Storm Center

Q. I saw this week's article at the Huffington Post website about movie librarians, Librarians Save The Day! 11 Great Movies In Which They Star. I was very surprised to see a film there starring one of my favorite actresses, Bette Davis, that I never heard of! By any chance, can ALA tell me anything about Storm Center (1956)? I'm hoping to add it to my list of requested films from that online DVD rental service.

A. I also first found out about Storm Center in an article -- that was in an issue of the precursor to American Libraries, the ALA Bulletin. The July/August 1956 issue had a two-page article that featured still photographs from the film. But more importantly, the article explained that there was a private preview showing of the film at the ALA 75th Annual Conference that year in Miami Beach, at the First General Session at 8:00 pm on Monday, June 18, at the Miami Beach Auditorium. The showing of the Columbia Pictures release was presumably set up when the film's producer, Julian Blaustein, and its director and co-writer, Daniel Taradash, spoke about the film at the Midwinter Meeting earlier that year.

Photo of "Storm Center" film director Daniel Taradash, producer Julian Blaustein, and ALA President John Richards at the 1956 ALA Midwinter Meeting

The movie's events were largely fiction, but the character played by Bette Davis was based on Miss Ruth Brown, Librarian of the Bartlesville Public Library in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, from 1919 until she was fired in 1950 on suspicion of being a Communist. Her so-called crimes included treating the town's African American residents as equals, letting them borrow books from the library well before Brown v. Board of Education allowed them access. There's a bust of Miss Ruth Brown at the Bartlesville Public Library that recognizes and celebrates her achievements which include: 

"Miss Ruth Brown is nationally recognized as the first librarian in the United States to receive help from the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the American Library Association."

However, before you go looking to rent the DVD, you should be aware that the film hasn't yet been officially released on DVD -- and wasn't released on home video before that. The reason for this is unknown, but a guess that it's the film's still rather controversial subject matter of book censorship doesn't sound unreasonable.

Storm Center is still shown on television and at special theater screenings, so it isn't completely unavailable to the public. Some online dealers selling the film on DVD and VHS -- with some being recordings of the film's television airings -- claim Storm Center is in the public domain, but the film's copyright status is actually unclear at this time. There are a few libraries that have Storm Center in their holdings; contact those libraries directly for more information.



There is an award-winning book on this topic that I cannot recommend highly enough. It is a wonderful read!
“The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown: Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library” by Louise S. Robbins. University of Oklahoma Press (2001).
This book is the winner of the Eliza Atkins Gleason Award and the Willa Literary Award for a nonfiction book from Women Writing the West. The author, Louise Robbins, is not only a professor at the School of Library & Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the former Director of the School, but is also the former Mayor of Ada, Oklahoma and first woman elected to their city council!

If you want more information about Ruth Brown I would like to recommend a fascinating book by Louise S. Robbins, "The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown:  Civil Rights, Censorship, and the American Library, .  Looking up the book in WorldCat I see that many libraries have a copy available.

Louise Robbins gave a great presentation about Ruth Brown at the first ALA SRRT Feminist Task Force "movie night"  using many pieces from the film (ALA Annual 2002 - Sunday, June 16, 8:00 - 10:00 p.m.).  She said that she pulled out the interesting pieces from a film that actually was not that great a film.  However, the audience that attended the presentation at the Annual ALA Conference really enjoyed the presentation and the parts of the movie we saw.  There is a bit more about the program in "Women in Libraries" Fall 2002, .