She’s Closing Up the Library

In honor of National Library Week — At a crucial point in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey and angel Clarence Oddbody review how life

in Bedford Falls would be without Jimmy Stewart’s character.

Had George not saved his brother, Harry Bailey would not have saved the transport ship in World War II.

And Uncle Billy? Seems without employment at the Bailey Savings and Loan he would reside in the Bedford Falls State Hospital.

Sweet Ma Bailey would become a surly boardinghouse owner.

Poor pharmacist Mr. Gower would accidentally poison someone and spend his remaining years in the Bedford Falls Penitentiary.

And the slutty Violet Bix. We can’t talk about her lurid fate in mixed company.

This isn’t all. There’s something worse. Something much worse.

Oh, the humanity.

George Bailey shakes the angel and says “Where’s Mary? I’ve got to see Mary.” Clarence Oddbody says sternly, “You won’t like it, George.”

At this point in our yearly watching, my family turns apoplectic and hysterical.

The angel tells George, “She is closing up the library” and the camera switches to a scene of poor spinster Mary Hatch. The background music turns into something dire. I can’t remember, but for this purpose, let’s imagine that dark Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach. You know the one, used in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” as Don Knotts ghost-hunts in the old mansion.

Now we see frail, delicate Mary Hatch, afraid of her own shadow, donned in tiny wire-framed glasses, sensible shoes, severe hairdo.

Indeed, she’s closing the library.

Insert my family here, going bonkers. My husband is a research librarian at a university. It has not been a fate worse than death, as the film implies. Implies, no, insists!

Let’s turn this scenario on its head for a minute. Consider how “It’s a Wonderful Life” might have turned out differently if Mary became a librarian and married George. Seriously. It’s not so bad. Unlimited access to books and magazines and newspapers. Wire-framed glasses are cool. Didn’t John Lennon rock them? And the sensible shoes. Not a bad idea. I spent my twenties running up and down marble hallways in hospitals. I’m paying the price now, literally, with pricy Clark’s and Walking Cradle shoes (so worth it.) I cannot explain or defend the severe hairdo, but that’s personal preference. And she’s freaking Donna Reed, for corn’s sake, she is still incredibly beautiful.

Those are the basics about her appearance. Let’s get down to more important things, feminist things. Yes, it was the 1930s, but if Mary had a regular paycheck from the library, the Bailey’s financial situation might be  stable. Most libraries in that era were endowed by the Carnegie Foundation. City government paid salaries. Maybe the Bailey’s could have fixed the knob on that pathetic stairway banister.

Ma Bailey could babysit the kids while Mary is at work. George could go to the library and get a book on home repair and fix up that blasted old house. With two incomes, maybe they wouldn’t have had to start married life in that leaky, rat trap. Had George not felt so pressured, he might have taken the old suitcase out of the attic and taken Mary to Europe. Perhaps travel with their rich friends. Hee Haw.

Beautiful Donna Reed could have earned a university degree and become a faculty librarian at Bedford Falls State University. Then the kids would get free tuition.

Of course, that’s not Frank Capra’s reality in this film. George rushes to Mary’s side, and she is horrified and assumes carnal intentions. George runs back across the bridge and realizes he did indeed “have a wonderful life.”

It’s a great film, a classic story, and I love it just like everyone else does.

For a moment, however, imagine if the story were told in reverse. I’m going to go make a flaming rum punch and contemplate this development.

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