ALWAYS A LADY

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It’s the 50th anniversary of My Fair Lady, winner of eight Academy Awards and one of the best-loved Hollywood musicals of all time. This exuberant print by legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld perfectly captures the famous scene at Ascot Racecourse, where Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) makes her high society debut. She is accompanied by her tutor, phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), who has taken a bet that he can rid Eliza of her low-class accent. All goes well until, carried away by the excitement of the races, her true identity bubbles up in a startlingly coarse outburst.

In a career that spanned over 75 years, Hirschfeld (1903-2003) created caricatures of the stars of stage and screen for such publications as The New York Times, The New Yorker, TV Guide and Rolling Stone. Although he is best known for his editorial work, he also did book and album cover illustrations and created a set of U.S. postage stamps commemorating Hollywood legends.

He is known for embedding the name of his daughter, Nina, in most of the drawings he created after her birth in 1945. Can you find her name in this image? (The answer appears at the end of this post.*)

Here Hirschfeld perfectly captures Hepburn’s uncorked enthusiasm and Harrison’s simpering condescension. The drawing also conveys the tension between the stiff, elegant upper class and Eliza’s more casual, fluid demeanor. Hirschfeld has bottled the essence of the scene, which is itself a caricature of high class pretensions and snobbery.

Hirschfeld issued many of his drawings as limited edition lithographs. This print is part of the Artist proofs by Al Hirschfeld collection housed at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. The library has over 90 examples of his work sprinkled throughout its collections, including original drawings, posters and books.

 *“Nina” appears in the folds of Eliza’s parasol.

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