Audrey Hepburn, one of the classiest actresses Hollywood has ever seen, with an impeccable dress sense, is among rare actresses of her time, along with Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, who rarely, or never, appeared in a Musical. Hepburn has appeared in only two musicals in her career.

Audrey Hepburn in the classic 'Funny Face'Pix: ; In front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (a 2nd-century BC, Hellenistic, marble sculpture of the Greek goddess ‘Nike’, a.k.a.‘Victory’ ), at the Louvre, in Paris, France; in a scene from Funny Face (1957)

Playing Eliza Doolittle
Even though not a musical star, Audrey Hepburn played the lead in one of the best musicals ever made, which also happens to be my all time favourite musical ever, and my favourite ‘Best Picture’ Oscar winner from the 1960’s. The film was My Fair Lady (1964); directed by George Cukor, and co-starring Rex Harrison, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper and Jeremy Brett; which took home eight Oscars, including for ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Actor’, ‘Best Cinematography’, and ‘Best Costume Design’.
My Fair Lady was based on a Broadway musical starring Julie Andrews, which was based on a play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw.

Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) & Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White): at the ball from ‘My Fair Lady’ (1964)

Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) & Colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White): at the ball from ‘My Fair Lady’ (1964)

The first time I watched My Fair Lady was when I was about 8 or 9 years old, way back in the 1980’s, in New Delhi. And I’ve watched it a zillion times since then. Among my favourite musicals, we (my little sister, friends and I) use to sing and dance to these songs, especially “Lot’s of chocolates…” and “Just you wait”, and cycle to “Do a Deer…” from The Sound of Music (1965), and pretend to be Topol from Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Ah! The innocence of childhood and good movies we use to watch. These films are timeless and age well. I can’t think of any musical today that could have the same effect on a child. Sure Chicago (2002) and Nine (2009) are two very stylish musicals, but those seductive numbers are hardly suitable for little innocent minds.

Initially Audrey Hepburn had refused the part, stating that the role of Eliza Doolittle belongs to Julie Andrews and Andrews alone. But Warner Brothers weren’t that keen on taking Andrews as she wasn’t yet a famous film star, thus once Hepburn refused they were asking around to take some one else as popular as Hepburn. Soon Hepburn accepted when she realised Andrews wasn’t going to get the part anyway. Audrey Hepburn is brilliant as Eliza, in this story of an ordinary ‘Flower Girl’ who is transformed into an ‘Hungarian Princess’, with the help of a snobbish professor of phonetics, Professor Higgins (). Professor Higgins’ Edwardian library with a spiral staircase is one of my favourites, when it comes to set décor, and I’ve wished to have a library like that someday, since childhood. It still remains a dream, unfortunately.

Professor Higgins’ (Rex Harrison) Home Library from ‘My Fair Lady’

Professor Higgins’ (Rex Harrison) Home Library from ‘My Fair Lady’

Sadly unaware to Hepburn, her voice was dubbed for the songs by Marni Nixon. Hepburn, initially furious, had walked out of the sets when she found out, for she had practiced hard to sing the songs to perfection, with lengthy vocal preparation. But the next day she came and apologised, yet she mentioned that she should have been told. So except for one line in “I Could Have Danced All Night”, first verse of “Just you Wait” and it’s repetition, and the  partial singing n’ talking parts of “The Rain in Spain”, the rest of the songs are all dubbed by Marni Nixon’s operatic vocals, who supposedly had stated that Hepburn’s voice was too “low-mezzo”. What rubbish???? How can one forget Audrey Hepburn singing all her songs in Funny Face (1957). And Hepburn’s rendition of Édith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” in Sabrina (1954) and Hepburn lending her vocals to Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Plus I saw Hepburn’s original rendition of “Lot’s of chocolates for me to eat” in an old Television documentary, over a decade ago. She was magnificent, the songs did not need dubbing. Jeremy Brett’s songs too were dubbed, by Bill Shirley.

What was worse was, that at the Oscars the following year, Audrey Hepburn was not even nominated, in the ‘Best Actress’ category. Julie Andrews won for Mary Poppins (1964). Andrews was superb as the flying governess, but Hepburn was a zillion times better as Eliza. The Press had a field day concocting up a fictional rivalry between the two contemporaries. Yet, Andrews herself believed she won the Oscar out of sympathy for losing out on the role of Eliza. In fact, Andrews later mentioned that Audrey Hepburn did a great job and should have won the Oscar instead of her.

Professor Higgins bribes Eliza Doolittle with ‘Lots of Chocolates’ in ‘My Fair Lady’

Professor Higgins bribes Eliza Doolittle with ‘Lots of Chocolates’ in ‘My Fair Lady’

Playing Jo Stockton
The first time I watched Funny Face (1957), was as a teenager in 1994, in New Delhi. Roman Holiday (1953), which too I watched, in 94’ just before Funny Face, 20 years on, is till date, not just my favourite Hepburn movie ever, but also my all time favourite movie. Back in September 2003, after handing in my final dissertation, a 30,000 worded book titled Marriage in Hitchcock Films: From Rebecca to Marnie, for my M.A. in International Cinema, I treated myself to a video box set of Audrey Hepburn films which included Roman Holiday and Funny Face, from the main shopping complex in Luton, UK, close proximity to my University there. Thus I have watched those tapes a zillion times since then.

Unlike in My Fair Lady (1964), Audrey Hepburn sings all her songs in Funny Face (1957). An enjoyable musical set among the fashion elite in Paris, contrasting to the Parisian underground where the existentialist meet. Hepburn plays a young existentialist, Jo Stockton; with high belief in ‘Empathicalsim’, and Empathicalsim being the only way to move forward and to achieve world peace; who is lured into a modelling contract for a lead American Fashion magazine by fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) and the magazine editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson). The only reason she takes the job is so that she can go to Paris and meet Professor Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair), one of the lead modern day philosophers behind the existentialist movement in Paris at the time.

Audrey Hepburn’s bohemian style dance number in ‘Funny Face’ (1957)

Audrey Hepburn’s bohemian style dance number in ‘Funny Face’ (1957)

Audrey Hepburn also displays her dancing skills along with her singing talent, especially with the bohemian style dance number she does in the underground night club where, modern 1950’s, existentialist meet. She brings life to the movie. Check out the black attire she wears in most of the movie. An attire with ankle length black pants, white socks and black shoes, which ended up being a trademark style of an 80’s pop icon, i.e. Michael Jackson. Ironically Jackson’s love for dance was inspired by the older star of Funny Face, i.e. actor/dancer Fred Astaire. Sadly none of them are alive today.

What I enjoyed most about this musical, was the sub-plot of the existentialist philosophy and Audrey Hepburn’s rants about ‘Empathicalsim’. But being a commercial venture, and that too a musical, the movie mainly revolves around the fashion industry, along with the breathtaking views of Paris and some catchy song and dance. Though not an excellent movie, it’s still very enjoyable, especially thanks to Audrey Hepburn.

Jo Stockton (Hepburn) and Dick Avery (Fred Astaire), have an existentialist dispute on the subject of ‘Empathicalsim’, at the underground Parisian Bar, in ‘Funny Face’ (1957)  NSFS

Jo Stockton (Hepburn) and Dick Avery (Fred Astaire), have an existentialist dispute on the subject of ‘Empathicalsim’, at the underground Parisian Bar, in ‘Funny Face’ (1957)
NSFS

Musical Verdict
My Fair Lady (1964) Excellent 10/10
Funny Face (1957) Pretty Good 7/10

Today happens to be, my all time favourite actress, Audrey Hepburn’s, 85th Birth Anniversary. She was born on 4th May 1929, in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium to Dutch-Irish parentage. She departed this world on the 20th of January,1993, aged 63. (also see Audrey Hepburn’s 20th Death Anniversary)

The legend lives on through her movies and philanthropy, especially her contributions to the UNICEF since 1954, and later work as the UNICEF Goodwill ambassador in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, until her death.
She was awarded the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’; in recognition of her work in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia between 1988 and 1992, as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador; in December 1992, a month before she died.

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

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