In popular usage the term "central casting" has come to denote an unspecified source of stereotypical types for film or television, as in a character being "straight out of central casting".
When the entertainment industry started to take off in the early 1920s, thousands of people flocked to Hollywood with hopes of becoming the next big star. These hopefuls were called "extras" because they were the extra people who filled out scenes. The main way to find work at this time was to wait outside the gates of studios, hoping to be hired on the spot. With little regulation on hiring film extras, many people were exploited while looking for work.
In an effort to fix the employment issues and exploitation that plagued the industry, Will H. Hays commissioned several studies of the employment conditions in Hollywood, including one from Mary van Kleeck, a prominent sociologist with the Russell Sage Foundation. After reviewing the results of the studies, Hays adopted a suggestion of van Kleeck's and created the Central Casting Corporation in 1925 as a way to regulate the hiring of extras in Hollywood. Central Casting was formally established on December 4, 1925 as the Central Casting Bureau by Hays and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA).
Hays had four main goals for Central Casting: to do away with the high fees extras were charged by private employment agencies, to ensure extras were paid legally, to discourage the influx of people flocking to Hollywood to seek employment as extras, and to provide steady employment to qualified extras.
For the estimated 30,000 aspiring extras in Hollywood, Central Casting became the only source of extra work. In the first six months of operation, the agency registered more than 18,000 extras and made 113,873 placements. Many Hollywood legends started their careers with Central Casting, including Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Gary Cooper.
In 1944, the agency introduced a second phone line, GArfield 3621 for men and GArfield 3711 for women. Though registration decreased due to World War II, the switchboard often received up to 4,000 calls an hour from extras looking for work.
In 1976, the Motion Picture Association of America (the former MPPDA) sold Central Casting to Production Payment, Inc., a subsidiary of Talent & Residuals, making the agency privately owned for the first time.
When the agency’s parent company International Digitronics Corporation merged with Draney Information Services Corporation in 1991, Central Casting merged with Richmar Casting to become part of the newly formed Entertainment Partners. During this process, Central Casting overhauled their digital casting system, making it easier for casting directors to search through their 15,000 registered extras. Around this time, extras begin to refer to themselves as background actors.
In April 2006, Central Casting New York opened in Manhattan, the first Central Casting office to open outside of Los Angeles. Some early projects cast by the New York office included Law & Order, The Sopranos, and Spider-Man 3.
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