IMPRESSIONABLE YOUNG MIA
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 an adult, engaged to be married.
However, like most children, I knew the tale from bedtime stories and 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 rec program—in our youthful eloquence we called it “PARK”—to see a summer stock production of Beauty and the Beast at the local historical society that had a small theater in the back building. The Burnham Hall Players—cast and crew made up of area high school students—created and performed a short musical each summer under the directorship of a college-aged theater major.
Let’s call him TOM
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’ll 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’d never before experienced–when he sang in his raspy tenor. Alive in a new and magical way, goosebumps popped on my arms—did you know that only one third of people can experience chills at blissful sounds—but somehow felt deeply melancholy at the poor Beast’s lot in life. And I experienced romantic longing for the first time. 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 begged her to play the accompaniment to the songs that the Beast sang in the play. It brought back the thrill and longing (yes, and the goosebumps). The awareness of the Beast’s desperation—his hope and humiliation—coupled with the budding awareness of myself as a more than just a child caused intense feelings.
THE MYSTERY BOOK
Years later when I was thirteen, I read a book I’ll never forget, although I admit to forgetting its title and author. (Despite various google searches, it’s lost to me. And I’m NOT HAPPY about this.) Narrated by a girl about my age then, she observed 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. 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 her “beast’s” spirit—stuck with me. It was a “Beauty and the Beast” story, although I didn’t realize it at the time. And as an adult romance writer, I have written the opposites attract trope many times.
MIA THE MOM AND WALT DISNEY
As a young mother, Beauty and the Beast became all Disney-ish for me. Bundled on the couch with my three daughters and young son, we watched the movie. An exhausted mother of four grade school kids, I was happy for a couple of hours of simply staying still—and I forgot all about the depth of meaning the story held when I was younger. Somehow, Belle was too cheerful, too wholesome, and maybe a bit too nerdy, to bring back the haunting feelings I experienced so frequently 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. It’s CHILLS-CITY when Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson croon “Beauty and the Beast”! I love to do my Walk-Away-the Pounds exercise video, serenaded by “Be Our Guest”, “Something There”, and Angela Lansbury’s “Beauty and The Beast.” And yes, I get chills.
I have one more outstanding memory of how I relate to the tale of 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 (5) 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). When discussing this horrifying event with the girls over the holidays this past winter, they insisted it was Ali who got lost. I begged to differ—I still have nightmares about losing Demi in that crowd. I know it wasn’t Sisi or Chris—they were in the double stroller. And Ali was far too well-behave to stray. Whatever, the case, I rarely lost my children when they were little, and I associate it with Beauty and the Beast.
FYI: We found whichever daughter it was within five minutes. I also distinctly remember the relief.
More recently, when my girls and I got together—pre-covid so it wasn’t very recent—we watched the newer Disney Beauty and the Beast (with Emma Watson) all bundled on the couch. It whisked me back to the thrill and chills and danger and self-awareness that the story brought me when I was young. I cried three times.
In conclusion, the story Beauty and the Beast has played a role in my life, but it’s perhaps most significant in that it’s the ultimate romance trope of LOVE IS LOVE, which is essential to all of my books.