Marion Dougherty, a former Bergdorf-Goodman window dresser who rose to become one of Hollywood’s most influential casting directors, died December 4 in Manhattan of natural causes. She was 88. Once called “the father of casting as we know it” by Paul Newman, Dougherty was responsible for giving Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Ed Asner, Anne Bancroft, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken and numerous others their first breaks. She also was instrumental in the early careers of James Dean and Robert Duvall.
Dougherty entered the business casting the TV series Kraft Television Theater, Naked City and Route 66 during the late 1940s and into the early 1960s. At that time, the end of the studio system meant actors were free agents to be discovered in regional theaters, off-Broadway and at local playhouses, and the demands of TV meant they had to be found fast. She eventually moved into film casting, where she revolutionized the process by moving away from type-casting and toward character and individuality. Her movie credits include casting Pacino in Panic In Needle Park, Redford in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Voight and Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, as well as The Owl And The Pussycat, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Paper Chase, Lenny, The Day Of The Locust, The World According To Garp, Full Metal Jacket, Tim Burton’s Batman, and the four Lethal Weapon movies. Her most recent movie credit was 2001’s Venus And Mars. “I think she’s one of the key figures in cinematic history; she was the Mozart of casting,” said Tom Donahue, who is making the documentary Casting By, about the evolution of the casting industry of which Dougherty was a central figure.
In 1965, Dougherty set up her own company, Marion Dougherty Associates, in a New York brownstone nicknamed The Brothel on 30th Street because all her employees were women. (She hired future casting directors Juliet Taylor, Amanda Mackey, Nessa Hyams, Phyllis Huffman and Wally Nicita.) She was brought to Hollywood by former United Artists president David Picker, and she eventually worked at Paramount and Warner Bros, where she was named head of casting in 1979. On the West Coast, her discoveries included Glenn Close, Diane Lane, Danny Glover, Matthew McConaughey, Brooke Shields, Debra Winger and Woody Harrelson. Among her many achievements: suggesting to Norman Lear that Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton play Archie and Edith on Lear’s pilot for a new series called All In The Family; convincing Richard Donner to cast Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon even though his part was written for a white male; and casting Robin Williams in Garp, his first dramatic role.
There was a push in 1991 to get Dougherty the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar — with the likes of Warner Bros’ Mark Rosenberg, Paula Weinstein, Newman, Woody Allen and Sydney Pollack behind the campaign — but that lobbying effort failed.