Composer Hank Beebe reminisces about the poignancy of The Cowboy and the Tiger
Yesterday Nancy and I, decided to give ourselves a quiet afternoon, during which we chose to screen The Cowboy and the Tiger.
I was not prepared for my reaction to it. It had been some years since I had seen it, and it was as if I was seeing it for the first time. Right away I was charmed by David Wayne's personable lead-in to the story, then I was impressed with Paul O'Keefe's underplaying of his role. Then with "Twelve-Hundred Miles" I was suddenly awakened with the thought "This is good."
But when the story got to Gilford, I began to lose any composure I had brought to the screening. He got right to me, and carried me along with every move he made: his disgust with being demonized by the public, his desire to be "understood", his desperate need to make a change. And when we got to the "I Need You" sequence, I was transported by the simultaneous rightness of the tiger being the boy's horse, and the impossibility of it. As the rest of the story played out, I was thrown into delight and depression by turns, and ended up applauding the finale vigorously.
I think I'm beginning to understand why our affection for and attachment to this one-act musical has lasted so long. Yesterday I saw "Cowboy" far enough down the road to see it for what it is, the human comedy disguised as a children's entertainment. Its power sneaks up on the audience, and what starts out as a charming piece of fantasy becomes an extremely personal and rewarding experience. Yesterday I was caught up in that experience, on what I thought was going to be a quiet afternoon.
Even in black-and-white and with 1963 TV technology, this DVD still has a great deal to offer contemporary audiences. I see a lot of video material that my great-grandchildren watch, and most of it is beautifully presented, but a lot of its emotional content is backed off to arms length, and lacks the deeply personal impact of "Cowboy".