Voices off guide the casting director
The TVTimes finds the secrets of Associated-Rediffusion’s casting director Weston Drury in 1956
LIBRARIANS have their indexing systems. Students their lecture notes. Doctors their case histories. You and I probably tie a knot in our handkerchiefs.
Weston Drury, casting director for Associated-Rediffusion, has a memory jogger all his own.
He has his “voices” but they are not supernatural. It is just an art acquired through the years, a part of his craft.
He conjures them up, he says, whenever he reads a script. Voices of actors and actresses playing, in his imagination, the roles on the script before him.
When the reading is complete, one of the toughest parts of the job is complete. He knows which artist is the one to play the part. From there routine takes over.
He must check on availability, confer on terms. If there is a hitch; if the person he wants is not available, he must rack a near-photographic memory to find a substitute.
“Producers come to me with their ideas,” says Weston, who is rising 60 and ruddy complexioned.
“They tell me they want Sir Laurence Olivier. I take note of their requirements but my own methods generally give me the best pointer to the right man for the right part.”
The “voices” of Weston Drury are not the be-all and end-all of his casting system. He has a file, indexed and cross-indexed, which will eventually contain 10,000 names.
Actors and actresses are split into ten categories; there are nine categories under the heading musical; six for orchestras; three for opera; seven for specialities. Everyone who appears on ITV comes under one or other of the many headings.
And everyone, it seems, wants to get into ITV.
One letter caused Mr. Drury to chuckle. It said: Dear Sir, I would like a part as a great leader of armies as, in a previous stage of my existence I was Julius Caesar. Apart from that I could also play a great politician — in another of my previous existences I was Benjamin Disraeli. And if there is nothing going in that line, could you find me a part opposite Margaret Lockwood…
Occasionally a letter turns up which shows why a casting office is sometimes known, in the business, as heartbreak house.
Like those from once-great names who beg for bit parts. One, received recently, stated frankly… “I have not done a thing for 40 weeks.”
Like letters from youngsters who have just left dramatic schools and are beginning to find that acting is only rewarding when you are working.
Always he reads each letter carefully, looking for a hint in the writing that it was sent by somebody who will make a TV star.
Lack of experience does not rule out the writer.
What does he look for?
“To be honest, I do not know. You can’t always tell from a letter — but you can sometimes. It’s easier, though, when you see the person.”
Easier — like the time a 12-year-old was sent to him.
“There was electricity in the air as soon as she started to speak. I knew I was listening to a girl who was to be the greatest discovery of my life.
“She had no real experience. I was amazed to find she didn’t even come from an acting family. She had a confidence and a way with her that prophesied great things.
“She wasn’t even pretty in those days. You wouldn’t call her an ugly duckling but she would not have won a beauty contest.
“Her film tests were wonderful. I still remember how I raved over them.”
The girl was Jean Simmons.
With Edward Black, Drury helped launch the biggest star-building campaign in British film history — when names like James Mason, Stewart Granger, Phyllis Calvert, Dennis Price, Anne Crawford and Jean Kent, became common-place.
His own career started at the age of eight, Little Drury, midget comedian, he was called then. He worked through music halls and concert parties; musical comedies and revues; produced top line variety shows; was stage director at the London Palladium; general manager at a top theatrical agency; casting director at Elstree; for Warner Brothers; Gaumont-British; J. Arthur Rank and others.
“What about discoveries since you started in ITV?” I asked.
“We are a bit young for that,” he says, “but I think we shall see big things from Anne Valery and Michael Trubshawe.”
Films and plays
HE spends hours on the telephone and, when he leaves his office in Television House he still has “homework.”
Five nights a week he goes to a film or a play. When he leaves each show he has listed, in those “unwritten files,” the performance every member of every cast has given, its type and its quality.
He was present recently at a High Court case. As he and a companion left, when the case was over, he was asked: “What did you think of the verdict?”
“Fair enough,” said Drury, “but I think the Judge was miscast. Felix Aylmer would have played the part much better.”