Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I'm back at the desk after two weeks' vacation, and while it's a bit of a shock to the system, it's still good to be back. We're on the quarter system, so we won't get the real deluge until next week, but we're already seeing a change in the reference area demographic. The summer users are mostly community members and a few summer students, and there's a lot of emailing and slow, casual web browsing. During the school year, things get a lot more focused. At nine am, we already have several people doing research. So far, though, reference questions are at a minimum.

In celebration of my return, I profile yet another reference book from our collection. This one's got a great title.

Stage Deaths : A biographical guide to international theatrical obituaries, 1850 to 1990.
George B. Bryan, compiler
Greenwood Press, 1991

I picked this one up out of curiosity--I'd never used it before, and the spine title was just Stage Deaths, which I thought might mean it was one of those Extremely Eccentric Reference Books that do things like obsessively annotate every performance in which a death occurs onstage. I was hoping to read some comparisons of various Lears, actually. Then I saw the subtitle, and while some of the thrill of the strange faded, the intended use of the book became more obvious. Thus do our first naive dreams of the world melt and fade.

This is a two-volume alphabetical list of people in theatre, giving their parents' and spouses' names where applicable, their birth and death dates, and their places of birth and death. This basic information is then followed by a listing of sources of biographical or obituary (mortographical?) articles about the person.

If we look up, for instance, Ethel Barrymore, we get an entry that looks like this:

Real name: Ethel Blyth
Father: Maurice Barrymore
Mother: Georgie Drew Barrymore
Spouse: Russell G. Colt
b. 15 Aug. 1879, Philadelphia, PA
d. 18 June 1959, Beverly Hills, CA
TLON: 19 June 1959, 18, 1
NYT: 19 June 1959, 1, 5
LIVES: Barrymore, Ethel. Memories: An AB. NY: Harpter, 1955.

For people doing theatre research outside of their own field, this could be a useful pointer to books and articles. It's also helpful to have the basic facts laid out, IMDB-style. (Although there's also the Internet Theatre Database, which I keep meaning to look at more closely. But which does not, in this case, give very useful information for Ms. Barrymore.)

The listing is highly comprehensive--I don't know much about theatre, but the volumes appear exhaustive. The papers indexed for obituaries seem to be only major American and British ones, and the introduction acknowledges that this is a regional/national guide. "International" in this context appears to mean the US and the UK.

There are no indices of any kind, which seems like a bit of an oversight. Access is by last name only.


Blogger Michael J. Farrand said...

Thought you might enjoy my narrative poem on Maurice Barrymore, founder of the Barrymore dynasty, "The Man Who Brought Royalty to America".

2:36 PM  

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