‘Pride and Prejudice’ follow-up

From clergyman to librarian (and back again)

One major benefit of going back through every post while updating the site — other than, you know, updating the site! — was getting reacquainted with past posts. And I took note when I wrote that I wanted to follow up on some thing, to close the loop on specific questions or ideas. This post is one of those threads I wanted to follow up.


From clergyman to librarian:


Back in Feb. 2014, I analyzed the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice, in which the character of the “odious Mr. Collins” was changed from a clergyman in Jane Austen’s original novel to a librarian. And not just any librarian! Lady Catherine de Burgh’s personal librarian.

Here’s how he introduces himself in the 1940 film version (and how I reacted):

How Mr. Collins introduces himself as a librarian
How Mr. Collins introduces himself as a librarian

Back then, I researched a couple of theories about why his character was changed, which included both the height of the “screwball comedy” genre in cinema at the time, as well as the influence of the “Hays Code” that forbid “ridicule of the clergy.”

I also took note back then of the screenwriters and their source material:

[T]he film’s writing credits are lengthy: Aldous Huxley (!) and Jane Murfin are credited as co-authors of the screenplay, which also borrowed heavily from Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. I haven’t obtained a copy of the play — and only bits of it are available to read for free online — to check if the character of Mr. Collins was turned into a librarian in Jerome’s version. I doubt it, but it would be nice to close that loop.

When I revisited that original 2014 post during my “revisiting favorite posts” series in Summer 2016, I continued to note that:

Rereading this post made me remember that I still need to get a copy of Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, in order to close the loop on whether or not Collins’s profession is changed in the play this film is based on.

So. I finally requested a copy of Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization, Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, through my college library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service.

1934 Pride and Prejudice play
1934 Pride and Prejudice play

I now have my answer:

No doubt about it, Mr. Collins is a clergyman in this play.


Clergyman clues in the play:


Here’s how he is introduced, when Mr. Bennet breaks the news that Mr. Collins is coming to visit, in Act I:

ELIZABETH [to her father, Mr. Bennet]: Can he [Mr. Collins] be a sensible man, sir?

LYDIA: He sounds to me a bit of an ass.

MRS. BENNET: Now, Lydia, my love, is that a nice way to speak of a clergyman?

LYDIA: I thought I heard you refer to him as an odious creature a few minutes ago, Mama?

Clergyman introduction in Pride and Prejudice 1934 play
Clergyman conversation

And moments later, Mr. Collins arrives:

MR. BENNET: Mrs. Bennet, let me present the Reverend Mr. Collins, our esteemed cousin.

Act II drops in bits about Mr. Collins’s professional duties as a clergyman. For instance, Mrs. Bennet mentions that:

I suppose our dear cousin Collins is preparing his sermon for Sunday.

And right before he proposes to Elizabeth, Collins confirms that:

I had two sermons to prepare in readiness for my return to my parish.

It only took 5 years to get around to answering that question… but better late than never, right? 😉

Given the fact that this 1934 dramatization, which, along with the source novel, provided the foundation for the 1940 film version — and that this play still highlighted Mr. Collins as a man of the cloth — I think it makes sense that the screenwriters changed (or were forced to change?) Mr. Collins’s profession due to the main reasons I outlined previously. I think it likely that the Hays Code played a more prominent role in this character switch. As I noted back in 2014:

The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.

Sigh.


Mentions of libraries in the play:


While I had the play on hand, I noted when/if libraries were mentioned at all, as Mr. Bennet uses his own private library as a retreat of sorts — from his wife, assuredly, but also probably from the world? — in the novel. And yes, both Mr. Bennet’s private library AND Lady Catherine de Burgh’s private library are mentioned.

In Act I, Scene I, right at the beginning of the play:

MR. BENNET: Hill! [a manservant] Take this book to the library! I don’t want Miss Lydia to read it.

In Act II, Scene I, Mr. Bennet’s library is also used as a retreat for Elizabeth, during Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal to her:

ELIZABETH: No, Mr. Collins, I will as plainly as possible say no. (She crosses to library door. He tries to get to door. She brushes him aside.) And you need not try to scamper in front of me again. This time I am going out by this door. (Exits R.)

Later, in Act II, Scene III, we get the only mention of Lady Catherine’s private library, during this brief exchange with Elizabeth:

LADY CATHERINE: Ah, you are writing letters, I see, Miss Bennet.

ELIZABETH: I was.

LADY CATHERINE: But why in this rom. We always write our letters in the library.

ELIZABETH: Yes, I know, Lady Catherine — But the library does not possess such a view — and I write with so much more inspiration when looking out on green trees and flowers.

In Act III, Scene I, the library is mentioned in the stage directions, when Lady Catherine is visiting Longbourn to try and intimidate Elizabeth before leaving in a huff:

LADY CATHERINE: I take no leave of you. I send no farewell message to your mother! Miss Bennet, I am seriously displeased.

(Mrs. Bennet comes in quickly from the library R. where she has probably tried to eavesdrop. Looking around room for Lady Catherine.)

Finally, in Act III, Scene II, Mr. Bennet’s library is again mentioned in stage directions, as Darcy makes his move (again) for Elizabeth’s hand. He knocks at the library door, which Elizabeth answers. She comes out of the library, and they sit on the sofa for the final proposal scene.


Library props:


And last but not least, props! I really enjoyed that the play included lists of costumes and props at the end.

Library props in 1934 Pride and Prejudice play
Library props

I’m assuming the following were included as props for the library:

  • 1 hanging shelf (in two sections) is listed in the “Bric a brac, etc.” heading
  • 70 leather bound books are listed in the “Small properties” heading

Comments?


Did you enjoy this trip down memory lane? Have you seen the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice and ever wondered why Mr. Collins was a bumbling librarian, rather than this usual bumbling clergyman self? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


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“You went to the library” | The importance of library books in ‘Zodiac’

“Somebody didn’t want a record of ever having checked out these books.”

It often happens in my life that when I settle down to watch a movie at home, a library or librarian gets mentioned onscreen… and then date night turns into “film analysis” night. Like I have said before, once you are aware of reel librarians, you start seeing (or hearing about them) EVERYWHERE. 🙂

The movie in question this past week was David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, based on the true events of the Zodiac serial killer, as detailed in the 1986 non-fiction book of the same name by Robert Graysmith. The Zodiac’s killing spree was in and around the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the killer sent several letters and ciphers to the police and newspapers. The film’s star-studded cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as newspaper cartoonist Graysmith, Robert Downey, Jr. as reporter Paul Avery, and Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi.

Here’s a trailer for Zodiac:

“Zodiac – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License 

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

Although no librarian is featured in this movie, and no scenes are set in a library onscreen, this film DOES include several scenes that highlight libraries and library books. Reel librarians are often used as shortcuts for plot progression; in this case, just the library books themselves are used as plot shortcuts. Therefore, it’s a Class V film (no librarians featured), but I found it an interesting film to analyze, nonetheless.

Shall we?


Cracking the library code:


At 52 minutes into this 157-minute film (it’s a really long, slow-paced film, y’all), Graysmith is talking with Avery in a bar about a cipher the Zodiac killer used to write a note to the police, challenging the public to crack his message. Graysmith explains the starting point to figuring out the coded message. (Underlining throughout signifies my own emphasis.)

AveryBut how do you go from “A” is one, “B” is two to figuring out this whole code?

GraysmithSame way I did. You go to the library.

At this point, Graysmith takes out a book from his briefcase, a book entitled The Code Breakers by David Kahn.

NOTEThis is a real book, by the way, first published in 1967. I looked it up. ‘Cause librarian. 😉 And for sake of the timeline, the first official Zodiac killing occurred in 1969.

The Code Breakers book in a scene from Zodiac (2007)
The Code Breakers book in a scene from Zodiac (2007)

Graysmith In this book, the author presents a very simple substitution code in the preface. Eight of the 26 symbols that he suggests are in this cipher.

He then takes out another book from his briefcase, this one entitled Codes and Ciphers by John Laffin. This book describes another Middle Ages code called the “Zodiac Alphabet.”

NOTE:  Yep, another real book, this one published in 1964. Gotta hand it to the David Fincher team for its research skills. HOWEVER, that team overlooked the detail of including call numbers, because neither one of these books has a call number — and Graysmith clearly states that he got them from a library. A real library book would have a call number on the spine. Back in the 1960s, it was commonplace to strip the paper covers from hardback books, and then either paint on call numbers or otherwise affix typed call numbers onto the spine. But dully colored hardback books would not have cinematic impact, so I suspect the product team just bought first edition copies and didn’t think about call numbers. But librarians do! 😉

Codes and Ciphers book in a scene from Zodiac (2007)
Codes and Ciphers book in a scene from Zodiac (2007)

Newspaper research:


Any film involving reporters has to include a scene in the newspaper archives, right? This almost obligatory scene, lasting only a minute, occurs a little over an hour into the film. Avery takes Graysmith to the newspaper archives, looking for copies of the Modesto Bee. (Yep, a real newspaper, founded in 1884. Of course I had to look that up, too!) They gather clues from newspaper clippings to suggest that some killings the Zodiac killer confessed to are in doubt, because he only provides clues in letters written after articles in the newspaper came out.

Newspaper archives
Newspaper archives
Newspaper archives
Newspaper archives

I also wanted to include a couple of screenshots from this scene because of how visually they remind me of ANOTHER archives scene in a library directed by David Fincher, 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Read my analysis of that film here.)


Real library filming location:


I mentioned earlier that no scenes are set in a library onscreen. However, the production team did use a real-life library location… as a police station.

At one hour and 12 minutes into the film, several regional police officers travel to the Riverside Police Department to discuss a potential early victim of the Zodiac killer.

Here’s the narration of the victim’s last night — which also includes a library!

Cheri Jo Bates attended Riverside Community College. She studies in the library the night of Oct. 30, 1966. She leaves with an unidentified male at closing, 9 p.m. Her body’s found the next morning in a parking lot, stabbed to death.

This is based on true events; Bates’s murder has been linked to the Zodiac killings. Below is a screenshot of the note she left her father:  “Dad — went to RCC Library.

NOTE:  There is technically not a current “Riverside Community College.” There is now a Riverside City College, which had been known as “Riverside Community College” during the 1960s. The college is part of the Riverside Community College District. So the film got this detail correct, as the school was known as “Riverside Community College” during this time period.

Library note in victim's file
Library note in victim’s file
Real-life library filming location (interior) in Zodiac (2007)
Real-life library filming location (interior) in Zodiac (2007)

The interior and exteriors of this scene at the Riverside Police Station were filmed at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, California. The library’s website includes a “Facility Rentals” page with “competitive film location pricing.” The photos on that page definitely correspond to the screenshots above and below.

Real-life library filming location (exterior) in Zodiac (2007)
Real-life library filming location (exterior) in Zodiac (2007)
Real-life library filming location (exterior) in Zodiac (2007)
Real-life library filming location (exterior) in Zodiac (2007)

“You went to the library”:


Graysmith continues to track down clues about the Zodiac killer, even when others have given up. At 1 hour and 44 minutes into the film, Graysmith visits Avery, who has left (been fired? or otherwise forced out?) from his job as a reporter and is living in a trailer. Avery challenges why Graysmith is even continuing down the Zodiac path.

GraysmithIt was important.

AveryThen what did you ever do about it? If it was so fucking important, then what did you ever do? You hovered over my desk, you stole from wastebaskets… you went to the library.

GraysmithI’m sorry I bothered you. [leaves]

I just want to point out that the man who basically says that Graysmith was doing nothing — that going to the library meant doing nothing — is living amidst trash and alcohol bottles and (un)dressed in boxers and a robe. Yeahhhhhh…. it’s Graysmith who has been doing nothing with his life. 😦

Avery sits in judgment, amidst beer bottles and Pong
Avery sits in judgment, amidst beer bottles and Pong

Library as alibi?


In the scene immediately following his confrontation with Avery, Graysmith arrives home late. His wife asks him where he has been.

Graysmith’s response?  “The library.”

He puts down books on the chair, the same code-breaking books we saw in the earlier scene with Avery. It’s not clear whether he’s using the library as an alibi, or if it’s where he really went after seeing Avery. Either explanation is plausible, although I’m erring toward the alibi angle.

The library as alibi? Complete with props!
The library as alibi? Complete with props!

Tracing library book records:


This next scene, between Graysmith and Inspector Toschi, feels like a companion piece to the first scene I mentioned between Graysmith and Avery; this scene takes place in a diner while the earlier scene occurred in a bar. Both involve library books.

This scene occurs at one hour, 47 minutes into the film, and lasts about a minute and a half.

GraysmithI wanted to ask you about the Zodiac. [Timeline note:  At this point, the Zodiac killer hadn’t written a letter in three years]

Toschi nods assent.

GraysmithCan I show you something? [Takes out books from his briefcase — sound familiar?] I’ve been doing research on the first cipher. Everything an amateur would need to create it can be found in these books. Now, I started thinking that if you can track these books, then maybe you can track the man. So I remember that you thought the Zodiac was military, so I went to every base library and I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books, and that’s when I found this.

He then takes out a sheaf of papers and hands them to Toschi. (Side note:  I did notice that at least one of the books below, a thinner tan-colored one, *does* have a call number label on its spine. Hurrah!)

Getting lists of library book checkouts in Zodiac (2007)
Getting lists of library book checkouts in Zodiac (2007)

ToschiMissing.

GraysmithIt means they were stolen.

ToschiSo, almost every book on ciphers was stolen from the Presidio Library?

GraysmithAnd the Oakland Army Terminal Library. Somebody didn’t want a record of ever having checked out these books.

ToschiWho are you again?

GraysmithI just wanna help.

I have to note that this scene reminded me very much of another David Fincher film, 1995’s Seven, in which they track down the killer through library checkouts. (Note to self:  I need to rewatch and analyze Seven soon for this blog!)

I also have to interject as a librarian about how UNETHICAL this is, what Graysmith just described. Librarians giving up library checkout information and records to a civilian??! Nope. No way. Nuh-uh. That requires a court order or a search warrant. If this detail is true — and in this scene, Graysmith clearly states, “I got a list of every person who’s ever checked out these books” — then he got those lists from unethical (or clueless) librarians or library workers. It reminds me of another, similar scene of an librarian doing this SAME THING, in 1943’s The Seventh Victim, in a post I entitled, “The horror of an unethical librarian.” Reel librarians may be shortcuts in movies, but we are NOT shortcuts to proper police procedures in real life.

Okay, soap box moment over. Now onto the final scene mentioning a library, or rather…


“The fuckin’ library”:


At two hours into the film, in a scene lasting fewer than 30 seconds, we see Avery drinking again, this time in a bar. (Progress?) The TV is on, and he looks up as a news reporter mentions the Zodiac killer. The reporter is interviewing Graysmith.

ReporterIn the decade since the Zodiac’s last cipher was received, every federal agency has taken a crack at decoding it. But today, where those agencies had failed, a cartoonist has succeeded.

Reporter, asking GraysmithHow did you do it?

GraysmithOh, uh, just a lot of books from the library.

TV news interview from Zodiac (2007)
TV news interview from Zodiac (2007)

Avery then quips, “Yeah, the fuckin’ library.

Avery comments, "Yeah. The fuckin' library" in a scene from Zodiac (2007)
Avery comments, “Yeah. The fuckin’ library” in a scene from Zodiac (2007)

That’s right, Avery, the fuckin’ library. 😉

And it’s amusing to me that the first scene that mentions library books happens with Avery, who was consistently condescending throughout the film about the library to Graysmith. But then Avery himself is the one who comes full circle, back to the library.

Here’s a screenshot of Avery’s facial expression from that first scene with Avery and the code-breaking library books. I feel his smug facial expression says it all.

Yep, that's right, the fuckin' library.
Yep, that’s right, the fuckin’ library.

There are 7 scenes total in this Class V film that mention libraries or library books or otherwise take place in an archives or library setting. The duration of those scenes last for a combined 12-15 minutes (only 10% out of a 157-minute running time!), but the combined scenes and library books leave a lasting impression.

Have you seen Zodiac? If so, do you remember the through-line and theme of library books and real-life research? Please leave a comment and share!


Sources used:


‘The Learning Tree’ and library cover-ups

The mention of a library is part of a pivotal plot point.

The 1969 film The Learning Tree is a coming-of-age story of Newt, a young African-American boy in 1920s Kansas, and it is based on the novel by Gordon Parks (who also wrote and directed the film). I set the film to record on my DVR, when it showed on the TCM Channel, because of the film’s write-up and title. Sometimes, I tape movies that mention schools or universities, hoping there might be a scene in a library or glimpse of a librarian.

There is no actual library or librarian in this film, making this a Class V film, but the mention of a library is part of a pivotal plot point.

Screenshot from The Learning Tree (1969)
Setting of The Learning Tree

At 51 mins into the film, Newt walks to his girlfriend Arcella’s house after school. He learns from her mother that she isn’t home yet from school, which surprises him. He said he had to stay late at school. (And as an audience, we know that earlier, when Newt was in the principal’s office, he saw Arcella get into the car of a local white boy, a boy named Chauncey Cavanaugh who is known to be wild.)

Screenshot from The Learning Tree (1969)
Should I be worried?

Even though Arcella’s mother isn’t aware of what Newt saw, she looks worried. Therefore, Newt lies to her — and this is where the library comes into play.

Newt:  Oh, she said something about going to the library before it closed.

Arcella’s mom:  Oh, I see. Well, I’ll tell her you boys stopped by.

Arcella’s mom visibly relaxes when Newt mentions the library. Why? Because the library is code for a safe place, a place welcoming to all. So even when a library is not actually in a film, our influence can still be felt!

As Newt and his friend Jappy walk away, Jappy gives him a smirk and reveals that he knows that Newt lied about the library.

Jappy:  Arcella sure enough isn’t at the library.

Newt:What’s it to you where she’s at?

Jappy:  It’s ok, it’s ok, I just asked.

As they turn the corner, they run into Arcella, who’s walking slowly and clutching her books to her chest. She looks very sad and upset but won’t admit that anything’s wrong. Newt reluctantly turns to go but is still trying to protect Arcella as he tells her that he told her mother she was at the library.

Screenshot from The Learning Tree (1969)
Books in hand
Screenshot from The Learning Tree (1969)
Walking away

Although Newt was still trying to protect Arcella by letting her know about the library excuse, that cover-up was short-lived and its protection fleeting. We find out later that Arcella is pregnant, obviously stemming back to that tragic day. It is quite a sad scene, as we had seen Arcella and Newt’s relationship slowly blossoming, cut short by these tragic circumstances.

Morals of the story? Don’t get into cars with boys, and don’t lie for others about going to the library.


Sources used:


  • The Learning Tree. Dir. Gordon Parks. Perf. Kyle Johnson, Mira Waters, Alex Clarke. Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, 1969.

‘Cheers for’ library education

“It just occurred to me that with that amazing memory of yours, you might be interested in the librarian’s course.”

The 1941 film Cheers for Miss Bishop follows the story of Miss Bishop, a college English teacher, as she reflects on her life living and teaching in one small town.

DVD back cover for Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)
DVD back cover for Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)

The write-up on the back of the case reveals most of the plot:

Tomboy Ella Bishop has blossomed into a smart, sophisticated woman… From a rocky start as a young school teacher to the unexpected adoption of an abandoned child, and finally as the venerated old maid who has inspired scores of her students to achieve greatness, Miss Bishop deserves three cheers!

The film plays like it aspires to be a female version of the 1939 classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Martha Scott plays the title role, from a young woman through middle age to a “venerated old maid.” We first meet Miss Bishop — yes, an educated woman who never marries — when she is an old woman, as seen below. She says to her old friend, Sam (William Gargan) that “looking backward [is a] great waste of time.” Perhaps not the most encouraging way to begin a biopic… 😉

Screenshot from Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)
This film did not get nominated for Best Makeup

As a young woman eagerly starting college at the new Midwestern University — graduating as valedictorian in the early 1880s — Ella Bishop’s character is quickly established through this exchange of two admirers:

There’s not another girl in the class that can touch her.

There’s not another girl in the whole world that can touch her.

Ella herself seems quite confident that education will NOT be her entire life, with these early statements:

You don’t think I’m going to spend all my life teaching, do you?”

And don’t worry, I won’t be an old maid. I’ll know when the right man comes along. But now… there’s so much to do.

The DVD cover tries to stir up more drama than is evident in the film with the tagline, “The woman they whispered about…” and the odd central photo of Ella Bishop embracing an older man, as seen below. But it is obvious that when compared to her silly, boy-crazy cousin Amy, Miss Bishop is portrayed in the film as a good girl.

DVD front cover for Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)
DVD front cover for Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)

After graduating, the college president Corcoran (Edmund Gwenn) offers Miss Bishop a teaching position at Midwestern to teach Freshman English; her first year of teaching is 1884. Her first year does get off to a shaky start, as when her first student enters the classroom and mistakes her for a fellow student, asking if the teacher has come yet! Also in that first class, she asks her pupils to write a brief essay about their life’s ambitions.

One student, Minna Fields (the cinematic debut of Rosemary DeCamp), nervously recites her speech, “Except to get learning, I ain’t got no special life’s ambition, yet.” In the very next scene, 15 minutes into the film, Miss Bishop advises Minna to be a librarian! Coming right after Minna’s statement that she “ain’t got no special life’s ambition,” this suggestion doesn’t come across as very encouraging!

Screenshot from Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)
Have you ever thought about becoming a librarian?

Miss Bishop: It just occurred to me that with that amazing memory of yours, you might be interested in the librarian’s course. It would be an interesting job, wouldn’t it, Minna?

Minna:  Oh yes, Miss Bishop. But… I have got a life’s ambition now. It’s to be just like you.

So that’s one potential reel librarian down.

Later, Miss Bishop defends Minna in a meeting whether or not to expel her because of a plagiarism charge — but it was a misunderstanding due to Minna’s “amazing memory” mentioned earlier. (By the way, we later find out that the student, Minna, became a “world-famous historian” instead!)

In a scene almost 40 minutes in, Miss Bishop has endured heartbreak in her personal life — her fiance jilted her for her boy-crazy cousin Amy — so she writes a letter to President Corcoran that she’s leaving for New York to become a librarian. However, he convinces her not to go!

Screenshot from Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941)
Librarian pep talk? I don’t think so.

President Corcoran:  I’ve just received your letter.

Miss Bishop:  I thought it easier to write. You see, Mother and I are going to New York, President Corcoran. It’s an assistant librarian’s position.

President Corcoran:  Oh I see. Of course, It is a hard job, teaching. It never pays much, and lots of the time it’s a headache, wondering if it’s worthwhile…. You’ve got it, Ella, that magic touch that makes young minds open up and flourish. Of course, Midwestern must accept your resignation. But are you sure your New York public library needs you as much as [we do] here in Midwestern?

So there’s another potential reel librarian down the drain!

It is interesting that the film mentions a college librarian course, especially set in the year 1884. This minor plot point — promoting a librarian course for women at a midwestern college in the early 1880s — is stretching history a little. Because it wasn’t until 1887 that Melvil Dewey, often referred to in the U.S. as the “Father of Modern Librarianship,” founded the world’s first library school at Columbia College, now Columbia University in New York (after first proposing the idea in 1883). Dewey also insisted on admitting women as students — against the college’s Regents’ wishes — resulting in 17 female students enrolled in the program that first year. He also helped found the American Library Association, the oldest international library association, in 1876. You can read more about the history of library science education in the U.S. in this article, “History of American Library Science: Its Origins and Early Development,” by John V. Richardson, Jr.

So although this film highlights librarianship and library education — a rarity in cinema! — Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) ends up in the Class V category, as there are no actual reel librarians. I’m a little bit relieved, as Miss Bishop — who DOES become an “old maid” — would definitely have been a stereotypical portrayal.

And what did we learn about desired qualifications or motivations for pursuing a “librarian’s course” or librarian position? Based on this film, you need to either (a) have a good memory, or (b) be unlucky in love.

I’m one for two. 😉


Sources used:


A ‘Libeled Lady’ and a library

“Don’t get those books wet!”

Another week, another William Powell movie. Also, another Class V film, which means no reel librarian. But wait! This classic 1936 film, Libeled Lady, includes an interesting kind of library rarely mentioned in film:  a ship’s library.

First, a little background on film itself. Nominated for Best Picture, Libeled Lady stars Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy. Harlow and Powell were engaged in real life during the filming, and this was their last screen outing before her untimely death in 1937. The plot of this screwball comedy involves a newspaper editor (Spencer Tracy), his long-suffering fiancée (Jean Harlow), and his lawyer (William Powell), who aim to compromise a high-society lady (Myrna Loy) before she can sue the paper for libel.

To this end, lawyer Bill Chandler (Powell) sets sail on an ocean liner to England, to make contact with the high-society lady, Connie (Loy). In an attempt to cozy up to her, he does a little research, first reading newspaper articles about her father and his love of fishing.

Screenshot of Libeled Lady
Newspaper article research!

Almost a half-hour into the film and after reading the newspaper articles, he rings for the ship’s steward:

Steward:  You rang, sir?

Bill Chandler:  Yes. Steward, do you know if they have any books in the ship’s library on angling?

Steward:  Angling, sir?

Bill:  Yes. You know, trout fishing?

Steward:  Oh, yes. We have several. Shall I fetch you one, sir?

Bill:  Yes, just bring me all of them.

Steward:  All of them, sir? [incredulous]

Bill:  Yes.

The next scene shows Bill rehearsing what he learns from the books, studying up in the bathroom while he shaves. OF COURSE my librarian side mentally shouted out, “Don’t get those books wet!” 😉

Screenshot of Libeled Lady
Shaving and reading don’t mix!

Although this steward does happen to have a useful knowledge of the ship’s library holdings — very convenient indeed! — he sets out only to to fetch the books, in his role as steward, not to research the topic. Therefore, he does not fulfill the role of a reel librarian.

And by the way, sensing that Bill is out for a different kind of angling, Connie tries to avoid him by reading books in her room and on deck. But no ship’s steward this time around! Her personal maid brings Connie a stack of books to read.

Screenshot of Libeled Lady
So little time, so many books to read

And do the books prove useful for Bill? Yes, indeed! Perhaps a little TOO useful … He does impress Connie’s father, who later says Bill is “the best-informed man on angling I’ver met.” However, Bill later gets roped into going fishing with Connie and her father. And this time, he DOES get the book wet! 😦

Screenshots of Libeled Lady
Fishing and reading definitely don’t mix!

Libeled Lady only mentions a ship’s library, but the 1962 film Bon Voyage!, actually does feature a ship’s librarian. They are the only two films I’ve come across so far that highlight a ship’s library, which is indeed a special kind of library. Let’s briefly compare the two films:


Libeled Lady (1936):


  • Class V (no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries)
  • No reel librarian mentioned or seen; the ship’s steward seems to have adequate knowledge of ship’s library holdings and good at customer service
  • Books are briefly glimpsed in shaving scene, but no actual library set or scene
  • Played for laughs (see the shaving scene above), as his self-professed love of fishing leads him into a comedic dilemma later on

Bon Voyage (1962):


  • Class III (librarian plays a secondary role, with a brief but memorable/significant scene)
  • James Millhollin as Ship’s Librarian (Comic Relief), very knowledgeable about ship’s collection but terrible at customer service
  • Scene set in the ship’s library, with row of bookshelves and tables visible
  • Reel librarian fulfills Comic Relief role

You can read more about Bon Voyage! (1962) here in this post on the Reel Librarians blog.

Screenshot of Bon voyage to the Ship's Librarian post
Screenshot of Bon voyage to the Ship’s Librarian post

Have a bon voyage Tuesday!


Sources used:


  • Bon Voyage! Dir. James Neilson. Perf. Fred MacMurray, Jane Wyman, Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley. Buena Vista/Walt Disney, 1962.
  • Libeled Lady. Dir. Jack Conway. Perf. Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy. MGM, 1936.