Putting names to faces

Companion for videocassette viewers

Published: Jul 26 2017, 01:01:am

Sunday, April 24, 1994.

THE PLAYERS: ACTORS IN MOVIES ON TELEVISION AND VIDEOCASSETTE. By Peter Chapman. Windsor Press, 1994. 528 pp. Illus. Index. $19.95.
    New York video viewer Peter Chapman wanted a book with some basic facts about "the supporting and less well-known leading actors of the last 30 years."
    Enough with the so-called "superstars"; he wanted to know more about solid, reliable performers like Adam West, Jeff East, Sheree North and Paul Koslo.
    With British-based author David Quinlan's The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Movie Character Actors (1985) now a decade out of date [in 1994], there is no current sourcebook on the subject. So the resourceful Chapman created his own.
    One thousand performers are included in The Players: Actors in Movies on Television and Videocassette. Each half-page listing consists of a 3x4-inch black-and-white photo, a biographical paragraph and representative film credits. Here, in its entirety, is his descriptive note on Helen Mirren:
    Mirren is known in her native England for bouncing back and forth between Shakespeare and sexy-blonde roles. "I've hurtled from one extreme to another — very deliberately," she has said. But it was her part as Chief of Detectives in PBS's Prime Suspect, one of the highest-rated PBS series ever, that got America's attention. It was a heady experience for her. "An actress very rarely has to stand up in front of a room full of men and sound off," she explained. "It's very nerve-racking."
    Her year of birth, a list of five film titles, their release dates and the name of Mirren's character in each picture follows.
    An additional 999 actors are listed, from Joss Ackland to Daphne Zuniga.
    Simple. Straightforward.
    With an index to about 4,000 movies.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1994. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Most film fans feel the need to put a name to the face that brings a favourite charter to life on screen. Before there was an Internet Movie Database (IMDb), we relied on lovingly researched books such as Peter Chapman’s The Players. As noted in the above review, Chapman was a biographical list maker working within a tradition dating back to at least the 1960s. By that time, there was a mass audience that had grown up watching movies on TV, creating a market for niche publishing projects such as 1967’s Who Is That?, a 64-page collection of mug shots. Author Warren B. Meyers subtitled his softcover book The Late Late Viewers Guide to the Old Old Movie Players. In 1969, the team of Alfred E. Twomey and Arthur F. McClure took it to the next level with The Versatiles, a 304-page hardcover study of Supporting Character Players in the Cinema 1930-1955 that included biographical notes with its photos.           
    A serious home-entertainment revolution began in 1975, when videocassette players became available to the public. David Quinlan, the veteran film critic for Britain’s TV Times, contributed The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Movie Character Actors to the shelf in 1985, and it remained the go-to guide on the subject through two revisions. Chambers envisioned his The Players as a continuing project as well. “Welcome to the first edition . . .” he wrote in the book’s introduction. Another media revolution was underway, though. The World Wide Web, "invented" by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, saw the incorporation of the IMDb in 1996. Almost immediately, list-building movie buffs began migrating to the Internet where, today, the answer to the question “who is that?” is literally at one’s fingertips.

See also: Demonstrating her ability to bounce “from one extreme to another” are these Helen Mirren films currently included in the Reeling Back archive: Savage Messiah (1972); Caligula (1979); 2010 (1984); and Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990).