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Librarian Extraordinaire: Bunny Watson

by Cheryl M | Apr 12, 2017

National Library Week 2017

Desk-Set-Hepburn

My favorite movie librarian is Bunny Watson, portrayed by Katherine Hepburn, in 1957’s Desk Set. Bunny is intelligent, intuitive, resourceful, and a master retriever of facts. She has remarkable powers of recall and can recite from memory “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore and “The Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

She manages the library of a broadcasting company in New York City, with a small, dedicated staff of three female colleagues.  There are shelves of books, file cabinets, and index cards (all neatly arranged).  There is also office gossip, quirky visitors, the Legal Department across the hall (consisting of all men), and a sense of fun.

Bunny is fact-smart but a bit blind in the romance department. Having been strung along for years by a handsome, aspiring vice president (who takes her for granted), Bunny is unexpectedly attracted to an enigmatic engineer who comes to scrutinize her library.  Spencer Tracy is Richard Sumner, the affable but evasive engineer.  Who is he? Why is he pacing off distances and measuring things with a tape measure in her office?  Is her job in jeopardy?

Desk Set the library

In a scene that was possibly written for the pure pleasure of a wonderfully witty Tracy-Hepburn repartee, Sumner invites Bunny to a brown-bag lunch on a rooftop patio on a windy, winter day.  He quizzes her mental agility with mathematical word problems, logic questions, and palindromes. His astonishment and admiration for her grows with each of her quick, confident answers.  Bunny, with clues from office gossip, begins to suspect what Sumner is up to.

The late 1950s and early 1960s signaled an evolutionary time in libraries and offices.  Computers -- big, bulky mainframes, with whirling reels, blinking lights, and strange levers, were taking over basic clerical functions.  Bunny’s company recently installed a computer in the Payroll Department. Could this computer, called EMERAC, put her and her colleagues out of a job?

Desk Set the computer

I like the conclusion to this movie because although the computer is installed, everyone keeps their job.  Bunny is adaptable after her initial skepticism. She is in her element, retrieving facts and feeding them to EMERAC, and having a grand time.  Her erstwhile company beau gives up, though, as he sees Richard and Bunny’s growing mutual collaboration is no match for his too late, lame marriage proposal.

This is a fun movie and a tribute to the work of librarians.  There is a memorable scene, brief but joyous, of the office Christmas party – librarians and secretaries are dancing the Jitterbug with the men of Legal, champagne corks are popping, the party seems to be migrating around the building, and it shows that librarians are not all work, but love to let loose and have fun, too! 

Desk Set Christmas Party Scene


cheryl-mCheryl likes reading, bicycling, scrapbooking, travel, history, and cats. Because every life tells a story, her favorite books to read are biographies.

2 comments

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  1. Cheryl M | Apr 14, 2017
    Yes, this movie really has it all - romance, drama, lots of fun.
  2. Benita | Apr 13, 2017
    One of my all time favorites movies.  Fantastic write-up. 

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