My Fair Lady
When Hirschfeld’s friend, Moss Hart, told him he was going to direct a musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Al was skeptical. “I remember sitting up with him till about three o’clock in the morning trying to talk him out of doing My Fair Lady. I said to him that Pygmalion is a complete work of art and it had just been made into a movie starring Wendy Hiller.” MGM’s 1938 adaptation, earned Shaw a shared Oscar for best screenplay. Al drew five posters, as well many additional drawings to decorate the Astor Theater in Times Square when the film was first released. According to Al, “I said ‘How are you going to improve that by having someday sing a song or do a little dance?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re probably right, but I have a point of view about it.’”
Despite his reservations Al was happy to provide the producers with a drawing to advertise the show. The image of Shaw and stars Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews would soon become one of the American Theater’s most iconic images. As Paul Rudnick wrote in his comedy Jeffrey in 1994, “You got your idea of God from where most gay kids get it — the album cover of My Fair Lady. Original cast. It's got this Hirschfeld caricature of George Bernard Shaw up in the clouds, manipulating Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews on strings, like marionettes. It was your parents' album, you were little, you thought it was a picture of God. As, I believe, did Shaw.” Al would later draw a generic version that is still used to promote the shows in productions around the world.
Hirschfeld drew the original production for The New York Times, and he would draw all three Broadway revivals in his lifetime, including the 1977 revival with Ian Richardson and Christine Andreas and his drawing ended up on the cover of that cast recording. He drew the 1964 film adaptation with Audrey Hepburn for Warner Brothers (this work was published as a limited edition lithograph). He would draw Harrison 9 times in the role of Henry Higgins, and an equal number of Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle (although not always in the same drawings), including as part of a mural for the Playbill restaurant in the Hotel Manhattan in 1958. Rex Harrison was drawn 28 times between 1936 and 1989 but that’s just over half the number of times that Julie Andrews was drawn. She holds the record for the actress with the most drawings: 54 between 1955 to 2002, including classic images of her in The Sound of Music, Camelot, Mary Poppins, andVictor/Victoria. Her number was significantly helped by the 26 drawings of her in the film Star! a bomb musical biopic of Gertrude Lawrence released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1969.
As for what Al thought of My Fair Lady once he saw it on stage, “the minute that curtain opened, you realized you were in the presence of a great musical. Not only did I like better than Pygmalion, but I realized that if you believed in something you could do a musical about it, even if it was a cigar store.”
Creative Director of The Al Hirschfeld Foundation