Corrections Department #8: Marion Dougherty, or: Math Is Hard!

December 9, 2011

Yesterday’s New York Times has an obituary for Marion Dougherty, an influential casting director who spent nearly two decades working in television before transitioning into feature films (including many important ones, such as Midnight Cowboy and The Sting).

It seems to be par for the course that television is a minefield even the most experienced obit writers can’t get right.  Actually, the Times has already issued a correction with regard to Dougherty’s movie credits – initially the writer, Dennis Hevesi, added two films that she didn’t cast, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, to her resume.  But I’m guessing we won’t see a correction addressing the two pretty obvious errors I spotted with regard to Dougherty’s television work.

The first suggests that Route 66 and Naked City, the two shows that really put Dougherty on the map as a discoverer of important talent, ran from 1954 to 1968.  If only.  The correct dates are 1960 to 1964.  (Dougherty didn’t work on the earlier 1958 season of Naked City, which was cast less imaginatively by a West Coast has-been named Jess Kimmel).  Although Dougherty had cast Warren Beatty on Kraft as early as 1957, it was on Naked City and Route 66 that she routinely gave early exposure to young Off-Broadway actors who would become some of the superstars of the seventies: Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Cicely Tyson, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Alan Alda, Bruce Dern, Ed Asner.

The second error is an internal contradiction: Hevesi writes that Dougherty was the casting director for Kraft Television Theater beginning in 1950 (I believe this is accurate, although it could be off by a year in either direction) but later claims that she was a casting assistant for six years.  Since Kraft was Dougherty’s first job in the entertainment industry, and the series went on the air in 1947, that’s impossible.  As far as I can determine, Dougherty started on Kraft in 1948 or (more likely) 1949, and became its chief casting director within two years or less.  In any case, she was a woman well under the age of thirty when she started in that job – a noteworthy accomplishment, although there were other women with similar track records.  (Alixe Gordin, who was born a year before Dougherty, became the casting director for Studio One around the same time Dougherty ascended at Kraft; Ethel Winant was a casting executive who achieved considerable prominence at CBS a few years later.)

Dougherty enjoyed a certain amount of public attention during this time – the Sunday Mirror Magazine ran a 1955 profile that called her “the nation’s top casting director” and credited her for sending Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger, and Anne Francis to Hollywood – and her influence at Kraft cannot be underestimated.  A blueprint of the offices of J. Walter Thompson, which packaged the anthology, places Dougherty in an office next to those of the two directors, Maury Holland (who was also the producer) and Fielder Cook; the three of them are the only Kraft staffers named on the plans.  That Dougherty never received a screen credit on Kraft (her first, as far as I can determine, came immediately afterward, as the “talent coordinator” for the short-lived 1958 incarnation of Ellery Queen) was a noteworthy injustice, and probably one attributable to blatant sexism.

(At first Dougherty’s name was also absent from the credits of Route 66 and Naked City, although the executive producer, Herbert B. Leonard, eventually compensated for that omission by awarding her the humungous single-card credit shown above.)

Reading the Times article, one might get the impression that Dougherty was closeted.  Actually the casting director, who kept her personal life very private, married during her Kraft years and later became the companion of director George Roy Hill (most of whose films she cast) after both their marriages ended.

In the interest of full disclosure, earlier this year I worked on a documentary, Casting By, which features Marion Dougherty prominently and identifies her as perhaps the first independent casting director, at least in the sense that that profession exists today.  The Times does a good job of explaining her significance, but there is a lot to Dougherty’s story that remains untold.  Sometime soon, I’ll write more about her.

Correction, 12/16/2011: An earlier draft of this piece indicated that Dougherty was married to the cult character actor Roberts Blossom; in fact, although Dougherty cast Blossom in several projects, her husband was a non-actor with a similar name.  The Classic TV History Blog regrets the error (and acknowledges the irony of its appearance in a post that was itself a correction of another publication’s mistakes).

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4 Responses to “Corrections Department #8: Marion Dougherty, or: Math Is Hard!”

  1. Judith Anne Mother's maiden name(Dougherty) Says:

    Do not call her Dougherty, have some respect. Marion Dougherty was the best casting director the movie industry has seen, her husbands name was Robert not Roberts and he did not die in July.
    Additionally they were married for a long time.

    You fail to point out she is Crystal Award winner for Casting, and should have gotten an Oscar,, the academy was petitioned by many actors and directors to creat a Oscar catagory for casting
    because Marion Dougherty certainly should have received one for the huge wonderful body of work she did.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      If you follow the link to the New York Times obituary for Mr. Blossom, you’ll see that his unusual first name is in fact “Roberts” and that he did pass away in July. It’s also customary in almost all journalism (the Times being a famously archaic exception) to refer to most individuals (including women) by their surnames, without an honorific, which I assume is your objection. I welcome corrections from readers when I do make a mistake, but I’d also appreciate it if people who take the time to comment here would first undertake the same basic fact-checking that I do.

      I do agree with you that we should have a casting Oscar, and that Dougherty probably deserved to win more than one of them, as well as multiple Emmys for her work on Naked City and Route 66.

  2. Pinky Lombard Says:

    Ms Dougherty was not married to the similarly named Roberts Blossom but to Robert Blossom, whom she divorced in the late 70.’s

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Thank you for the information, Pinky. At least one person who knew Dougherty had told me that her husband was the actor Roberts Blossom, but I realize now that the source may not have known who I was talking about when I asked. Lesson learned.

      I also regret my response the first comment in this thread; frankly, the hostility of the commenter’s tone led me to dismiss it more hastily than I should have.


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