Magazine illustration of Mrs Patrick Campbell

Magazine illustration of Mrs Patrick Campbell

Pygmalion is one of George Bernard Shaw's most popular plays and the source for the musical My Fair Lady. Shaw wrote the role of Eliza Doolittle, the cockney flower girl, for the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell whom he greatly admired. In 1914 Pygmalion was put on at His Majesty's Theatre, which was run by the actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and Tree himself played Henry Higgins opposite Mrs (Stella) Patrick Campbell. Rehearsals were difficult since Shaw and his leading actors were all opinionated and uncompromising, but when the show opened it did so to a rapturous response. No one noticed that Campbell was 30 years too old to play Eliza and there were moments when the audience laughed so much that Shaw was worried that the play would never get going again. On the first night, a number of genuine cockney flower girls gathered by the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus and made their way over to the theatre to queue for cheap seats in the gallery.