Talkin' Broadway HomePast ColumnsAbout the Authors
The Great White Wayback Machine
by Laura Frankos

Cows and Musicals Part Two

Also see Cows and Musicals Part One

Last time, we looked at famous and not-so-famous cow characters in musicals. Here we'll look at those bovines mentioned in song and story, as well as millkmen and milkmaids.

  • The Dairymaids (1907, music by Paul Rubens and Frank Tours, lyrics by Arthur Wimperis, with some early Kern interpolated)—Lady Brudenell runs her Model Dairy on very up-to-date principles, and it is well-staffed with pretty dairymaids. Naturally, the boys get into drag to pursue them. From the "Opening Chorus" (Tours/Wimperis):

    "Industry here is allied to the sciences
    Rule of thumb methods we've long given up
    Here you may see the latest appliances
    Bridging the gulf twixt the cow and the cup."

  • The Riviera Girl (1917, music by Emmerich Kalman, lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, book by Guy Bolton, Wodehouse)—The hit from this show was "A Bungalow in Quogue," an interpolated Kern-Wodehouse song, in which the hero sings of settling down in bucolic paradise:

    "If you will show me how
    I'll go and milk Clarice the cow."

    This song was added to the 1975 revival of Very Good Eddie, with the line changed to:

    "How pleasant it will be through life to jog
    With Bill the Bull and Hildebrand the hog."

  • Jack O'Lantern (1917, music by Ivan Caryll, book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell)—This now-forgotten show was a success for comic Fred Stone and featured fantastical sets by Joseph Urban. "(Won't You) Wait Till the Cows Come Home?" not only was a smash, but it later became the theme song for NBC's "Carnation Contented Hour," which ran from 1931-1951. Carnation still makes powdered, evaporated, and condensed milk, so it's not surprising they picked a theme that had cows in it.

  • Love O'Mike (1917, music by Kern, lyrics by Harry Smith, book by Thomas Sydney)—What is it with Kern and cow shows? This comedy with a wartime background had a song called "Moo Cow," which Kern biographer Stephen Banfield says "was a hit, but thankfully not published." This explains why I have to be sheepish about not tracking down this bovine.

  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1919—had a score largely by Irving Berlin, but this classic was by Walter Donaldson, Joe Young, and Same Lewis. "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" wondered how returning American doughboys would ever want to return to rural life "after they've seen Paree" with its bright lights and big-city thrills.

    "They'll never want to see a rake or plow
    And who the deuce can parley-vous a cow?"

    This YouTube link features a 1919 recording of Arthur Fields performing the song, complete with a barnyard chorus and great period illustrations.

  • Strike Up the Band (1927, 1930, songs by George and Ira Gershwin, book —George Kaufman)—In this satire, the U.S. and Switzerland go to to war over a cheese tariff, led by Horace Fletcher, a noted cheese-maker. The hero, Jim, reveals the shocking fact that Fletcher uses Grade B milk in "He Knows Milk":

    "Folks, I was born down on a farm,
    There 'midst the corn—
    Far from all harm.
    I learned about cows and their ilk,
    And so, my friends, I know milk!"
    In the 1930 revised libretto, the product was changed from cheese to chocolate, but both needed milk.

  • Girl Crazy (1930, songs by the Gershwins, book by Guy Bolton, John McGowan)—Ira had occasion to write another cow lyric for this show which featured a New Yorker (Allen Kearns) out in Arizona, where the local gal (Ginger Rogers) explains in "Could You Use Me?" that western ways are different: "The birds would bore you, the cows won't know you." 1992's Crazy for You, which heavily rewrote the libretto and added other Gershwin tunes, kept "Could You Use Me?"

  • Face the Music (1932, songs by Irving Berlin, book by Moss Hart)—In this satire of government and police corruption, Broadway producer Hal Reisman is forced to hide out in the country. He sees a cow for the first time, and later tells his friends, "You gotta see one to believe it!"

  • Let's Face It(1941, songs by Cole Porter, book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields)—Porter loved name-dropping in his lyrics. In his list song, "Farming," Danny Kaye gives a rapid-fire chronicle of the luminaries building country homes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania:

    "They tell me cows who are feeling milky
    All give cream when they're milked by Willkie."

    "Miss Elsa Maxwell, so folks tattle,
    Got well-goosed while dehorning her cattle."

    "Don't inquire of Georgie Raft
    Why his cow has never calfed,
    Georgie's bull is beautiful, but he's gay!"

    The last is one of the first song lyrics using "gay" in its modern context.

  • Oklahoma! (1943, music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II)—Given the setting of 1907 Oklahoma, it's not surprising that this score is heavy with cattle references ("all the cattle are standin' like statues ... a little brown mav'rick is winkin' her eye," "carrots and pertaters, pasture for the cattle," but I want to focus on "The Farmer and the Cowman." At first glance, it seems like an excuse for a rousing chorus number ("One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, but that's no reason why they can't be friends"), but Hammerstein did his research. He learned that the antagonism between settlers and cowboys in Oklahoma territory went back decades, to the days of the open range in the 1870s and 1880s. Ranchers made use of public land for their herds, and used cowboys to drive the cattle to the railheads (Abilene, Wichita, and Dodge City were among the most important ones; Kansas City came later). Will Parker and Curly complain of how the arrival of more settlers contributed to the end of the open range:

    "He {the farmer} come out west and built a lot of fences,
    And built 'em right acrost our cattle ranges!"

    The invention of barbed wire in 1874 did make it easier for settlers to fence off their lands, but the main factor ending the open range was overgrazing. The available public land could not support the enormous herds of the late 1880s ranches, and the devastating winter of 1886-87 ruined many ranchers. In 1895, Oklahoma's territorial legislature closed the open range, so Will and Curly are essentially grumbling about nothing. In fact, that very barbed wire they hated led to improved breeding among herds, since the ranchers could better control which bulls had access to their cows. (Kind of like box socials ...) But minor historical quibbles aside, Hammerstein brilliantly used the conflict between the cowboys and the ranchers for dramatic effect.

  • Carousel (1945, Rodgers and Hammerstein)—In "Soliloquy," Billy wonders about his son's career possibilities: "He can haul a scow along a canal, run a cow around a corral."

  • Brigadoon (1947, music by Frederick Loewe, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner)—In the small Scottish village that only appears once every hundred years, Meg Brockie sells milk "Down on MacConnachy Square":

    "I'm sellin' a bit of milk an' cream,
    Come sip it and ye will vow
    That this is the finest milk an' cream
    Ever come out of cow.
    Though fine as it is, the price is small,
    With milk an' the cream, alack!
    There's nothin' to do but sell it all—
    The cow winna take it back."

  • Annie Get Your Gun (1950, music by Irving Berlin, book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields)—Act two opens with Annie and company traveling on a cattle boat.

  • Arms and the Girl (1950, music by Morton Gould, book and lyrics by Dorothy Fields)—In this show, set during the Revolutionary War, a Prussian mercenary considers the things that make up an ideal life, which include "A Cow and a Plough and a Frau." The show had no cows, but George Washington's horse did poop on stage.

  • Out of this World (1953, songs by Cole Porter, book by Dwight Taylor, Reginald Lawrence)—Porter was fond of lists, and often used zoological ones. Joan Greenwood as Juno laments "The bull is chasing the heifer, but nobody's chasing me." ("Nobody's Chasing Me")

  • Wonderful Town (1953, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, book by Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields)—You wouldn't think the quintessential New York show had cows in it, but Ruth and Eileen have this exchange after a flamboyantly dressed character passes by, scatting.

    Ruth: Who was that?
    Eileen: That's Speedy Valenti! He runs that advanced nightclub, the Village Vortex. He's a very interesting boy. He had a cow and studied dairy farming at Rutgers and then got into the nightclub business.
    Ruth: Naturally.

  • Damn Yankees (1955, songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop)—In demonstrating Shoeless Joe's bucolic origins and his mighty strength, we learn "he sneezed and blew away a calf." ("Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.")

  • Destry Rides Again (1959, songs by Harold Rome, book by Leonard Gershe)—Sheriff Tom Destry complains that he can always come up with a good answer "Tomorrow Morning," but "right here, somehow, I'm dumber than a cow."

  • 110 In the Shade (1963, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones, book by N. Richard Nash)—In the drought-stricken town of Three Point, Texas, Starbuck claims he can bring rain, and "There's dyin' cattle that'll rise right up and live!" ("The Rain Song")

  • Hello, Dolly! (1964, songs by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart)—Horace Vandergelder contemplates all the things "It Takes a Woman" to do, including, "weaning the Guernsey, cleaning the stable." I should note that Herman's earlier show, Milk and Honey, actually did have milking on stage (and not just for laughs!); the actors milked goats, not cows.

  • Fiddler on the Roof (1964, music by Jerome Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Joseph Stein)—Tevye is, of course, the most famous milkman in musical theatre history, and his herd is vital to the plot. Golde sends him to meet Lazar Wolf, who has told Yente the Matchmaker of his interest in their eldest daughter, Tzeitel. Tevye goes to see Lazar, but mistakenly thinks the butcher wants his best cow.

    Tevye: Why should I get rid of her?
    Lazar: Well, you have a few more without her.
    Tevye: I see! Today you want one. Tomorrow you may want two.
    Lazar: Two? What would I do with two?
    Tevye: The same as you do with one!

    Later, when Tevye asks Golde, "Do You Love Me?", she says she has:

    "Given you children, milked the cow.
    After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?"

    Obviously, since Tevye is the village's dairyman, he has more than one cow, but we'll let Sheldon Harnick use the singular for poetic license.

  • The Apple Tree (1966, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Bock, Harnick)—In the Garden of Eden, Eve seems to have a better grasp of nomenclature than Adam:

    Adam: Empty the four-pronged milk squirter.
    Eve: You mean the cow?

  • Mame (1966, songs by Jerry Herman, book-Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee)—When Mame loses her money, her pal Vera gets her a part in her show, perched on an hanging moon while Vera sings "The Man in the Moon":
    "The cow that jumped ovah
    Cried 'Jumpin' Jehovah,
    I think it's just one of the girls.'"

  • 1776 (1969, songs by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone)—It's not exactly cows, but Franklin and Dickinson exchange these jokes:

    Franklin: To call me one {an Englishman} without those rights is like calling an ox a bull—he's thankful for the honor, but he's much rather have restored what is rightfully his.
    Dickinson: When did you first notice they were missing, sir?

  • Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971, music by Galt MacDermot, lyrics by John Guare, book by Guare, Mel Shapiro)—Everybody ends with a happy ending here, even Proteus' comic servant Launce, who describes his new love, a "Milkmaid":

    Launce: "I met this milkmaid an hour ago
    And it finally happened to me."
    Milkmaid: "I know you're kinda busy tyin' up the plot
    But I thought I'd tell you just to add one more knot."

  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1973, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Tim Rice)—In "The Song of the King," Joseph interprets the Pharaoh's dream of seven fat cows and seven skinny cows as foretelling seven years of good crops, followed by seven years of famine.

  • Grease (1972, music, book, lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey)—At the dance, Johnny Casino sings of his own humble beginnings in "Born to Hand Jive": "I could barely walk when I milked a cow."

  • Shenandoah (1975, music by Gary Geld, lyrics by Peter Udell, book by Udell, James Lee Barrett, Philip Rose)—In "Meditation," Charlie contemplates at his wife's graveside how quickly their family grew. Martha had so many children that Charlie mused he was "thinkin' I should sleep with the cow, Martha! Yonder in the barn with the cow!"

  • Snoopy (1976, music by Larry Grossman, lyrics by Hal Hackady, book by Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw, Michael Grace)—In "Don't Be Anything Less Than Everything You Can Be," Charlie Brown notes, "Don't be the 'moo' if you can be the cow."

  • Blood Brothers (1983, book and songs by Willy Russell)—Mrs. Johnstone moves her family from the Liverpool slums to the more pleasant town of Skelmersdale. This comes with its own dangers, as she bellows at one son in "Bright New Day": "Sammy! Sammy! Get off that bleedin' cow before I kill you. That cow's a bull."

  • Rent (1996, book and songs by Jonathan Larson)—Maureen, in her memorable bit of performance art, gives us the tale of Elsie the Cow in Cyberland ("Over the Moon"). Elsie encourages Maureen to climb on her back, take a leap of faith, and jump over the moon, breaking free of restrictions and rules. At the finale, Maureen encourages the audience to moo with her.

  • A New Brain (1998, songs by William Finn, book by James Lapine)—Rhoda relates how strange things happen "Whenever I Dream": "I write about how I'm a cow, then I become my cousin Audrey."

  • The Color Purple(2005, songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray, book by Marsha Norman)—Pa sells Celie to Mister, throwing in a cow for good measure. In "Big Dog," Mister orders "Nettie, go milk that cow," and also brags about the size of his herd.

  • Young Frankenstein (2007, songs by Mel Brooks, book by Brooks, Thomas Meehan)—Frau Blücher confesses about her lover, the elder Dr. Frankenstein that "he plowed me until the cows came home." ("He Vas My Boyfriend")

The phrase "Holy Cow!" has been used many times by musical characters, most famously by Charity Hope Valentine, but also by Annie, the chorus of Little Shop of Horrors, Leaf Coneybear, the birds in A Year with Frog and Toad, the chorus of Robbin' Hood (the musical within Curtains), and Alvin in The Story of My Life. And Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray tells her mom, "If I get a hickey, don't have a cow" ("Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now").

I suspect I've milked this subject for all it's worth, and then some. If you weren't udderly appalled, join me next time in the Great White Wayback Machine as we tour the Musical History Museum, and see if you can determine the provenance of each exhibit.






Terms of Service

[ © 1997 - 2014 www.TalkinBroadway.com, Inc. ]