Film - Casting By


With his fondness for fantasy casting films and TV shows in our occasional What If articles, Steve Taylor-Bryant watches a documentary about two of the people who did the job it for real...

"90% of directing is in the casting" - Martin Scorsese

Casting By is a 90 minute look at the unsung heroes of film making, those who didn’t even get credits for their sterling efforts until the sixties, the casting director. More specifically it focuses on two pioneers of the casting world Marion Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster, without whom some of the best and most cherished of films would be very different indeed.

The show starts by briefly explaining the old Hollywood way of casting which involved contracting actors. If a guy played a Doctor well in one film he would get the Doctor's role in another. If Diana Dors had two films left on her contract she would get cast, regardless of role suitability. Dougherty knew she wanted to be different from the start. She wanted to get to know an actor, went with a gut reaction about whether a person was a good fit for the character and, most of all, she was interested in actors.

Dougherty started out on NBC network with Kraft, hired by her friend, and she soon became head of casting on the live anthology plays. This steeped her in the belief of the right person for the right role and she raided the unknown stars of the fledging Off-Broadway theatre rather than use celebrity faces known to a TV audience. It was during this time she discovered and cast Warren Beatty, Christopher Plummer and the incredible talent of James Dean.

In 1960, Dougherty moved onto Naked City, the biggest police drama on network television. Whilst the main cast were in place, the ancillary parts needed filling and Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen and Peter Fonda all graced the screen, fresh from the stage. A second show followed with Route 66 and Robert Redford, Peter Falk, Julie Newmar and Telly Savalas all sprung to our attentions. She also knew to have faith in a person, one bad show or audition didn’t mean a bad actor. Jon Voight was awful when given his chance in Naked City and struggled as an actor after that until Dougherty pushed him in front of the producers of Midnight Cowboy. The Oscar nods say that was a success. The people in charge of The Graduate wanted a six foot tall blonde hunk, they got Dustin Hoffman and the rest is history.

Dougherty tore up the rule book on casting on the East Coast, and her West Coast counterpart Lynn Stalmaster did the same. After borrowing Hoffman from Dougherty for The Graduate he turned his attentions to Jeff Bridges. Lloyd, the father had already had some relative success in Hollywood and brother Beau also, however Jeff wasn't interested and had to be talked into by Stalmaster who saw his potential. Bridges hated the first film but agreed to do a second, The Iceman Cometh.

The same happened with John Travolta and many more. Between Stalmaster and Dougherty, just about every actor that has won an Oscar, every successful film you can think of and some pretty good TV shows to boot, have been cast by these legends of the screen.

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Image - IMDb