26 August 2013 | rmax304823
Enlightening Look at A Casting Director.
A kind of professional biography of Marion Dougherty (1923 - 2011), a casting director who began working in New York before moving to Hollywood. She was evidently peerless on the New York scene, able to catch all the shows and picking the right people for roles, like John Travolta for Barbarino, and then sending them to Los Angeles.
If a movie or a TV series were to be about New York, instead of polished California types, she would ship off REAL New Yorkers, who looked and spoke as if they'd just been pulled in off the streets In the early years, her office was a dilapidated brownstone and she rented out a few rooms to theater people without much money. Later, of course, following her success, the brownstone became a fortress and struggling actors like Ed Lauter had to trick their way inside to see her.
She did some very important work in Hollywood too. At United Artists, the protocol was to leave the casting director and the movie director alone while they did their jobs. Until Michael Eisner took over at UA. Eisner was apparently hated by everyone. He was the kind of guy who brings pleasure whenever he goes. He was about to fire Dougherty when she received an offer from Warner Brothers. Hearing of that development, Eisner flung himself at her feet and begged her not to leave because they needed her talents so badly. Savvy, by now, Dougherty tells us, "I knew that if I turned down Warners, he would fire me one minute later, so I took the offer." She was apparently well liked, as well as sensitive and skilled, otherwise, why would all these well-known people from both sides of the camera spend their expensive time telling anecdotes about her and praising her?
I do wish, though, that we'd heard about some examples of her failures. There MUST have been some, because casting directors aren't infallible. For instance, I was once offered the part of the intercontinental chief villain opposite Jacqueline Smith in a miniseries. The casting director took me to the director for his approval. He looked me up and down and said, "Perfect." Something interfered and I couldn't take the part, but I later read the book the miniseries was based on and it described the chief villain as "fat, ugly, and stupid." Well, I happen to be sinewy, handsome, and brilliant, so if THAT'S not an example of miscasting, what is?
At times, the tribute come perilously close to a polemic against the male establishment but it never quite crosses the line. In the final few minutes, it slips into sloppy sentimentality, with half a dozen big names addressing Marion directly through the camera and telling her how much they love her. Except for that, it's an effective piece. I couldn't agree more with her colleagues who complain that the casting director has become less important because now the production companies simply assign actors to the role. Whether they fit the part or not is irrelevant, as long as it brings in money.
I don't see how the decline in Hollywood movies can be denied. Late in her career Dougherty tells us that she was given the job of casting a comedy about a funny dog. It was too much of a humiliation after "Midnight Cowboy", "Slaughterhouse 5", and "The Friends of Eddie Coyle." She'd be horrified now. Hollywood is grinding out remakes. Then remakes of remakes. They've copied television series like "The Flintstones". Now they're making movies (I can no longer call them "films") based on video games like "Battleship." The depths of Hollywood's philistinism are plumbless.