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Thursday
May162013

Buy a Flower Off a Poor Girl

Another edition of May Flowers is blooming...

abstew here with a look at a film that's so enamored with flowers that beautiful blossoms show up on screen even before the title of the film:

But, the flowers aren't merely decorative... although they are loverly. They line the streets of Covent Garden where the rich come to take in the refined, artistic pleasures of the Opera. And the poor, including our film's heroine, Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn), try to make a decent day's wages by selling the flowers to the visiting elite. The whole series of events that changes Eliza's fate all happens because she tries to sell her violets to one Colonel Pickering (Stanley Holloway). Little does she know that her conversation with the gentleman is being phonetically transcribed by a linguist professor named Henry Higgins (or as Eliza would say, 'Enry 'Iggins and played by Rex Harrison in his Oscar winning performance). Higgins, wondering "Why Can't the English Learn to Speak?", makes the case that it is Eliza's Cockney accent that keeps her in the gutter selling flowers. If he taught her how to speak properly he could pass her off as a Duchess at a ball. The next day she takes him up on the offer, wanting to get a job in a flower shop if he can teach her to speak more "genteel".

And thus begins the transformation of this Eliza:

To this Eliza: 

Instead of selling rain-soaked, trodden bunches of violets, she is now bedecked in rosettes made of pink chiffon and surrounded by lilies in a hot house. What a difference some voice lessons can make!

Unfortunately, Audrey's own voice (singing voice, that is) was more flower seller than Duchess. Though she was cast thinking she would do Eliza's singing herself, producer Jack Warner was secretly having Marni Nixon record Eliza's songs. (Nixon was, of course, the singing voice to the stars. She also did Deborah Kerr's in The King and I and Natalie Wood's in West Side Story. Too bad they didn't ask her to step in for Helena Bonham Carter...). The film went on to receive 12 Oscar nominations (and 8 wins, including Best Picture), but no nomination for Audrey.

Who did win Best Actress that year? Oh, just a British actress making her film debut. She just happened to be the original Eliza Doolittle from Broadway. She took the part in Mary Poppins after Jack Warner determined she wasn't a big enough star for his film. For Julie Andrews, I'm sure success never smelled so sweet.

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Reader Comments (10)

Marni Nixon singing for Helena Bonham Carter from now on? YES PLEASE. Marni is still alive and well and performs once in a blue moon. and still voice tutors as far as I know.

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I was born across the street from the racetrack in the final act of this movie. Also, I have a peculiar dislike of this movie. It's based in the book too, in which I find the romance Henry's treatment of Eliza just offputting from beginning to end.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Have you heard that anecdote that when Julie Andrews won the Golden Globe for 'Mary Poppins' she cheekily thanked Warner? Haha!

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

hollywood should have never stopped using marni nixon to dub celebrities in movie musicals! just think how much better pierce brosnan would have sounded...

my friend told me at her SOUND OF MUSIC sing-a-long, drinking game party, that marni plays a nun in the film (she's not just a voice?!?) and she was nervous about meeting julie andrews because of the whole eliza dubbing situation.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

abstew -- yep, she's in The Sound of Music. I've always wanted to interview her and I know she lives here in NYC and one day I will regret that i never pursued her for a sit down

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Please, oh please, pursue a sit-down with Marni Nixon! How much pestering will it take for you to do so?

(And which nun does she play in The Sound of Music?)

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercash

Marni was the singing voice of the Mother Superior plus the nun who sings, "when I'm with her I'm confused, out of focus and bemused and I never know exactly where I am...." Her talent is amazing especially when her singing sounded like the actress she was dubbing.

I always felt bad that Hollywood threw over Julie for Audrey, although Hepburn was gorgeous as Eliza. I wonder what Bernadette (or for that matter, Donna Murphy) is thinking these days about the Into the Woods casting ?

PS I may be in the minority but I don't mind Pierce's voice in Mamma Mia. He also did a lovely rendition of the Parting Glass in the movie Evelyn.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

My Fair Lady is a beautiful movie to look at - framed for hanging. The Cukor transition is tied closely to stage performance and direction rather than cinema. The art direction - wonderful. The sound grand. Actors right up there with the bet. The music nothing better. Costumes appropriate and lush. The cinematography fails.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterrobertL

I have such a love/hate relationship with My Fair Lady. It's often very funny (thanks to Shaw's witty Pygmalion, from which most of the dialogue is directly lifted), but it's so resolutely stage-bound that one wonders why they didn't just film a stage production with these actors. I do love Audrey in this, though, even as I hate that she was cast over Julie Andrews.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I love the back story of this movie. Audrey was terrific, but the movie would have been so much better with Julie as Eliza. If ever there was a role that belonged to an actress, it is Eliza to Julie. Warner said he needed a movie star. Mary Poppins made Julie one. Who got the last laugh? I love that pic from the Oscars of Julie with Audrey. And Rex's acceptance speech: "I share this with two fair ladies." Perfect.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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