"Where's Papa going with the ax?" (p.1)
When I was growing up, one of the weirdest of the many weird things I did, was to cast movies I planned to direct, or rather, imagine to cast movies I planned to direct, based on books I had just read. Early on it would have been something like Charlotte's Web or Encyclopedia Brown, then when I was a little older, War of the Worlds or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. When I was in my thirties...Well, never mind that, you're probably wondering where I got my actors. Simple. I just poured through a TV guide for inspiration. Eve Plumb, who played Jan on The Brady Bunch, would have made a pretty good Fern Arable in Web, don't you think? Yes, I'm aware Dakota somebody played her in a recent film version, but I'm talking early 1970s. Plumb kind of resembled the Garth Williams drawing. Just dye her hair brown. Also, Fern's mother consults a child psychiatrist after her daughter tells her that animals talk. There were certainly times when Jan Brady could have used a good shrink. Though in her case more likely because she was upset that all the barnyard animals were paying more attention to Marcia.
I'm also convinced that Russell Johnson, who was on Gilligan's Island, would have made a good Connecticut Yankee. I mean, if the Professor could somehow invent a lie detector machine with only coconut shells and bamboo at his disposal, just imagine what he could have done in medieval England. The possibilities are endless.
"I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did - invent, contrive, create, reorganize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy" (p. 53)
However, I found out later on that a filmmaker doesn't necessarily go through the mundane tasks of holding auditions and conducting screen tests all by themselves. An underling, appropriately enough called a casting director, does all that. The film's director (along with the producer and the the CEO of whatever corporation owns the studio) has the final say, of course, but that underling nevertheless serves a vital role, one that does not yet have an Oscar category all its own. A fellow by the name of Tom Donahue hopes to rectify that with an HBO documentary that came out last year called Casting By. Not long after the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, a well-known director penned the following open letter to The Hollywood Reporter taking up Donahue's cause:
In my case certainly, the casting director plays a vital part in the making of the movie. My history shows that my films are full of wonderful performances by actors and actresses I had never heard of and were not only introduced to me by my casting director, Juliet Taylor, but, in any number of cases, pushed on me against my own resistance. People like Jeff Daniels, Mary Beth Hurt, Patricia Clarkson and others who are people I was unfamiliar with. A number of discoveries and careers have been launched by the energies and resourcefulness of my casting director. Not only did I use Meryl Streep for a small part in Manhattan when she was a relative unknown, but at the best my casting director helped start the film career of Mariel Hemingway and Dianne Wiest, a stage actress completely unknown to me but known by Juliet Taylor. I’m particularly difficult in the casting area because the whole process bores and embarrasses me. If it were up to me we would use the same half dozen people in all my pictures, whether they fit or not. Despite my recalcitrance, Juliet has forced me to meet and to watch the work of many new people and to hire people on nothing more then her strong recommendation. Because my films are not special effects films and are about human beings, proper casting is absolutely essential. I owe a big part of the success of my films to this scrupulous casting process which I must say if left to my own devices would never have happened. I might add also, anecdotally, that despite my firm conviction that I could never persuade luminaries like Saul Bellow, Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, Mayor Koch and others to work in my films, the confidence and insistence of my casting director proved more accurate and I wound up getting these unlikely notables.
All well and good, but I wonder, does Juliet Taylor ever use a TV guide?