Bright Lights Film Journal

Book review: The Ultimate Directory of Film Technicians, by Billy H. Doyle

The Ultimate Directory of Film Technicians: A Necrology of Dates and Place of Births and Deaths of More Than 9,000 Producers, Screenwriters, Composers, Cinematographers, Art Directors, Costume Designers, Choreographers, Executives, and Publicists, by Billy H. Doyle (Consulting Editor: Anthony Slide) (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1999), Cloth (library binding), $65.00, 320pp, ISBN 0-8108-3546-0.

The Ultimate Directory of Silent and Sound Era Performers, by Billy H. Doyle (Consulting Editor: Anthony Slide) (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1999), Cloth (library binding), $98.50, 544pp, ISBN 0-8108-3547-9.

Billy H. Doyle has found a niche that few would want to challenge: he compiles necrologies. For the layperson that’s lists of birth and death dates and places for each event for a vast array of people associated with the movie industry. His two latest books in this realm are handsome in an appropriately stark way and, like the death industry on which they draw, wildly overpriced. Doyle, a retired schoolteacher in Kentucky, adds years of the person’s major activity for each entry. He covers both silent and sound stars in one volume, and just about every collaborator on a film you can imagine in the other. Publicists, who tend to think they’re immortal, may or may not be grateful for their inclusion in the latter book.

Being simply page after page of listings of names, dates, and places, these books are review-proof. They’re crucial library acquisitions, useful for research purposes for cineastes, and might provide fodder for cocktail chatter for more casual fans. They do provoke imaginative flights with their sometimes strange names, redolent of another era if not another world (who is “Huguette Duflos”?); and their provocatively abbreviated times on Earth (Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, 1927-1959). The book is good for cleaning up the fabrications of actresses (Jean Arthur was born in 1900, not 1908 as she claimed). The redoubtable Anthony Slide correctly indicates in the foreword that the book “is the beginning for any biographical research.” He also points out the egalitarian aspect of this enormous labor of love: “It is a lasting memorial to all actors and actresses, no matter how little or how much they contributed to one’s enjoyment of a particular film.” There are more than 15,000 names in this book. The Technicians book is less weighty at 9,000 names, but just as democratic. In spite of being prohibitively pricey, these books are highly recommended as unique, indispensable resources.