Harold B. Lee Library Curator James D’Arc announces retirement

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Roger Layton
Head Librarian for Harold B. Lee Library Jennifer Paustenbaugh presents library curator James D’Arc with an autographed photo of actor James Stewart on May 12. (Roger Layton)

James V. D’Arc compared his job to a movie reel as he announced his retirement Friday night, May 12, after the screening of “The Spirit of St. Louis” as part of BYU’s Motion Picture Archives Film Series.

D’Arc, who provides the commentary for each film shown in the film series, will step down in September from being a curator and senior librarian for the L. Tom Perry Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library. D’Arc has been involved in the Arts and Communications Archive, BYU’s Motion Picture Archive and Film Music Archive.

“There’s another movie that’s been playing for 41 years,” D’Arc said. “That is my career here at BYU in Special Collections. And over the years it’s collected a few surface wears and more than a few splices.”

BYU’s Motion Picture Archive Film Series will also retire after next Friday’s screening of “This Is the Army.” More than 200 films shown have been shown over 18 years of the film series, including 200 detailed program notes provided by D’Arc.

Roger Layton
James D’Arc introduces the film “The Spirit of St. Louis” on May 12 as part of the BYU Motion Picture Archives Film Series in the Harold B. Lee Library. (Roger Layton)

Head Librarian Jennifer Paustenbaugh said she hopes the library can find a way to continue the series. However, the continuation of the series would most likely mean the use of DVD or some other media because screening original versions of the films require a lot of finesse and expertise

Paustenbaugh said finding a replacement for D’Arc is still a subject that needs discussion, but she hopes the film collection D’Arc has helped build will not go unnoticed.

“We need to figure out a way to share the great resource that we have here,” Postenbaugh said.

D’Arc said his reason for retiring after 41 years is to spend more time with his family.

“If you knew them, you’d want to spend more time with them, too,” D’Arc said.

D’Arc concluded his announcement by thanking those who have attended the film series, for what they brought to the experience and the feelings they had as they interacted with the films.

Friday’s event included an additional surprise for D’Arc. Paustenbaugh presented D’Arc with an autographed picture of actor James Stewart, whom D’Arc knew personally. The gift was delivered by a donor who used the pseudonym of Clarence Odbody, the guardian angel in James Stewart’s film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The gift recognized D’Arc’s critical role in obtaining the James Stewart papers that are a part of the film archives. “Odbody’s” accompanying letter recognized the gift as an enduring memento of D’Arc and Stewart’s friendship.

Paustenbaugh said she had no idea D’Arc’s retirement announcement and the presentation of the gift were happening on the same night. The gift had been a surprise for D’Arc and his announcement had been a surprise for those who knew about the gift.

“It’s just one of those things that worked out nicely,” Paustenbaugh said.

D’Arc has played a large role in collecting material for BYU’s archives in his 41 years as Curator. D’Arc became a full-time employee in 1976 while attending BYU as a student. He helped establish relationships with Howard Hawks and Cecil B. DeMille’s family early on. These relationships led to the acquisition of both collections around 1977.

D’Arc worked with Harold Oaks over the film department at BYU to structure a graduate degree that allowed D’Arc to receive a combined master’s and Ph.D. in film history. He completed the degree in 1986, all while working for the library.

D’Arc published his book “When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking in Utah” in 2010. The book is an accumulation of 32 years of research covering a fairly unknown part of Utah’s history. It’s a comprehensive account of Utah communities working with Hollywood during the golden age of film studios and discusses several Westerns and historical dramas.

D’Arc’s 41 years at the library have been filled with many acquisitions and he has become a unique resource for film history.

Roger Layton, the library’s communications manager, has worked with D’Arc several times over the years on various projects. He said he’s sad to see D’Arc leave.

“We’re all going to miss him,” Layton said. “I’m happy for him, but I’m sad for us.”