My Fair Lady (1964)

170 mins | Musical comedy | October 1964

Director:

George Cukor

Writer:

Alan Jay Lerner

Producer:

Jack L. Warner

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling

Editor:

William Ziegler

Production Designer:

Cecil Beaton

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

My Fair Lady was adapted from the stage musical of the same name, which was based on the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion (1914). The show debuted on Broadway on 15 Mar 1956 with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in the lead roles of “Eliza Doolitte” and “Henry Higgins,” and received the 1957 Tony Award for Best Musical. Its popularity continued into the next decade, when a 27 Sep 1961 NYT article announced that Warner Bros. Pictures had put forth an offer to purchase screen rights from CBS for an unprecedented sum of $5.5 million cash, plus 47.5% of all gross receipts exceeding $20 million. To cover the rights to Pygmalion, Warner Bros. also proposed donating five percent of the distributor gross to George Bernard Shaw’s estate. In a 30 Sep 1961 NYT article, Broadway composer Jule Styne observed that interest in United Artists’ upcoming production of West Side Story (1961, see entry) likely changed the entertainment industry’s negative view of screen musicals, which were considered unprofitable overseas. The deal represented the largest amount ever paid for source material, beating out the previous $2.27 million record set by Twentieth Century-Fox for South Pacific (1958, see entry). The 28 Sep 1961 LAT indicated that the studio remained confident, estimating the film would easily earn $40 million against a total production cost of $10 million.
       Despite having originated the character onstage to great acclaim, various contemporary sources suggested that Julie Andrews was not asked to play Eliza in the film. Andrews went on to star in Mary Poppins (1964, see entries), for which ... More Less

My Fair Lady was adapted from the stage musical of the same name, which was based on the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion (1914). The show debuted on Broadway on 15 Mar 1956 with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in the lead roles of “Eliza Doolitte” and “Henry Higgins,” and received the 1957 Tony Award for Best Musical. Its popularity continued into the next decade, when a 27 Sep 1961 NYT article announced that Warner Bros. Pictures had put forth an offer to purchase screen rights from CBS for an unprecedented sum of $5.5 million cash, plus 47.5% of all gross receipts exceeding $20 million. To cover the rights to Pygmalion, Warner Bros. also proposed donating five percent of the distributor gross to George Bernard Shaw’s estate. In a 30 Sep 1961 NYT article, Broadway composer Jule Styne observed that interest in United Artists’ upcoming production of West Side Story (1961, see entry) likely changed the entertainment industry’s negative view of screen musicals, which were considered unprofitable overseas. The deal represented the largest amount ever paid for source material, beating out the previous $2.27 million record set by Twentieth Century-Fox for South Pacific (1958, see entry). The 28 Sep 1961 LAT indicated that the studio remained confident, estimating the film would easily earn $40 million against a total production cost of $10 million.
       Despite having originated the character onstage to great acclaim, various contemporary sources suggested that Julie Andrews was not asked to play Eliza in the film. Andrews went on to star in Mary Poppins (1964, see entries), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Warner Bros. president Jack. L. Warner instead signed Audrey Hepburn in May 1962, willingly agreeing to her request for $1 million—what the 1 Nov 1964 NYT identified as her largest salary to date. A 16 May 1962 LAT item indicated that Richard Burton was nearly cast as Henry Higgins, with Peter O’Toole and Cary Grant also in consideration. In a 22 Jul 1973 interview, Grant told the NYT that he turned down the role because he felt he would be unable to match Rex Harrison’s Tony Award-winning performance. On 26 Oct 1962, NYT announced that Harrison had agreed to recreate the character for the screen, and Stanley Holloway also returned to play Eliza’s father, “Alfred Doolittle”—a role that was once considered for James Cagney.
       A 13 Jul 1962 DV item reported the recent addition of director George Cukor, who would begin preparations following his commitment to The Bobo (1967, see entry), which he ultimately did not direct. During this time, My Fair Lady closed its run on Broadway on 29 Sep 1962, after 2,717 performances. Cecil Beaton, who designed original costumes for the stage show, was charged with overseeing costumes, scenery, and production design for the film. A 23 Jan 1963 Var item noted that art director Gene Allen had scouted locations in London, England, but decided against filming overseas, barring select exteriors and second unit work. Harry Stradling had replaced director of photography Franz Planer , who died two weeks earlier. Coincidentally, Stradling photographed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 adaptation of Pygmalion (see entry).
       That summer, the 5 Jun 1963 NYT reported that rehearsals were set to begin 17 Jun 1963. After nearly two months, principal photography began 13 Aug 1963 at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA, and continued into winter of that year. Various sources reported that the production budget had ballooned to a figure between $12 million and $15 million, making it the most expensive Warner Bros. production up to that time. The 6 Oct 1963 LAT stated that Stages 1, 2, and 7 were used for the interior of Higgins’ four-story home, the exterior of “Wimpole Street,” and “Covent Garden.” A 14 Aug 1963 article by the same publication stated that Cukor hoped to shoot the picture chronologically, in order to follow Eliza’s transformation.
       Several contemporary sources suggested that Hepburn, who previously sang onscreen in Funny Face (1957, see entry) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, see entry), joined the project under the impression that she would provide her own vocals. According to a 29 Sep 1963 NYT article, she studied with a coach, while the 6 Oct 1963 LAT stated that she recorded all of Eliza’s songs, whether or not they would be used in the final film. Ultimately, studio executives deemed Hepburn’s singing unsuitable, and her vocals were dubbed by Marni Nixon, whose soprano voice had come to be recognized as the double for many actresses, most notably Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956, see entry) and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. By contrast, an article in the 15 Aug 1994 NYT reported that Rex Harrison insisted on performing each of his musical numbers live, in single takes, using a wireless lavalier microphone hidden in the knot of his necktie.
       During production, a 5 Nov 1963 DV item reported the injury and hospitalization of dancer Darlene Hunter, who is not credited onscreen.
       Although release was not planned until fall of 1964, anticipation for the film was high, as the 14 Mar 1964 NYT reported advanced ticket sales for the New York City engagement had already exceeded $450,000. The world premiere took place 21 Oct 1964 at New York City’s Criterion Theatre, followed by a West Coast debut the following week at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Both events served as benefit galas; the 28 Oct 1964 Var stated that the Criterion had collected more than $100,000 for the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. According to a 21 Nov 1963 NYT item, the picture would later expand to fifty key cities in both 35mm and 70mm formats, with ticket prices scaled to help recoup costs.
       Like its theatrical predecessor, My Fair Lady was a critical and commercial triumph. Three months after its release, the 27 Jan 1965 Var reported an international gross of $8.85 million from forty-five North American theaters and eighteen countries.
       The film swept the Academy Awards for that year, winning for Art Directing (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume Design (Color), Sound, Music (Scoring of Music—adaptation or treatment), Actor (Rex Harrison), Director, and Best Picture, with additional nominations for Film Editing, Writing (Screenplay—based on material from another medium), Actor in a Supporting Role (Stanley Holloway), and Actress in a Supporting Role (Gladys Cooper). Although critics praised Hepburn’s performance, the 24 Feb 1965 DV speculated that her dubbed vocals likely led to her omission from the nominations. My Fair Lady ranked #91 on AFI’s 1998 list of “100 Years…100 Movies,” and #8 on the list of the greatest movie musicals.
       Thirty years after its release, CBS commissioned a $750,000 restoration by film conservationists James C. Katz and Robert A. Harris. According to the 15 Aug 1994 NYT, rights to the property had reverted back to CBS in 1971, at which point most of the acquired material was abandoned in a vault in Van Nuys, CA. Along with the severely damaged original negative, Katz and Harris unearthed early rehearsal recordings of Hepburn singing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and “Show Me.” For these sequences, Marni Nixon’s dub was replaced with Hepburn’s original voice by splicing pieces of the audio and matching them to her onscreen performance. The restoration of the theatrical cut was screened at a benefit at the Ziegfield Theatre on 19 Sep 1994, with the Hepburn version of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” superimposed over end credits. Public screenings began 21 Sep 1994, and the lost archival material has been included on all subsequent home video releases. In 2015, Harris was hired to complete a digital restoration for the film’s fiftieth anniversary theatrical re-issue and release on Blu-ray disc.
       Playwright George Bernard Shaw is credited onscreen as “Bernard Shaw.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1962
p. 7.
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1963
p. 11.
Daily Variety
13 Dec 1963.
---
Daily Variety
16 Sep 1964
p. 6.
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1964.
---
Daily Variety
24 Feb 1965
p. 13.
Filmfacts
1964
pp. 230-35.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1964
pp. 3-4.
Life
20 Nov 1964
p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
28 Sep 1961
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
16 May 1962
Section D, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
14 Aug 1963
Section A, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
25 Aug 1963
Section E, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
6 Oct 1963
Section B, p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
28 Oct 1964
p. 12.
New York Times
27 Sep 1961
p. 1, 35.
New York Times
30 Sep 1961
p. 16.
New York Times
15 May 1962
p. 48.
New York Times
26 Oct 1962
p. 25.
New York Times
5 Jun 1963
p. 34.
New York Times
11 Aug 1963
p. 95.
New York Times
29 Sep 1963
p. 121.
New York Times
21 Nov 1963
p. 44.
New York Times
14 Mar 1964
p. 13.
New York Times
22 Oct 1964
p. 41.
New York Times
1 Nov 1964
Section X, p. 9.
New York Times
22 Jul 1973
p. 89.
New York Times
15 Aug 1994
Section C, p. 9, 12.
New Yorker
31 Oct 1964
pp. 134-35.
Newsweek
2 Nov 1964
p. 96.
Saturday Review
14 Nov 1964.
---
Time
30 Oct 1964
p. 106.
Variety
29 Aug 1962
p. 50.
Variety
23 Jan 1963
p. 11.
Variety
30 Jan 1963
p. 42.
Variety
28 Oct 1964
p. 6, 8.
Variety
27 Jan 1965
p. 3.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Scenery des
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus supv and cond
Addl mus
Vocal arr
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Supv hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
STAND INS
Singing voice for Audrey Hepburn
Singing voice for Jeremy Brett
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the musical My Fair Lady , music by Frederick Loewe, book and lyrics by by Alan Jay Lerner, as produced on the stage by Herman Levin (New York, 15 Mar 1956), which was based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (London, 11 Apr 1914).
SONGS
"Why Can't the English?" "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" "I'm an Ordinary Man," "With a Little Bit of Luck," "Just You Wait," "The Servant's Chorus," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Ascot Gavotte," "On the Street Where You Live," "The Embassy Waltz," "You Did It," "Show Me," "The Flower Market," "Get Me to the Church on Time," "A Hymn to Him," "Without You" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1964
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 21 October 1964
Los Angeles opening: 28 October 1964
Production Date:
13 August--winter 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
23 April 1964
Copyright Number:
LP33509
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
gauge
35mm & 70mm
Widescreen/ratio
Super Panavision 70
Duration(in mins):
170
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
20570
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Phonetics professor Henry Higgins gets involved in an altercation with Cockney flowergirl Eliza Doolittle as he is taking notes on her accent outside of London's Covent Garden in 1912. Colonel Pickering, another language enthusiast, quiets the argument, and Higgins boasts to him that after training Eliza for 3 months he could pass her off as a duchess. The next day Eliza arrives at Higgins' house, prepared to pay for diction lessons so that she may realize her dream of obtaining a position in a shop. With Pickering's help, Higgins begins a complete transformation of Eliza. Her first public appearance at the Ascot horseraces is a dubious success. A few months later, Eliza is a greater success at the season's biggest social event. After the affair, Higgins and Pickering congratulate each other on Eliza's transformation, completely ignoring her and her part in the process. She leaves Higgins' house in anger. Finding her father preparing to marry, Eliza seeks refuge with Higgins' mother. She is paid court by Freddie Eynsford-Hill, a young admirer. Higgins finds Eliza at his mother's, but they quarrel and he returns home. Sitting alone in his study, Higgins realizes that he cannot be happy without Eliza. As he sits listening to recordings of her voice made during her diction lessons, Eliza quietly enters the room through the door behind ... +


Phonetics professor Henry Higgins gets involved in an altercation with Cockney flowergirl Eliza Doolittle as he is taking notes on her accent outside of London's Covent Garden in 1912. Colonel Pickering, another language enthusiast, quiets the argument, and Higgins boasts to him that after training Eliza for 3 months he could pass her off as a duchess. The next day Eliza arrives at Higgins' house, prepared to pay for diction lessons so that she may realize her dream of obtaining a position in a shop. With Pickering's help, Higgins begins a complete transformation of Eliza. Her first public appearance at the Ascot horseraces is a dubious success. A few months later, Eliza is a greater success at the season's biggest social event. After the affair, Higgins and Pickering congratulate each other on Eliza's transformation, completely ignoring her and her part in the process. She leaves Higgins' house in anger. Finding her father preparing to marry, Eliza seeks refuge with Higgins' mother. She is paid court by Freddie Eynsford-Hill, a young admirer. Higgins finds Eliza at his mother's, but they quarrel and he returns home. Sitting alone in his study, Higgins realizes that he cannot be happy without Eliza. As he sits listening to recordings of her voice made during her diction lessons, Eliza quietly enters the room through the door behind him. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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