BY RODDY MCDOWALL
Once upon a time in Hollywood a producer would read a script and then decide that the leading man for his picture — allowing that he was first an actor — was a "sophisticated man-of-the-world type" or a typically American country boy and sometimes a dissipated rake or a rugged college he-man kind of guy. However, all that is changed now.
Motion pictures and, for that matter, the entire entertainment industry, still revolve about the star system and that is a good thing for all of us, because a star in the fullest sense of the word is a personality whose magnetism and histrionic magic sells tickets, which creates a wondrous chain reaction. Sizeable ticket sales means prosperity for exhibitors, who then demand more films, and more films mean more work for everyone from the box office-drawing card to the most innocuous individual associated with the making of a motion picture, who is usually the common stock owner.
Stars are stars because of their talent and magnetism, but usually they reach the pinnacle of fame through adroit publicity, which first attracts, excites and holds the interest of great multitudes. Nevertheless, the publicity will not hold up, if the star's personality and gifts are not equal to the ballyhoo. Thus, when a film company is fortunate enough to have among its roster of players a Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Shirley MacLaine or Elizabeth Taylor, it is natural that other studios will then attempt to create a stable of players similarly endowed.
This is where the trouble begins and this is what is, to a large degree, stymieing films. To illustrate: let us suppose that the current teenage vogue happens to be some anemic-looking fop with a crew haircut and troublesome adenoids. Immediately the front office at each studio, taking cognizance of this, alerts its casting department and all talent agents to be on the lookout for actors who look like overdressed advance agents for a famine and talk through their noses. No others will do.
It is equally true if the latest screen sex pot has blue hair, a 48-inch bust, 23-inch waist and 35-inch hips. Walk into Schwab's and note how every girl freeloading at the magazine stand has similarly endowed herself.
This way of casting films has become so ingrained in our profession that writers no longer describe their characters' physical attributes, which should be in harmony with the type of person the plot line requires. Instead, it is now customary for an author to write:
"The heroine (Marjorie Main type) is secretary to a Tony Curtis kind of guy, who is unhappily married to a regular Hermoine Gingold. The Curtis character makes a pass at the Marjorie-type heroine after inviting her to visit his private kennels, where he proudly exhibits his pedigreed dog, a Lassie type."
Ridiculous as this may read, the system does not stop there. Twenty actors are brought in to read for "the Tony Curtis type" role and all are rejected, because they resemble Yul Brynner, who was last season's type. In desperation, each of them kneels and tries to bring himself down to Tony's height. At Seaboard Finance, loans are negotiated to buy hair pieces and have nose jobs done which will turn them into an army of Tony Curtises.
In the meantime, alas, the real Tony Curtis has become so revolted by all the carbon copies of hemself that he has seen everytime he goes to the movies, he decides to pay a visit to a plastic surgeon and get himself a Warren Beatty face.
I can still remember when a lucky producer, who had turned a low-budget film into a "sleeper" and reached the pinnacle of fame and fortune, suddenly discovered that everyone else in Hollywood was copying his format.
Now-a-days we are not only remaking every top grosser which comes to the screen, but hiring actors and actresses who look exactly like the people in the big-money pictures. Still, motion pictures alone are not guilty. Turn on your car radio and listen to at least one Frank Sinatra-type on every station. And how about the format of those TV series? I personally know more about the instruments and gadgets used in a hospital than does Abbey Rents, thanks to Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, The Nurses and Hennessey. As for TV westerns, they no longer even bother to switch location sites. I have seen Paladin, Marshal Dillon, Lawman, Rifleman and the Maverick brothers not only come through the same saloon, but actually deliver identical dialogue!
If we are to give credit where credit is due, and this business of casting movies according to physiognomy vogue continues, it will not be long before the credits of a top budget film reads:
Colossal Cinema Corporation
"THE NEW TESTAMENT"
Kirk Douglas, chin by Dr. Max Grossfield; Elvis Presley, hips by Wittnauer Watches; Jayne Mansfield, bust by Sunkist. SPECIAL GUEST STAR: John Wayne by Adler Elevator Shoes.