Reel librarian ‘conquests’

“I always feel with Norman I’ve got him on loan from somewhere, like one of his library books. I’ll get a card one day informing me he’s overdue, and there’s a fine to pay on him.”

As I mentioned last week, today I have an extra-special, super-sized post, all about Norman and his reel librarian conquests. A library colleague, one who knows that I research librarian portrayals in film, recommended The Norman Conquests , a 1977 British TV mini-series, and kindly lent me her DVD copy.

DVD case for The Norman Conquests (1977)
DVD case for The Norman Conquests (1977)

The Norman Conquests — not to be confused with the historical Norman Conquest of England in 1066! — was adapted from the trilogy of plays written in 1973 by Alan Ayckbourn. Each play depicts the same six characters over the same weekend at a family home in the country, but from different perspectives and in different parts of the house. Norman, played by Tom Conti, is the title character — and reel librarian!

Title card from The Norman Conquests (1977)
Title card from The Norman Conquests (1977)

Setting the stage:

The three “episodes” of the trilogy include:

  • Table Manners,” set in the dining room
  • Living Together,” set in the living room
  • Round and Round the Garden,” set in the garden

The plays were written to be self-contained and watched in any order. Content from some scenes overlap from the different plays, and several times, a character’s exit from one play mirrors an entrance in another play.

There are six main characters, including three siblings, whose lives and loved ones intertwine:

  • Norman (played by Tom Conti)
  • Ruth, Norman’s wife (played by Fiona Walker)
  • Reg, Ruth’s brother (played by Richard Briers)
  • Sarah, Reg’s wife (played by Penelope Keith)
  • Annie, Reg’s and Ruth’s sister (played by Penelope Wilton)
  • Tom, Annie’s neighbor (played by David Troughton)

What’s the main plot? The back of the DVD sums it up as, “Passions flare and tempers rise when three couples cross paths at a country house one weekend.” Reg and Sarah come visit his sister, Annie, who confesses she’s been having an affair with her brother-in-law, Norman, and plans to go away for the weekend with him. Then Norman arrives, followed a day later by his wife, Ruth. Awkward… especially since Annie’s neighbor, Tom, is also interested in Annie!

‘Table Manners’ episode:

"Table Manners" title card
“Table Manners” title card

This was the first of the three episodes that I watched. We don’t see Norman until over a half-hour into the episode, but we hear about Norman and his characteristics (and exploits) almost from the beginning, when Annie confesses their affair to her sister-in-law, Sarah:

Annie:  You know Norman… Norman doesn’t bother about secret signals at all. It was just wham, thump, and there we both were on the rug.

Sarah:  Which rug?

Annie:  The brown nylon fur one in the lounge.

Sarah:  I blame Norman. That is absolutely typical. A brown fur rug.

During dinner on Saturday, we hear Norman’s voice for the first time, as he drunkenly sings from the living room, “Girls were made to love and kiss.”

We don’t get a look at Norman until Sunday morning, decked out in pajamas (the pajamas which we heard he had been “waving about” in the garden the day before). Quite the memorable first impression of a reel librarian!

Norman in his pajamas from The Norman Conquests (1977)
Norman in his pajamas

Norman, Reg, Sarah, and Annie spent an awkward breakfast together — mostly Norman acting up and telling uncomfortable truths dressed up as “jokes” — and afterward, Norman reveals something personal and revealing to his brother-in-law, Reg.

Reg, it’s not fair. A man of my type of temperament should really — ideally — be square-jawed, broad-shouldered, blue twinkling eyes, chuckle in his voice, a spring in his stride. He should get through three women a day without even ruffling his hair. That is what I am like inside. That’s my appetite. That’s me. I am a three-a-day man. There is enough of me in here to give, you know? Not just sex. I am talking about everything. Trouble is I was born in the wrong damn body. Look at me. A gigolo trapped in a haystack. Tragedy of my life.

Let me repeat that. A gigolo and an assistant librarian.

It’s like Norman himself is providing a definition for his Naughty Librarian character type!

Screenshot of Norman in The Norman Conquests (1977)
Is this Norman’s sexy face?

There are a couple of references to librarianship in this episode. One is that we learn that Norman told his wife that he would be going away for the weekend to a librarian conference (when he really was going to take Annie away to a hotel).

The other library reference is a conversation late in the episode between Ruth and Sarah:

I always feel with Norman I’ve got him on loan from somewhere, like one of his library books. I’ll get a card one day informing me he’s overdue, and there’s a fine to pay on him.

‘Living Together’ episode:

"Living Together" title card
“Living Together” title card

This episode is chock full of library references! It starts off with Reg and Sarah in the living room, along with Norman, sulking in the corner with his suitcase (because we know the weekend tryst between he and Annie has been called off). Interestingly, as you can see in the shot below of Norman with his suitcase, books are scattered about a bookcase shelf behind him… perhaps an external representation of Norman’s inner frustrations?

Reel Librarians | Norman sulking with his suitcase in The Norman Conquests (1977)
Norman sulking with his suitcase

We also get an immediate reference to the “librarian conference” Norman used as excuse, when Reg asks Norman about it and Norman replies it’s been cancelled “due to lack of interest.” Reg’s response? “Funny lot, these librarians.”

Norman later argues with Sarah about “stealing” Annie away:

Norman:  I was not stealing her. I was going to borrow her for a weekend.

Sarah:  You make her sound like one of your library books.

Norman: Well, she was borrowing me, too. It was a friendly loan, mutual.

Norman also explains his “librarian conference” excuse to Annie:

Annie:  I didn’t know assistant librarians had conferences.

Norman:  Oh, everybody has conferences.

And toward the end of the episode, on Monday morning, Norman plans to call in sick to the library:

Ruth:  I’m amazed they keep you on.

Norman:  I’m a very good librarian, that’s why. I know where all the dirty bits are in all the books.

This episode also reveals Norman’s romantic — and literary — side, as he bemoans the fate of his weekend tryst with Annie.

The course of true love shattered not by the furies, not by the fates, but by Mother’s bleeding pills?! ‘Dear Juliet, my shoelace has come undone. I cannot join you in the tomb. Love, Romeo.’

Norman gets slapped in The Norman Conquests (1977)
Norman gets slapped!

Ruth — who slaps Norman after she catches him kissing Annie in the living room — also reveals Norman’s inner romantic when she describes how he proposed to her:

He’s always been an expert at timing, whatever else. He proposed to me in a crowded lift. It was total blackmail. He sounded so appealing he won the heart of everyone round us. Had I been heartless enough to refuse him, they’d have probably dropped me down the lift shaft… I remember that was the first time I really felt like throttling Norman.

Ruth also shines a light on Norman’s “Naughty Librarian” character traits, when she states that Norman would “be much happier if you were perfectly free, flitting from woman to woman as the mood takes you.”

‘Round and Round the Garden’ episode:

"Round and Round the Garden" title card
“Round and Round the Garden” title card

This episode ends with a bang — literally! — but I won’t give too much away. More is revealed in this episode about Norman’s central character trait, his inner desire to be desired, and the inherent friction between lust and romantic idealism. Here are two speeches Norman gives that illustrate this conflict:

Where’s the romance? Where has the romance gone? Destroyed by the cynics and liberationists. Woe betide the man who dares to pay a woman a compliment today. He bends to kiss her hand and — wham! — a karate chop on the back of the neck, and she’s off with his wallet. No, forget the flowers, the soft word, the chocolates. Rather, woo her with a self-defense manual in one hand and a family-planning leaflet in the other.

It is on such a night as this, the old base instincts of primitive man, the hunter, come flooding to the surface. You long to be away, free, filled with the urge to rape, pillage, and conquer. Filled with the lust for conquests tonight.

Also revealing more of his “Naughty Librarian” characterization? On Sunday night, Reg and Tom are playing a game in the garden, and Norman comes out wearing shorts! While Reg and Tom are arguing, Norman scores a kiss from Annie… and it rapidly escalates from there!

Scenes from The Norman Conquests (1977)
Reel librarian tryst

We also find out more about this “librarian conference” Norman has lied about:

Tom: Business?

Norman: Yes. Yes. It’s the International Association of Assistant Librarians’ annual conference.

Tom:  Jolly good.

Norman:  Ah, it’s very exciting.

Toward the end of the episode, Norman — once again — links together the library and his personal life:

Ruth: I know you and your rests. Your mind just doesn’t associate beds with sleep at all. I don’t know when you do sleep. It certainly isn’t with me.

Norman:  I was brought up to believe that it was very insulting to sleep with your wife. Or any lady. A gentleman stays eagerly awake on one elbow. He sleeps at his work. That is what work is for. Why do you think they have the “silence” notices in my library? So as not to disturb me in my little nook behind the biography shelves, L to P.

Ruth:  They’ll sack you.

Norman:  They daren’t. I’ve reorganized the main index. When I die, the secret dies with me.

What we talk about when we talk about Norman:

Even when Norman is not onscreen, someone is talking about him. Here is a round-up of both criticisms and compliments about Norman throughout the episodes:


  • Whatever did she see in him? (Sarah talking about Ruth and Norman, in “Table Manners”)
  • He’s a laugh, you know, Norman. Goes on and on. Don’t know what he’s talking about. Makes me laugh. I don’t care. I like him. Not many women like him. I don’t know why. Sarah can’t bear him. Won’t have him in the house. Nor will his wife. (Reg to Tom, in “Table Manners”)
  • You’re a nice bloke, but I think you must be the last person in the world I ever want to have breakfast with again. (Reg to Norman, in “Table Manners”)
  • You do talk rubbish. (Annie to Norman, in “Table Manners”)
  • I’m a kept man. A married ponce. (Norman to his wife, Ruth, in “Table Manners”)
  • I don’t hate you. I can’t say I like you very much most of the time. (Sarah to Norman, in “Table Manners”
  • No point in making a gesture unless he has an appreciative crowd to applaud him. (Ruth, in “Living Together”)
  • You are odious, deceitful, conceited, self-centered, selfish, inconsiderate, and shallow. (Ruth to Norman, in “Living Together”)
  • Why did you let him drive? You know what he’s like! You knew he was Norman, didn’t you? (Reg to Ruth, in “Round and Round the Garden”)
  • He just can’t bear not being the center of attention. (Ruth about Norman, in “Round and Round the Garden”)
  • You’re foul. (Annie to Norman, in “Round and Round the Garden”)
  • Oh, Norman, you’re so stupid. (Annie to Norman, in “Round and Round the Garden”)


  • You’re a good chap, you know, Norman. A really good chap. I’m sorry you’re having to dash away to your conference. It’s a pity you’re not staying because you brighten up the place a bit. (Tom to Norman, in “Living Together”)
  • I think we underestimate Norman. (Sarah, in “Living Together”)
  • I seem to remember you could do a lot with one hand. (Annie to Norman, describing their one-night stand, in “Living Together”)
  • I think I must be rather fond of him. It’s a bit like owning an unmanageable oversized dog, being married to Norman. He’s not very well house-trained. He needs continual exercising — mental and physical. And it’s sensible to lock him up if you have visitors. Otherwise, he mauls them. (Ruth to Sarah, in “Round and Round the Garden”)
  • I have the Midas touch. (Norman referring to himself, in “Round and Round the Garden”)

Final encore:

As I’ve demonstrated above, Norman’s desire to be desired (dressed up in a “I could have made you happy” refrain) drives a lot of the trilogy’s plot. He is quite possibly the most fully realized Naughty Librarian character type in all cinema. Let’s check off the Naughty Librarian traits:

  • Sexually charged male librarian (usually focused on sex, which is certainly true in Norman’s case)
  • Usually unsuccessful professionally (Norman jokes about sleeping on the job; Ruth complains about having to earn a salary for them to live on; everyone is surprised that “assistant librarians” have conferences to go to)
  • Middle-aged (one could argue that Norman is experiencing a “mid-life crisis”)
  • Depicted as generally unattractive (Norman is described as a “sheepdog” in one scene and “an unmanageable oversized dog” in another)
  • Usually viewed as creepy, sexually deviant, or wimpy (Norman is seen as unmanly and a “kept man”; reveals he fainted during a documentary about childbirth; also gets punched and slapped in the face by multiple characters)

I found myself thinking throughout the episodes that Norman was very similar in character to Peter Sellers in Only Two Can Play, who plays John Lewis, an assistant librarian who feels unfulfilled in career, in life, and in love; in that 1962 film, John seeks a promotion, as well as possible love affairs. Sound familiar?!

The Norman Conquests ends up a Class II film, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot. Norman being a librarian isn’t the catalyst or reason for the plot; rather, his profession juxtaposed with his libido is played for laughs. Isn’t it hilarious that this wimpy, sheepdog-like librarian feels like a gigolo on the inside?!

Tom Conti as the title character Norman does an excellent job of being both annoying AND charming at the same time. One almost feels sorry for this man, as Conti reveals Norman’s inner turmoil and sexual frustration — mostly through a myriad of engaging facial expressions:

Facial expressions of Norman from The Norman Conquests (1977)
A reel librarian’s expressive face

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. And that is critical in a story like this; with a limited pool of actors, the weakest link would rise immediately to the top. I am quite glad I watched The Norman Conquests, and I can appreciate the writer’s skill in crafting a tale that manages to go over the same events from different perspectives — but still manages to pack in surprises along the way! Each episode reveals something you didn’t know before and deepens your understanding of what you had seen before.

The main caveat is that it does take time to watch the entire miniseries, as each episode is 90 minutes. But the series definitely merits multiple viewings — if you have the patience for Norman’s antics! — and I have to admit, I have continued to think about Norman and his conquests long after I finished watching the miniseries.

I have a feeling Norman would be quite pleased to learn that I’m still thinking about him… 😉

Have you watched The Norman Conquests, either in film or play format? Please leave a comment and share your experiences!

Sources used:

  • The Norman Conquests (TV movies). Dir. Herbert Wise. Perf. Tom Conti, Richard Briers, Penelope Keith, David Troughton, Fiona Walker, Penelope Wilton. Thames Television, 1977.

A librarian’s ‘tell-tale heart’

“When he stores you under the floorboards, I’m sure he’ll catalog you, too!”

This 1960 version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart stars Laurence Payne as Edgar Marsh, who is described on the back of the DVD case as “a mentally unstable librarian.” If you’re familiar with Poe’s classic short story, then you might be asking yourself right now, “I don’t remember that story including a librarian.” And you would be RIGHT.

The plot is summed up on the back of the DVD case. So no spoilers that the DVD case doesn’t already reveal:

A mentally unstable librarian discovers that the woman he is infatuated with has dumped him for another man. In a fit of rage, he murders his rival, burying the body under the floorboards in his home.

DVD cover of The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
DVD cover of The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)

This is not a film to make Poe purists happy. Also, I noted that in the opening credits, Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name is misspelled as Allen, as seen below. The main character — also named Edgar, subtle — also lives on Rue Morgue. So this film starts out as a hodgepodge of random Poe references.

Screenshots from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
This film is NOT subtle (or spelled correctly — see Poe’s misspelled middle name)

Given this context, I was not really looking forward to watching The Tell-Tale Heart (1960). I do, however, have to give credit to the director, Ernest Morris, for crafting a slow-burning, moody tale, with plenty of shadows and dramatic film angles. The film’s look harkens back to the 1944 classic Gaslight, especially given the period film setting. The acting by the leads also elevates this melodramatic tale, even if Laurence Payne tends to go over-the-top in his lead role.

Cue the dramatic facial expressions:

Facial expressions of the lead actor in The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Facial expressions of the lead actor in The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)

Our first look at the lead character is shot from below, as Edgar descends a staircase in his bathrobe, peering down the banister. A heart is beating faintly in the background. Is he fearful… or is he the one we should fear? It’s also telling that we get a shot, all askew, of the portrait of his dead mother.

Screenshot from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
A librarian’s first love?

Edgar’s naughty librarian ways are revealed early on. In one early scene, he leers through the window at a lively restaurant, and is caught staring at a woman’s legs (seen below). When she makes an advance and touches his hand, he reacts violently and runs away. Returning home — pausing to rub the cheek of his dead mother’s portrait, as you do — he takes out a collection of pornographic photos secreted in the back of his closet. But rather than getting excited by the photos, he seems sad and resigned instead, his hand falling limply by his side.

Screenshot from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Naughty librarian thoughts
Screenshots from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)

The next morning, Edgar looks out his bedroom window and sees Betty for the first time and finds himself instantly obsessed. He becomes a peeping Tom, watching her undress night after night (it is annoying that Betty remains clueless about her uncovered window throughout the film). The director also consistently places the camera behind Edgar as he looks at women, which heightens the creep factor.

Screenshot from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
A librarian’s obsession

Edgar finally works up the nerve to ask Betty to dinner, and she accepts because, as she says later, “I suppose I felt sorry for him.” On their first outing, he reveals his occupation:

Betty:  Now it’s your turn.

Edgar:  I work as a librarian. I’m in charge of the reference section in the main library. [pauses]

Betty:  Is that all?

Edgar:  I can’t think of anything else to say.

Escorting her home, he then sexually assaults Betty, putting his arms around her and trying to kiss her (below left). He gets a door slammed in his face (rightfully so). He apologizes the next morning, and Betty takes yet more pity on him. This leads to yet more sexual harassment (below right).

Screenshots from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Sexual assault by a reel librarian

Edgar is the one who ends up introducing Betty to his friend, Carl; Edgar seems oblivious to their immediate attraction to each other. Until that is, his voyeuristic activities reveal Betty’s and Carl’s affair… which leads to him later beating Carl to death in a jealous rage. Of course, Edgar didn’t realize at the time that he was also killing his own soul while he was killing his only friend.

Screenshot from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
A naughty librarian’s evil deeds

Ironically, Carl is the only one in the film who says anything nice about Edgar. He says to Betty at one point that “He’s a decent sort. He’s helped me out of a spot more than once,” and in another scene, “He’s an intelligent man.”

Why a librarian? This is not part of the original short story, so why did the screenwriters make such a point of mentioning it? The library itself is shown briefly in one scene, pictured below, when Betty comes to ask him about Carl’s disappearance.

Screenshot from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
The naught librarian in his library

Ironically, Edgar appears at his most confident while in his “natural habitat,” the library. He is smooth and even flirtatious with Betty, cupping her chin with his fingers. The shot of Edgar’s tidy desk at the library also contrasts with his untidy desk at home, as seen in the pictures below. He plays the role of a respectable citizen when he is at the library; at home, he is a mess.

Screenshots from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
At work in the library

The fact that Edgar is a librarian is not that important to the plot (landing the film in the Class II category), except for a scene later in the film when Betty goes to the police to voice her suspicions about Edgar’s involvement in Carl’s disappearance. The policeman’s reaction?

Edgar Marsh has worked quietly as chief librarian in this town for many years. A thoroughly respectable citizen. No, no, no. I don’t want to persecute an innocent man.

His being a librarian provides him respectability, although it is a “damning with faint praise” kind of respectability. Edgar is a sad, frustrated, lonely man, one who lacks confidence and shows obvious discomfort in social situations.

You know how I’m usually like around women. Petrified as such to do to the wrong thing.

Betty:  You live all alone in that big house?  

Edgar:  I prefer it that way.

A classic Librarian as Failure. His actions and violent reactions are motivated by fear.

Edgar also fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type. He is obsessed with sex, as evidenced by his collection of pornographic photos, but he doesn’t know what to do when he has the opportunity (like when he runs away from the woman in the bar). He is sexually frustrated, which feeds into his violent overreactions; the film also hints at some kind of unnatural past sexual relationship with his mother.

It doesn’t come as a surprise then, when sexual fantasies of Betty quickly turn into nightmares of Carl’s last dying moments. Sex and violence are irrevocably linked in this reel librarian’s mind. It is also no coincidence that the only time we see Edgar in bed, he is physically ill.

Screenshot from The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Guilty conscience?

Laurence Payne gives it his all, and then some, as troubled reel librarian Edgar Marsh. However, as you can tell, this is not the most flattering of male librarian portrayals!

To counteract all the creepiness, I will end on a funny note. My husband did NOT like the film — he is a Poe purist — and after the scene in which Edgar kills Carl and hides his body, he joked:

“When he stores you under the floorboards, I’m sure he’ll catalog you, too!” 😀

Sources used:

  • The Tell-Tale Heart. Dir. Ernest Morris. Perf. Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri, Dermot Walsh. Danziger Productions, 1960.

Naughty Librarians (boys’ night out)

Exploring the male Naughty Librarian character type

We have come to my final post in this series of reel librarian character types (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for previous posts). The male counterpart to the female Naughty Librarians, this type was originally entitled “The Sex-obsessed Male Librarian” in my undergraduate thesis.

Striking differences do separate the two varieties of Naughty Librarians. There are not as many examples of the males as there are females; obviously, the female Naughty Librarian fantasy reigns supreme (see here for a related post). The male charaters are more focused on actual sex, not a diluted vision of love, as sometimes seen in the female equivalent. Also, the female Naughty Librarians turn to violence more often due to repressed feelings, while their male counterparts almost never do.

The male Naughty Librarian, although a sexually charged character, is one who attempts to act out his desires because he is professionally and/or personally unsuccessful in some way. This marks the biggest deviation between the two sets of Naughty Librarians. The females are usually young to middle-aged, and quite attractive (after they let their hair down after work, of course), whereas the males are usually middle-aged to older, and usually viewed as a bit creepy or otherwise sexually unappealing to others.

The father in You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), I. H. Chanticleer (Rip Torn), illustrates the male Naughty Librarian type. While his son, Bernard, experiments with fantasies — in the film, they are expressed in Day-Glo ’60s colors — the father acts out by sexually harassing his pretty young secretaries. One scene, see above, involves Bernard’s landlady, Mrs. Thing (Julie Harris), who assumes that the father must want to rape her after she accidentally locks them both into the archives vault. She freaks out when she realizes the archives are full of “dirty” pictures of Ovid and ancient literature “pornography” (her perspective, not mine). In this instance, Chanticleer, the Curator of Incunabula at the library, is NOT sexually interested in Mrs. Thing; he is more preoccupied with saving the rare books. And let’s be blunt, she’s not the same type as the secretaries he’s used to going after.

In The Name of the Rose (1986), Michael Habeck plays the assistant librarian Berengar, a homosexual monk prone to staring and giggling. His white skin and googley eyes do stand out, and not in a good way. And then we find out that Berengar has caused a brilliant young monk to commit suicide after being forced to partake of the “sins of the flesh.” Knowing his sin, Berengar whips himself and becomes the third victim in the film because he has read the “forbidden” book, Aristotle’s second book of the Poetics.

Perhaps the most realistically lecherous of all the male Naughty Librarians, Peter Sellers plays John Lewis in Only Two Can Play (1962), a Welshman vying for a promotion of Sub-Librarian by embarking on an affair with the wife of a library board member (see below).

The beginning of the film sets up John’s character, saturating his vision with glimpses of women’s legs, breasts, and hips. He groans in frustration after he discovers a book he has dropped is called Is Sex Necessary? His obsession with the female sex is compounded by the fact tht he has a young, desirable wife — but also faces the realities of two messy kids at home. John never actually consummates the affair, and in the end, he agrees with his wife to work on his sex addictive behavior. I must note that the film does not reveal to us at the end if he has mastered his womanizing ways.

So there you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of reel librarian character types. For all the types I’ve identified thus far, please see the Role Call section of this site.

‘Debbie Does’ a play

A closer look at the librarian in “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical”

During my research of librarian films, I have come across two erotic films, Debbie Does Dallas (1978) and Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy (1976) that reportedly include librarian characters. I haven’t seen either film yet, and I don’t intend to include straight-to-video adult films that include librarians on this site — that’s a whole other subset of Naughty Librarians that I won’t get into. But these two films were both highly successful at the time and considered classics of their kind, produced during the so-called “Golden Age of Porn” where adult films became more mainstream. Just telling it as it is, folks.

The plot of Debbie Does Dallas is quite simple:  a group of cheerleaders try to earn enough money to send Debbie to try out for the “Texas Cowgirls” squad (obviously a riff off the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders). How do they earn that money? There’s a reason it’s called the oldest profession in the world, of course. 😉

As I detailed in a earlier post about how I find new titles to watch, I routinely check my Master List against various sources. And imagine my surprise when I found a copy of Debbie Does Dallas in my local community college consortium — not the film, alas, but the play! I had no idea that the film had been adapted for the stage, but indeed, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical was created in 2001 by Susan L. Schwartz for the New York International Fringe Festival. It was adapted by Erica Schmidt, with original musical numbers by Andrew Sherman.

Debbie Does Dallas the Musical
Debbie Does Dallas the Musical

And indeed, there is a librarian in the play, a Mr. Biddle. Here’s how he’s described in the script notes:

Mr. Biddle works at the high-school library. He is repressed and reserved. Biddle is of a forgotten generation in his principles and etiquette. (He is a male character in a porno and he does not want sex.) He is smart, rash, quick to anger and passionate about poetry.

From that description, I immediately thought Anti-Social Librarian, the male equivalent of the Spinster Librarian. This type of reel librarian tends to hoard knowledge, exhibits poor social skills, dislikes people, and focuses on rules. Makes sense, right?

Mr. Biddle is definitely a minor character, turning up in only a few scenes. In Scene 8, “Girls Get Jobs,” the poet cheerleader Donna asks if she can work at the library. He is reluctant, but is convinced by Donna’s scintillating argument:  “I could help by watching books and stamping and stuff.” (Sigh.) His response?  “Oh, ok.” (Double sigh.)

His biggest and final scene comes in Scene 20, “The Library.” Mr. Biddle catches Donna and her boyfriend Tim fooling around. Angry, he shouts, “You know the rules here. How could you so wantonly break them?” Afraid he will tell her parents, she allows him to spank her (see right). And then he asks her to spank him:  “I always wanted to be bent over and spanked by a cheerleader ’cause I’m a bad and nasty boy.” Donna readily agrees, calling him “Bad Biddle.” This sets him back $105.

And with that, he also serves as a Naughty Librarian — the males of this type, unlike the female Naughty Librarians, are generally unattractive (check) and interested in deviant or unusual sexual acts (check).

So is the play successful? The scenes are extremely short, with repeated occurrences of inane dialogue. I lost count of how many times I read, “Oh, ok” and “Ok, bye.” The sex acts are hinted at or simulated or played with bananas (not kidding, see below). In truth, I rolled my eyes at the self-described tone of the play, as set out in the introductory notes:

The style of this piece is: rodeo-porno-football-circus. Every performer must be willing to go over the top and yet NOT BE CAMPY. The performances are meant to be big in size but never winking at the audience.

Does Mr. Biddle’s character in the play mimic his reel counterpart? Apparently so, as according to Frank Vigorito’s review from the 2001 New York International Fringe Festival, “Debbie’s plot and script are word-for-word faithful to the original 1978 film.” And the scenes feel so short because of the removal of the sex scenes, so scenes “seemingly occur about every 30 seconds.” I agree with Vigorito’s final verdict:

Essentially, the play moves from one pointless scene of dialogue to the next, with the audience left waiting for something to look forward to, but that moment never arrives, unless you consider the final curtain.

Sources used:

  • Schwartz, Susan L. Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, 2002.
  • Vigorito, Frank. “Blown Opportunity.” Off Off Off Theater, 14 August 2001.
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