George Bernard Shaw's “Pygmalion” Marks Its Centennial
One hundred years after the first performance of George Bernard Shaw‘s “Pygmalion,” theaters still perform it, evincing the enduring popularity of Shaw’s influential play.
The story originates from ancient mythology: Pygmalion, a sculptor, chisels his ideal woman, Galatea, out of stone and subsequently falls in love with his creation. Incidentally, the notion of an artist sculpting a statue of his ideal woman and then falling in love with it formed the plot of a 1987 film titled “Mannequin.”
Shaw’s play, with a professor (Henry Higgins) instead of a sculptor and a live person (Eliza Doolittle) instead of a block of stone, also includes the notion of a man creating his ideal woman. Rather than focus on appearances, Henry Higgins uses language as the means to transform Eliza. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” inspired a motion picture with the same title and a musical, “My Fair Lady,” that also became a film.
Shaw’s play was even spoofed in the 1983 film “Trading Places,” which replaces Eliza Doolittle with a street hustling Billy Ray Valentine, memorably portrayed by Eddie Murphy. Seven years later, the “Pygmalion” motif would emerge in another motion picture, this time a love story: “Pretty Woman.”
Do you know of other stories that use the “Pygmalion” motif? Tell us in our “comments” section.
Gerald Dierkes is an information services specialist for the Information and Research Assistance team, senior copyeditor for the Communication and Service Promotion team, and a liaison to the Department of Theater.
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