Dorothy Dene

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

Oscar Wilde

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Who doesn't know the story of Eliza Doolittle and professor Higgins? The story of the flower girl written by George Bernard Shaw in his play Pygmalion and which was later filmed as My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn. But did Eliza really exist? And Professor Higgins?

So what if Eliza Doolittle is based on a London painting model and actress from a working-class background in the 1890s? And what if Professor Henry Higgins is actually Lord Frederic Leighton, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts? And that Professor Higgins' assistant was not Colonel Pickering but the celebrated actress and speech teacher Isabella Dallas-Glyn?

And especially, what if George Bernard Shaw was with certainty a family friend of Frederick Leighton AND attended many, if not all, of the plays where Leigton's favourite model and protégé Dorothy Dene starred in? If so, Eliza Doolittle could very well be based on Dorothy Dene, whose real name was Ada Alice Pullan. The Actress AND beautiful model who would become the great love of the rich and distinguished Frederic Leighton. Dorothy who not only got drama, etiquette and language lessons through Leighton but also had to take on responsibility for part of her parents' family at an early age after the disappearance of her father and demise of her mother. Dorothy, who was a beauty to behold and, according to Leighton's biographer Mrs Barrington, also exactly matched the type of woman he had been looking for years for some paintings.

She was to become Leighton's main model for many years. Despite his frustration that, in his opinion, his colleague Watts could portray her better. Shaw wrote his Pygmalion in 1912, 16 years after the death of his close friend Leighton and 12 years after Dorothy's death. Perhaps that is why the connection between his work and Dorothy's reality remained obscured for so long. Lost in time. In 'The Surrogate' she will revive, that now so unknown but then so famous beauty who was written about in the tabloid press as far away as Australia and Canada. The woman who as a girl met an older painter and shared her life with him while caring for her sisters and youngest brother. Ada Alice Pullan - Dorothy Dene - model, actress, celebrity and, in a way, a tragic woman who was loved by her family, her patrons and the people around her. Loved by men and women alike. She is now 118 years buried at Kensal Green Cemetary next to a holly bush on a knoll overlooking the old cemetery with her audience at her feet and sometimes I stand there too.