A new film, “Casting By,” clearly and eloquently tells the story of legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, a seminal figure in the careers of a generation of actors. She gave Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Glenn Close, Danny Glover and Jon Voight, among others, their first big breaks, redirected Robert Redford’s career from light comedian to star of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and paired Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton on “All in the Family.”
“Casting is a high art when you run into a Marion Dougherty,” said television producer Norman Lear.
Still, after 50 years of influential work she was never recognized by the Academy and in the film director Taylor “Ray” Hackford disputes whether casting directors have even earned the right to be called “directors.”
The documentary attempts to right these slights with a detailed and engaging walk down memory lane, combining newly shot material with people who worked with Dougherty and archival footage from set visits and contemporary interviews.
Director Tom Donahue tries to explain the alchemy behind the instinctual art of casting. Woody Allen benefitted from Dougherty’s prowess to steer him toward talent when he was too shy to meet the talent himself. “I never had to shake any hands or tell any lies,” he says. “Never mind the Purell bills.” He even says, “If left up to me, I’d settle for anything.”
“Casting By” is a treat for film fans, particularly if you have a bent for 1970s New York centric cinema. It’s not particularly cinematic in of itself—this could easily be watched on the small screen as a television doc—but the story cuts to the heart of what makes films great and finally offers Dougherty the respect that the Academy and Hackford denied her during her lifetime.