Marion Dougherty, Legendary Casting Director, Dies at 88

5:32 PM PST 12/05/2011 by Mike Barnes , Gregg Kilday
Jon Voight, left, and Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy"

She put Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford before the cameras and cast films including "Midnight Cowboy" and "The Paper Chase" before a long career at Warner Bros.

Marion Dougherty, the legendary casting director who gave James DeanWarren Beatty, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Glenn Close their first shots in front of the camera, died Dec. 4 at her home in New York. She had been suffering from cardiovascular disease and was 88.

With her acute ability to spot great headliners, Dougherty flouted the old Hollywood system of stock casting by using actors with a nuanced sense of character and individuality. She first began working in live television, started her first casting office in New York City in 1965, and moved to Hollywood to head casting at Paramount in 1976. She joined Warner Bros. in 1979 and spent more than three decades there.

"Marion was a pioneer," recalled Juliet Taylor, Wood Allen's frequent collaborator, who first worked for Dougherty as a secretary. "Before Marion, casting directors were more like organizers, secretaries who put together cattle calls. Marion turned it into a very selective process. She would say to directors, 'I will bring in three or four actors, they all will be very different, but they all could plqy the role.' She made a real contribution, and directors loved it."

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Dougherty cast scores of films, including Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Owl and the Pussycat (1971), Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), The Paper Chase (1973), Escape From Alcatraz (1979), Urban Cowboy (1980), Reds (1981), The Killing Fields (1984), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Batman (1989), Falling Down (1993), Payback (1999) and the Lethal Weapon series.

Today’s casting directors who learned under her wing include Taylor, Amanda Mackey (Get Carter) and Ellen Lewis (Forest Gump).

For eight years, Dougherty was the uncredited casting director on the acclaimed, live Kraft Television Theatre. She next cast the gritty filmed dramas Naked City and Route 66. During those years, she started the careers of such actors as Dean and Hoffman.

Talking about the actors she employed on Naked City, Dougherty once said: “This was Hollywood’s window on the New York talent pool. There were people like [Robert] Duvall and [Walter] Matthau, and all these people — they had no idea who they were, and they saw them for the first time on Naked City.”

When Mayor John Lindsay made New York more attractive to filmmakers in the late '60s, productions poured into the city, and Dougherty, who had just opened her own casting office, was a beneficiary. "Directors poured in from all over the world, and because they didn't know the community, Marion would guide them," Taylor recalled. "She had very strong, original opinions. For example, she championed Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy when John Schlesinger wanted someone else. She was very supportive, made actors feel very comfortable, and did the same thing for directors."

United Artists executive David Picker invited her to produce movies and she moved to the West Coast, working on such films as 1975's Smile and 1976's Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. When Picker was subsequently named president of Paramount's motion picture division, she became the studio's vp in charge of casting before moving on, several years later, to Warners.

Dougherty won a Crystal Award from Women in Film in 1986 and a year later received the Hoyt Bowers Award from the Casting Society of America.

She is survived by two sisters and several nieces. Her friends plan to hold a private gathering in her memory in January.

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