‘A Star is Born’ Original Film Highlights Central Casting’s History
When the A Star is Born original film debuted in 1937, it was an instant critical success and captured the public’s fascination with the lives of Hollywood celebrities. The success lead to a remake in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, another in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and a third which premieres this week starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
The A Star is Born original film starred Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett, an aspiring actress who moves to Los Angeles in search of fame. Not only does the film feature a scene where Ester stops by the Central Casting office in Hollywood, but Central Casting also cast Background Actors for the film.
Like many people looking to break into the entertainment industry, Esther’s first stop is to register at Central Casting. When she comes to register, she is greeted by a sign saying there are 12,416 registered Background Actors (then called extras) and not enough work to go around. This scene was filmed at the original Central Casting office at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Western Ave.
As the popularity of movies and celebrity began to grow, so did the allure of working in Hollywood and the desire for stardom. Thousands of people flocked to Los Angeles in the early 1920s to find work in the industry, but there weren’t enough jobs to accommodate them. After hearing of the employment issues and exploitations that plagued the industry, Marian L. Mel, a secretary at the Industrial Welfare Commission of California, conducted a survey of the Background Actors working in film. The results of that survey led to the founding of the Central Casting Corporation in 1925. Mel went on to become the head of Central’s women’s and minors’ divisions.
When Central Casting opened, it became the exclusive background casting agency for the majority of the film industry. That meant anyone who wanted to become a Background Actor had to come through Central Casting’s doors. Gaynor herself started out as a Background Actor registered with Central Casting, among other early Hollywood greats like Jean Harlow, John Wayne, and Carole Lombard.
Had Ester been able to register in A Star is Born, she would have been competing with those 12,416 for around 800 roles a day. To find work, she would have needed to call GArfield 3711 multiple times between 5-7pm and hope she fit the roles Casting Directors were booking. Central Casting’s operators would field more than 6,500 calls during this time from Background Actors looking for work.
Instead of finding fame through background work, Esther gets help from successful actor Norman Maine (Fredric March). Each version of the film follows a veteran actor or singer with fading fame who helps start the career of a young woman destined for greatness. They also offer a glimpse behind the curtain of the entertainment industry and illustrate the perils of fame. The A Star is Born original aimed to show those thousands of hopefuls what pursing an acting career could be like, while still reinforcing the Hollywood dream.
The original film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for William Wellman, Best Actress for Gaynor, and Best Actor for March and won the award for Best Writing (Original Story) for Wellman and Robert Carson.
While each version of A Star is Born offers updated commentary for its generation, one thing that remains the same from the original version, is that Central Casting is still the first stop for a lot of people looking to work in the entertainment industry. If you’re looking to become a Background Actor, all you have to do is register with one of our offices in Los Angeles, New York, Georgia, or Louisiana. Registration is free, easy, and there’s no experience required. Check out our Essential Guide to Registering with Central Casting for everything you need to know to get started.