What Does Straight Out of Central Casting Mean?

APRIL 2, 2020
A sign that reads straight out of Central Casting.

Have you ever been told you're "straight out of Central Casting?" If not, you've likely heard it somewhere, and if you're registered, you may have even taken a photo with one of our straight out of Central Casting cards. What you may not know is how this popular phrase has evolved since we were founded in 1925.

What does straight out of Central Casting mean?

As with most idioms, straight out of Central Casting has a literal and figurative meaning. Many successful actors and actresses are straight out of Central Casting because they registered with us on their way to stardom, like Tiffany Haddish, Will Ferrell, and Kristen Wiig and legends like John Wayne, Jean Harlow, and Gary Cooper.

Over the years, the phrase has become a popular saying to describe someone who has the traits that fit established stereotypes or archetypes.

When the podcast 99% Invisible visited Central Casting for their episode "Atmospherians," producer Roman Mars defined straight out of Central Casting as, "something so visually perfect, that it's like it's been designed."

Examples of straight out of Central Casting.
(left) Museum plaque using figurative definition of straight out of central casting | (right) Cartoon by Mike Twohy

How the term originated

The expression "out of Central Casting" has been around about as long as Central Casting itself. It started appearing in newspapers in the late 1920s, as a way to indicate that someone was hired by or came from the Central Casting Bureau. Articles about the entertainment business were republished throughout the country, with phrases like "extras sent out from Central Casting" and "calls go out to Central Casting." So while people outside of Hollywood may not have known much about Central Casting as a company, these stories were building the foundations of what would become a well-known phrase.

On March 3, 1953, Los Angeles correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Gene Sherman published an article about an 83-year-old man who decided to enroll at the University of California, Los Angeles. Sherman described the man as having "a formidable shock of white hair and a magnificent goatee, he looks as if he had just walked out of Central Casting with the role of a witty, kindly old prospector in the latest western movie." This was one of the first examples of "out of Central Casting" being used in the figurative sense.

The phrase was printed a few more times throughout the 1950s to describe Bohemian Brooklyn café patrons, a portly Santa Claus lookalike, and a cop from the TV show Naked City. What all these mentions had in common, was that the stories were written for Los Angeles based newspapers and republished in papers throughout the country.

By the late 1960s, the expression had made it into the mainstream vernacular throughout the United States, being used by several publications to describe anyone from professional athletes, to astronauts, and even more Santa Claus lookalikes.

In the 90 plus years since Central Casting was founded, the phrase straight out of Central Casting has taken on a life of its own, though it's never strayed too far from its origins. After all, those visually perfect scenes are still being designed by Central Casting.

Cartoon depicting the phrase straight out of Central Casting.
Cartoon from The New Yorker (Christopher Weyant, 2004)

Are you straight out of Central Casting?

You may be straight out of Central Casting for a Los Angeles S.W.A.T officer or a New York lawyer, but if you register as a Background Actor with us, you can be on your way to becoming a successful actor or actress straight out of Central Casting.

The first step is to register at one of our offices in Los Angeles, New York, Georgia, or Louisiana. Then you will be eligible to be cast in one of our productions. Want to register your child? We also cast babies 15 days old to teenagers 17 years old.

Keep an eye on our Articles section for everything you need to know to become professional Background Actor.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Hollywood History