Revisiting favorites | Comparing two desk sets, Jan. 26, 2012

The next stop on my “Summer of Nostalgia” blog tour and revisiting past favorites on this blog is a January 2012 post, comparing-and-contrasting the play and film versions of one of my favorite reel librarian films, Desk Set. The 1955 play first starred Shirley Booth as head librarian Bunny Watson, and the resulting 1957 film starred Katharine Hepburn as Bunny and Spencer Tracy as efficiency expert Richard Sumner.

I’ll pause while you read the original post, which also happens to have one of my favorite post titles “Comparing two desk sets (and I don’t mean furniture)“…

Screenshot from a favorite post on Reel Librarians

Screenshot from a favorite post on Reel Librarians

Why this post?

This has always been one of my favorite posts — to research, to write, and to re-read — even way back at my one-year blog anniversary, in which I identified it as one of my personal favorite posts.

It also helps that Desk Set is one of my all-time favorite reel librarian films, as showcased in both my “Hall of Fame” list as well as my “Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s” list. In the latter, here’s how I described why I love this film and the reel librarian character of Bunny Watson:

Hepburn plays the best reel librarian EVER — sassy, funny, smart as hell — a woman who isn’t afraid to downplay her professional skills or love of pretty dresses. The film crackles with wit, style, chemistry, and an enduring central issue of how technology affects libraries and librarians.

Putting together this post, comparing the play and film versions, also revealed how the Bunny Watson character originated on the page and stage as a sassy, funny, and smart woman and librarian character. Yay! I had also forgotten that Bunny was a nickname — her real name, Bonita, is mentioned in Act III of the play.

This post also serves as an early example of how this site affords me the opportunity to explore a variety of angles and perspectives in researching librarian portrayals in film. It’s not always just about the movies; it’s also fun to explore the origins of a reel librarian character, or different versions of that character.

New thoughts?

Looking back, I’ve realized that this early post from 2012 was the first of several resulting posts in which I tracked down and read the play versions of reel librarian films, including this post about the Debbie Does Dallas play and this post about comparing the play and film versions of The Philadelphia Story, which included a “shushing Quaker librarian” character in the film version.

Reel Librarians screenshot

Reel Librarians screenshot

In other presentations I’ve given in my professional work, I’ve also referenced this film and expanded on the idea I explored near the end of the post, seen above, about how the final message of the story — in both the stage and film versions — still rings true today.

“And it seems an endless debate in the library world: are libraries and librarians so easily replaced by computers and online sources? One of the (many) things I love about Desk Set is that the conclusion (you need both!) is STILL relevant today, and just as true.”


I’ll be back next week to revisit another Reel Librarians favorite!

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