13Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady
How does a composer pen songs for a character that has no real emotion, and relies on an almost computer-level analytical mind? Musical team Lerner and Lowe faced the same problem while writing My Fair Lady, their musical based on the Shaw play Pygmalion. Their colleagues Rogers and Hammerstein had
tried to adapt the play themselves as a musical, before abandoning the concept. The two even advised Lerner and Lowe that the adaptation was impossible.
Lucky for us, Lerner and Lowe found a solution: Rex Harrison. The two wrote the part of Prof. Henry Higgins with Harrison in mind, working under the assumption that rather than sing, he could speak his songs on pitch. When Harrison repeated his stage role on screen, he continued the tradition, actually recording his songs live on the set! Perhaps that kind of spontaneity is what led him to give a magnificent performance, for which he won an Oscar. His Higgins rants and raves with cheeky wit, but underneath it all has a certain vulnerability that audiences identify with. While often cited as a love story, My Fair Lady is not a romance, as evidenced in Harrison’s work. Henry Higgins doesn’t want a wife. He wants a friend.