Recalling a Friend and a Great Librarian
February 1, 2011 | 3:28 am
|his is Elizabeth C. Franklin or Miss Franklin to those of us who worked for her. It wasn't until she loaned me her precious Film Index of 1941 with her name written inside that I learned she had once been Betty Franklin.
She was the assistant head of general reference at the University of Arizona Library when I worked there in the early 1970s. A bit testy and difficult as a boss, but I got to know her after she retired and discovered that despite the gruff facade, she was really sweet.
Elizabeth had previously retired as head of the Motion Picture Academy library and told me many stories about Hollywood in the 1940s, including washing dishes with Walt Disney at the Hollywood Canteen and having Billy Wilder translate during academy screenings of German films made during the war in the Agfacolor process. She claimed to have seen the original version of “Greed” and proclaimed it: “Long.” (She also said something like “You left the theater wanting a drink of water.”) I remember so well how she clicked her false teeth and that two of her favorite exclamations were "Jeepers!" and "Lord love a duck."
Most of all, she introduced me to the wide variety of detective stories, of which she was an avid fan. I suppose librarians cannot help from recommending books and she certainly did. Until she began her "reading program" for me, I had mostly read Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, a bit of Dashiell Hammett and some Dorothy Sayers. She started me with "Lady Audley's Secret" and then we leaped forward to Wilkie Collins. You get the idea.
I only found out bits and pieces of her life and I have forgotten some of the details, such as how she became a librarian and how she ended up at the academy. I recall that her parents were Catholic missionaries and her brother Louie was a priest. I don't remember exactly where she grew up but it was somewhere in the Third World where she contracted malaria or yellow fever as a child and had to be careful that it didn't recur. And I do recall that she was a devout Catholic and always gave up her beloved Cadbury chocolate bars for Lent -- a serious sacrifice.
The photo at the top of the post is a frame grab from a video shot at a Tucson City Council meeting in May 1979. She received an award for her volunteer work in the city clerk's office in preserving Tucson history. Elizabeth also volunteered at UA Special Collections and her projects included indexing an amazing number of short stories donated by the estate of a pulp western writer whose name I forget. Sample opening: "I always figured a pearl-handled gun was bad luck." She also indexed and cross-indexed all the dissertations done at the UA each year and provided a running commentary on the arcane, sometimes silly subjects.
When I quit my job at the Arizona Daily Star and left for Los Angeles, she gave me a big hug, which seemed so unlike the curt, abrupt Miss Franklin I had known as a grad student.
A few years later, she was found dead in her small home near Himmel Park just off Speedway Boulevard after failing to arrive for a lunch date. But, thanks to videotape and the Internet, she can be remembered. Here's to you, Betty! (And try to forgive me for posting this at The Times rather than at your beloved Los Angeles Examiner – which ceased publication in 1962).