Because of its self-defined boundaries -- there are no writers, directors or producers, and most current actors are absent -- "The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors" isn't a definitive film reference book and doesn't pretend to be. But it is an invaluable and fun book for researchers and film lovers.

Because of its self-defined boundaries — there are no writers, directors or producers, and most current actors are absent — “The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors” isn’t a definitive film reference book and doesn’t pretend to be. But it is an invaluable and fun book for researchers and film lovers.

The tome covers 1,125 actors, listing their films, New York stage work and selected TV credits. As a bonus, there is a photo of each — a real boost when dealing with thesps like Connie Gilchrist, David Manners or George Zucco. (Take my word: You’ll recognize them).

But the key ingredient is Monush’s essays, which give info about the highs and lows of their lives and careers. Monush is knowledgeable, opinionated and sometimes cold-eyed, but rarely cold-hearted. Elsa Lanchester is “a vibrantly batty actress”; Aldo Ray is “gargle-voiced”; and Zsa Zsa Gabor is “a juicy celebrity, but not an actress of any serious note.” And Marjorie Main is an “irresistible old buzzard with a voice that squawked like a barnyard fowl.”

His summations also include fun factoids: Edie Adams was once voted Miss U.S. TV, Rita Moreno played a squaw named Honey Bear in the 1954 “The Yellow Tomahawk,” Vincent Price was on stage in the non-musical “Chicago” in London in the ’30s, etc.

This book is the first volume, dealing with actors who rose to prominence before 1965. However, the title is a little misleading, since it includes credits for films as recent as 2002.

Monush is working on a second volume. Can’t wait.

The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965

Applause Theatre & Cinema Books; 832 pages, $35

Production

by Barry Monush
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more