"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
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.
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
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
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
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