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My Fair Lady (1964)

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Article 1

 Eliza Doolittle, Ex-Urchin, to Start New Career

by Richard F. Shepard

The New York Times, October 21, 1964 page 56

"My Fair Lady," perhaps the most lucrative property in show business history, is about to start a new career.

A motion picture version of the Broadway musical will have its world premiere tonight at the Criterion Theater here. The film, which Warner Bros. studio bought for $5.5 million and a share of future returns, cost $17 million to make.

The screen "My Fair Lady" is also one of the big social events of the season. Charity balls have preceded the opening and numerous benefits have been scheduled for its showing.

The musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, has been jingling tunefully at box offices ever sing the first curtain was raised on Broadway on March 15, 1956.

Since that date, the show has smashed records blithely. A six-and-a-half-year Broadway run was seen by 3,750,000 person (60,000 of them standees), who paid $20,233,918 to see 2,717 performances.

Coast to Coast

A national company trooped from coast to coast, bringing back $21,566,000 with them. The show has played in 21 countries from Iceland to Japan, where 15 million playgoers have paid more than $30 million in pounds, marks, yen and pesos to enjoy, in 11 languages, a play based on peculiarities in English phonetics as a means of social mobility.

In England, it had a record run of five and a half years -- 2,,281 performances. It ran for two years in Stockholm, and just this summer spread out again across the United States in its first season for summer stock and amateur theaters. There were more than 200 productions in each category.

This worldwide total of almost $75 million in ticket sales boils down to perhaps $10 or $12 million in profit to the owners. But it is not the whole story.

Columbia Records has hit a high in album sales by selling more than 5 million copies of the original cast recording. Two weeks ago, Columbia issued the recording of the movie soundtrack and it has already sold more than 300,000 copies.

Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records and the man who persuaded the parent company, the Columbia Broadcasting System, to put up the $400,000 needed to put the musical on Broadway, says, "'My Fair Lady' is a phenomenon that happens once in a generation; it happens just once."

Richard Maney, the walking storehouse of the show's history since he was its press agent, says, "It violated every law of musicals. There's not a kiss or a caress, or any legs, in it.!"

Herman Levin, producer of the play, also notes that outside of the principals, all the parts are for mature performers. The lack of accent on youth, he explained, did not make opportunities for new faces to make a sky-rocket debut, although it did let such experienced hands as Stanley Holloway achieve perhaps their biggest, and longest, moment in the sun.

Its fantastic success has been mirrored by the lives of those associated with it. After the show had been playing to packed housed [sic] in New York for a while, Mr. Lerner, Mr. Loewe and Mr. Levin could be seen debarking in front of the theater, each from his own Rolls-Royce. Mr. Loewe has a canceled check from C.B.S. for $1.8 million framed in his Palm Springs home, although a friend observed that it would have been more of a ploy not to have cashed it.

Rex Harrison, who starred with Julie Andrews on Broadway and appears opposite Audrey Hepburn in the film, receives 9 cents from each original cast album sold. This means a return of $450,000 from this by-product alone.

George Bernard Shaw's estate has earned $3 million from the stage show and will share in the movie income, benefiting the British Museum, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Effects on Fashion

The musical's costumes by Cecil Beaton had some effect upon fashion, particularly on the Empire style with its feminine-looking lifted waistline.

A spokesman for Chappell & Co., which publishes the music, said, "It's the biggest thing we've seen since we've been in the business and that's 300 years."

The tunes have been played on football fields, in concert halls and on more than 50 disks, including such languages as Hebrew, Spanish and Italian.

For C.B.S., "My Fair Lady" has been one of its largest revenue producers, outside of its mammoth broadcasting activities.

The property is owned by the Liza Company, in which C.B.S. has a 70 per cent share and Mr. Levin and persons to who he has sold parts of his original interest hold the remaining 30 per cent. C.B.S. also has certain subsidiary rights.

For Warner's the film is a massive investment form which it anticipates a mammoth return. It bought the rights for $5.5. million plus 47.5 per cent of the producer's net after the first $20 million, a record sum for the purchase of a stage production.

The break-even figure for the film is estimated at $35 million, including all costs of production, promotion, distribution and duplicate prints, which cost $6,000 each to make. Jack L. Warner, the studio president, in a burst of upbeat enthusiasm, said that he anticipated a return of $100 million. More conservative estimates put the return at anywhere from $50 million to $70 million, although it is impossible to make an educated guess.

Booked in 37 Cities

The musical will open nationally in 37 cities here and in Canada before the end of the year. Theater owners have already guaranteed in advance a record $8,410,000 for the film, which will be shown at first only in houses equipped to handle the 70-mm. large screen feature.

Wolfe Cohen, president of Warner Bros. Pictures International Corporation, said that between December and February "My Fair Lady" would open in 50 theaters in 22 foreign lands.

In Melbourne, he said, a new movie house, called the My Fair Lady Theater, is being specially built for the widescreen requirements of the show. Warner's has spent #100,000 ($280,000) to ready its London theater for the film, which makes its debut there Jan. 21 at a Royal Charity premiere.

"Some of the commitments are for as little as 10 weeks and some go for more than a year," Mr. Cohen said, noting that foreign income from a musical may constitute 20 per cent of a film's entire gross.

The film is being dubbed in Spanish, French, Italian and German and will be shown elsewhere, as in Japan, where it had a tremendous success onstage, with subtitles. Unlike most musical dubbing, where the singers' voices are retained untouched, these dubbings will be complete.

One reason, Mr. Cohen said, is that the lyrics are so integral to the enjoyment of the musical that it was decided to translate them. Another reason, not voiced, might be that neither of the leads are renowned as vocalists. Even in the English original, Marni Nixon, a singer, substitutes for Miss Hepburn's voice in the songs.

The French film version will be ready for showing in Paris by spring. Despite its success elsewhere, "My Fair Lady" has not yet been savored onstage in France. The reason is that a satisfactory translation and company has not yet been unearthed.

In the United States, the movie will probably set some sort of a record for film benefits, starting with tonight's New York opening on behalf of the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital Fund. There will be more than 50 benefit performances in New York, 35 in Hollywood where it opens next Wednesday, and 36 in Toronto.

1964 The New York Times

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