Eliza Doolittle Day is celebrated by fans of the musical My Fair Lady, a musical based off of George Bernard Shaw's 1912 play Pygmalion. In the musical, Eliza Doolittle is a Cockney flower girl who wants to learn to speak properly. At the time the story takes place, proper speech was a symbol of upward mobility and education. Eliza meets Professor Henry Higgins in Covent Garden and he agrees to give her elocution lessons. Higgins believes he can transform her from someone who uses words like "ain't" to someone who can fit in with London's elite.
In the musical, Eliza dreams of meeting the king. She sings a song, "Just You Wait," to share her thoughts. It is in the song that the date for Eliza Doolittle Day comes from:
One day I’ll be famous! I’ll be proper and prim; Go to St. James so often I will call it St. Jim! One evening the king will say: 'Oh, Liza, old thing, I want all of England your praises to sing. Next week on the twentieth of May I proclaim ‘Liza Doolittle Day!'
Eliza Doolittle was first played on the stage by London actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She was played by Wendy Hiller in the 1938 film version of Pygmalion. Julie Andrews then played her on the stage version of My Fair Lady, while Professor Henry Higgins was played by Rex Harrison. Audrey Hepburn played Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film adaptation of My Fair Lady, and Rex Harrison reprised his stage role for the film. Ironically, Audrey Hepburn was not nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle, but the same year Julie Andrews won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Mary Poppins. Despite this, Hepburn received much praise for her role. Rex Harrison won Best Actor for his role as Professor Henry Higgins in the film.
In more recent years, other actresses have portrayed Doolittle. Martine McCutcheon portrayed her in the 2001 London revival of My Fair Lady. Lauren Ambrose played her in the 2018 production of My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center Theater on Broadway. Laura Benanti took over for Ambrose in October 2018 and continued to play Doolittle in 2019.
Here are some ideas on how to celebrate the day!
- Read George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
- Watch the 1938 film Pygmalion.
- See a production of My Fair Lady on Broadway or elsewhere.
- Watch the film version of My Fair Lady.
- Listen to or read the lyrics to "Just You Wait."
- Visit Covent Garden.