Day 80 of Colourisation Project – July 26
Born this day, July 26 in 1856, George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright with a reputation for being the greatest English language dramatist in the first half of the 20th Century. Shaw was also an essayist, novelist and short story writer but he is best remembered for his comedic masterpiece, Pygmalion, a play about love, phonetics and the English class system and first performed on the stage in 1913. In 1938 Shaw wrote the screenplay for its film adaptation, which won him a Hollywood Oscar.
Shaw who was not present at the Award’s night, is quoted as saying “It’s an insult for them to offer me any honour, as if they had never heard of me before – and it’s very likely they never have. They might as well send some honour to George for being King of England”.
Pygmalion went on to further fame when it was adapted into a Broadway musical, My Fair Lady and became a hit, first on the Broadway stage (1956) with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, and later on the screen (1964) with Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.
A model to all aspiring writers, Shaw wrote five novels throughout his 30s…all abject failures as far as publishers were concerned. Not to be deterred by this, he distinguished himself through his plays. Shaw wrote 63 plays during his lifetime and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, “for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty“.
Shaw’s complete works appeared in thirty-six volumes between 1930 and 1950, the year of his death.
Interestingly Shaw was also a keen amateur photographer. He bought his first camera in 1898 and was an active photographer right up until his death. He was an early supporter of photography as a serious art form and his non-fiction writing includes many reviews of photographic exhibitions such as those by his friend, Alvin Langdon Coburn.
His own photographs document a long literary and political life and also serve as a record of the development of the photographic and printing techniques available to the amateur photographer between 1898 and 1950.
Throughout his life he amassed around 20,000 photographic objects including negatives, albums and photographic prints including images and portraits of film stars, writers and musicians such as Vivien Leigh, Stewart Granger, HG Wells, JM Barrie and Edward Elgar. Much of the collection is housed at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is owned by the National Trust, to whom Shaw left his home upon his death.
Shaw was working on on yet another play in 1950 when he fell off a ladder while pruning a tree. He died soon after of renal failure brought on by the injuries. He was 94 years old.
“The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. …. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. ….The reformer England needs today is an energetic phonetic enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular play.” — George Bernard Shaw from the Preface of Pygmalion