The Brettish Empire
Vol. III #2

December 31, 1996

(Revised February 20, 2000)


 

Freddie and Eliza--The Untold Story!

When the film My Fair Lady recently aired on U.S. television, I viewed it with my 15 year-old niece and her best friend. They aren't exactly Brettfans (they're ga-ga over Dean Cain of Lois & Clark), but they did notice Jeremy's performance as the love-struck Freddie Eynsford-Hill. When the film ended they asked the universal question: "Why did Eliza Doolittle go back to Professor Higgins--why didn't she stay with Freddie?"

Why, indeed, would young, vibrant Eliza choose to stay with the crabby phonetics fanatic when she had fabulous Freddie hanging on to her every word?

Well, for one thing--that's what the script says.

Professor Higgins has grown accustomed to Eliza's face, so we're supposed to take for granted that he ends up with the former flower girl. Besides, Higgins gleefully informs us that Freddie is nothing but a lovesick twit who will probably abandon Eliza after she wears herself out supporting him. So, it's obvious that Professor Higgins is the only choice for Eliza. Tra-la-la.

Actually, this is not the ending George Bernard Shaw had in mind. Shaw, of course, wrote Pygmalion, the non-musical play My Fair Lady is based on. He left the ending ambiguous, preferring to let the audience guess whether or not Higgins and Eliza married. Shaw viewed the play not merely as a romantic comedy, but as a means to address some of society's problems. (Some critics see Pygmalion as a bold assault on class distinctions and prejudice.)

However, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the actor who played Henry Higgins in the play's original 1914 London run, had other ideas. Tree played Higgins as a romantic hero who was interested in more than just Eliza's diction. (Tree must have felt he had the right to play the part as he pleased--he was also the producer!) On opening night, Tree's Higgins tossed a bouquet of flowers to Eliza just before the curtain fell in Act V, thus spoiling the final ambiguity Shaw wished to convey.

Shaw was so upset by Tree's meddling that he wrote an essay clearly stating what he felt happened to the characters after the play ended:

Eliza cared for Higgins, but she knew he was too devoted to his work and to his mother--marriage (and Eliza) would always come second.

So, Eliza married...FREDDIE! Higgins' friend, Colonel Pickering, lent the couple money so they could start up a flower shop. The shop got off to a slow start because of their inexperience, but eventually prospered. Eliza remained close to both Pickering and Higgins, but always fought back when Higgins tried to bully her.

Incidentally, while Freddie has little more to do in Pygmalion than he did in My Fair Lady, he does have more family. In the beginning of Pygmalion Freddie is standing in rainy Covent Garden with his mother and his sister, Clara. They order Freddie to fetch a cab. Freddie collides with Eliza and tramples her flowers, but in Pygmalion, his mother pays Eliza for the trodden blossoms. By the time Freddie returns with a cab, his mother and Clara have already gone off to catch a bus. So, Eliza takes the cab instead (this is a great luxury to her).

The famous "Ascot" scene does not appear in Pygmalion. Instead, Eliza demonstrates her shaky grasp of proper English to the Eynsford-Hills in Mrs. Higgins' drawing room. She tells the same wild story (about the aunt whom she insists was murdered) in impeccable speech, and then spoils her social debut by using a vulgarism. The instantly smitten Freddie asks Eliza to take a walk in the park with him. To Eliza's mind, only poor people walk (rich people take taxis), so she replies, "Not bloody likely!" Mrs. Eynsford-Hill is horrified by Eliza's exclamation (as were the original audiences) while Clara foolishly defends it as "modern slang." Freddie is too much in love to care.

The two plays more or less run parallel after that scene: Eliza is the belle of the ambassador's reception and wins Higgins' bet for him; Higgins is so busy congratulating himself that he forgets Eliza's contribution; Eliza angrily confronts Higgins; Eliza leaves his house. Eliza finds Freddie eagerly waiting in the street. They embrace, and spend the evening riding around in a taxi.

Eliza ends up at Mrs. Higgins' house. Later, Higgins and Pickering arrive, at wits' end because Eliza is missing. To make her son squirm, Mrs. Higgins tells Eliza to stay out of sight until she calls for her. Then, Henry Higgins is forced to face his "creation."

The concluding confrontation between tutor and pupil takes place as Eliza is about to leave Mrs. Higgins' house to attend her father's wedding. As we now know, however, Eliza doesn't necessarily wind up with the Professor at the end of Pygmalion.

So, the next time someone asks, "Why didn't Eliza choose Freddie?," you can tell them, "She did"--if only in the mind of George Bernard Shaw! ;->

And Speaking of Freddie...

"Expect a big package," TBE reader Kristy Bronner e-mailed me.

I was intrigued--what could this "big package" contain?

A notice appeared in my P.O. box--"Extra large package." That must be it!

"Extra large" was right--too large for me to carry! Fortunately, I have a hefty brother with a station wagon, and with his help, the package made it safely home.

My family watched as I eagerly opened the box. Our jaws dropped open in amazement when I revealed its contents--a lovingly constructed miniature wooden replica of the front of Henry Higgins' house on Wimpole Street, detailed right down to the flower boxes! It was accompanied by a nattily dressed "Ken" doll, who was a reasonable facsimile of Jeremy Brett as "Freddie Eynsford-Hill," complete with a lovely bouquet for his fair lady, Eliza Doolittle.

Kristy's mom, Linda Patterson, a Brettfan and theatre buff, made the replica for me. Linda has constructed several miniature "stage sets" (including an elaborate multi-story theatre with changeable "coming attraction" and gallery photos), all peopled with authentically costumed dolls. A unique and interesting hobby!

I was touched beyond words to receive such a gift. And, I was happy, because now I had a proper place to display the "Ascot My Fair Lady Barbie" doll I had bought for myself as a birthday present. "Ascot Barbie" took her rightful place on the street where she lives, and "Freddie" (standing at Higgins' front door) got that "overpowering feeling" when she suddenly appeared! :->

My whole family came home for Christmas, and "Henry Higgins' house" (displayed in our family room) was very much admired by everyone.

Thank you, Linda and Kristy!

Auld Lang Syne

And now, it comes time to reflect on the year that was. 1996 was a year of travel and discovery for me--I got to visit London and San Francisco, where I was able to see many wonderful sights and meet many of my Internet pen pals. I'm amazed when I consider that all this was prompted by my interest in a rare and special actor, Mr. Jeremy Brett. May he rest in peace.

The Bible says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17a, NIV). I have been blessed with the gift of friends, and I thank God for every one of you, and pray that He will bless and keep you all in 1997 and beyond.

Until next time,

Lisa :-)


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