My Fair Lady (film)

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My Fair Lady
My fair lady poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold,
original illustration by Bob Peak
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced byJack L. Warner
Screenplay byAlan Jay Lerner
Based on
Music by
CinematographyHarry Stradling
Edited byWilliam H. Ziegler
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures, Inc.1
Release date
  • October 21, 1964 (1964-10-21)
Running time
170 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million[1]
Box office$72 million[1]

My Fair Lady is a 1964 American musical film adapted from the Lerner and Loewe eponymous stage musical based on the 1913 stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. With a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner and directed by George Cukor, the film depicts a poor Cockney flower seller named Eliza Doolittle who overhears an arrogant phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, as he casually wagers that he could teach her to speak "proper" English, thereby making her presentable in the high society of Edwardian London.

The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, with Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper and Wilfrid Hyde-White in supporting roles. A critical and commercial success, it won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.[3] In 1998, the American Film Institute named it the 91st greatest American film of all time.


In London, Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), a scholar of phonetics, believes that the accent and tone of one's voice determines a person's prospects in society. In Covent Garden one evening, he meets Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), himself a phonetics expert who had come all the way from India to see him. Higgins boasts he could teach anyone to speak so well he could pass them off as a duke or duchess at an embassy ball, even a young woman with a strong Cockney accent named Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) who tries to sell them flowers. Eliza's ambition is to work in a flower shop, but her accent makes that impossible. The following morning, Eliza unexpectedly shows up at Higgins' home, seeking lessons. Pickering is intrigued and offers to cover all the attendant expenses if Higgins succeeds.

Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), a dustman, shows up three days later, ostensibly to protect his daughter's virtue, but in reality simply to extract some money from Higgins, and is bought off with £5. Higgins is impressed by the man's honesty, his natural gift for language, and especially his brazen lack of morals. Higgins recommends Alfred to a wealthy American who is interested in morality.

Eliza endures Higgins' demanding teaching methods and treatment of her personally. She makes little progress, but just as she, Higgins, and Pickering are about to give up, Eliza finally "gets it"; she instantly begins to speak with an impeccable upper class accent.

As a trial run, Higgins takes her to Ascot Racecourse, where she makes a good impression initially, only to shock everyone by a sudden lapse into vulgar Cockney while cheering on a horse. Higgins, who dislikes the pretentiousness of the upper class, partly conceals a grin behind his hand. He then takes Eliza to an embassy ball for the final test. There she dances with a foreign prince. At the ball is Zoltan Karpathy (Theodore Bikel), a Hungarian phonetics expert trained by Higgins. After a brief conversation with Eliza, he certifies that she is not only Hungarian, but a princess.

However, Eliza's hard work is barely acknowledged, with all the praise going to Higgins. This, and his callous treatment towards her afterwards, especially his indifference to her future, causes her to walk out on him, leaving him mystified by her ingratitude. Accompanied by Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett), a young, upper-class man who is infatuated with her, Eliza makes an attempt to return to her old life, but finds that she no longer fits in. She meets her father, who has been left a large fortune by the wealthy American to whom Higgins had recommended him, and is resigned to marrying Eliza's stepmother. Alfred feels that Higgins has ruined him, lamenting that he is now "bound by middle-class morality". Eliza eventually ends up visiting Higgins' mother (Gladys Cooper), who is outraged at her son's callous behaviour.

The next day, Higgins finds Eliza gone and searches for her, eventually finding her at his mother's house. Higgins attempts to talk Eliza into coming back to him. He becomes angered when she announces that she is going to marry Freddy and become Karpathy's assistant. He makes his way home, stubbornly predicting that she will come crawling back. However, he comes to the unsettling realization that he has "grown accustomed to her face." As he listens to a recording of Eliza's voice, she reappears in the doorway behind him, turning off the recording and saying in her old Cockney accent, "I washed my hands and face before I come, I did." Higgins looks surprised, then pleased, before asking where his slippers are.


Uncredited Cast

Musical numbers[edit]

  1. "Overture" – played by orchestra.
  2. "Why Can't the English Learn to Speak?" – performed by Rex Harrison, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Audrey Hepburn.
  3. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" – performed by Audrey Hepburn (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and chorus.
  4. "An Ordinary Man" – performed by Rex Harrison.
  5. "With a Little Bit of Luck" – performed by Stanley Holloway, John Alderson, John McLiam, and chorus.
  6. "Just You Wait" – sung by Audrey Hepburn (partially dubbed by Marni Nixon) and Charles Fredericks.
  7. "Servants Chorus" – sung by Mona Washbourne and chorus.
  8. "The Rain in Spain" – performed by Rex Harrison, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Audrey Hepburn (partially dubbed by Marni Nixon).
  9. "I Could Have Danced All Night" – performed by Audrey Hepburn (mostly dubbed by Marni Nixon), Mona Washbourne and chorus.
  10. "Ascot Gavotte" – sung by chorus.
  11. "Ascot Gavotte (Reprise)" – sung by chorus.
  12. "On the Street Where You Live" – sung by Jeremy Brett (dubbed by Bill Shirley).
  13. "Intermission" – played by orchestra.
  14. "Transylvanian March" – played by orchestra.
  15. "Embassy Waltz" – played by orchestra.
  16. "You Did It" – performed by Rex Harrison, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and chorus.
  17. "Just You Wait (Reprise)" – sung by Audrey Hepburn.
  18. "On the Street Where You Live" (reprise) – sung by Jeremy Brett (dubbed by Bill Shirley).
  19. "Show Me" – sung by Audrey Hepburn (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and Jeremy Brett (dubbed by Bill Shirley).
  20. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" (reprise) – sung by Audrey Hepburn (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and chorus.
  21. "Get Me to the Church on Time" – performed by Stanley Holloway, John Alderson, John McLiam, and chorus.
  22. "A Hymn to Him (Why Can't A Woman Be More Like a Man?)" – performed by Rex Harrison and Wilfrid Hyde-White.
  23. "Without You" – sung by Audrey Hepburn (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and Rex Harrison.
  24. "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" – performed by Rex Harrison.
  25. "Finale" – played by orchestra.


Cinematographer Harry Stradling poses with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle on the set of the film

The head of CBS, William S. Paley, put up the money for the original Broadway production in exchange for the rights to the cast album (through Columbia Records). When Warner bought the film rights in February 1962 for the then-unprecedented sum of $5 million, it was agreed that the rights to the film would revert to CBS seven years following release.[4]

Order of musical numbers[edit]

The order of the songs in the show was followed faithfully, except for "With a Little Bit of Luck". The song is listed as being the third musical number in the play; in the film it is the fourth. Onstage, the song is split into two parts sung in two different scenes. Part of the song is sung by Doolittle and his cronies just after Eliza gives him part of her earnings, immediately before she makes the decision to go to Higgins's house to ask for speech lessons. The second half of the song is sung by Doolittle just after he discovers that Eliza is now living with Higgins. In the film, the entire song is sung in one scene that takes place just after Higgins has sung "I'm an Ordinary Man". However, the song does have a dialogue scene (Doolittle's conversation with Eliza's landlady) between verses.

The instrumental "Busker Sequence", which opens the play immediately after the Overture, is the only musical number from the play omitted in the film version. However, there are several measures from this piece that can be heard as we see Eliza in the rain, making her way through the cars and carriages in Covent Garden.

All of the songs in the film were performed near complete; however, there were some verse omissions, as there sometimes are in film versions of Broadway musicals. For example, in the song "With a Little Bit of Luck", the verse "He does not have a Tuppence in his pocket", which was sung with a chorus, was omitted, due to space and its length. The original verse in "Show Me" was used instead.

The stanzas of "You Did It" that came after Higgins says "she is a Princess" were originally written for the Broadway version, but Harrison hated the lyrics, and refused to perform the song unless and until those lyrics were omitted, which they were in most Broadway versions. However, Cukor insisted that the omitted lyrics be restored for the film version or he would not direct at all, causing Harrison to oblige. The omitted lyrics end with the words "Hungarian Rhapsody" followed by the servants shouting "Bravo" three times, to the strains of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" before the servants sing "Congratulations, Professor Higgins".[5]


Hepburn's singing was judged inadequate, and she was dubbed by Marni Nixon,[6] who sang all songs except "Just You Wait", where Hepburn's voice was left undubbed during the harsh-toned chorus of the song and Nixon sang the melodic bridge section. Hepburn did sing the brief reprise of the song in tears. Some of Hepburn's original vocal performances for the film were released in the 1990s, affording audiences an opportunity to judge whether the dubbing was necessary. Less well known is the dubbing of Jeremy Brett's songs (as Freddy) by Bill Shirley.[7]

Harrison declined to pre-record his musical numbers for the film, explaining that he had never talked his way through the songs the same way twice and thus could not convincingly lip-sync to a playback during filming (as musical stars had, according to Jack L. Warner, been doing for years. "We even dubbed Rin-Tin-Tin"[8]). George Groves decided to use a wireless microphone, the first such use during filming of a motion picture.[9] The sound department earned an Academy Award for its efforts.


One of the few differences in structure between the stage version and the film is the placement of the intermission. In the stage play, the intermission comes after the embassy ball where Eliza dances with Karpathy. In the film, the intermission comes before the ball, as Eliza, Higgins, and Pickering are seen departing for the embassy.

Art direction[edit]

Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton, and George James Hopkins won an Academy Award for Best Production Design for art direction of the film. Beaton's inspiration for the library in Higgins' home, where much of the action takes place, was a room at the Château de Groussay, Montfort-l'Amaury, in France, which had been decorated opulently by its owner Carlos de Beistegui.[citation needed] Hats were created by Parisian milliner Paulette [fr] at Beaton's request.



With a production budget of $17 million, My Fair Lady was the most expensive film shot in the United States up to that time.[10] The film was re-released in 1971 and earned North American rentals of $2 million. It was re-released again in 1994 after a thorough restoration.[11]

My Fair Lady currently holds a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The consensus states: "George Cukor's elegant, colorful adaptation of the beloved stage play is elevated to new heights thanks to winning performances by Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison."[12] Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, and, in 2006, he put it on his "Great Movies" list, praising Hepburn's performance, and calling the film "the best and most unlikely of musicals."[13]

Awards and honors[edit]

Academy Awards: 1964[edit]

My Fair Lady won eight Oscars:[3][14]

Golden Globe Awards[edit]

My Fair Lady won three Golden Globes:

BAFTA Awards[edit]


The film was restored in 1994 by James C. Katz and Robert A. Harris, who had restored Spartacus three years earlier. The restoration was commissioned and financed by CBS, to which the film rights reverted from Warner Bros. in 1971.[15] CBS would later hire Harris to lend his expertise to a new 4K restoration of the film for a 2015 Blu-ray release, working from 8K scans of the original camera negative and other surviving 65mm elements.[16]

Planned remake[edit]

A new film of the musical was planned in 2008 with a screenplay by Emma Thompson but the project did not materialize. Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Colin Firth were among those in consideration for the lead roles.[17][18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The rights of the film were reverted to CBS in 1971 and in 2009, currently distributed by Paramount Pictures.[15]


  1. ^ a b c "My fair lady", Box office mojo.
  2. ^ "My Fair Lady (1964)". IMDB. December 25, 1964. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "NY Times: My Fair Lady". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  4. ^ Metz, Robert (July 21, 1975). "The Biggest Man in Broadcasting" (pp. 48-50) New York Magazine, Vol. 8, #29.
  5. ^ Lerner, Alan Jay (1985). The Street Where I Live. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80602-9.
  6. ^ Lawson, Kyle. "Marni Nixon in My Fair Lady", The Arizona Republic, June 10, 2008
  7. ^ Bill Shirley on IMDb
  8. ^ Stirling, Richard. Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography. 2007, Portrait; ISBN 978-0-7499-5135-1, p. 127
  9. ^ George Groves Sound History "Making of My Fair Lady" Retrieved on November 27, 2014.
  10. ^ Richard Barriors. "Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  11. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  12. ^ "My Fair Lady (1964)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006-01-01). "Great Movies: My Fair Lady". Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  14. ^ "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-24.
  15. ^ a b Grimes, William (August 15, 1994). "In 'My Fair Lady,' Audrey Hepburn Is Singing at Last". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  16. ^ "MORE LOVERLY THAN EVER! HIGH DEFINITION UPGRADE OF ICONIC BELOVED MUSICAL" (Press release). HOLLYWOOD, Calif.: Paramount Home Entertainment. September 15, 2014.
  17. ^ Simon Reynolds, "Knightley in talks for 'My Fair Lady'," Digital Spy (June 6, 2008).
  18. ^ "Keira Knightley is My Fair Lady". 2008-06-06. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  19. ^ Cameron Mackintosh Shares Update on MISS SAIGON & MY FAIR LADY Films – One is OFF!, Retrieved May 3, 2014
  • Lees, Gene (2005). The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe. Bison Books. ISBN 978-0-8032-8040-3.
  • Green, Benny, ed. (1987). A Hymn to Him : The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-87910-109-1.
  • Lerner, Alan Jay (1985). The Street Where I Live. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80602-9.

External links[edit]