Central Casting has been the leading Background Actors casting company since we were established in 1925. To celebrate our 93rd anniversary, here’s the story of how we were founded and what it was like working as a Background Actor in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
As the film industry began to develop in the early 1900s, many directors, producers, and actors flocked to Southern California, where the sunny weather and diverse terrain were perfect for filming. By 1920, Hollywood had become the hub of the film industry while celebrities became the envy of many men and women across the country. This desire for stardom led thousands to flock to Hollywood with hopes of becoming the next big star.
In 1923, The New York Times reported that up to 10,000 people a month traveled to Los Angeles to find a job in the film industry. Many of these people believed their best chance of becoming a star was to begin as an extra (now called Background Actor) and try to get discovered by a director or producer. The influx of young hopefuls with no jobs lined up became so much that actress Mary Pickford warned that people should save enough money to live on for five years before making the trip to Hollywood.
Will Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), was concerned about the conditions and exploitation many of these Background Actors faced, so he commissioned Mary van Kleek of the Russell Sage Foundation to study the working conditions in the industry. While van Kleek’s report was largely positive, she found employment issues were rampant and suggested a more in-depth study be done.
For this second study, the Industrial Welfare Commission of California sent Marian L. Mel to Hollywood to specifically survey Background Actors. Mel found many Hollywood employment practices violated California labor laws, especially regarding the employment of women and children.
After meeting with Mel, the Welfare Commission, and the MPPDA, Hays decided the best way to improve working conditions and regulate employment was to create one background casting bureau to find background for all the studios’ productions. On December 4, 1925, the Central Casting Corporation was created.
Before Central Casting, there were two main ways for Background Actors to find work. Most went from studio to studio every morning hoping to get cast in whatever was filming that day, while others paid a steep price for a private casting agency to find them jobs. That all changed on January 25, 1926, when Central Casting opened its doors for registrants.
To be hired by Central Casting, Background Actors had to register at our original office at Hollywood Blvd. and Western Ave. Once registered, they could look for work by calling GARfield 3621 every 15 minutes from 6am until the switchboard closed, which would often be as late as midnight. In 1926, The Los Angeles Times reported that in the first six months of operation, Central Casting made 113,837 placements (around 629 a day) from a roster of over 15,000 Background Actors.
In the first two years, Mel was hired to run the women and children’s division, Charles Butler was chosen to run the African American division, and the Call Bureau was formed, which allowed actors with screen credits to register for bit parts.
Central Casting was the first stop for many actors looking to break into the industry. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, it was common for actors with screen credits to continue to work as Background Actors between principal roles. Many actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood, like John Wayne and Carole Lombard, registered and worked for Central Casting early in their careers.
While a lot has changed in the last 93 years, Central Casting remains the leading background casting company in the industry and it’s still free and easy to become a Background Actor with us. The first step is to register with one of our offices in Los Angeles, New York, Georgia, or Louisiana. The registration process is different in each office, so be sure to check out your location’s Register page for all the information you need to get started. Want to register your child? We also cast babies 15 days old to teenagers 17 years old.
Just like those legends from Hollywood’s Golden Age, many of today’s stars began their careers as Background Actors registered with us. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next star straight out of Central Casting.
Categories: Hollywood History