Who was the original My Fair Lady

00:00 Thu 15th Mar 2001 The AnswerBank

A.My Fair Lady is opening in London with Martin McCutcheon in the title role. Who was the original My Fair Lady Thanks for your question, Doubris. There's no doubt that George Bernard Shaw had Stella Campbell in mind. < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.Who she

A.She was born Beatrice Stella Tanner in Kensington on 9 February, 1865, of an English father and an Italian mother. She was an actress of great beauty and wit and made her debut in 1888. Her first London success was in 1893 in the title role of Pinero's Second Mrs Tanqueray. In 1901 she made the first of her numerous tours to the United States; in 1912 she met Shaw at whose request she originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. At the age of 19 she married Patrick Campbell, who was killed in the Boer War.

Q.Stella Campbell ' any relation to Mrs Patrick Campbell

A.The same. That was how she was always known.

Q.A bit formal, wasn't it

A.Yes, but remember this was the Victorian and Edwardian era. And the word 'actress' was usually a euphemism for 'lady of easy virtue'. The formal title was a way of proclaiming that she was an actress, a widow, not a tart. She was often known as Mrs Pat. She got the starring role in Pygmalion because all the other actresses refused to say the rude word in the scene where Eliza's reply is: 'Not bloody likely!'

Q.So where does this Pygmalion come in

A.That was the name of Shaw's play. It is the story of how a professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, makes a bet that he can turn the cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a refined lady.

Q.So she was Pygmalion

A.No. The play is based on a classical myth in which Pygmalion, a sculptor, saw so much wrong with women that he resolved to be forever a bachelor. He made a statue of ivory, so beautiful that no living woman came anywhere near it. Eventually he fell in love with it.

Q.Professor Higgins

A.Yes.

Q.And therefore it was a great love story

A.Not as simple as that. Pygmalion was quite a feminist tract. In the end, Eliza sets herself up as a phonetics teacher, having learned Higgins's ideas. Eliza marries a devoted 'wet-around-the-ankles' admirer, Freddy Eynsford-Hill.

Q.Shaw liked it being turned into My Fair Lady

A.No. According to his biographer Michael Holroyd, he was totally against that. 'I absolutely forbid any such outrage,' he wrote two years before his death in 1950.

Q.Back to Mrs Patrick Campbell'

A.Shaw was undoubtedly in love with her. She played Eliza when Pygmalion opened in 1914. But despite Shaw�s advances, she married a double-barrelled nonentity, Major George Cornwallis-West. He was the basis of Freddy Eynsford-Hill. She died in 1940.

Q.What about her wit, then

A.She was creator of a famous phrase while talking about gay men: �Does it really matter what these affectionate people do, so long as they don't do it on the street and frighten the horses � She also said to the genius Shaw: �When you were quite a little boy, somebody ought to have said �hush� just once.�

Q.And what about Shaw�s passion for her

A.Try this love letter for size: �I want my dark lady. I want my angel � I want my tempter �I want the lighter of my seven lamps of beauty, honour, laughter, music, love, life and immortality � I want my inspiration, my folly, my happiness, my divinity, my madness, my selfishness, my final sanity and sanctification, my transfiguration, my purification, my light across the sea, my palm across the desert, my garden of lovely flowers, my million nameless joys, my day�s wage, my night�s dream, my darling and my star��

He certainly knew how to charm a gal.

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By Steve Cunningham

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