Friday is an extra-special day for Central Casting: It's turning 90

Long part of the cultural lexicon, "straight out of central casting" describes the stereotypical characteristics of a particular type of person or character.

In fact, there really is a Central Casting. The largest of the extras-casting companies with offices in Burbank, New York and New Orleans, Central Casting is celebrating its 90th anniversary Friday.

Central Casting was launched by the major studios in 1925 to centralize the extras-casting process.

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"In the very early days of Hollywood before Central Casting, mass crowds of people were coming to Los Angeles to get into the business," said Jennifer Bender, the company's executive vice president.

"Every morning they would get dressed up, go to the gates of each studio and the directors or the assistant directors would come out and pick people," Bender said. "The ones that weren't picked would drive over to another studio. There was a lot of disorganization, and it became a place where there was a lot of unscrupulous activity."

In 1976, Central Casting was sold to private interests and is currently a division of Entertainment Partners, one of Hollywood's leading payroll and production services companies.

Its famous alumni include Ronald Reagan, who went on to become one of the top stars at Warner Bros. before serving as governor of California and U.S. president.

More recent performers who came through Central Casting, Bender said, include Casey Affleck, Olivia Munn and Eva Longoria.

Central Casting agents work with the director or assistant director to cast films and TV shows. "It's a real collaborative process," she said.

The company, Bender said, works with "every major studio and every network."

Some of the television series it works with are "The Big Bang Theory," "Scandal," "NCIS," "Castle," "Mike & Molly" and "American Horror Story." Among its New York series are "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Girls."

Some 500 new people come into Central Casting on a weekly basis, with the lion's share entering the Burbank office. "Some people stay for many years and make it a career," she said. "Some people just sort of stay for a small period of time. For some people, it is just not for them and sometimes they want to be in show business but they don't know what they want to do."

Its extras range in age from babies — "Legally, a human cannot start working with us until they are 15 days old" — to "as old as a human can be," Bender said.

Central Casting had 17,000 extras in the late 1920s and now has nearly 100,000 in its database, though many work part time and aren't looking for work every day.

Bender originally was an independent casting director working on indie films and commercials. "As much as I loved that, I wanted to work with all of the major studios," she said. "I knew about Central Casting. I came here and interviewed a long time. I worked my way up."

Central Casting has grown in the last decade as movie and TV production has migrated outside California. The company's New York office opened in 2006, followed by the New Orleans branch last year. Next year, Central Casting will expand to Atlanta, which has become a major hub for film and TV production and a growing rival to California.

But the bulk of the company's operations remains in Los Angeles, where it employs about 60 people; an additional 30 work in New York and Louisiana.

As part of its 90th birthday celebration Friday, Central Casting will hold a background actor appreciation day for active registered background actors.

"We want to say thank you for all of their hard work, getting up at 4 in the morning, going to all of these sets and helping us make these movies," Bender said.

susan.king@latimes.com

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 04, 2015, in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "extra-special day - Central Casting - yes, there is such a company - is celebrating its 90th anniversary Friday. It's still the go-to place for wannabe stars." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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