jack Warren cast Audrey Hepburn in the lead role, coming as a shock to the many fans of Julie Andrews! This was considered outrageous because fans believed Andrews was the embodiment of Eliza and that the role was made for her.
Another surprise came when audiences found out that Hepburn’s singing voice was not her own, and that it was in fact dubbed by Marni Nixon. While Hepburn’s vocals were not considered “good enough” for the role, her vocals can be heard in the chorus of the musical number “Just You Wait”.
At the 1964 Academy Awards, Andrews won Best Actress for her lead role in Mary Poppins, the award for Best Actor went to Rex Harrison for his role as Professor Henry Higgins, and the award for Best Picture went to My Fair Lady. While the film My Fair Lady received nominations in every major category, Audrey Hepburn did not receive a nomination for Best Actress in her role as Eliza. It is said that the lack of nomination, along with Andrews’ Oscar win, was to show support to Andrews and disapproval to Jack Warner for his refusal to cast her in a role that was viewed as rightfully hers.
While there was much controversy surrounding Hepburn in the role of Eliza Dolittle, Hepburn was a star and icon in her own right. Her prominent films include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, and Roman Holiday, just to name a few. Hepburn was a recipient of an Academy Award for Best Actress for Roman Holiday and a recipient of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards for Best British Actress for her roles in Roman Holiday, The Nun’s Story, and Charade.
ASPI’s very own Abby Frank will follow in the footsteps of the women before her to bring Eliza Dolittle to the stage.
Tickets are on sale NOW and wouldn’t it be loverly for you to join us! Performances run March 20-22 and March 27-29. Just you wait! This production is sure to be anything but ordinary. For more information check out https://abramsspotlightproductions.com/ or call the Box Office at (920)826-5852.