Sunday, August 29, 2010

Skin Deep

Here’s something I’ve always wondered: How do TV shows approach actors to play what Hollywood considers to be ugly characters?

Take for example the Brady Bunch episode in which Jan meets her homely and eccentric Aunt Jenny (played by the great Imogene Coca). You remember, it’s the one where Jan finds an old photo of her aunt and is amazed to see that she looked exactly like her when she was a girl. Jan then meets her Aunt Jenny and is horrified to see that she’s now a gawky, chinless bug-eyed owl of a woman, and realizes she's destined to grow up to look just like her. Jan totally loses her $#!† at this realization and spirals into her weekly bout of depression.

What I want to know is, how exactly did the producers approach Imogene Coca for this role? Did they try the sly approach and say, “Say Imogene, we’ve got a great part here for a comedic genius with impeccable timing like you.” Or did they just come right out and say, “Hey Imogene, we need a pop-eyed troll to play the part of Jan’s hideous aunt.”

Even if the producers tried to downplay their reasons for hiring her, the entire plot revolved around Aunt Jenny’s homeliness and was riddled with references to it. There’s no way she wouldn’t have been able to figure out why they specifically wanted her.

Was Coca offended by this? Or had she grimly accepted her looks and realized that playing such parts was the only way she'd ever have a career in show business?

How do you tell someone you only want to hire them because they’re unattractive?

Did the producers of the Beverly Hillbillies put out a casting call for plain, frumpy looking bookworms to play the part of Miss Jane? How did Nancy Kulp feel, knowing that she was hired just because the producers thought she wasn't easy to look at? Did she say, "Hooray, I got the part! Hey, wait a minute..."

And what about poor Mary Beth Canfield? She was hired onto Green Acres to play a plain-looking female handyman named Ralph! That's like a double slap in the mug!

Maybe these women saw their appearance as sort of an advantage. After all, a beautiful starlet only has a few precious years to work before her skin starts to wrinkle and sag and the movie roles dry up. These character actresses never had much in the way of looks to begin with, and so could work pretty much forever. They also never had to starve themselves or alter their appearance with painful and expensive plastic surgery. When you think about it that way, they had it better than the so called beautiful people.

Still, I don't think I'd want to be a casting director.


  1. I've always wondered the same thing :)

  2. Feel the same way - I always wondered how it was to be Vivian Vance...required to stay larger than Lucy. You have to think it takes a toll on a person - starlet or not.

  3. If I remember right I think Vivian Vance was actually YOUNGER than Lucy, but was made to look older.


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