Scream librarian scream

In Scream Blacula Scream (1973), the sequel to the 1972 cult classic Blacula, an ex-policeman investigates a series of suspicious deaths. William Marshall reprises his role as Blacula, and Pam Grier joins the cheesy thrill ride as a voodoo priestess. Predictably, with the return of Blacula, (undead) bodies begin to pile up…

Coming two-thirds into the film, clocking in at a little over an hour, ex-policeman Justin Carter (Don Mitchell) learns about bat hairs present at the scene of a crime. His next step? A library, of course!

The next scene cuts to a shot of bookcases and a white hand slowly reaching out…

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

… which belongs to a reel librarian.

Played by Sybil Scotford, the librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds in this brief scene. She is decked out in typical early ’70s clothes — plenty of polyester and orange paisley on display — with her long brown hair pulled back in a bouffant and low ponytail. Her character has no name in the credits, only “Librarian,” listed below Pimp #1 and Pimp #2. As you do. ;)

After she locates the hand-lettered “OCCULT” sign on the bookcase, she says, “Let’s see. This is it. This whole shelf. Black arts, occult. That should keep you busy for awhile.” She smiles (a little coyly?) at Justin and takes off her glasses as she leaves.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Already interested in the books on the shelves, Justin answers back, “Yeah. Mmm hmmm” before turning back to the shelf. He picks out a thick book and goes to a chair beside the last bookcase. Time passes as we see multiple books stacked up on the chair beside him.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

The entire library scene lasts just over a minute, with the reel librarian onscreen for merely seconds. Therefore, it lands in the Class IV category of librarian films, and the librarian fulfills the typical Information Provider role. Justin obviously found some information to help him in the case, as in the next scene, he tries to convince the police supervisor that they need to investigate vampires.

The most notable aspect of the scene is how badly this library is organized. It is obviously a set — all you need are bookcases, books, a chair or two, hand-lettered signs, and a woman in glasses! — but not a very well-thought-out set. The three signs we see on the bookcases are all placed where they hang OVER the books — highly inconvenient for anyone to see or reach the books shelved behind the signs.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Also, the signs that are visible go from “GRAPHICS” to the “OCCULT” to “FICTION.” Huh? What kind of library system or collection is this?! You guessed it — the fake kind! Also, NO CALL NUMBERS on the books!

Those screams you hear in the background? They’re from real librarians watching this scene! ;)

‘Meet cute’ marathon

I feel like quite a few of my posts begin by accident rather than design. I will happen to be watching a film when BAM! out of nowhere pops a library and/or librarian. Sometimes, I am elated. Sometimes, I am cranky because I wanted to watch the film instead of immediately taking notes and pics, if possible. Such is life for the Reel Librarian. ;)

While rewatching the 1976 thriller Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, I was at first surprised when there was a scene at a college library. I did not remember that scene the first time I watched the film, although to be fair, that was several years ago. One cannot help but admire the library interior, which is, of course, the focus — but you can juuuuuust spy the reel librarian checking out books in the lefthand corner, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

I was even more surprised when I realized that the library interior — while supposed to be the Columbia University Library in New York — was actually filmed in Los Angeles! More specifically, it was filmed at Doheny Library on the USC campus, which has been the library setting for many films, including City Slickers II (click here for that film analysis post). It was ALSO the library setting for Dustin Hoffman’s 1967 classic film, The Graduate. It’s a small world, after all, for reel libraries. ;)

A little more than a half-hour into Marathon Man (1976), Dustin Hoffman has a “meet cute” moment with a French-speaking lady sitting at his table. They both have a stack of books beside them.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Dustin Hoffman, as graduate history student Babe, then hides one of her books — it happens to have her contact info printed inside on the front page — and then uses it as an excuse to meet up with her later. A little creepy, no? Here is their revealing conversation as he makes a play for her:

Elsa:  Why do you pursue people who sit at your library table?

Babe:  You’re pretty.

Elsa:  [Laughs, then starts to walk away]

Babe:  I can’t talk about how smart you are. I don’t even know you. … You won’t meet another thief like me in the library.


You see the reel librarian in this film for a few seconds only, and it comes as no surprise that the character is left out of the film’s credits. Therefore, this anonymous reel librarian gets to “meet cute” with the other Class IV reel librarians.

If you’re interested in more Marathon Man filming locations, check out this interesting post, complete with screenshots. The film holds up well, and the director, John Schlesinger, ratchets up the tension quite effectively. It’s also a film notable for turning its MacGuffin into a catchphrase (“Is it safe?”).

So is it safe to watch this film? Yes. But it’s not so safe to have your contact info pencilled in your books and then leave those books unattended in the library. Now you know. You’re welcome. ;)

In Dewey’s country

I was able to catch the 2007 TV movie, In God’s Country, recently on my cable subscription. It’s a film I saw ages ago, so I already had notes — but I hadn’t taken screenshots at the time. It’s interesting to go over notes I wrote years ago, to see what I focused on then and if the notes differ to how I view the film now.

Reel Librarians  |  Notes from 'In God's Country' (2007)

Initial notes for ‘In God’s Country’ (2007)

This Lifetime TV movie — which has been renamed The Ultimate Sin — is an earnest but ultimately mediocre effort taking aim at a big issue, the issue of young women who feel trapped in polygamous religious communities. Kelly Rowan stars as Judith Leavitt — her last name foreshadows the plot! — who “leaves it,” leaving her community, her house, and her life as she has known it. She takes her five children with her and tries to start fresh. Of course, they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”

The children particularly struggle at public school (Judith reveals that she wasn’t allowed to go to school past grade 7). In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  Can I help you?

Alice:  I’m looking for a book on astronomy.

Librarian:  Astronomy is in the 520’s.

Alice:  [shakes her head, clueless]

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  520’s. Dewey Decimal system.

Librarian: [Hands stack of books to the other girl.] Millie, can you show her for me?

Millie: All the books are numbered. You just have to look at the spines. I know where the astronomy ones are because I like astronomy, too. Actually, I have a telescope.

Alice:  You have a telescope at home?

Millie:  You should come and see it.

The librarian here is friendly — and it’s nice to see a reel librarian in a bright color! — but as clueless about service as much as Alice is clueless about the Dewey Decimal system. She essentially passes off her reference duties to a young student, who has to explain the classification system to Alice. Peer learning can be great, but there was no good reason that the librarian couldn’t step out from behind her desk and do her job. Of course, the plot required that Alice make a friend, so I understand in terms of plot why the reference duty got passed on to Millie. But in terms of real life, this is NOT a great example of a reference interview!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Ultimately, this reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, in which librarians appear only briefly with little or no dialogue. The librarian in this film is onscreen less than a minute, and fulfills the basic Information Provider role. She doesn’t provide that much useful information to Alice, of course, but the librarian also provides information to the audience. She is yet another example of how the “real world” doesn’t really understand what goes on in these kinds of communities and the impact of different social and educational structures.

At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520’s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.

There is also a scene involving the 520’s — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post. When I relayed this tidbit to my husband, he laughed, and said that I might be the only person to have made a connection between this TV movie and Conan the Librarian.

In Dewey we trust, right? ;)

Time-traveling librarian

Thanks to everyone who voted for their next adventure… and here you have it, an analysis post of your chosen winner!

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) is a romantic drama based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger. The love story between Henry, a time-traveling librarian (played by Eric Bana) and Clare, an artist (played by Rachel McAdams) provides the central plot, as the film jumps back and forth in time, mirroring Henry’s travels. The two actors do all they can to provide gravitas and chemistry to the movie, but the tone and execution do end up feeling a little heavy-handed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Any kind of time-traveling-themed film involves its own brand of suspension of disbelief, as the audience has to accept somewhat circular logic and avoidance of plot holes (see also The Lake House and Premonition for other recent examples). This kind of story works better in print, and I did read the book years ago to see if Henry was a librarian in the book (he is). What’s intriguing about this variation on time travel is that Henry can’t choose when he travels back in time, and this brings on a whole host of problems and relationship instability.


Henry doesn’t get to keep his clothes when he travels, so most of his time spent time-traveling seems to be involve breaking into places to find clothes, only to leave yet another pile of clothes as he disappears again. Also, Henry is older when he goes back in time to meet Clare, who is 6 years old when they meet for the first time on Clare’s timeline (incidentally, Henry is also 6 years old when he first travels through time). A 6-year-old girl and a 30-something-year-old man who later marry? Yeah, the creep factor is always there.

For a romantic hero, Henry is also unusual, because he often has to resort to petty theft, lock-picking, and sometimes back-alley brawls during his travels. (At one point, he also uses his abilities to win the lottery. Personal morality and ethics take a slip when one slips in and out of time.)

It’s hard out there for a time-traveling librarian. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

The two library scenes come fast and furious, both occurring within the first five minutes of the film. Three-and-a-half minutes in, we get our first shot of the library archives, as Henry travels back to his present (naked and shivering and emotionally drained). Henry wearily puts on his clothes, which are in a bundle on the library floor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

After a heavy sigh, Henry then bends down to pick up rare books in a pile on the floor, affording us a close-up of his shoes. (Visuals of shoes feature heavily in this film, and a close-up of shoes in a field also graced the book’s cover.) Next, we see Henry bringing the stack of books to a patron in the library.

Patron:  That took you long enough.

Henry:  You have no idea.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Contrast that with the next scene, which brings sunshine and spring into the storyline. We also learn that Henry lives in Chicago. We get another wide shot of the library, this time bathed in sunlight and warm tones. The difference? This is when he first meets Clare, and they “meet cute” (or rather, “meet awkward”) in the library. Before Clare, his entire world — including his work world — feels cold and dark. With Clare, his world brightens — literally.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Fun fact:  Although the library is not named, these scenes were filmed in the Newberry Library in Chicago. This is also the library where Henry works in the book.

In this scene, we also get treated to another librarian, a young, red-haired woman perched in the stacks with a book cart in front of her. She looks quite professional — much more professional-looking than Henry — and is wearing a pin-striped Oxford blouse and a suit vest. This librarian is a typical Information Provider.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Clare:  Excuse me. I’m looking for something on papermaking at Kelmscott.

Librarian: Our special collections librarian can help you with that. [She raises her voice to get Henry’s attention, who looks over at them.]

Henry:  Can I help you?

Clare:  Henry? [Claire recognizes him, but he doesn’t seem to recognize her.]

Henry:  Yes?

Clare:  Henry. It’s you. You told me this would happen. I’m supposed to act normal, but I’m not really acting very normal.

Here’s Henry’s reaction to Clare’s recognition of himself. Awwwwwwwwkward.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Long story short, Henry agrees to meet up with Clare. Boy meets girl. Boy disappears. Girl has to clean up the mess. You know, the same old story. ;)

Although there are no more physical scenes of the library, there are a couple more mentions of his profession:

  • 21 minutes in, Clare introduces Henry to her friends Gomez and Charisse. Gomez isn’t favorably impressed at first, saying, “I couldn’t get anything out of him except he’s a research librarian.”
  • 25 minutes in, Gomez goes straight to Clare after learning Henry’s time-traveling secret. Gomez asks if Henry’s around, and she responds, “No, he’s at the library.”

Truthfully, it is not important to the plot that Henry is a librarian — except that it allows him to time travel, which IS the plot — so this film winds up in the Class II category. However, because of the extensive scenes we get to see of Henry outside of the library, and the personality flaws we witness, I would argue he fills an atypical role for reel librarians. Henry’s personality is atypical of most romantic heroes, full stop, and his role as a reel librarian is also secondary to the central romantic drama. It is also atypical to highlight a reel librarian, male or female, who is quite physically active and fit. (See also Rene Russo’s character in the 1989 comedy Major League). Henry is fit out of necessity, in order to survive while time-traveling.

The filmmakers are also not afraid to be critical of the lead romantic hero. Twice, Henry describes himself as a “pain in the ass.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

One could also argue that Henry’s role is that of a male librarian as a failure; that character type consists of self-perceived “failures” who resort to working in a library. And Henry did choose to be a librarian when he was younger and felt lost and unhappy — before he had met Clare, and before he scientifically explored his condition. However, the “male librarian as a failure” character type primarily fills the purpose of reflecting flaws in a library, or other social system or construct; this character type is also very closely tied to the library. In this film, the library is just an excuse.

Although Henry’s occupation actually does make it to the back of the DVD case (“… a handsome librarian who travels involuntarily through time”), like I said, it’s not really that important that he’s a librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

His occupation is only important because it provides him a way to make a living that, well, doesn’t get in the way of his time-traveling. His job, that of a special collections or archives librarian, affords him time to spend in the archives, alone, so that no one really notices when he’s gone. (Even when he’s gone for two weeks straight, we don’t hear anything about how that affects his work.)

How’s that for an endorsement for librarianship? Be a librarian so that NO ONE will notice if you’re even there or not. SIGH.

This film attempts to end as a testament to true love and how it can stand the test of time. But there is no such love for the library. Because once Henry wins the lottery — surprise, surprise — there is no more mention of the library. Who would continue to work in a library when there’s no need to work anymore?

On that cheerful note, I bid you farewell… but you can count on me that I’ll be back next week, same time, same place. ;)

Somewhere in the library

For the month of February, I will focus on love stories and reel librarians. A match made in heaven? ♥

First up is a movie my husband and I recently rewatched, the cult classic romance, Somewhere in Time (1980), starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as crossed-in-time lovers. The film was a flop at the time it was released, with Reeve fresh off his Superman fame; at the time, his 180-degree turn in a time-traveling romance was not appreciated. Now, of course, the film has reached cult classic status — even inspiring an international fan club, INSITE (International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts), whose members frequently revisit the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan, where the movie was filmed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

Based on the Richard Matheson novel Bid Time Return (1975), Somewhere in Time (1980) is a genre film, one that is totally committed to its central romance. I respect genre films that revel in their chosen genre, and this is a Romance with a capital R. And if you go into the film knowing that, you will enjoy it. (I did.) It also shows off Christopher Reeve’s under-appreciated acting range, a gorgeous award-winning score inspired by Rachmaninoff, and undeniable chemistry between the two leads. I also appreciate that this film presents time travel as a totally mental construct; there are no flashy special effects, and the resulting simplicity actually works in the film’s favor.

Reel Librarians  |  Maude Adams portraits + 'Bid Time Return' book coverI also loved reading that author Matheson was inspired to write the story after seeing a portrait of Maude Adams, an early American stage actress who originated the role of Peter Pan on Broadway. (And yes, I totally Googled her name and sifted through portrait galleries, fantasizing about which portrait stirred Matheson’s imagination. HELLO, I’m a librarian and self-confessed romantic. ♥ )

So what does this film itself have to do with librarians? Once again, a reel librarian helps provide vital information that keeps the plot moving.

But first, a little backstory. Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) is in college, basking in the success of a play he’s written. In the middle of the adoring crowd — which includes William H. Macy and George Wendt in their screen debuts! — an old woman glides in, gives Richard a gold pocket watch, and urges him to “Come back to me.” He’s never seen her before. Flash forward eight years, and Richard is drawn to the Grand Hotel, where he falls in love with a portrait of a stunning young woman (Jane Seymour). An old caretaker of the hotel, Arthur (veteran character actor Bill Erwin), reveals the name of the woman in the portrait, Elise McKenna, and that she was a famous actress. Richard becomes obsessed with finding out more about Elise.

And where does he think to go first to find out more information? The library, of course! Smart man. :)

About fifteen minutes into the film, Richard asks Arthur where the nearest library is. Arthur responds, “In town, right past the church.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Somewhere in Time'

The next few frames reveal Richard rifling through reference books on early American theatre, along with closeups of brief entries he comes across.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

Finally, he asks the librarian, an African-American female with a short ‘do and MAJOR glasses, for help:

Richard:  Excuse me. Do you have any theater biographies … that aren’t in the racks under the rare books or magazines?

Librarian: Well, we do have some magazines. But they’re in the back, and I’d have to find them, and…

Richard: Oh. Could you do that for me, please?

She’s in the middle of organizing cards in the card catalog, and clearly is reluctant as she checks her watch and sighs. But OF COURSE she agrees to go to the back and retrieve the magazines. (If you had Christopher Reeve in his prime smiling at you and turning on the charm, wouldn’t you?!)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Somewhere in Time'

One magazine issue has a cover story of Elise McKenna’s later years and reveals the final photograph ever made of her … which drops a primary piece into the puzzle for Richard. This is the woman who came to the college theatre that night eight years ago and urged him to come back to her. He now understands why he has been drawn to the Grand Hotel and to her portrait. This key piece of information, provided to him by the public librarian, helps Richard on the path to his long-lost-but-not-yet-found love.

This reel librarian, played by Noreen Walker, is on screen for less than a minute, and is listed in the credits simply as Librarian. She is an Information Provider in a Class IV film. However, her role is essential in setting up the central plot, and it is a relatively rare portrayal of a reel librarian of color. According to, this is Noreen Walker’s sole film credit. This movie was filmed on location in Chicago and on Mackinac Island … perhaps this scene was filmed in the island’s actual public library and with its real-life staff at the time?

The answer lies somewhere in time, I’m sure. ;)

Click the image below to view the short clip of the library scene on the Metacafe site.

Reel Librarians  |  Clip of 'Somewhere in Time'

Shushing the ‘Old Gringo’ librarian

Old Gringo (1989), based on the novel Gringo Viejo by Carlos Fuentes, is a fictionalized account of what happened to real-life American journalist Ambrose Bierce. He traveled to Mexico in 1913 for a firsthand experience of the Mexican Revolution, and subsequently disappeared, presumed dead. The mystery surrounding his death has never been solved. A very intriguing premise, but the resulting film adaptation is all the more disappointing for going absolutely nowhere with the story.

The book is also highlighted in a NYPL blog post about literature and time travel:

“In Bierce’s case life intersects fiction, when the writer vanishes on a route to Mexico. In one of the last known letters Bierce posts to a friend, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination,” subsequently Bierce then becomes a character in fiction when his disappearance fictionalized in the novel by Carlos Fuente’s ‘The Old Gringo.'”

And even though this film adaptation boasts talented actors — Gregory Peck as the title character and Jimmy “Yes, I always look smoldering” Smits as General Tomas Arroyo, one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution — the main star, Jane Fonda, is astoundingly miscast as would-be spinster Harriet Winslow. Seriously, her romantic scenes with both Gregory Peck and Jimmy Smits are painful to watch, and I laughed at loud when Arroyo lamented at the end of the film what Harriet would one day tell her children. Fonda simply seems a decade (or maybe two) too old for this role (she was in her early 50s at the time of filming). As her own company, Fonda Films, produced this film, it comes across as a badly miscalculated vanity project; Fonda also “earned” a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress in this film. Ouch.

Reel Librarians  |  1989 Razzie nominations, Worst Actress

Even though Harriet Winslow calls herself a spinster in the film — prompting her to travel to Mexico to avoid that dreadful fate — she is NOT the reel librarian in this film. That honor (?) belongs to Laurel Lyle, in a no-name librarian role. After the opening credits, the film opens in a library, a traditional two-level design that looks similar to the law library featured in Criminal Law (1988). We are told that the location is Washington, D.C., 1913. It’s not clear if the library is a public or private library (perhaps a law library?), and I haven’t yet found a listing of filming locations for this film.

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

Ambrose Bierce (Peck) is engaging in a lively debate, as seen above, but the camera quickly pans upstairs to a smaller room lined with bookshelves and an overloaded table. The librarian greets Harriet warmly; Harriet is obviously a returning library patron, and there is a feeling of familiarity (and similarity?) between the two ladies.

Librarian:  Nice to see you, Miss Winslow. Have classes begun yet?

Miss Winslow:  I’m not sure I’m going to be teaching this year.

Librarian: Oh. And how is your charming mother?

Miss WinslowVery well, thank you.

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

Pleasantries accomplished, Harriet quickly gets down to business.

Miss Winslow: I’d like to learn some Spanish. Have you any books that might help me?

Librarian:  Spanish? Well, we must have something. Let me see. Spanish, how interesting.

The librarian heads off to the stacks, looking backwards at Harriet and giving her a perplexed look. Her role is definitely that of an Information Provider, but she is providing more than just a Spanish language book to Harriet. She is also providing, to the audience, a sense of the then-mainstream societal biases and prejudices about not only Mexico and the Spanish language, but also about foreigners in general. She sets up the oh-so-polite disdain that Harriet will face when she decides in the next scene to travel to Chihauhau, Mexico, to work as a governess for a Mexican family.

As the librarian searches for Spanish-language materials, Harriet turns back to the debate, obviously captivated by the older speaker. The veteran journalist gets into a lather about the corruption of writing and journalists selling their writing to the highest bidder; rather, he extolls the virtues of experience:

Day after day, believing that every printed word was eternal. And would, somehow… open men’s minds. … And for what? I wrote. You read. He [William Randolph Hearst] grew richer. Hearst, the owner of my newspaper. Now, after this triumphant presentation, of these 14 volumes of meaningless paper, I bid you farewell.

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

He finishes his speech by holding up this 14-volume set of books — the cumulation of his life’s work — and drops them in one fluid motion on the floor, and then marches out the door. Quite radical for a speech taking place … IN A LIBRARY. His actions draw gasps from the crowd — and I’m sure any librarians in attendance were scandalized. (Don’t take it out on the books, man!)

Note:  After watching the film, I did some light research on Bierce. Turns out his Collected Works, published in 1909, was a 12-volume set, NOT a 14-volume set as the film states. In my humble librarian’s opinion, this seems an error that would have been simple to correct (or not make in the first place.). You can read more about Bierce’s life and works on the Ambrose Bierce Project site,

Even though the library scene is brief, and the librarian’s role in the scene even briefer (landing her in the Class IV category), the film does get a bit clever with the librarian’s final moments. Almost toward the end of the speech, the librarian comes back to talk with Harriet, but is shushed and waved away by Harriet herself. I did let out a chuckle at the librarian being shushed!

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' screenshot

The no-name librarian, a 30ish female librarian, is properly dressed in a high-necked Victorian blouse and drab-colored skirt. She also has her hair pulled back in a braided bun, and wears eyeglasses. I’m sure there is a similar outfit underneath Harriet’s dark coat and hat; the two women do look similar when seen side-by-side. And in the very next scene, Harriet decides to change her life and travel to Mexico, and has this pointed conversation with her outraged mother:

Mrs. Winslow:  You’re an educated, independent girl.

Miss Winslow:  I’m not a girl, Mother. I’m a spinster. 

As this scene comes right after the library scene, one cannot help but compare the two characters. Harriet was inspired by the speaker (Peck as Bierce), of course, but the idea that she was on a similar path as the librarian was probably also on her mind. The two women are (supposed to be) around the same age, both educated, independent, and outwardly proper in appearance and diction. So if Harriet thinks of herself as a spinster, she must also view the librarian as one, as well. Things that make you go hmmmm…..

Although the librarian shows up in only the first five minutes of the film, I did my duty in watching the remainder of this (ultimately boring and disappointing) film. Even my husband remarked, once again, of my dedication to my research!

And if I hadn’t watched the rest of the film, I would have missed the following nugget. Toward the end of the film, the old gringo, Bierce, is with a Mexican prostitute, and the subject of books comes up. As you do. ;)

Mexican prostitute:  What you do when you’re not fighting?

Old gringo:  I read.

Mexican prostitute:  You read books? The priest in my village, he says, ‘To read books can make a man go crazy.’

Old gringoI can’t blame the books. At least not the ones I’ve read. Perhaps the ones I’ve written.

Mexican prostitute:  You wrote books? So, why are you sad? When you are gone, the people who know how to read, they’re going to remember you. You give me one of your books, I no charge you. Your work for my work.

I also had fun picking out my favorite outtakes from the screenshots I captured:

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' outtake Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' outtake

Reel Librarians  |  'Old Gringo' outtake

I also had fun looking up the term “gringo,” which definitely predates the Mexican Revolution. The Oxford English Dictionary states that it was a  well-established word by the mid-1850s, while A New Dictionary of Eponyms, published by Oxford University Press, expounds on several theories of origin:

  • The word sounds like the Spanish word for “Griego,” meaning “Greek.” Therefore, it’s similar to the English phrases, “It’s Greek to me” or “It’s gibberish.”
  • Another theory stems from the idea that the word comes from the Robert Burns’s song, “Green grow the rashes,” 1783.
  • And yet another theory circulates around Major Samuel Ringgold, mortally wounded in the battle of Palo Alto in 1846, that his name was so mispronounced that it sounded like “gringo.”

And word to the wise:  Do NOT play a drinking game with how many times the word “gringo” is uttered in the film. You will NOT remember the film afterwards. But then, maybe that’s a good thing. ;)

Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

This post was inspired by my mother, who was reading recently about legendary character actress Mary Wickes, a biography called Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before (Hollywood Legends). She came across an entry that she quickly emailed me about:

It mentioned that she played a librarian in the movie Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954).  This is the quote from the book:

Mary is the town’s helpful librarian, but she is quickly dismissed by Ma as “a maiden lady librarian who knows all about books but nothing about cooking.”

And then she was sweet enough to track down a copy of the film and sent it my way. ♥

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954) was the 7th in a series of 10 “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, starting with The Egg and I in 1947. It was also the last film of the series starring Percy Kilbride as Pa. Mary Wickes — who was 44 at the time of filming — gets 7th billing as Miss Wetter, definitely a supporting character in the film.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The distinctive profile of character actress Mary Wickes, here playing lady librarian Miss Wetter in ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

What of the film itself? If you are nostalgic for the “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, then you might enjoy it. Not ever having seen any of the series — although I was familiar with lead actress Marjorie Main, who has quite a distinctive voice — I found the film quite tedious, and it felt way longer than its 80-minute running time. My husband summed it up as equal-opportunity offensive, poking fun at Native Americans, big city snobs, intellectuals, country folk — as well as maiden lady librarians!

The plot, such as it is, kicks into gear when an essay about the “perfect, modern farm” written by their eldest son, Elwin, gets chosen as a finalist for a 4H college scholarship. The problem? The family farm is in terrible disrepair. Ma and Pa Kettle have to set off cleaning up the place before the “big city judges” come out to judge the finalists. Elwin — who got them all in this mess to begin with — just seems to laze around and moon over his misfortune. Like father, like son? ;)

The head judge, Alphonsus Mannering (Alan Mowbray), is portrayed as very effeminate, fussing about his plants, eating a special diet, pouring bath salts into the tub, and wearing a sleeping mask. And guess who Ma wants to set him up with? Of course, the maiden lady librarian! (Neither one would be too picky, right?)

Almost 45 minutes into the film, the librarian first gets a mention. One of the judges wants to photograph Ma, but she says she has to hurry because she has to pack a basket of bread for Miss Wetter, “a maiden lady librarian, [who] knows all about books but nothing about cooking.”

Cue scene to visually introduce Miss Wetter, who soon drives up — in the library bookmobile! — to drop off a book about successful fruit growing for Elwin.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The bookmobile serves as the visual representation of the library in this film, as Miss Wetter is never seen inside an actual library.

Miss Wetter is more than happy to meet the contest judges, especially Mr. Mannering. Here’s how their “Meet Cute” goes:

Ma:  Miss Wetter’s our lady librarian.

Miss Wetter:  Oh, Mr. Mowbray. I’m just simply thrilled to meet a literary figure of your stature. I’m a devoted fan of yours. I read your beautiful column every month. Honored to have your colleague, too, of course. Through you, culture has come to Cape Lattery (?), and I for one am speechless with delight. Now you must tell me what’s happening with the theater and the dance in New York this season?

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

Ma:  Here’s your bread, honey. Now don’t forget to come to the Christmas Eve party. As you’re both interested in literature, it might be right nice of you to be partners at the party.

Mr. Mannering:  It would be a pleasure.

Miss Wetter:  It would? I’ll be dreaming of Christmas Eve. Bye.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

“It would?” A sweet moment between the lady librarian and the big city judge

Although it’s kind of sweet to see how excited Miss Wetter is to attend the party with Mr. Mannering (that quick look up and catch in her voice when she says, “It would?” is just one example of how Mary Wickes could do so much with so little), it comes across as kind of condescending how she sees her role as bringing culture to this hick town. And she obviously dreams of bigger and better things than the County Library in which she works. Also, I do have to mention their character names:  Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. Goodness, could we be more obvious about how hot-to-trot the maiden lady librarian is for Mr. Fussy Britches?!

The film culminates in the Christmas party scene, and Miss Wetter (putting pay to her name!) pounces on Mr. Mannering when he enters the house — even taking his hand!

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Maiden Lady Librarian

When I said “pounces,” I wasn’t exaggerating. Miss Wetter was definitely on the prowl for Mr. Mannering!

Miss Wetter:  I’ve been waiting for you. I’m so excited about tonight. It’s probably because you’re going to be my partner at supper.

Mr. Mannering:  I’d not forgotten. I, too, was looking forward to it, too.

Miss Wetter:  Can I get you some refreshments? [ever so helpful, that librarian!]

A few minutes later, Ma reads a Christmas poem, which includes one  stanza about Miss Wetter:

Our wish to Miss Wetter, who knows all about books,
Is she marries the right man and becomes a good cook.

Cue sweetly awkward look between Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. Miss Wetter titters and puts her hair behind her ear and looks embarrassed — but also hopeful.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The big city judge and the librarian serve as the butt of jokes in the reading of the Christmas poem at the end of ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

A few minutes later, as the Kettle children are singing carols, Miss Wetter sees Mr. Mannering under the mistletoe and boldly plants a kiss on his cheek. They both smile and look quickly away and then back; they look a little dazed at their own forwardness! ;)

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

I like the juxtaposition of the younger couple in the background and the older couple in the foreground, both at the beginning stages of romance.

There is a happy ending, of course, and I liked that the happy ending included the promise of romance between Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. It would have been so easy to drop the “maiden lady librarian” character after that first scene. And although they kept poking fun at how she couldn’t cook — obviously less of a woman for any normal man, but she would do for a fussy fellow like Mr. Mannering — their budding romance actually came off as rather sweet in the end. I think this has more to do with the acting abilities of Mary Wickes and Alan Mowbray, who are easily the best actors in the entire movie.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady LibrarianSo what role does maiden lady librarian Miss Wetter serve? She is a supporting character, which lands her in the Class III category. As she does serve as the butt of several jabs and jokes about her book sense — and no cooking skills — her primary role is that of Comic Relief. But she also deserves honorable mention as an Information Provider, as she is quite helpful in several ways. First, she brings a book for their eldest son, and at the end of the film, she relays information about 4H clubs and how they “have all sorts of money-raising projects, where the members can learn by doing.”

One reviewer laments about Wickes’s role in the film: “Sadly, she hardly gets any dialog, and none of the brittle wisecracks she would become famous for.”  But I was pleasantly surprised about how much screen time she actually got — and Wickes was a genius at grabbing each second she had on screen and making it her own!

And if you ever do watch this film, it would probably go over better if you make a drinking game out of it. I would suggest taking a drink whenever the phrase “lady librarian” gets uttered — and feel free to do so when reading this post, as well. ;)