George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland on July 26 1856. He was the youngest child of three and he was tutored in his early years by his clerical uncle. However, his mother also educated him in the arts, taking Shaw to museums, galleries, and libraries. She moved to London after leaving George’s father and, in 1876, Shaw followed with the ambition of becoming a writer.
However, Shaw did not achieve immediate success and his first attempts at writing novels were panned by the publishers he approached. He relied on his mother’s financial support while he wiled away the hours in the British Museum reading room working. While Shaw continued to struggle professionally, his interest in politics was growing and he became heavily involved in the socialist group, The Fabian Society.
Finally, in 1885, Shaw got some work writing book, theater, and music reviews and by 1895 he had been appointed as the theatre critics for the Saturday Review. Working in this world, Shaw turned his hand to writing plays and finally became a published writer. His first plays were published in two volumes (interestingly titled Plays Unpleasant and Plays Pleasant) and, although full of the wit and social criticism that we recognize him for today, they are not his best remembered plays.
By the end of the nineteenth-century, Shaw found his stride and in 1903 he wrote Man and Superman. The third act of this play, “Don Juan in Hell”, became so popular that it was subsequently staged as its own, spin-off play. Theatrical hits including Major Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1912), Saint Joan (1923) all followed and established Shaw as one of the greatest playwrights of his generation. In 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Famously, Shaw’s play Pygmalion was adapted for the screen in the 1938 film of the same name (for which Shaw won an Oscar for the screenplay) and then for the stage in the musical My Fair Lady in 1956 with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the lead roles. Harrison reprised his role as Henry Higgins in the 1964 film alongside Audrey Hepburn.
Shaw reached the grand old age of 94, still writing to the end.
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