My Fair Lady was hands down my favorite musical as a child. I would prance around like I was THE Eliza Doolittle.
The movie, which cost $17 million in 1964, was a soaring success, so it’s easy to see why it continues to be well-loved.
But there are things you might not know about the film, things I didn’t even know until recently, and they will blow your mind.
1. Hepburn Was Snubbed at the Oscars
Considered a major snub at the time, Audrey Hepburn, the stunning beauty and Hollywood super star, was not nominated for an Academy Award. Meanwhile, her co-star Rex Harrison and director George Cukor, both went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor and Best Director respectively. The movie won 8 Academy Awards collectively including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Original Music Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design.
It was like they gave oscars for every other facet of the movie except to Hepburn.
2. Rex Harrison Sent Nude Polaroids of Himself
According to TCM:
“For Henry Higgins, the stage’s most famous phonetician, [the studio] originally sought Cary Grant. But Grant, gearing up for his own retirement, quipped, “Not only will I not play Higgins, but if you don’t use Rex Harrison, I won’t even go to the film.”…Warner next turned to Peter O’Toole, who had just become an international star in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but the actor’s salary demands were too great. Finally, director George Cukor asked Harrison to test for the role. In response, Harrison sent Cukor some naked Polaroids of himself. Cukor finally convinced Warner to cast him for the relatively low fee of $200,000.”
3. The Critics Wanted Julie Andrews
At the time Warner Bros began production on the film, Julie Andrews had stared in My Fair Lady on broadway making the play the “longest run of any major musical theatre production in history.” So when it came to casting for Eliza Doolittle, many assumed Andrews would get the role.
Jack Warner instead chose Audrey Hepburn, a major Hollywood star at the time, leaving the critics outraged.
He later explained in his autobiography, “Why did I choose Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews, the original Eliza (for ‘My Fair Lady’)? There was nothing mysterious or complicated about that decision. With all her charm and ability, Julie Andrews was just a Broadway name known primarily to those who saw the play. But in Clinton, Iowa and Anchorage, Alaska, and thousands of other cities and towns in our 50 states and abroad you can say Audrey Hepburn, and people instantly know you’re talking about a beautiful and talented star. In my business I have to know who brings people and their money to a movie theatre box office. I knew Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop…”
4. It Wasn’t Shot in London
In fact there was nothing “London” about the scenery at all. It was shot in a sound studio in Hollywood. Warner, who was working with a lavish budget, ordered that stones for the “cobble stone street of Covent Garden” be individually made to give it a real feel. Art director Gene Allen worked to paint and re-paint the buildings to make them look old and authentic. You can see why he would win for Best Art Direction.
5. The Wrong Royal Ascot
One of my favorite parts of the film is when Eliza screams, “Come on Rover, move your blooming arse!” But did you know that there was a factual error in the film?
When the crowd watches the horses race by, they look from left to right. In actuality, the horses run from right to left at the Royal Ascot.
6. She Didn’t Sing (But She Did Dance…All Night)
The most controversial of it all. Originally hired for her star power, Audrey Hepburn was sure she would do all the singing in the movie. The studio hired her a vocal coach and she worked tirelessly in the studio to record the score of the film. However, half way through filming the director stepped in to inform Hepburn the songs would be dubbed by someone else. They considered her voice not up to par and so they hired “ghost singer” Marni Nixon, who had already sung voiceover for films like The King and I. Hepburn was heartbroken. Her voice was used in “Show Me” but all the other songs are actually Marni’s voice dubbed over.
Rex Harrison, on the other hand, insisted on live-recording all of his songs because he didn’t feel that he could mime them appropriately.
My mind is blown.
Take a look at Hepburn’s real voice singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” followed by the actual film of Marni Nixon singing it. What do you think?