Someone recently sent me a clip of one of my favorite actors, Jimmy Stewart, reading a poem on The Tonight Show in 1981. It’s about his dog, Beau. It is funny, poignant, and in the end…well, just have a hanky or shirt sleeve ready. (Don’t worry, you’ll be in good company: Even Johnny Carson got misty.)
Stewart had always loved dogs, but he developed an especially deep bond with Beau, reports Stanley Coren, in his book, Why We Love the Dogs We Do. Coren writes:
…Stewart was making a picture which was shooting on location in Arizona. One evening he got a phone call from his veterinarian, a Dr. Keagy. The call was about Beau. Keagy told him that Beau was very sick. He was having trouble breathing and was in considerable pain. The disease had progressed to the point that it was obvious to Keagy that the dog couldn’t be saved. He was calling for permission to end Beau’s life quickly. Stewart’s wife Gloria said that she couldn’t make that decision since Beau was Jimmy’s dog. “I can’t just tell you to put him to sleep like this,” Stewart said, “Not over the phone–not without seeing him. You keep him alive and I’ll be there.” Stewart was always known as an easy actor to work with, who never made excessive demands. So, the director was taken aback when he went to him to ask for a few days off to fly home to see to his dog. The leave was granted and Stewart got to sit with Beau for a long while before making the decision. He later admitted that when he left the veterinarian’s office he had to sit in his car for around 10 minutes, just to clear his eyes of tears, so that it would be safe to drive home.
Here is Stewart’s ode to Beau. The written poem follows.
He never came to me when I would call
Unless I had a tennis ball,
Or he felt like it,
But mostly he didnt come at all.
When he was young
He never learned to heel
Or sit or stay,
He did things his way.
Discipline was not his bag
But when you were with him things sure didnt drag.
Hed dig up a rosebush just to spite me,
And when Id grab him, hed turn and bite me.
He bit lots of folks from day to day,
The delivery boy was his favorite prey.
The gas man wouldnt read our meter,
He said we owned a real man-eater.
He set the house on fire
But the storys long to tell.
Suffice it to say that he survived
And the house survived as well.
On the evening walks, and Gloria took him,
He was always first out the door.
The Old One and I brought up the rear
Because our bones were sore.
He would charge up the street with Mom hanging on,
What a beautiful pair they were!
And if it was still light and the tourists were out,
They created a bit of a stir.
But every once in a while, he would stop in his tracks
And with a frown on his face look around.
It was just to make sure that the Old One was there
And would follow him where he was bound.
We are early-to-bedders at our house
I guess Im the first to retire.
And as Id leave the room hed look at me
And get up from his place by the fire.
He knew where the tennis balls were upstairs,
And Id give him one for a while.
He would push it under the bed with his nose
And Id fish it out with a smile.
And before very long
Hed tire of the ball
And be asleep in his corner
In no time at all.
And there were nights when Id feel him
Climb upon our bed
And lie between us,
And Id pat his head.
And there were nights when Id feel thisstare
And Id wake up and hed be sitting there
And I reach out my hand and stroke his hair.
And sometimes Id feel him sigh
and I think I know the reason why.
He would wake up at night
And he would have thisfear
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things,
And hed be glad to have me near.
And now hes dead.
And there are nights when I think I feel him
Climb upon our bed and lie between us,
And I pat his head.
And there are nights when I think
I feel that stare
And I reach out my hand to stroke his hair,
But hes not there.
Oh, how I wish that wasnt so,
Ill always love a dog named Beau.
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