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.