Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Actors Directory

In yesterday’s post I talked about discovering actors through Zoom readings. And of course there’s also imdb. That’s a great database for anyone in movies and television, even if it’s not always accurate. For a long time it had me as the dialogue coach for THE NEW FLIPPER. (“No no, Flipper, say it this way: “Eeep eep EEP eep.”)

But when I used to do those one-day play festivals at the Ruskin Theatre (back when there was theatre), I would be assigned a topic and two actors and have to write a ten-minute play in three hours. If I didn’t know the actors I could hop on imdb and in many cases view their demo reels. It was a godsend.

However, if you’re about to cast a pilot or indie feature and you bring on a casting director, it’s nice to have prototypes of actors to give them a better sense from the outset of just what you’re looking for. And that’s hard to do with imdb because there are a gazillion actors listed, more than half-a-gazillion of them dead.

They’re also not categorized by age, or type, or even gender.

Which brings me to the way we used to tackle this problem “old school.”

There were books that came out every year called the Actors’ Directory. There were two of them, as I recall. Both were the size of large city phone books and featured working actors along with their representation. One book for men, one for women.

Each book was broken down into categories. Young actresses were “Ingénues.” I think there was a section for children (although there may have been a separate book – we rarely had parts for children). So we’d leaf through the book and make lists.

There were any number of actresses who could have played in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE that still posted their ingénues pictures. But pretty much everybody was in there. Paul Newman next to a bit player.

I’m sure casting agents used to leaf through the same books, although the great casting agents went out and discovered new talent not yet in the directory.

It was a helpful guide and I don’t even know if it exists anymore. I’m sure a lot of actors were hired as a result of being in that book. “Hey, Marge, call William Morris. I think we’ve found our star. This kid Flipper has a great look.”

24 comments :

CRL said...

If I were Fulton MacKay and/or T.P McKenna I'd complain to the publisher about why I wasn't getting any offers.....

Unknown said...

I worked for an Emmy winning TV director for about a year, many years ago. We did about six hours or so worth of network TV during that particular season -- fairly big shows for two different networks. I used to help with all sorts of stuff during pre-production and on set. But one of the big things he would do is, we'd sit together at his house while he went page-by-page through the actors directory. Literally page... by... page. I would sit there with a pad and write down names of any actors he thought might be "right" to suggest for different supporting parts for the episode were working currently working. Very painstaking but it was important to him to be thorough.

Bob Waldman said...

Here's a link to the 1938 Academy Players Directory.
http://digitalcollections.oscars.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15759coll35/id/3147

Unknown said...

I apologize. I'll have to read the rest of this later. I'm still laughing too hard about your coaching of Flipper.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken: You wrote "They’re also not categorized by age, or type, or even gender." That's true on IMDB. But Wikipedia *also* has a fine collection of actors and their biographies, credits, and photographs - and those *are* often, if you page down to the bottom, placed in categories such as year of birth, gender. Nancy Travis's categories, for example, include: 1961 births, actresses from New York City, American television actresses, 20th century American actresses, 21st century American actresses (which would at least eliminate people who are dead or inaccessibly located), and Circle in the Square Theatre School alumni.

It is at least a start.

wg

Craig Gustafson said...

“Hey, Marge, call William Morris. I think we’ve found our star. This kid Flipper has a great look.”
“Yeah, but his reading wasn't so hot. We're going to need a dialogue coach.”

Adnan said...

Least well known of those actors - but Fulton Mackay was a brilliant actor. He played the sadistic warden in Porridge, written by Clement and Le Frenais

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGTQ5c0a7zU

rockgolf said...

Sounds like the 2nd scene in most old Mission: Impossible shows.

Jim Phelps goes thru a binder full of IMF agent 8x10 glossies, then always picks the same 4 people.

benson said...

Ah, Flipper...what range...

The funny thing about the directory photo is, I first actor I noticed was Fulton MacKay because he's in one of my all-time favorite movies, Local Hero (from 1983), co-starring with Burt Lancaster, Peter Reigert and future Dr. Who, Peter Capaldi.

He was wonderful in that movie. He was part of a couple of pivotal scenes and played them very understated, and very well.

maxdebryn said...

To echo "benson," I think that a great number of people will remember Fulton Mackay from the wonderful film "Local Hero," in which he played the eccentric beachcomber Ben Knox. If you haven't seen "Local Hero," treat yourself: it's a terrific film.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Back in the old days they also had a similar headshot book (or magazine) called "Faces International." As I remember there was some controversy surrounding it because of the fees they charged to get a photo in the book and because no one that mattered used "F.I." as a resource. In other words, basically they were accused of exploiting people's showbiz dreams. I must state however, that I have no idea if that was true or not.

The industry mags e.g. Back Stage West and Drama-Logue would sometimes print a few pages of aspiring actors headshots and a brief bio. I don't personally know anyone who got work from that.

It seems that today many actors are using their Facebook and/or Instagram pages for self promotion. Although, a casting director would have to be able to find those sights for them to be of any value.

To heck with the dolphin! The best thing about "Flipper: The New Adventures" is a teenaged Jessica Alba. WOW!!😍
If you ever run out of Natalie Wood photos Jessica would make a fine replacement.

M.B.

Unknown said...

A follow up on a Friday Question you answered about lunch. Would you go to lunch with Flipper?

Mike Doran said...

rockgolf mentioned the Mission: Impossible dossier scene.

How many of you know that the rejected photos were of behind-the-scenes people on the show?
One of the more frequent rejects was Bruce Geller, the creator/producer.
Someone somewhere must have a fuller list of the headshots that were used.
It was the equivalent of what fiction writers call "Tuckerisms", callouts to friends for a little chuckle before the show.
There were a few times, though …

There were a couple of times, for instance, when Jim Phelps found - and rejected - a shot of Mike Dann, CBS's programming boss of that era.

And on one memorable occasion, Phelps picked up one particular dossier, and there was a close-up of him shaking his head 'no' -
- and tossed aside a photo of CBS's founder and Chairman, Bill Paley.
This was the episode with Wilfrid Hyde-White and Eric Braeden; MeTV should be repeating it in a few weeks.

YEKIMI said...

Flipper! One of my favorite shows and filmed in the same state that I grew up in. Always bugged the parents to drive me "to where they filmed Flipper cause I wanna pet the dolphin". Little did I know it was the opposite side of the state. And what ever happened to Flipper[s]? Did they end up in a can of Bumble Bee tuna after the show ended?

Jim said...

H. Weinstein’s favorite mail day was when his female Actors’ Directory arrived.

Every year it was like a new Topps checklist for entitled pervs.

Charles Bryan said...

Completely off-topic, but I just watched a MASH episode written by you and David and directed by Alan Alda, "The Billfold Syndrome" from season 7 (with the traumatized medic that Freedman hypnotized). That sequence in particular was just wonderfully done.

Teri Mueller McGuinness said...

In 1981 the Academy reprinted the first ever "Academy Players Directory Bulletin," from 1937 - and I still have my copy. Includes an alphabetical list of all the actors along with either their phone number or studio. Photos are sorted by category - Women (Ingenues, Leading Women, Characters and Comediennes), Men (Younger Leading Men, Leading Men, Characters and Comedians), Children (Girls, Boys), Colored Artists, and Oriental Artists.

There were a TOTAL of ten "Colored Artists" listed, including Hattie McDaniel (this was pre-GWTW), and Nicodemus (google Nick Stewart if you don't know him). A total of seven "Oriental Artists" are shown, two women and five men including Keye Luke.

Dixon Steele said...

The Internet killed the Players Directory, as well as the Hollywood Creative Directory.

Lorimartian said...

I had my headshot in the Academy Players Directory until around 1977. While working at Lorimar as an assistant in 1980, Brad Dexter was producing the TV series "Skag." I was shocked when he mentioned to me that he saw my photo in the directory, which meant that he actually used it as a resource. That's the only "response" I ever received to appearing in the directory.

Off topic:
1. Let's add Teri Garr to the funny ladies list.
2. Am I the last one to discover that CBS is broadcasting season 3 of "The Good Fight" on BET? It is so smartly written/executed; it almost makes me want to subscribe to CBS All Access...almost.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

On a "Mary Tyler Moore" episode, Lou Grant wanted Mary and Murray to investigate a councilman for a documentary. Lou held up a photo of the man--it was Grant Tinker.

Troy McClure said...

Trump has called for the election to be delayed.

Fascism has come to America. Enjoy it, folks. I'm sure Jen from Jersey is happy.

MikeKPa. said...

Don't forget in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, there's a part for Mortimer's wife. All the females in that movie weren't crazy old aunts.

Don R said...


Friday Question: I'm watching M*A*S*H on ME-TV and they seem to be playing them in order. Last week you and David were listed as story editors, but this week you're listed as executive story consultants. Had you moved on from the show by that time, or were you still part of the staff?


Anonymous said...

OH, man, those actor books! I worked as an assistant at a small agency some twenty years ago and one of my least favorite jobs was chasing down the clients to make sure I had their info to submit to the books.

The worst part was asking the actors which category they wanted to be put into: Leading man/woman or "character."

It was a not-at-all-veiled way of asking them to their face, "are you attractive or are you ugly" and it was very awkward and embarrassing.

-Peter