Everybody Loved Ed Lauter

October 18, 2013

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The news of Ed Lauter’s death on Wednesday came as a shock, not so much because he was terribly young — Lauter was 74 — but because he’d looked about the same for the whole of his forty-year career, and often (especially in recent years) played characters much younger than his actual age.  Tall, sharp-chinned, and prematurely bald, Lauter sketched in a lot of thankless authority figures (as a fire chief, for instance, in several episodes of ER) but acquired a cult following through juicier turns as a gamut of bad guys, from the coolly sinister to the outright terrifying.  Lauter died of mesothelioma, a form of cancer, but he remained active until the end, logging a recurring role on Shameless this year and completing several features scheduled for release in 2014.  It seemed like we’d have him forever.

I met Lauter in January 2011, when I sat in on part of his interview with director-producer Tom Donahue for the documentary Casting By.  Lauter appears in the film just briefly, to relate a memorable anecdote about his first meeting with Marion Dougherty (a story that always gets a big laugh at screenings). But Tom questioned Lauter at length, covering much of his early life and career, and even solicited the skilled mimic’s impressions of James Cagney, Burt Lancaster, and John Wayne.  Lauter, it turned out, was an admirer and amateur historian of classical Hollywood acting, as eager to relate a second-hand story about one of his performing heroes as an anecdote from his own experience.

Lauter:  One of my favorite actors, Montgomery Clift, does The Search and he turns around and at the end of the movie is looking at this woman who finally found her kid after all these years, and he does three emotions at once, in one look . . . . I heard that Alan Ladd was in the commissary one day and they said, “Alan, how’s it going today?”  And he says, “Today I made a great look.”  Sometimes a great look sells everything.

Like most of the rest of the internet, it seems, Tom and I are big fans of Lauter’s, both as an actor and an all-around nice guy.  We wanted to share some of Lauter’s remarks that landed on the proverbial cutting room floor, and so Tom has graciously allowed me to use his interview for background and to quote from it at length here.

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Like Judy Garland, Lauter was born in a trunk: His mother, Sally Lee, spent four years as a Broadway actress.  She gave it up to raise Ed and his two sisters (largely as a single parent), but Ed caught the acting bug from her stories of working for or alongside the likes of David Belasco and the Shuberts, Al Jolson and Fred Astaire.

Before he was a movie star Lauter was something of a basketball star, first at his high school in Long Beach, Long Island, and then (from 1957 to 1960) at LIU’s C.W. Post Campus.  After graduation, Lauter moved to Manhattan to begin what would be a decade-long struggle to establish himself as a performer.  He studied, briefly, with the great character actor William Hickey.

Lauter: A lot of acting teachers can be a little hard on actors and Bill was the complete opposite.  He nurtured us.  He would always say listen.  Listening is very important for an actor.  Grant Mitchell was one of the great listeners.  He was an old character actor.  Spencer Tracy was a young actor and George M. Cohan says, “We’re going to go to a play tonight; we’re going to watch Grant Mitchell.”  He says “Grant who?”  “Grant Mitchell.”  He says, “Why are we going to watch him?”  “Because he listens in scenes.  Watch him listen in a scene.”   If you ever watch an old movie you’ll see Grant Mitchell, he’s great.  He’s like George C. Scott does an Anatomy of A Murder, with Jimmy Stewart.  A lot of times George has got to listen to Jimmy Stewart and you can hear, you can hear George listening.

In 1964 he married one Future Fulton (real name: Wanda Mae), an actress and singer who was nearly twenty years his senior.  Future guided his career during Lauter’s lean days, but died of cancer just as he began to enjoy some success.  Lauter chased  stage and TV roles during this period and even played some stand-up gigs.  He made his earliest appearances on camera in TV commercials, for cigarettes and TWA (two things they don’t make commercials for any more).

Lauter: Future was kind of like my guru.  She taught me.  She had a five-year scholarship to the Actors Studio, so she gave me all that information that she picked up.  I met people like Jason Robards through her.  And finally we were about down to fifty dollars and I got a commercial for Bayer Aspirin and, hallelullah, out of that commercial they made four commercials.  They made one one minute, two thirty seconds, and one fifteen second [commercial] that they would play.  I remember the time the first royalty check came in and I said Future, it wasn’t that much – a couple hundred dollars.  She went nuts: “Whoa!”  And every few weeks this check would come in, and that was great, and then we’d go to shows.

Lauter’s breakthrough came when he was cast in several small roles in the 1968 Broadway production of The Great White Hope.  When he interviewed for the job, Lauter fielded more questions about his athletic background than his acting skills; the director, Ed Sherin, was putting together a baseball team for the Broadway Show League and wanted to win.

Lauter: When I was doing The Great White Hope, I understudied a lot bigger part and I got a chance to play it for three weeks.  One night I went out there, my scene was with Jane Alexander and I was out there, just Jane and I alone on the stage, and I did the scene and I came off and I don’t even remember doing it because I was in such a freaking zone, you know?  And it’s like magic.

In Casting By, Lauter describes the clever ploy he used to infiltrate the office of Marion Dougherty, then the top casting director in New York.  Dressed in his security guard’s costume from The Great White Hope, Lauter impersonated a postman with a special delivery letter for Dougherty; and although the gimmick went awry, the tale was passed down by Dougherty’s assistants and became a minor Hollywood legend.  It wasn’t the only trick Lauter used to get casting directors’ attention.

Lauter: Another time I heard that Peter Sellers had impersonated some famous actor’s voice and got a job for himself.  I said, that’s a good way to do it.  So I picked up the phone one day and I called Buzz Berger, who was one of the casting directors for Trials of O’Brien, the Peter Falk thing.  He picks up the phone and I said I was George C. Scott.  He says, “Oh, hello, George.”  “Buzz, hey Buzz, how are ya?  Listen Buzz, I went down to see an actor and that guy’s name is Ed Lauter.  I want you to take a look at him.  I think he’s going to be good!”

Although Dougherty would eventually use him in the excellent The Last American Hero, it was another important casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, who launched Lauter’s film career.  Trading on his connection to Edwin Sherin, Lauter talked his way into a reading for Sherin’s debut feature, Valdez Is Coming, with his eye on the small role of the “bony man.”  He didn’t get the part (it went to the forgotten James Lemp), but Lauter made an impression on Stalmaster, who was the film’s casting director.

Lauter: Lynn used to be an actor, so he knows what it’s like.  He did a couple of movies.  So he has empathy.  Some casting directors are a little – they want to be actors, they’re jealous of actors.  Lynn really likes actors.

Stalmaster encouraged Lauter to come to Los Angeles and quickly cast him in a cluster of high-profile films, all of them released in 1972: Dirty Little Billy, The New Centurions, Hickey & Boggs, and The Magnificent Seven Ride.  Lauter became one of the key faces of the New Hollywood, appearing in a dozen or so of the best American films of the seventies.  Alfred Hitchcock saw him in Robert Aldrich’s The Longest Yard and became fixated on Lauter with some of the intensity he usually reserved for icy blondes.  Hitch featured him in a key role in Family Plot and penciled Lauter in for the third lead in his next film, The Short Night, opposite Sean Connery and Liv Ullmann.  But Hitchcock’s failing health compelled the cancellation of that project, which might have elevated Lauter above the familiar-face plateau where he would remain for the rest of his career.

Lauter: I’ll tell you one thing that Hitchcock said that [I think of] when I’m out of work and I’m walking around and feeling [down].  His secretary, Peggy Robertson, said after we worked [together] that he said to Peggy that I was the best character actor that he ever worked with.  I said, “Peggy, run that by me again.”  “Best character actor he ever worked with.”  Wow, man.

For more essential Lauter reading, check out Chuck Stephens’s appreciation from Film Comment and Anthony Petkovich’s Shock Cinema interview.

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Top: Ed Lauter on Hawaii Five-O (“The Golden Noose,” 1980). Above: An early headshot, probably from the mid-1960s (courtesy Ed Lauter).

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Marion Dougherty, the legendary casting director at the center of the new documentary Casting By (currently airing on HBO), got her start in the early days of television.  She spent nearly a decade on Kraft Television Theatre, earned her first on-screen credit (below) during a brief stint on a live version of Ellery Queen in 1958, and wielded a creative influence over Route 66 and Naked City that would be difficult to underestimate.

In interviews, Dougherty was puckish but also taciturn.  “Casting is a game of gut instinct. You feel their talent and potential in the pit of your stomach.  It’s about guts and luck,” she said in 1991.  The New York Times carped that, because of the instinctive nature of casting, “there’s not really much they can say” when Casting By interviews casting directors.

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Fortunately, in Dougherty’s case, there is another way to examine her process in detail.  Dougherty left a substantial paper trail – in particular, an index card file that spans nearly forty years and thousands of performers.  The earliest surviving cards date from around 1961, when Dougherty became the East Coast “casting executive” for the two Herbert B. Leonard-produced dramas, and the file appears to become a nearly complete record of every actor Dougherty met after 1968, when her feature film career began to gain momentum.  The card file comes up in several anecdotes mentioned in Casting By, and at one point Dougherty reads aloud from the card containing her original assessment of Gene Hackman, from 1962: “good type – his reading was nothing but I believe he could be v. good – esp. as gentle, big dumb nice guy.”

(Disclosure: I appear briefly in Casting By, and worked as an archival researcher on the film.  Also, while the archival materials discussed below are not presently available to the public, the filmmakers have told me that Dougherty’s estate has donated them to the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.)

Voight, Jon

In Casting By, Jon Voight describes his disastrous television debut on Naked City. Dougherty’s card file reveals that some months before she hired him for that episode, Voight had read unsuccessfully for Route 66 (based on the description, probably for the role played by Lars Passgard in “A Gift For a Warrior”).

In general, Dougherty’s notes on actors were more pragmatic than poetic.  “V.G.” (for very good) or “Exc.” (excellent) are abbreviations that appear on hundreds of cards, as is the triumphant “used” (meaning she hired the actor for a part).  Disapproval was registered just as bluntly, with notes like “boring” or “square” (a favorite word) or “I thot dull” [sic].  But if Dougherty rarely wrote more than a hundred words on any given actor, her notes in their totality offer an enormous amount of insight into how she thought about the art of acting, as well as a kind of hands-on philosophy of her own craft.

In one sense, casting for Dougherty was a process of taxonomy.  In her office, the card file was separated into six drawers organized by gender, age, and ethnicity (much like the Academy Players Directory, which was for many decades the industry’s mug book for working actors).   Dougherty jotted down actors’ heights (a consideration in pairing off men and women) as well as their ages and how far she felt they could deviate from it on screen (“40, could go to 60,” she wrote of Dominic Chianese, years before he became one of television’s most famous senior citizens as The Sopranos’ Uncle Junior).  She thought in terms of class, with some specificity: “upper middle or upper” and “blue collar” are notations she used.  She also noted regional accents, and asked actors whether they could discard them.  Going beyond class, Dougherty made notes on types: “rural”; “street”; dangerous.”  She often wrote down whether an actor was right for comedy or “serious” material, or both.  “Excellent for comedy high or low – imagine she’d be good also for drama as she’s very intelligent, feeling person,” Dougherty observed of Charlotte Rae.  In auditions and meetings with actors, she didn’t just evaluate the level of talent on display; she was also thinking ahead to how she might use what she saw.

Dougherty also recorded whether she thought actors were good-looking, or sexy (not the same thing), and whether they were right for “romantic” leads.  And she sometimes speculated on whether an effeminate actor was a “fag” or, later, “homosexual” or “gay.”  Even in the early cards where the terminology is outdated, though, those notes come across not as homophobic but as an attempt to assess whether actors could “play” straight in an industry in which gender norms were rigid.

Hoffman, Dustin

If her inclination to pigeonhole actors into basic categories seems antithetical to the idea of casting directors as diviners of the more ephemeral qualities of talent, it’s important to remember that Dougherty retired around the same time as the Internet Movie Database was launched.  Her card file was, more than anything else, a mnemonic device, a way of sorting out the blur of hundreds of auditions during a period when there was no Google to summon dozens of images of every small-part player.  In Casting By, Dougherty points out a system of remembering actors by associating them with people in her own life: “I would put down anything that hit my mind – I put down ‘has eyes like Aunt Reba’ and I knew what that meant, because Aunt Reba was very elegant and sort of snooty and [had] beautiful eyes.”

The cards reveal how elaborate this associative ritual could become.  Dougherty often compared new actors to those she had grown up watching on the screen.  Robert Forster (assessed in 1966, prior to his debut in film or television) reminded her of a “more polished” John Garfield.  The mature Roy Thinnes struck her in 1991 as “sort of a cross between [Jack] Palance and Steve Forrest.”  For character actors, Dougherty would match other character actors: Sully Boyar (from The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and, famously, a single scene in The Sopranos as Carmela’s psychiatrist) was “a poor man’s Zero” (Mostel, that is).  David Doyle: “like a jokey, younger Orson Welles.”  Diane Ladd: “reminds me of Nina Foch or Miriam Hopkins.”  With Burt Young, Dougherty got into a debate with herself that underlines how specifically she understood actors’ qualities.  “He looks a bit like younger less ugly Ernie Borgnine . . . Great for hoods,” she wrote, then added, “not really, more Borgnine or [Richard] Castellano” – actors, in other words, whose warmth and humor undercut their menacing looks.  Dougherty’s other favorite source of metaphor was the animal kingdom.  “She looks like a bird,” she wrote of Calista Flockhart.  Grace Zabriskie was a “pug” (but “not unpretty,” Dougherty hastened to add), Henry Winkler a “bassett hound.”

Pacino, Al

Although most of Dougherty’s index cards refer to specific meetings with actors, she would sometimes create a card just to record the name of an actor who had impressed her on the stage or screen.   She first observed Robert Redford in a 1960 Playhouse 90, Lawrence Pressman on Broadway in 1968’s The Man in the Glass Booth, and Rue McClanahan and Holland Taylor in the 1969 Off-Broadway production Tonight in Living Color.  Dougherty thought Peter Boyle was “damn good” in Joe and noticed Joe Don Baker (“a cross between Ralph Meeker and Marlon Brando”) in a supporting role in another 1970 film, Adam at 6A.M.

But while many cards, especially during Dougherty’s studio years – in the mid-seventies, she moved from New York to Los Angeles to become the head of casting for Paramount and later Warner Bros. – chronicle auditions for specific films, the majority of the insights she recorded were gleaned from conversation.  Her notes make it clear that Dougherty was less interested in an actor’s line readings than in the sense she got of the his or her personality during her gentle questioning about their backgrounds, their aims for the future, and their self-assessments of their strengths and preferences as a performer.  “When I talked to people, very often I didn’t talk about what they did in movies or plays or anything else,” Dougherty explained to the Casting By filmmakers.  “I would ask them about where they learned acting, what they did, and I’d ask them about what their animals were and what their kids were – just anything that would give me an idea of them.”

(That said, Dougherty disdained actors who wouldn’t read for a part, and one suspects those actors were at a serious disadvantage when it came to films that she was casting.  “[G]ood actor but won’t read and I don’t dig that,” is her only note on Brock Peters.)

DeNiro, Robert

Dougherty’s notes on her conversations with young actors are a touching record of where her passion lay.  Even in her private files, only the most abjectly clueless or unprepared auditioners were subjected to Dougherty’s scorn.  “Came in totally unprepared to read . . . a real lox,” she wrote of one popular Saturday Night Live star.  Her genuine enthusiasm for young actors, for kernels of talent and expressions of conquer-the-world excitement, comes across again and again in her casting cards.  She took notes (in 1961) on how Martin Sheen read from the Bible at a talent show and moved from stagehand to actor in his first hit show, The Connection, and (in 1966) how Bo Svenson had done kabuki in Japan, a play in Hong Kong, and “Bergman pix as a child” (!).  Actors who struck her as intelligent, and in particular actors who expressed a desire to play against their image, won her admiration.  What actor wouldn’t tell a casting director that they wanted to do meaty, serious work and not just get by on their good looks?  And yet Dougherty recorded variations of that remark many times, with evident credulity.

“We had a nice talk; I chided him about being late,” is one of her more motherly notes – written in reference to a twenty-two year-old Jude Law.  Her protective impulses also extended towards older actors fallen on hard times.  Casting By reveals that one small-part actor, Tom Spratley, lived in the boiler room of the 30th Street townhouse that was Dougherty’s headquarters during its heyday (and a nexus for a variety of eccentric, up-and-coming actors and writers).  Dougherty helped to discover Rocky actor Burt Young, and he became a sort of mascot around the 30th Street office as she and her assistants helped him through a period of personal tragedy in the seventies.  Even when Dougherty perceived a talent as limited, she was looking for ways to use it creatively.  “He was hammy, paunchy, and totally wrong for the part,” she wrote of one character actor. “However, he could be used for overbearing, dumb, etc . . . with a firm director he’d be useful.”

Dougherty used the card file to keep tabs on actors who had caught her eye.  Although new meetings would occasionally merit a new card, Dougherty’s habit was to add updates to an actor’s original card whenever they caught her attention, either in a film or an audition.  In some cases, a single card documents decades of brief encounters.  Dougherty created a card for Paul Dooley when he replaced Art Carney in The Odd Couple on Broadway in 1966; she updated it again in 1970 (when she saw him in The White House Murders on stage), in 1973 (a cryptic note: “Cuckoo’s Nest – interested”), in 1976 (“used” in Slap Shot), and in 1979 and 1980 (when she saw him in Breaking Away and Popeye).  (Those references to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Slap Shot, both of which were officially cast by Mike Fenton and Jane Feinberg, are among the many intriguing mysteries to be found in the cards.  Slap Shot was directed by George Roy Hill, who knew Dougherty from Kraft Theatre and was her companion for many years; it’s likely that she consulted on the casting for all his features, even those that she didn’t work on formally.)

Hackman, Gene

Dougherty’s addenda to her cards document a process of constantly upgrading her assessment of an actor’s skills or range.  Tim O’Connor, a consummate underplayer, “always bored” her until she saw him in Tonight in Living Color; then she raved that he was “very good . . . attractive and virile, yet funny.”   When Dougherty saw Mitchell Ryan on Broadway in Wait Until Dark, she was frustrated: “he is not able to reach the audience – strangely removed – Has now had a lot of classical [experience] but still nothing that reaches out and makes contact – too bad because he’s very good rugged type.”  Two years later, she scrawled this note underneath her earlier comments: “Finally hit it in Moon For the Misbegotten.”  Overwhelmingly, Dougherty looked for the positive, delighting in finding new wrinkles in what actors could do and new angles on how she could use them.  Only occasionally would she watch an actor for a while and conclude there was less than met the eye.  “She really can’t hack it,” Dougherty wrote of one underground actress who appeared in many cult movies.  “He really is an Ivy League bore,” was her assessment of an actor who eventually became a major TV star playing just such characters.

Some of Dougherty’s cards have “courtesy” written at the top – a code indicating that she met with an actor as a favor to someone, in some cases with a reluctance reflected in the iconoclastic casting director’s notes on the meeting.  But Dougherty also took referrals willingly, often seeing actors recommended by directors and other casting directors she trusted, or sounding them out on actors she’d met.  It’s fascinating to trace who sent whom to Dougherty’s attention.  Naked City director Walter Grauman pointed her towards Richard Benjamin in the early sixties (according to the card, Grauman had used Benjamin in five episodes of The New Breed, although that credit isn’t noted anywhere online).  Al Pacino, one of her discoveries, sent her the character actor Richard Lynch, he of the distinctive facial burn scars, in 1972.  Spratley “raved about” Ed Begley, Jr. in 1976.  Sometimes the intel from Dougherty’s trusted sources was more cautionary.  Of the character actor Michael Higgins (Wanda; The Conversation), Sidney Lumet had “seen him be brilliant just a couple of times” – a back-handed compliment if ever there was one, and yet a fair assessment of an actor who worked a lot but tended to recede into the background.

Lauter, Ed

Another invaluable bit of information captured in Dougherty’s card file is an alternate history of what-might-have-been casting – a record of auditioners who came close to getting iconic parts that went to someone else.  Lois Smith “gave [a] damn good reading” for the Brenda Vaccaro role in Midnight Cowboy (although she “had no comedy” when she read for Norman Lear’s Cold Turkey).  Dougherty “would have used” Ray Liotta for the Sam Bottoms role in Bronco Billy.  George Roy Hill thought that Christine Baranski had a “very good face for whore if Swoosie [Kurtz] can’t do it” (but Kurtz did, in The World According to Garp).  Tom Skerritt (“think he has a lot of sadness in him”) read well for unspecified roles in A Man Called Horse and Smile.  Dougherty liked Susan Tyrrell for Dark Shadows (well before her film debut) and The Day of the Locust.  She read Richard Gere for The Day of the Locust, too – possibly for the lead – but she was suspicious of his charm and thought he’d be better suited to play villains (which is how she eventually cast him in Looking For Mr. Goodbar).

Casting By explains that Dougherty’s retirement was not a graceful one.  Ousted at Warner Bros. in 1999 (when keeping track of actors using index cards must have struck outsiders as prehistoric) with a classic Hollywood knife in the back, she learned of her firing from an announcement in the trade papers.  Although her enthusiasm for actors was never diminished – she noticed Naomi Watts and Paul Rudd in her final years at Warners – Dougherty had soured on television, the medium that launched her.   “Sexy lady – has just done a pilot – there goes that!” she groused on Annette Bening’s card in 1987 (although the pilot didn’t sell, and Bening became a film star).  “Hope he gets the right part before TV snaps him up – give him a chance to learn more.  He then might be a real leading man,” she wrote of Julian McMahon (ten years away from his TV stardom in Nip/Tuck) in 1993.  It was a potent irony: television, the medium that launched her, had come to represent for Dougherty a minefield in which actors would learn bad habits and short-circuit promising careers.

Dougherty died in 2011, after suffering dementia for several years.  It’s a shame that she didn’t remain active long enough to notice the renaissance in television that began with The Sopranos, and continues.  One could easily imagine her in a Manhattan brownstone, scouting for new faces for Orange Is the New Black, going out the same way she came into the business sixty years ago.

Editor’s Note (9/5/13): At the request of the Marion Dougherty Estate, most of the cards originally used to illustrate this piece have been replaced with others.

Photos courtesy HBO.

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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