The cry for more women in the entertainment industry seem to grow louder every day, at least from my corner of the Internet, but it’s just as important to recognize and remember the history of those pioneers.
Casting By, a documentary produced in 2012, recently aired as part of HBO documentary series. It discusses how the casting game changed from the days of contract players at the studios to the casting system in place today.
One of the pioneers behind this change was Marion Dougherty. In 1947, Dougherty moved to New York City after college and got a job designing windows at Bergdorf’s. A male friend of hers got a job casting for Kraft Theatre, a television show at the time, and he asked Marion if she wanted to be his assistant.
Dougherty “loved and understood actors”, often attending the theater to find new talent. New York actors had a reputation for being trained actors and more serious about their work, studying with Sanford Meisner or Lee Strasberg. Studios in Hollywood relied heavily on types to cast their roles. If someone had played a doctor in a previous movie, they’d often get the same actor to play the part of a doctor in a different film.
She discovered and cast actors like Warren Beatty, James Dean, Jack Lemmon, and Anne Francis in Kraft Theatre. She never received a credit for her casting work on Kraft.
In 1960, Dougherty moved on to cast the show Naked City. She made an effort to cast against type, cast for chemistry, and was capable of seeing an actor’s potential even if they have a bad audition.
Jon Voight, who Dougherty cast in Naked City, was so appalled by his performance on the show he wanted to Marion an apology. “I wanted to tell her not to stop believing in young actors,” Voight said. He wrote several drafts of the letter but never sent it.
Between Naked City and a new show, Route 66, Dougherty was casting the likes of Martin Sheen, Peter Fonda, Christopher Walken, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Jean Stapleton, Carroll O’Connor, Ed Asner, Jessica Walter, Bruce Dern, George Segal, James Caan, Cicely Tyson, Walter Matthau, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Redford.
Dougherty started casting for George Roy Hill, who would go on to direct Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. As if that didn’t keep her busy enough, she opened the first independent casting office in New York in a brownstone on 30th Street.
Not only did Dougherty have the eye for casting, but she also mentored other women in the field. Her brownstone hosted three female associates. Juliet Taylor, one of her former assistants, later cast Meryl Streep in her first role.
The documentary also makes mention of how casting is still not a respected job in the industry. Perhaps because many in casting are eager to call themselves “casting directors”, which the Directors Guild of America takes exception to. The DGA does not believe any other member of a film production should call themselves directors unless it is THE director.
Another reason for the industry’s lack of respect towards casting is it’s a field which is in fact, heavily populated by women, who are, as one of Dougherty’s assistants points out in the film, often “carrying out the vision of a man”.
While the film also tracks the career of Lynn Stalmaster in Los Angeles, it mostly points out the early recognition in Stalmaster’s career—he was quick to receive a single-page credit in a film—and Dougherty’s struggle to earn the same.
Dougherty was elemental in fighting for Jon Voight to be cast in the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. However, when she first viewed the film, her name was listed on a card with her assistants, rather than a separate card in the credits. She asked one of the producers to please correct this, but instead, he took her off the credits completely.
This didn’t stop Dougherty, however, and she continued to discover new talent. She cast Al Pacino in his first major film role, discovered Diane Lane at the Public Theater, and worked with Woody Allen on his early pictures. (Later, her assistant, Juliet Taylor, would go on to cast the rest of Allen’s films.)
In 1976, Dougherty moved to Los Angeles. She worked at Paramount and then Warner Brothers. There she continued her streak of inspired casting, although her work was not always given the recognition it deserved. As the studios grew more corporate, executives became more focused on physical qualities in casting. It became more difficult to cast a film with mostly character actors and in 1999, Warner Brothers made the decision to replace Dougherty with Lora Kennedy.
There is no Academy Award for casting, but in 1991, some of Dougherty’s former proteges started a campaign for her to receive a special Oscar. The campaign received many letters of support from colleagues and the crème de la crème of actors, including Glenn Close, Clint Eastwood, Jon Voight, and Robert Redford. However, the Academy did not choose to honor Dougherty.
On July 31st, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced casting directors will finally receive a branch. Hopefully in the near future, this important field–one dominated by women–will finally be recognized with an Oscar.
Another unsung hero in the history of Hollywood is director Alice Guy-Blache. Guy was a young woman when the early technical advancements to create moving pictures were being discovered. Although she made hundreds of films, first in Paris and then in America, most of her work was uncredited and therefore has been lost.
In France, Guy trained as a typist and was hired by Leon Gaumont to work for his photography company. While she worked there, men came to show Gaumont the new technology they were working on. Guy convinced her boss to allow her to film some scenes to test out the equipment and in so doing, directed her first film, called The Cabbage Fairy. Gaumont sold 80 copies of the film and appointed Guy head of all movie picture production at Gaumont Film Company, as long as it did not interfere with her secretarial duties.
So early in cinema’s rise was Guy that no official trade or title of filmmaker existed yet. Film historians marvel at how much responsibility Gaumont allowed her as a woman, but many conclude it was because he did not yet realize the impact cinema would have in the following years or on culture as a whole.
Guy’s 1906 The Life of Christ was an ambitious undertaking for those days. It ran 35 minutes and featured over twenty-five sets and three hundred extras. Film critics and historians praise her use of lighting and depth of field.
In 1907, Guy married Herbert Blache, who also worked for Gaumont. Once they were married, Guy was no longer expected to work, but she joined her husband when Gaumont appointed Blache as a production manager for the company’s operations in the United States.
Guy gave birth to her first daughter Simone in 1908, but marriage and motherhood couldn’t stop her from working. Two years later, Guy and her husband partnered to open their own studio called Solax. Guy continued directing, had a second child, and kept working.
Guy knew audiences wanted more actions and stunts, so she started providing more of them in her films. In a documentary about Guy, The Lost Garden (1995), it is said that most movies at the time would film models for their explosions, but Guy insisted on blowing up a real full-scale boat.
Olga Petrova, one of Guy’s frequent actors, said she never raised her voice to actors. In fact, Guy was an early believer in natural acting techniques. She even had a large sign in her offices at Solax: “Be natural”.
In 1918, Guy’s husband left her. Two years later, she directed her last film. In 1922, Guy and Blache officially divorced and Guy was forced to auction off her film studio. She returned to France, where she wrote stories and articles for magazines, frequently under male pen names.
Much later in her life, Guy returned to the United States to try and track down some of her films, but since most of her films in the U.S were released under the distribution company’s name, rather than her studio’s, they were nearly impossible to locate.
Although there are a few books published about her and more information has come to light over the years, Guy has mostly slipped through the cracks of cinema history. Currently, a pair of filmmakers is working to raise funds for a documentary on Guy, Be Natural. Their Kickstarter page is here, where you can watch a trailer about their search for Guy’s films.