How many times have you heard the expression that (he or she) looks straight out of central casting?
It means, of course, that someone you are observing looks exactly like a physical stereotype — owlish glasses, mussed hair and forgetful expression for the slightly kooky professor; dark, well-combed hair topping a burly sort who could easily pass for a local mobster; splashy blond hair and an ample figure for a none-too-bright ‘starlet’, etc., etc.
In short, the expression refers to someone who looks the part.
Has it ever occured to consider if ‘Central Casting” is merely a figure of speech or an actual, casting agency? Was ‘Central Casting’ a classic Hollywood reality?
The answer is no and yes. Thanks to an informative article in The Wall Street Journal, we discovered that there really was a Central Casting, and, in fact, still is. The photo above shows the original Hollywood operation circa 1929. The one below shows its Burbank office, circa 2017.
As the Journal notes, In 1925, the major film studios agreed to form Central Casting to organize the process of drawing on a pool of actors for extras and other minor roles. The move was hailed at the time as One of the most constructive steps ever taken by the motion picture industry.
Central Casting has a rich history spanning decades of winnowing out extras, stand-ins and other tyro movie hopefuls. The original idea was to impose some sort of centralized regulation on the burdensome process of acquiring teams of extras and other personnel while avoiding the exploitation (think high fees charged by private employment agencies) of the hopefuls involved.
Central Casting was very much in operation through thee classic Hollywood period. And, in 1976, the studios sold off the operation to a private firm, and has been in run under private auspices ever since. (The Central Casting website will fill you in on all details.)
Meanwhile, the generalized reference to Central Casting has become a staple of American colloquial speech. In 1942, reports the Journal, actress Ilka Chase commented on a English butler that he looked like something from Central Casting, with snowy hair and a striped waistcoat.
Ilka, we get the picture.