Guest Blogger – October
My Life with “Beauty and the Beast”
When I was a child there were no Disney Beauty and the Beast movie images implanted in my brain, as are lodged in the minds of most young people today. Disney didn’t create the animated movie most of us are now familiar with, the one worn on T-shirts and illustrated on backpacks, until 1991 when I was twenty-five-years old and engaged to be married.
However, like most children I knew the tale from bedtime stories and the library visits, and I liked it, but I fell in love with it when I saw it as a theatrical performance over the summer before fifth grade. That summer, I went with our town’s parks and recreational program—which we in our youthful eloquence called “PARK”—to see a summer stock production of Beauty and the Beast at a local doll museum and historical society that had a small theater in the back building. The Burnham Hall players—cast and crew made up of area middle school and high school students—created and performed one short musical each summer under the directorship of a college-aged drama major.
A handsome young actor with a raspy singing voice and a rascal’s manner played the Beast. I actually remember his real name, but seeing as he is now the beloved drama club director at the high school I once attended, I’m going to keep it to myself, and refer to him as Tom. Even at the tender age of ten, I could sense that Tom was the classic bad boy, both on and off the stage. His performance thrilled me—awakening emotions I had never before experienced when he sang in his raspy tenor. Alive in a new and magical way, I got chills on my arms, but somehow felt deeply melancholy at the Beast’s lot in life. And I experienced romantic longing for the first time—I think I fell a little bit in love with the Beast (Tom) that summer.
My cousin was the Burnham Hall Players’ pianist. Every time I went to her house for a visit, I asked her to play the accompaniment to the songs that the Beast sang in the play. It brought back the thrill and longing. The awareness of the Beast’s desperation—his hope and humiliation—coupled with the budding awareness of myself as someone who was more than a child.
Several years later, when I was about thirteen, I read a book I will never forget, although I admit to forgetting its title and author. (Despite various google searches, it is lost to me. I wish I could find this book.) Narrated by a girl about my age, she observed from afar the love affair between her beautiful older sister and a man so (reportedly) physically grotesque that when the older sister visited his castle, he hid and she was only allowed to hear his voice. At times when the couple wanted to hold each other, the older sister allowed herself to be willingly blindfolded in order to be in the presence of the man she loved. The younger sister, who discovers their hidden romance, is astonished that her perfect elder sibling could fall so deeply in love with what seems to her to be nothing more than an eerie presence in a huge estate.
At that point in my life, I identified with the younger sister, rather than the older one. After all, I asked myself, why would a beautiful young woman choose to live her life in a castle of shadows and darkness, never free to emerge into the real world and walk under the sun with the man she loved? Why would she ever choose this? However, the strange and haunting beauty of this concept—her passionate love of his spirit—stuck with me. It was a “Beauty and the Beast” story, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
As a young mother, Beauty and the Beast became all Disney for me. Bundled on the couch with my three daughters and young son, we watched the movie and I forgot all about the depth in meaning it had held when I was younger. Somehow, Belle was too cheerful, too wholesome, and maybe a bit too nerdy, to bring back the haunted feelings I experienced as a child. Maybe the whole Disney Beauty and the Beast thing was just too commercial to draw out otherworldly feelings.
Secret Confession: I love listening to the original 1991 Soundtrack to Beauty and the Beast. SERIOUS-CHILLS-CITY… when Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson sing “Beauty and the Beast”!! I love to take long walks serenaded by “Be Our Guest”, “Something There”, and Angela Lansbury’s “Beauty and The Beast.”
I have one more outstanding memory of how I relate to “Beauty and the Beast”. When the kids were young, we took them to Disney World in Orlando, Florida every few years. One year, when they were 1, 3, 5, and 7 years old we lost Demi in the rush of the crowd when we exited “Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage” (gone now) at MGM Studios (not named this anymore). Now, when discussing this horrifying event with the girls over the holidays this past winter, they told me that it was Ali who got lost. I beg to differ. I still have nightmares about it. It was Demi. Whatever, the case, I rarely lost my children when they were little, and I associate it with “Beauty and the Beast”. (We found whichever daughter it was within five minutes.)
So here is where my story stops, FOR NOW. I promised my daughter Demi that I wouldn’t see the new Disney Beauty and the Beast (with Emma Watson!!!) until she was home from college and we could watch it together—she already saw it once and confessed to crying three times. My hope is that it will bring me back to the thrill and chill and danger and self-awareness that the story brought me when I was young…
BLOG UPDATE: LOVED Beauty and the Beast the movie. Watched it when Demi came home this summer with Mr. Mia. He wasn’t excited to see a fairytale. But it had a lot of action and was funny as well as romantic. He didn’t fall asleep. That is saying something.
In conclusion, the story of “Beauty and the Beast” has played a role in my life, but it is most significant in that it is the ultimate story depicting LOVE IS LOVE, which is a theme of all of my books.