When it comes to casting in Hollywood, Marion Dougherty, 78, is considered by many to be the Edith Head of her profession.
With a resume of more than 50 films, Dougherty is a pioneer in the casting biz — since long before the Casting Society of America or the Directors Guild of America existed.
She began her career in New York during the golden age of TV, working for eight years (1949-1957) on “Kraft Theater.” While assisting such young helmers as George Roy Hill, Dougherty not only wrote the rules for talent scouting, but made the production process a more efficient one in the long run.
“Prior to Marion, casting was a laundry list affair,” says former apprentice Phyllis Huffman, whose credits include many Clint Eastwood pics. “Directors would audition several actors indiscriminately for a role. Marion made casting a selective process, honing the final auditions before a director down to three or four actors who had different angles on the part.”
Such methods enabled Dougherty to discover many legendary screen thesps. She claims to have given Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford and James Dean their first shot before the camera during her TV days on “Kraft,” “The Naked City” and “Route 66.”
Her acute ability to spot great headliners propelled her from the New York scene to the West Coast in 1976, where she landed at Paramount as head of casting. In 1980, she transferred over to Warner Bros., holding the VP of theatrical casting spot until 1998.
There she worked with such directors as Roland Joffe, Richard Donner and Tim Burton, assembling such WB blockbusters as the “Lethal Weapon” and “Batman” series.
Etiquette of casting
Aside from Huffman, Dougherty also counts Juliet Taylor (a casting director for Woody Allen pics) and Amanda Mackey (“My First Mister,” “Get Carter”) as proteges who continue to uphold her high standards in the screen trade.
Huffman and Taylor admire the respect that Dougherty gave both the actor and the director — an etiquette they say is rarely seen today in a pic’s pre-production.
For instance, Dougherty understood the actor’s stress during the audition process. In response to this, she avoided calling two actors in at once for the same part. She also went to great lengths to coach actors prior to their final rounds before a director.
“Nowadays, some casting directors overextend themselves among several projects at once, leaving their assistants to judge an actor’s audition,” Taylor says. “A talent director fails to be part of the process in this instance. Marion meticulously devoted her attention to one director’s project at a time, from the large to the small parts.”
Having experienced the tides of showbiz for 50 years, Dougherty frowns upon the hastiness of today’s casting process; specifically the idea of packaging talent for films, an industry tactic since the mid-’80s for tentpole pics.
No substitute for chemistry
“Whose to say that an actor is right for a part when they’ve never read for the director? Only when the director meets the actor can the two decide if they can work with one ,” she stresses.
While videotape auditions are commonplace nowadays, Dougherty prefers a live audition. In her opinion, a casting director will get an instinct if an actor is right for the part as soon as they walk into the room.
Dougherty believes that professional training is essential to any great thesp, and finds it unfortunate that TV often cultivates talent without theatrical backgrounds.
Dougherty now lives in New York and believes that Gotham still farms the best actors. She admits that the right director and script could easily beckon her back to work.
She states, however, “A lot of the old directors who I worked with, like Sidney Lumet, came out of the theater. I don’t want to go work with new, young indie directors. They won’t understand what I’m doing.”