Ever wonder where an author or director got the idea for a book or movie you really liked? Some ideas have been around for centuries. The Pygmalion theme actually originated from Greek mythology, and was embedded into the lexicon of twentieth century imagery by George Bernard Shaw in his iconic play of the same name. In the Greek mythological story, the artist Pygmalion becomes enamored with his own sculpture Galatea, his rendition of the perfect woman, who the goddess Aphrodite brings to life.
In Shaw’s play, phonetics professor, Henry Higgins makes a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the crass socially inept cockney girl, Eliza Doolittle into a charming young lady of society. In the process Professor Higgins eventually falls in love with the newly transformed Doolittle. Film aficionados might recognize the film version of Shaw’s play as the movie adaptation, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, and Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins.
Since then other writers and filmmakers have used various twist of the Pygmalion theme in contemporary books and movies. Most notably is the 1954 production of Born Yesterday with William Holden and Judy Holiday, and a1993 remake starring Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson.
MTV film producers got into the mix with the 1999 movie She’s All That with Freddie Prinze Jr., Paul Walker and Rachael Leigh Cook. In this comic Pygmalion love story, Prinze accepts a bet from Walker to turn the frumpiest, most socially challenged girl in school (Cook) into a prom queen. This version also keeping in tow with the Pygmalion theme, has Prince falling for his creation, Cook.
Other movies over the years that have incorporated the theme of creator falling in love with his creation are Weird Science directed by John Hughes, the 1987 film Mannequin, where mannequin Kim Cattrall comes to life and becomes the love interest of Andrew McCarthy—a remake of the 1948 classic One Touch of Venus, and Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the hit movie about the hooker with a heart of gold, Pretty Woman.
Other authors that have borrowed from the Pygmalion theme are Mary Shelley in her classic horror novel Frankenstein, Isaac Asimov's science fiction novel The Positronic Man, William Hazlitt's Liber Amoris: or, the New Pygmalion, Richard Powers' novel Galatea 2.2, Amanda Filipacchi's novel Vapor, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, and Oscar Wilde's enduring The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Shaw tried to demonstrate that anyone can be born with rough edges, but it’s the heart and true essence of a person that ultimately makes them endearing and lovable, provided a few smoothing touches can be added. Perhaps someone now has encountered a person in a rough spot and is already on their way to telling that story in a new or unusual way. Stay tuned, be on the lookout, there’s sure to be another Pygmalion story coming to a nearby theater or book store soon. This time you’ll be sure not to miss it, won’t you?