One of the Invisible Professions on Screen

It occurred to me recently that some jobs are woefully under-represented in movies. As you can see below, this unscientific pie chart that sprang from my brow is meant to represent how the world of work seems to break down in classic movies, at least to me. I suspect that many of us–at least in classic movie terms, might fall into that netherworld of 2%, marked “Other.”

I’ve probably forgotten some jobs in my “for entertainment purposes only” schematic that you might feel are germane to any discussion of classic movies or what is laughingly known as “the real world”. I hope that you’ll let me know some that ought to be there, as I briefly discuss one profession that deserves a better rap in classic and more recent movies. It seems that if you used classic movies as a yardstick, policemen, reporters, gangsters, doctors, lawyers and cowboys are occupations simply teeming with the really important activity in the movies.

While pondering the dearth of many real world jobs depicted on film, those that seemingly don’t exist, and the amusing (if not entirely accurate) stereotypes that are shown in many jobs; I realized that all grocers must be played with a spurious Italian accent, and usually by J. Carroll Naish; restaurateurs are usually Viennese, and gemütlich, as portrayed by scene-stealer S.J. Sakall, though an occasional waiter, (played nimbly by Fritz Feld) may condescend to serve you; and most bartenders are very stagey Irish-Americans, often personified by a triumvirate of William Bendix, William Frawley or Irving Bacon, depending on who the casting office might have tracked down that day.

This rumination on work in the movies began while I was reading the new memoir, Quiet Please, (Da Capo Press). The author offers a look at the experiences of a young, male, very contemporary librarian named Scott Douglas from the other side of the reference desk. As he struggled with the issues of his demanding profession, his wry comments on his life as a librarian working in a neighborhood branch in Anaheim, CA enliven the often laugh-out-loud funny illustrations of his job description, which are also sometimes quite moving and worrisome. His mordant descriptions include coping with confusing bouts of self-doubt, bureaucracies, the changing needs of communities, a lack of funding, and, as anyone who’s ever worked directly with the public can attest, the sometimes more than slightly demented and surprisingly needy clients and co-workers. Since I love libraries, and the people who keep them alive, here’s a few library moments on film that I’d like to share.

One amusing section of the book concerned the fact that Douglas felt that there was a serious dearth of librarians as role models in the movies. Sure, to the average person, “Marian the Librarian” in The Music Man (1964) may be the quintessential movie librarian, (seen at right as Shirley Jones played her, escaping the stale confines of her River City library with her spirit’s liberator, Robert Preston). You know the type, frosty on the outside, potentially a molten hottie and closet romantic on the inside, all the while that “Prof. Harold Hill” is hoping she’s really that “sadder but wiser girl” he’s hoping to find in the hinterlands of Iowa during his travels. Of course, other than shushing people and looking as though she just smelled some overripe fish, Marian on the job doesn’t seem particularly jolly or interested in promoting literacy. After she gets into a dispute with the mayor’s wife for allowing her daughter to peruse an alleged “smutty book” like the racy The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam, things begin to change for Marian. Eventually she not only refuses to ban certain books, but she even goes so far as to deface library property to protect that rascal, Robert Preston. Not a great role model as a librarian, eh?

Except for Noah Wyle‘s three made-for-tv excursions as…(dramatic pause)…the nebbishy but dashing “Flynn Carsen” in The Librarian movies, there do seem to be paltry few positive images of librarians in the movies, especially for males. There was a deeply humane male figure of a librarian (Jason Robards, Jr.) as the guardian of light over darkness in Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). This sometimes hypnotic blend of imagined and real horrors that come to a bucolic Illinois town in October in the form of an unusual carnival, is memorably led by a compellingly malevolent Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce).

A step off the beaten path of recent Disney movies of that period celebrating love bugs, darn cats and the cheery world of tomorrowland, this dark film was adapted from a deeply felt 1962 novel and a screenplay by the masterful Ray Bradbury, (who provided a commentary track on the laserdisc of this film, but unfortunately, not on the current dvd. Bradbury, as most know, also wrote one of the most famous stories about the absence of libraries from the world, Fahrenheit 451 was later filmed in 1966 by Truffaut). This more adult-oriented film does best, I think, when it concentrates on the efforts of the uncertain Robards to be a worthy father and a good librarian, even though he feels vulnerable and filled with trepidation about the world outside his repository of knowledge. When Robards‘s son in the film, Will Halloway, (endearingly bespectacled Vidal Peterson), and his best friend Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) find out more than they wanted to know one night while spying on the mysterious carnival denizens, a confrontation between Pryce and Robards is inevitable. It takes place, appropriately enough, in the stacks of the library in a magical scene in which Robards‘ mortality is brought home to him in a unique fashion as Pryce rips pages from a book, (an act of wanton library vandalism on a par that is one step up from writing notes in the margins). Though I recommend reading the book before the movie, (since Bradbury‘s scenario seems to suffer from having had many fingers in the pie), the rich cinematography of Stephen Burum in blazing Autumn, with beautifully detailed 1930s America touches, and Robards‘ singular, rueful presence gives this library-themed story great resonance and a worthy male hero.

Still, that 1983 movie may seem like ancient history to modern library science students. Think about it. How many cool librarians do you recall from the movies? There was that segment of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) when Jimmy Stewart finds that without his love to nurture her, Donna Reed has turned into a human raisin, becoming an old maid scared of her own shadow, who doesn’t recognize Jimmy when he approaches her as she locks up the library. Her reaction is so extreme, a near riot breaks out as Donna raises an alarm about the “masher” who has accosted her.

Library Science teacher Ann Robinson pausing for a reflective smoke with Gene Barry before the destruction of the human race proceeds in War of the Worlds (1953).

Even science fiction in the form of War of the Worlds (1953), doesn’t cut librarians much slack or endow them with too many smarts. Leading lady Ann Robinson, playing a library science teacher named Sylvia Van Buren (great librarian name!), spends most of the movie shrieking and losing her composure while Gene Barry, (looking very bright and fetching in his horn rims, as shown at left), keeps trying to figure out some way to put the kibosh on those pesky aliens, (that is, in between pitching woo Miss Robinson‘s way). I don’t think the librarian in her ever voices any concern about trying to preserve thousands of years of human knowledge that is rapidly being incinerated by the invaders, (along with a billion or so earthlings).

Of course, Sylvia the Librarian does show some skill driving a truck in a pinch. I guess she must’ve had a few minutes to peruse the Truck Driver’s Manual back when things were slow at Library School. This fast-paced, entertainingly scary 85 minute movie doesn’t give her or the audience much time to reflect on what’s being lost in this clash of species, though thank goodness, Sylvia Van Buren is one of the survivors who can start cataloging once again among the debris of civilization.

The clichéd view of librarians as repressed, rigid old biddies is reinforced by Hitchcock in one of his best American movies, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Teresa Wright‘s character is turned away by an officious, bun-wearing librarian, because she’s arrived a bit late to do research at her small town library. As a guardian of culture and information in the small, idyllic town of Santa Rosa, the cranky librarian (Eily Malyon) reinforces the underlying restrictive feeling that permeates the superficial peace of this movie, even though the old bat grants Young Charlie (Wright) a few minutes access, (after she endures one more lecture). Interestingly, Hitchcock is said to have been parodying Thornton Wilder‘s already classic play of small time life, Our Town, by giving the prim, officious librarian the name of “Miss Cochran”, a reference to a minor character’s name in that play.

Occasionally, the movies redeemed themselves a tad by softening the persnickety image of librarians. In Clarence Brown‘s interpretation of William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy (1943), there is a lovely scene in the admittedly sentimental movie in which the “worldly” Darryl Hickman and Jackie “Butch” Jenkins* , filled with awe, explore their local library. Unlike in so many other movies, the librarian, (Adeline De Walt Reynolds) tries to help the two lonely little boys who wander into the cool, dark stacks of their idyllic town’s library, filled with an inarticulate reverence for the words and stories found there. Coming across the barely literate older boy (Darryl Hickman) and the easily confused younger one, (Butch), the librarian lets them know the rules, but doesn’t try to crush the wonder and awe the naïve youngsters have for the library. She does point out that the books in the children’s section might be of more interest to them, (though actually reading something doesn’t seem to be the point, alas).

In the world of camp cinema brought to us by producer Ross Hunter and Douglas Sirk, there are also some references in the 1959 remake of Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life to working in a library. Susan Kohner, playing the light-skinned daughter of African American Juanita Moore in this glitzy version of the story, tells her mother that she, uh, works nights, in…a, uh, “respectable” job cataloging books. The filmmakers’ concept of a library in the ’50s remake seems a bit confused. Not only does Ms. Kohner, (whose heartfelt performance helped elevate this 1959 soap opera), tell Mom that she’s working at what appears to be an “all-night” library nights parking books on shelves, but when we catch a glimpse of this temple of learning, it is teeming with productive nerds at midnight, none of whom act as though they know the whereabouts of Moore‘s daughter, who is down the street shaking her (ahem) moneymaker in a strip club! It’s almost as though the people who made this movie see poor Susan’s character as having only two choices in life, spinsterhood in a pink collar profession surrounded by drones and eunuchs, or being a bimbo doffing her glad rags while emotionally turning her back on her mother and her heritage. Hmmm…I must try to suspend my disbelief more effectively next time I snuggle in for a viewing of this “classic.”

My favorite villainess in library-themed stories on film is truly a very guilty pleasure. In another movie that borders, nay, soundly treads on the border, between camp and cinema, in Return to Peyton Place (1961).

Taking off where Grace Metalious‘ lurid novel left off, the filmmakers recast all the original actors for this sequel, retaining only the Franz Waxman music and the hint of hidden sleaze. This version, directed by Jose Ferrer in a bad career move, starred the sullen yet sexy Carol Lynley as Allison, the budding authoress of a steamy roman à clef about her New England hometown. While Allison enjoys the bright glare of publicity accompanying the publication and the attentions of her married but hunky publisher (Jeff Chandler) in New York City, Mom (a heavy breathing Eleanor Parker, replacing Lana Turner in the overwrought role), and her husband, the school principal Mike Rossi (perennial “nice guy” Robert Sterling), must contend with the brouhaha that ensues back in podunkville as a result of the scandalous book. Leading the pack of outraged citizens is Mary Astor herself, (a lady who knew something about scandal first hand, thanks to some events in her not too private life during a divorce in the thirties).

Anti-smut advocate Mary Astor, apparently allowing Tuesday Weld & Eleanor Parker to touch the hem of her garment in Return to Peyton Place (1961).

Mary Astor, Tuesday Weld & Eleanor Parker in Return to Peyton Place (1961).

In an absolutely superb turn as a queen bee of this burg who refuses to allow such “smut” as Allison’s tome to be placed on the shelves of the Peyton Place school library, she deigns to lead the charge against the encroachment of reality and those “people from away.” Imperious and seemingly without a moment of self-doubt, Astor‘s character, as the “Friend of the Library” from hell, presides over the best scene in this turkey, a classic New England Town Meeting, complete with lifelong residents, lively democratic exchanges and just a few hints that the attendees might have had a few convivial snorts before the proceedings. Though little attention is focused on actual academic librarians in this scene, Sterling, Lynley, outsider Chandler and even outcast Tuesday Weld, of all people, form an impromptu tag team rising to the defense of free speech and darling Allison’s seamy stroll through Peyton Place’s scandals. Despite the indefensibility of the autocratic character’s stance as she spouts off about “slippery slopes” and “precedents”, Ms. Astor, remarkably, is able to be the most sympathetic person in the scene, since she seems so crestfallen and suddenly human as she tries to leave the meeting with her dignity, her somewhat fascistic yet prescient comments still hanging in the air. Maybe it was a good day in Peyton Place for free speech, but it was a better day for aging character actresses who knew their stuff–even if she was only fourth billed.

Adventure (1945): Greer Garson, Tom Tully, John Qualen, Richard Haydn, Clark Gable, Joan Blondell and Thomas Mitchell.

While most librarians are portrayed as rather stuffy, repressed types, hellbent on enforcing the rules and naive about the real world, one of my favorite librarians on film, believe it or not, is Joan Blondell. The movie Adventure (1945), an MGM feature directed by Victor Fleming, is probably best remembered as the vehicle in which the newly returned veteran who was also the “king of movies”, Clark Gable, teamed with the elegant Greer Garson, (even though Gable was said to dislike his leading lady). Garson, who is crisply charming as a librarian irked to have two drunken sailors (Gable and Thomas Mitchell) invade her sanctum sanctorum to ask after the whereabouts of Mr. Mitchell‘s soul, bravely follows the dictates of the sometimes fey, sometimes plodding yet occasionally lyrical script. Thank goodness for Joan Blondell, who shows up as a fellow librarian who knows her stuff, but is always ready for a good time as well.

While Hollywood star power dictated that Gable and Garson be fated to marry, Ms. Blondell‘s genuine sweetness and conviviality–not to mention those saucer-sized blue eyes and curves, make her a much more logical choice for Clark’s spouse than the role of “gal pal to the heroine”. Some observers, myself included, feel much more of a current running from Joan Blondell to Clark Gable, especially in the scenes when she appreciatively takes in his appealing form at the library and snuggles up to him at a nearby bar, where they both go to work trying to chip the ice off Greer‘s personality.

Clark Gable & Carole Lombard, looking for love in the stacks, and finding the Legion of Decency.

Of course, Gable may not have been enthused about this film project for another reason. He’d previously trawled the library for another girl earlier in his screen career, as a con man who met a beauteous small town librarian, (and real life future wife) Carole Lombard in the Wesley Ruggles’ movie, No Man of Her Own (1932). I haven’t seen this movie in a very long time, but I don’t recall anything all that daring in it. Reportedly, the pre-code frolicking on screen between the pair helped to give impetus to the formation of the National Legion of Decency. This Catholic Bishop’s and Laymen group tried to let people know about near occasions of sin on screen for the next forty years–despite the fact, that in true Hollywood fashion, the movie in question–after showing audiences all the fascinating sin, the con man is reformed by love. Oddly, off screen, neither Gable nor Lombard seem to have had made any sparks fly at that stage.

Even though her salty tongue became a bit more honest 13 years later and her figure had bloomed a bit more, in Desk Set (1957), a slightly anemic Tracy-Hepburn vehicle about a team of crack research librarians at a major magazine (such as Time, Inc.) being threatened by a computer, it is once again Joan Blondell who catches the eye. While I am a great fan of Katharine Hepburn‘s style and some of her acting, every time I’ve watched the rather somnolent Spencer Tracy in this film, I find myself wondering why he can’t look sassy Joanie‘s way too.

Both ladies are very bright, very funny, and good company. Blondell, “a sadder but wiser girl” if ever there was one, also doesn’t seem to have as many illusions as Hepburn still harbors as she gently fends off her unimaginative suitor, Gig Young.

Despite the often trite, and dismissive way that movies sometimes sought to treat libraries and librarians, a few films address real life issues facing libraries in a non-stereotyped way. One of the best and least seen is Storm Center (1956), directed by Daniel Taradash for Columbia.

UPDATE: Storm Center is scheduled on TCM on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008 at 7:30AM ET.

Starring Bette Davis**, whose career at the time was in a serious downturn, it addressed the place of the public library in the life of the community, even when that community is uncomfortable with the ideas fostered by an institution. The story of Storm Center was written by Taradash and Elick Moll in 1951 at the height of the period when McCarthyism and such off-shoots as the publication, Red Channels sought to suppress politically unpopular material in the arts, especially movies. When the completed film of Storm Center was shown to the American Library Association in 1956, most of the responses were positive, many commenting that Bette Davis‘ movie might “encourage people to look at librarians in a new light after viewing it”. Still unavailable commercially on dvd or vhs, and rarely broadcast, this finely made film, beginning with a vivid Saul Bass sequence showing books burning under the main credits and featuring a subtle George Duning score, might just be the best library movie–ever.

Davis played an intelligent, hard-working woman, (neither too dowdy, repressed nor a radical–though she does sport a bun, and likes things “just so”), who has worked quietly as a librarian for 25 years in a small town. Her greatest hope is to add a children’s wing to her library, and her care for the minds of the people she serves is embodied in her relationship with a troubled boy, (Kevin Coughlin), whose apparent only solace from a disastrous home life, complete with proudly anti-intellectual father (Joe Mantell), is found inside the walls of the library, where Davis takes the time to encourage his curiosity. Despite her years of service, Davis‘ character finds herself ostracized by her community when she uncharacteristically refuses to remove a book from the library shelves called The Communist Dream. While fellow librarian Kim Hunter quavers in her support of the ideals of her soon former co-worker, others attempt to help Davis. Among the friends put to a test by the principles in this movie are the excellent, under-appreciated Brian Keith. Miss Davis, who gave one of her best late career performances in this movie, (just before making The Catered Affair, which also featured a good, restrained performance from the actress), is aided most of all by screen veteran Paul Kelly, whose fine, nuanced portrayal of a judge, in one of his last performances, creates an unforgettable, conflicted character. The film, which culminates in a fire that finally restores the town to some sort of sanity after the storm of controversy over books in the library, has a message, certainly, but one that avoids being simplistically presented. I hope that someday this movie might emerge from whatever vault it is languishing in unseen. The issues it deals with so intelligently are still relevant in a post September 11th world.

While I’ve enjoyed exploring the funny stereotypes associated with American popular movies, I can’t possibly encompass them all here. I hope that if you’re aware of other, librarian-themed movies to ponder and be amused by here, you’ll add them to our list. See you at the library.

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* Sometimes I think that Jackie “Butch” Jenkins‘ sole presence in a movie was to make 98% of the kids in the audience feel superior in their grasp of the world around them. In The Human Comedy, his first film, Mr. Jenkins (1937-2001), who, fortunately had his childhood savings invested wisely for him, allowing him his dignity and some material comfort later in life, gives the film some wonderful moments, notably, with Darryl Hickman in the library, and in the scene when he becomes fascinated with a “mechanical man” in a window display. No one could play a mixture of naïveté and stubbornness like Jenkins.

**Originally optioned by Stanley Kramer, actresses Irene Dunne & Mary Pickford were tested for the librarian role in 1952. Miss Pickford, whose appearance in Storm Center would have been a major comeback for the silent film star, is reported by some sources as having backed out of the film just before filming at Columbia began, handing Davis another plum role.

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Sources:
Arant, Wendi & Benefiel, Candace R.,
The Image and Role of the Librarian, Haworth Press, 2003.
Chandler, Charlotte,
The Girl Who Walked Home Alone, Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Douglas, Scott,
Quiet, Please, Da Capo Press, 2008.
Kennedy, Matthew,
Edmund Goulding’s Dark Victory, Terrace Books, 2004.
Loukides, Paul, Fuller, Linda K.,
Beyond the Stars: Themes and Ideologies in American Popular Film, Popular Press, 1996.

58 Responses One of the Invisible Professions on Screen
Posted By bbboston : July 9, 2008 11:12 pm

Nice synopsis of librarians in the movies, Moira. We all remember the look of chill from behind the desk as we giggled our way through the stacks. Even before film made it so we knew the requirements of that job. Though as you pointed out it sometimes required the ability to drive a truck and wield a torch for justice.
Also I would add soldiers to your work pie. Many a movie was made of that noble profession. And almosy all those boys seemed to be making a career
of the infantry.

Posted By bbboston : July 9, 2008 11:12 pm

Nice synopsis of librarians in the movies, Moira. We all remember the look of chill from behind the desk as we giggled our way through the stacks. Even before film made it so we knew the requirements of that job. Though as you pointed out it sometimes required the ability to drive a truck and wield a torch for justice.
Also I would add soldiers to your work pie. Many a movie was made of that noble profession. And almosy all those boys seemed to be making a career
of the infantry.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 10, 2008 2:22 am

I haven’t seen it in years but wasn’t Goodbye Columbus about a sensitive librarian, Richard Benjamin, interacting with a young man curious about art?

Posted By Al Lowe : July 10, 2008 2:22 am

I haven’t seen it in years but wasn’t Goodbye Columbus about a sensitive librarian, Richard Benjamin, interacting with a young man curious about art?

Posted By moirafinnie : July 10, 2008 9:00 am

Thanks for the kind words, bbboston!

Hi Al,
I believe that Goodbye, Columbus does concern Richard Benjamin, boy librarian, trying to find a way to impress rich, Radcliffe girl, Ali McGraw. My primary memory of that movie is, however, the great Jack Klugman as a believable everyman and father of McGraw. He always brought a breath of fresh air into any movie. I’ll have to check it out again. Thanks for the heads up.

Posted By moirafinnie : July 10, 2008 9:00 am

Thanks for the kind words, bbboston!

Hi Al,
I believe that Goodbye, Columbus does concern Richard Benjamin, boy librarian, trying to find a way to impress rich, Radcliffe girl, Ali McGraw. My primary memory of that movie is, however, the great Jack Klugman as a believable everyman and father of McGraw. He always brought a breath of fresh air into any movie. I’ll have to check it out again. Thanks for the heads up.

Posted By Medusa : July 10, 2008 9:46 am

I love your diagram, Moira! I wish I were in the “madcap heiress” category but alas I seem to be in that “other”! Man, can’t honestly even call myself a lovable drunk…or a floozy! Damn! Boring!!

Thinking of librarians, I’ll chime in with movie to TV crossover “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in which at least the TV version had the very central Mr. Giles school librarian played by Anthony Head as Buffy’s go-to guy and mentor. Certainly the coolest librarian of any on the list!

Posted By Medusa : July 10, 2008 9:46 am

I love your diagram, Moira! I wish I were in the “madcap heiress” category but alas I seem to be in that “other”! Man, can’t honestly even call myself a lovable drunk…or a floozy! Damn! Boring!!

Thinking of librarians, I’ll chime in with movie to TV crossover “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in which at least the TV version had the very central Mr. Giles school librarian played by Anthony Head as Buffy’s go-to guy and mentor. Certainly the coolest librarian of any on the list!

Posted By john august smith : July 10, 2008 10:42 am

Enjoyed your pie presentation. I disagree with cowboy percentage, it should be higher. As you know the western is the only “art” form invented in America.Certainly monsters (frankenstein, dracula, mummy, wolf man, etc deserve 1-2 percent.

Posted By john august smith : July 10, 2008 10:42 am

Enjoyed your pie presentation. I disagree with cowboy percentage, it should be higher. As you know the western is the only “art” form invented in America.Certainly monsters (frankenstein, dracula, mummy, wolf man, etc deserve 1-2 percent.

Posted By moirafinnie : July 10, 2008 12:25 pm

Hi Medusa,
Don’t we all wish we could be in that Madcap Heiress category just once? And then, of course, in true Hollywood movie formula, we’d each learn over the course of a movie, that “true happiness” lies, not in drinking champagne, using men like kleenex, attending Broadway openings in Rolls Royces and jumping in and out of fountains while swathed in something soignée by Chanel and glittering from Tiffany’s, but in being the “little woman”, whose whole world centers around the sound of his step and his turning of the front doorknob, to find us waiting there for him; hopefully with a martini to offer him from our lily-white hand—though I’m never sure how they stay lily-white after cleaning, cooking, ironing and giving birth conveniently off camera.

Though I have never seen it, I have heard that the dreamy, and cool, librarian on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pretty nifty as played by British actor, Anthony Head. Wasn’t he the guy who made a splash in those “racy” Folgers coffee commercials around 15 years ago?.

Hi John,
I’m so glad that you enjoyed my visual accompaniment to this blog. I too almost made the Cowboy percentage larger, but, as you pointed out, maybe it should have been greater, since so much celluloid has been devoted to the riders of the purple sage over the decades. Monsters really do deserve more recognition among the working folk in classic movies, along with Sidekicks, don’t you think? Many thanks for the suggestion. Next time the Dept. of Labor, Morlocks Division, asks me for a more precise breakdown of jobs in the cinematic world, I’ll calculate those guys too!

Posted By moirafinnie : July 10, 2008 12:25 pm

Hi Medusa,
Don’t we all wish we could be in that Madcap Heiress category just once? And then, of course, in true Hollywood movie formula, we’d each learn over the course of a movie, that “true happiness” lies, not in drinking champagne, using men like kleenex, attending Broadway openings in Rolls Royces and jumping in and out of fountains while swathed in something soignée by Chanel and glittering from Tiffany’s, but in being the “little woman”, whose whole world centers around the sound of his step and his turning of the front doorknob, to find us waiting there for him; hopefully with a martini to offer him from our lily-white hand—though I’m never sure how they stay lily-white after cleaning, cooking, ironing and giving birth conveniently off camera.

Though I have never seen it, I have heard that the dreamy, and cool, librarian on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pretty nifty as played by British actor, Anthony Head. Wasn’t he the guy who made a splash in those “racy” Folgers coffee commercials around 15 years ago?.

Hi John,
I’m so glad that you enjoyed my visual accompaniment to this blog. I too almost made the Cowboy percentage larger, but, as you pointed out, maybe it should have been greater, since so much celluloid has been devoted to the riders of the purple sage over the decades. Monsters really do deserve more recognition among the working folk in classic movies, along with Sidekicks, don’t you think? Many thanks for the suggestion. Next time the Dept. of Labor, Morlocks Division, asks me for a more precise breakdown of jobs in the cinematic world, I’ll calculate those guys too!

Posted By Cool Bev : July 10, 2008 3:12 pm

Wasn’t Robert Redford a CIA librarian in “Three Days of the Condor”? Maybe just a researcher…

Posted By Cool Bev : July 10, 2008 3:12 pm

Wasn’t Robert Redford a CIA librarian in “Three Days of the Condor”? Maybe just a researcher…

Posted By Medusa : July 10, 2008 5:19 pm

Moira –

In terms of a tamed Madcap Heiress — I think I’d rather end up an Ancient Nanny! :-) And yes, Anthony Head did first make an impression over here in those coffee commercials, and of course he’s had a great career in Britain. Especially good in the series “Manchild” which was adapted over here as something…wasn’t good…but the Brit version is sly and silly but so well done.

Posted By Medusa : July 10, 2008 5:19 pm

Moira –

In terms of a tamed Madcap Heiress — I think I’d rather end up an Ancient Nanny! :-) And yes, Anthony Head did first make an impression over here in those coffee commercials, and of course he’s had a great career in Britain. Especially good in the series “Manchild” which was adapted over here as something…wasn’t good…but the Brit version is sly and silly but so well done.

Posted By Jenni, St. Louis : July 11, 2008 2:00 pm

Enjoyed the pie chart, but you left out teachers! Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the teacher played by Bette Davis in The Corn is Green, Sidney Poitier in To Sir,With Love, Glenn Ford dealing with juvenile delinquets in an inner city NY school in The Blackboard Jungle, Jennifer Jones as Miss Dove. As a former teacher, I had to mention my profession.

Posted By Jenni, St. Louis : July 11, 2008 2:00 pm

Enjoyed the pie chart, but you left out teachers! Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the teacher played by Bette Davis in The Corn is Green, Sidney Poitier in To Sir,With Love, Glenn Ford dealing with juvenile delinquets in an inner city NY school in The Blackboard Jungle, Jennifer Jones as Miss Dove. As a former teacher, I had to mention my profession.

Posted By moirafinnie : July 11, 2008 2:35 pm

Oh, Jenni,
Teachers would definitely be among the 2% in the Other, alas. In classic movie terms, the incredibly vital work of teachers may often have been Oscar bait, but among the most invisible, least glamorous of professions as far they were concerned–though I too, remember the performances you’ve named with affection. I’d like to add some slightly off kilter teachers to your roll of honor of teachers in the movies:

There are, among others, John Barrymore‘s seemingly simple French instructor, finding out how the world really works outside his classroom in Topaze (1933), the restless chemistry teacher played by Claude Rains in White Banners (1938), the troubled, beautifully played teacher brought to life by Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version (1950), the breakthrough work of Anne Bancroft‘s inspiring Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker (1962), the accomplished Maggie Smith‘s autocratic, but unforgettable girl’s school teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), the lost soul of Alan Bates‘ brilliant, self-destructive college instructor in Butley (1974) and Jon Voight‘s work as the teacher of the island children in Pat Conroy’s own story in Conrack (1974).

For truly bad teachers (yes, they too exist, unfortunately), I’d probably have to name Morton Lowry as Mr. Jonas, the supercilious, class-conscious teacher in How Green Was My Valley (1941) and the puritanical martinet in The Happy Time (1952) played very well by an actor whose name escapes me. It was great seeing them get their comeuppance in a movie!

Thank you very much for adding to the neglected 2%! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the blog.

Posted By moirafinnie : July 11, 2008 2:35 pm

Oh, Jenni,
Teachers would definitely be among the 2% in the Other, alas. In classic movie terms, the incredibly vital work of teachers may often have been Oscar bait, but among the most invisible, least glamorous of professions as far they were concerned–though I too, remember the performances you’ve named with affection. I’d like to add some slightly off kilter teachers to your roll of honor of teachers in the movies:

There are, among others, John Barrymore‘s seemingly simple French instructor, finding out how the world really works outside his classroom in Topaze (1933), the restless chemistry teacher played by Claude Rains in White Banners (1938), the troubled, beautifully played teacher brought to life by Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version (1950), the breakthrough work of Anne Bancroft‘s inspiring Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker (1962), the accomplished Maggie Smith‘s autocratic, but unforgettable girl’s school teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), the lost soul of Alan Bates‘ brilliant, self-destructive college instructor in Butley (1974) and Jon Voight‘s work as the teacher of the island children in Pat Conroy’s own story in Conrack (1974).

For truly bad teachers (yes, they too exist, unfortunately), I’d probably have to name Morton Lowry as Mr. Jonas, the supercilious, class-conscious teacher in How Green Was My Valley (1941) and the puritanical martinet in The Happy Time (1952) played very well by an actor whose name escapes me. It was great seeing them get their comeuppance in a movie!

Thank you very much for adding to the neglected 2%! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the blog.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 12, 2008 12:32 am

Yes, the main plot is about Benjamin and McGraw.

A subplot of “Goodbye Columbus” has Benjamin reacting to a little Black boy who comes into his library every day and looks at the pictures in a book of art. This was also part of the Philip Roth novella the movie was based on.

I haven’t seen the movie in years. But I have the tape – and many, many, many more.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 12, 2008 12:32 am

Yes, the main plot is about Benjamin and McGraw.

A subplot of “Goodbye Columbus” has Benjamin reacting to a little Black boy who comes into his library every day and looks at the pictures in a book of art. This was also part of the Philip Roth novella the movie was based on.

I haven’t seen the movie in years. But I have the tape – and many, many, many more.

Posted By Michael M : July 14, 2008 11:09 am

Hi

Rachel Weiss played a librarian in The Mummy.

MPM

Posted By Michael M : July 14, 2008 11:09 am

Hi

Rachel Weiss played a librarian in The Mummy.

MPM

Posted By Vincent : July 15, 2008 2:47 am

“No Man Of Her Own” had a racy scene or two, including one where librarian Carole climbs a ladder to shelve a book and Clark ogles her legs from below, but in pre-Code terms that was nothing to write home about. Perhaps the raciest Lombard got in film was in “Bolero,” issued in the spring of 1934, where her character — seeking a dancing job — strips down to lingerie and stockings to audition for George Raft. You couldn’t see that on screen six months later!

And how about the portrayal of college students? In films and TV, Ivy Leaguers are so disproportionately frequent that you’d think Harvard and Princeton have larger student populations than UCLA or Ohio State.

Posted By Vincent : July 15, 2008 2:47 am

“No Man Of Her Own” had a racy scene or two, including one where librarian Carole climbs a ladder to shelve a book and Clark ogles her legs from below, but in pre-Code terms that was nothing to write home about. Perhaps the raciest Lombard got in film was in “Bolero,” issued in the spring of 1934, where her character — seeking a dancing job — strips down to lingerie and stockings to audition for George Raft. You couldn’t see that on screen six months later!

And how about the portrayal of college students? In films and TV, Ivy Leaguers are so disproportionately frequent that you’d think Harvard and Princeton have larger student populations than UCLA or Ohio State.

Posted By Tess : July 15, 2008 5:26 pm

Hey, what about Christopher Lloyd in The Pagemaster? Of course, he was only in the movie for a short time at the beginning and the end, but he showed that the library can be a pretty cool place. Besides, he broke his own rule, and allowed the Mcauley Culkin character to take out 3 books, rather than 2. And, he was kind of a wizard, of sorts. I guess being a librarina can be a little magical at times! ;)

Posted By Tess : July 15, 2008 5:26 pm

Hey, what about Christopher Lloyd in The Pagemaster? Of course, he was only in the movie for a short time at the beginning and the end, but he showed that the library can be a pretty cool place. Besides, he broke his own rule, and allowed the Mcauley Culkin character to take out 3 books, rather than 2. And, he was kind of a wizard, of sorts. I guess being a librarina can be a little magical at times! ;)

Posted By Tess : July 15, 2008 5:29 pm

Oops, I meant librarian in that last sentence! Speaking of magic, wouldn’t witches, sorcerers and other magical folk, get a piece of the graph?

Posted By Tess : July 15, 2008 5:29 pm

Oops, I meant librarian in that last sentence! Speaking of magic, wouldn’t witches, sorcerers and other magical folk, get a piece of the graph?

Posted By Mari (Quite Contrary) : July 16, 2008 8:01 pm

Hardly a classic (except perhaps among librarians), but if modern internet-to-DVD films count, the Parker Posey role in Party Girl (1995) should at least be mentioned!
Parker Posey plays a die-hard party girl who gets job in a library. She thinks the work is stupid, but fortunately her godmother is a librarian who helps to set her straight. Mostly.
Of course, if raciness (or lack thereof) is a criteria for consideration, it should be emphasized that this is a 1990s film about a young woman who parties too much. A certain degree of raciness applies automatically.

Posted By Mari (Quite Contrary) : July 16, 2008 8:01 pm

Hardly a classic (except perhaps among librarians), but if modern internet-to-DVD films count, the Parker Posey role in Party Girl (1995) should at least be mentioned!
Parker Posey plays a die-hard party girl who gets job in a library. She thinks the work is stupid, but fortunately her godmother is a librarian who helps to set her straight. Mostly.
Of course, if raciness (or lack thereof) is a criteria for consideration, it should be emphasized that this is a 1990s film about a young woman who parties too much. A certain degree of raciness applies automatically.

Posted By moirafinnie : July 17, 2008 7:48 am

Hey Al, Michael, Vincent, Tess, and Mari,
Thanks for the reminders of all those librarian moments in films, especially those describing the modern film era heroes and heroines looking at the stereotype through contemporary eyes, (and, one hopes, sometimes a more realistic characterization). Since I was primarily looking at the way films that might be described as “classic” and reflective of the studio era saw “information scientists”, I pretty much chose to stick to those films for the main part of this article. I thought that the flawed but interesting Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) ought to be included because of the quality of Bradbury‘s story and depiction of libraries, Robards‘ performance, and the hairpin turn for Disney that this movie represented in that studio’s history.

Btw, Vincent,
I do recall that scene on the ladder that you describe in the library in No Man of Her Own (1932). Interestingly–and perhaps this quality was as disturbing to the PCA and Legion of Decency as the innuendo in the movie–Lombard‘s feisty librarian, while not immune to the youthful charms of Gable, ignored the disdain of her co-workers, to become involved with him. However, over the course of the movie, it was she who really kept the con man in line throughout the film, and, by the climax, he’d learned to appreciate it and respect her brains as well as her beauty. Now that was an affront to public decency–at least then.

Thanks very much for all your responses.
Appreciatively,
Moira

Posted By moirafinnie : July 17, 2008 7:48 am

Hey Al, Michael, Vincent, Tess, and Mari,
Thanks for the reminders of all those librarian moments in films, especially those describing the modern film era heroes and heroines looking at the stereotype through contemporary eyes, (and, one hopes, sometimes a more realistic characterization). Since I was primarily looking at the way films that might be described as “classic” and reflective of the studio era saw “information scientists”, I pretty much chose to stick to those films for the main part of this article. I thought that the flawed but interesting Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) ought to be included because of the quality of Bradbury‘s story and depiction of libraries, Robards‘ performance, and the hairpin turn for Disney that this movie represented in that studio’s history.

Btw, Vincent,
I do recall that scene on the ladder that you describe in the library in No Man of Her Own (1932). Interestingly–and perhaps this quality was as disturbing to the PCA and Legion of Decency as the innuendo in the movie–Lombard‘s feisty librarian, while not immune to the youthful charms of Gable, ignored the disdain of her co-workers, to become involved with him. However, over the course of the movie, it was she who really kept the con man in line throughout the film, and, by the climax, he’d learned to appreciate it and respect her brains as well as her beauty. Now that was an affront to public decency–at least then.

Thanks very much for all your responses.
Appreciatively,
Moira

Posted By Jenny the Nipper : July 17, 2008 1:31 pm

Brilliant graph. Gigolos and kept women seem to be over-represented in film as opposed to real-life.

My favorite film librarian is at the beginning of Ghostbusters. She is the stereotypical old lady with a bun but she makes a sincere effort to answer Bill Murray’s completely impertinent and rude questions. It’s not without humor that she tells him that “she had an uncle who thought was St. Jerome.”

Posted By Jenny the Nipper : July 17, 2008 1:31 pm

Brilliant graph. Gigolos and kept women seem to be over-represented in film as opposed to real-life.

My favorite film librarian is at the beginning of Ghostbusters. She is the stereotypical old lady with a bun but she makes a sincere effort to answer Bill Murray’s completely impertinent and rude questions. It’s not without humor that she tells him that “she had an uncle who thought was St. Jerome.”

Posted By Ruth : July 17, 2008 6:22 pm

Marvelous summary of librarians in classic films, Moira!

Posted By Ruth : July 17, 2008 6:22 pm

Marvelous summary of librarians in classic films, Moira!

Posted By jadeam : July 19, 2008 12:18 pm

One of my favorite films involving librarians is the 1978 comedy Foul Play. Goldie Hawn is a ‘shy San Francisco librarian’ and some of the action takes place in the library. In addition to Goldie and a wacky co-worker, there is an older,stereotypical librarian whose research finds the clue to solving the plot’s main mystery, a picture of main members of the ‘tax the churches league,’ if I remember correctly.

Posted By jadeam : July 19, 2008 12:18 pm

One of my favorite films involving librarians is the 1978 comedy Foul Play. Goldie Hawn is a ‘shy San Francisco librarian’ and some of the action takes place in the library. In addition to Goldie and a wacky co-worker, there is an older,stereotypical librarian whose research finds the clue to solving the plot’s main mystery, a picture of main members of the ‘tax the churches league,’ if I remember correctly.

Posted By Kyle In Hollywood : July 26, 2008 7:14 pm

Bill Bendix, Bill Frawley, “Beaney” Bacon and me? Not a bad quartet of “beer pullers”, I guess. But I’ll have to bone-up on bar tricks involving olives to reach their greatness.

Great job on the division of film-lore labor.

As to the guardians of the stacks, I have to add the helpful librarian Macauley Connor meets in “The Philadelphia Story”.

“What is thee wish?”

Kyle (“Dost thou have a Washroom?”) In Hollywood

Posted By Kyle In Hollywood : July 26, 2008 7:14 pm

Bill Bendix, Bill Frawley, “Beaney” Bacon and me? Not a bad quartet of “beer pullers”, I guess. But I’ll have to bone-up on bar tricks involving olives to reach their greatness.

Great job on the division of film-lore labor.

As to the guardians of the stacks, I have to add the helpful librarian Macauley Connor meets in “The Philadelphia Story”.

“What is thee wish?”

Kyle (“Dost thou have a Washroom?”) In Hollywood

Posted By Ken Loar : July 31, 2008 8:40 am

Not wanting to take anything from your look at an often ignored profession, what about that most forgotten of profession. The oldest profession. Or is it the second oldest? Regardless, it seems, THE FARMER gets the short-end of the stick, yet again. Without them, would there have been a FIELD OF DREAMS, PLACES IN THE HEART, OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (hey, he was plowing at the beginning and if not for the raid on his farm, he might have been one of those nameless inductees from some city or quite possible let the war go by without joining in). So often it is the farmer who is the victim that gets the lawyer or the cowboy motivated to make a worthwhile stand. Or turning their back on their farm for other pursuits (floozies are often the targets).

So the next time TOBACCO ROAD comes on, you will see life would have been so much better if the Lester’s had put as much INTO their farming as they did AVOIDING the farming.

Posted By Ken Loar : July 31, 2008 8:40 am

Not wanting to take anything from your look at an often ignored profession, what about that most forgotten of profession. The oldest profession. Or is it the second oldest? Regardless, it seems, THE FARMER gets the short-end of the stick, yet again. Without them, would there have been a FIELD OF DREAMS, PLACES IN THE HEART, OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (hey, he was plowing at the beginning and if not for the raid on his farm, he might have been one of those nameless inductees from some city or quite possible let the war go by without joining in). So often it is the farmer who is the victim that gets the lawyer or the cowboy motivated to make a worthwhile stand. Or turning their back on their farm for other pursuits (floozies are often the targets).

So the next time TOBACCO ROAD comes on, you will see life would have been so much better if the Lester’s had put as much INTO their farming as they did AVOIDING the farming.

Posted By srijita : August 4, 2008 4:15 am

Really I enjoyed your pie presentation . My favorite film is librarian.I feel this is a GREAT movie!

Posted By srijita : August 4, 2008 4:15 am

Really I enjoyed your pie presentation . My favorite film is librarian.I feel this is a GREAT movie!

Posted By moirafinnie : November 22, 2008 12:33 pm

UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that the rarely seen film about free speech in American society mentioned in this blog, Storm Center, with Bette Davis & Brian Keith is scheduled on TCM on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008 at 7:30AM ET. I hope that you’ll have a chance to see it and comment on it. Thank you.

Posted By moirafinnie : November 22, 2008 12:33 pm

UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that the rarely seen film about free speech in American society mentioned in this blog, Storm Center, with Bette Davis & Brian Keith is scheduled on TCM on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008 at 7:30AM ET. I hope that you’ll have a chance to see it and comment on it. Thank you.

Posted By TCM’s Classic Movie Blog : April 22, 2009 8:17 pm

[...] previously touched on in a posting about librarians in this blog , if the movies were to be believed, a disproportionate number of people in the United States from [...]

Posted By TCM’s Classic Movie Blog : April 22, 2009 8:17 pm

[...] previously touched on in a posting about librarians in this blog , if the movies were to be believed, a disproportionate number of people in the United States from [...]

Posted By Charlie : March 4, 2010 4:43 pm

will the movie called “goodmorning Miss Dove” with Jennifer Jones & Robert Stack be shown on TMC soon?

Posted By Charlie : March 4, 2010 4:43 pm

will the movie called “goodmorning Miss Dove” with Jennifer Jones & Robert Stack be shown on TMC soon?

Posted By Pam : April 17, 2011 3:10 am

Enjoyed your article and pie chart. However, would like to point out that Greer Garson is the only librarian in Adventure. Her friend Helen is a secretary and comes to pick her up after work since they are roomies.

Posted By Pam : April 17, 2011 3:10 am

Enjoyed your article and pie chart. However, would like to point out that Greer Garson is the only librarian in Adventure. Her friend Helen is a secretary and comes to pick her up after work since they are roomies.

Posted By moirafinnie : April 28, 2011 1:57 am

Hi Pam,
Thanks for the correction. I guess now we know why Joan Blondell was more fun than Greer?

Posted By moirafinnie : April 28, 2011 1:57 am

Hi Pam,
Thanks for the correction. I guess now we know why Joan Blondell was more fun than Greer?

Posted By Sprachferien London : May 11, 2011 7:50 am

Shadow of Doubt is one of my all time favorite movies! Thanks for the nice posting!

Posted By Sprachferien London : May 11, 2011 7:50 am

Shadow of Doubt is one of my all time favorite movies! Thanks for the nice posting!

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