When I went to write about the Coens, I put a lot of thought into whether you could write about just one, about whether it was appropriate to write about the two of them together. The Coens are such a symbiotic organism that I cannot remember which is which—I learned for the article, then immediately forgot and can’t now remember. Probably part of why it worked to write about them together was that they’re brothers, so they’ve been a symbiotic organism since they were children. But Janet Hirshenson has only been working with Jane Jenkins since 1980. So what I have done here is picked a name and gone with it, with the understanding that we’re talking about both women.
Their first movie was It’s My Turn, starring Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of and which I’m definitely not interested in seeing. But their list of credits holds some really good movies as well—their third movie was Frances, and to list all the great movies and TV shows in the 229 they’ve done together would take some time, and that’s without even getting into the fact that IMDb seems to be wrong on those numbers. Even just the ones that don’t get talked about as much, like Real Genius and Smoke Signals and so forth, even the classics like Jurassic Park and The Princess Bride.
But really, none of them get talked about that much, do they? At least not in the context of the work that Hirshenson and Jenkins did on them. There’s a lot of talk about how Rob Reiner “found” Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, but did he? And was he the one who picked Fred Savage? I’ll admit I’m a bit ignorant myself on these points; maybe they had nothing to do with Cary Elwes and it was all Rob Reiner. But I don’t think he sat down and chose everyone in the movie personally. It seems even less likely that Jeremy Kagan hand-picked everyone in The Journey of Natty Gann, which has a lot more speaking parts.
Casting directors are invisible. Apparently, Daniel Radcliffe was surprised to have been cast as Harry Potter, saying he wasn’t the most talented of the kids going for the role. Hirshenson allegedly said that most of them “didn’t have the balls” for the job. So that’s a decision that influenced one of the most popular film series of modern times—without getting into quality at all, here. She launched his career by choosing him as Harry; she influenced the series by choosing him as Harry. For a lot of people, she influenced their childhoods by choosing him as Harry.
I have no quotes from either woman; up until today, I knew basically nothing about either woman. I still don’t know much. Neither have Wikipedia pages. Neither have much in the way of biography on their IMDb pages. One has a personal website, but it’s terrible and doesn’t provide much useful information. I don’t know what to tell you; I suppose the casting is designed to be invisible, noticeable only if it’s done badly. I’m not going to claim that everything the women did was worthwhile—they cast North, after all—but so far as I can tell, their work has never been the problem with their movies.
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