A few weeks ago, I posted a follow-up to my call for reader questions and ideas, and I am following up with this question posed by longtime reader Michael, who has his own awesome film site, Century Film Project. He left a short comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including:
I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found: first reel librarian you’ve found so far… maybe first of each class of reel librarian as well!
I have written a post about “Reel Librarian Firsts,” but that early post focused on librarian firsts in cinema history — not about exploring my own firsts of discovery with reel librarians.
So to answer this question, I went back through my Reel Substance section, Classes I through IV, and noted the earliest reel librarian films I’ve come across in each category in order to build my list of the first and earliest reel librarians I’ve found thus far.
The Blot — 1921 (Class II):
This is the earliest reel librarian film and portrayal I’ve come across. And it’s a reel librarian in a major role! In this silent film, a young librarian, Amelia (Claire Windsor), is courted by a wealthy young man and a poor minister. The film was also directed by a well-known woman director of the time, Lois Weber.
See here for an analysis post of The Blot I wrote a few years ago. And you catch the tiniest glimpse of the library scene at the end of the clip below.
Forbidden — Jan. 1932 (Class I):
The second earliest reel librarian film I’ve come across — and another major reel librarian character! Barbara Stanwyck pays Lulu, a lonely and idealistic young librarian. She quits her library job within the film’s first 5 minutes and sets sail for Havana, where she becomes romantically involved with an older man (Adolphe Menjou). Romantic melodrama ensues: the plot includes an illegitimate child, a lifelong adulterous affair, murder, and a deathbed pardon!
No Man of Her Own — Dec. 1932 (Class I):
Another major reel librarian character! In this drama, Carole Lombard plays a young librarian in a small town. A con artist and gambler (Clark Gable) goes to the small town in order to escape prosecution, and OF COURSE he falls in love with the young librarian. A few scenes are set in the library, including one in which Gable looks up Lombard’s skirt while she shelves books!
The Good Companions — 1933 (Class IV):
Three wayward souls find their way to a variety troupe called the “Dinky Doos” — thankfully, they change the name straightaway to “The Good Companions,” hence the film’s title. A brief library scene with a male librarian serves as cinema’s first “Shush!” from a reel librarian.
See here for an analysis post of The Good Companions that I wrote a few years ago.
Cain and Mabel — 1936 (Class III):
Another early reel librarian film starring Clark Gable! In this film, he plays a prizefighter who falls in love with a struggling Broadway actress (Marion Davies). In one scene, they meet at the library to plan their elopement and startle a couple of librarians.
And here are the remainder of the reel librarian films from the 1930s decade:
- Navy Blues — 1937 (Class I, see here for my analysis post)
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy — 1939 (Class IV, see here for my analysis post)
- Fast and Loose — 1939 (Class I)
- Mr. Moto in Danger Island — 1939 (Class III)
- Within the Law — 1939 (Class III, see here for my analysis post)
Thanks again, Michael, and I’ll be back next week with another follow-up inspired by your comment! 😀
- The Blot. Dir. Phillips Smalley & Lois Weber. Perf. Philip Hubbard, Margaret McWade, Claire Windsor. Lois Weber Productions, 1921.
- Cain and Mabel. Dir. Lloyd Bacon. Perf. Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Allen Jenkins. Cosmopolitan/Warner Bros., 1936.
- Forbidden. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy. Columbia, 1932.
- The Good Companions. Dir. Victor Saville. Perf. Jessie Matthews, Edmund Gwenn, John Gielgud, Mary Glynne. Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 1933.
- No Man of Her Own. Dir. Wesley Ruggles. Perf. Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Dorothy Mackaill, Grant Mitchell. Paramount, 1932.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Reel Librarian Firsts.” Reel Librarians, 23 Sept. 2011.