Double sepia head and shoulders portrait of a woman with flowers in her hair

Starstruck casting books

Cinesound's 'little Hollywood'
 Jennifer Coombes
Page from a Cinesound Casting book showing 4 photographs of a young woman striking different poses
Publicity shots of Gwen Munro for Orphan of the Wilderness (Ken G Hall, 1936) that appear in Cinesound casting book. NFSA title: 356234

The Cinesound casting books form the heart of the forthcoming NFSA and National Portrait Gallery collaborative exhibition, Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits. They are a beautiful example of organisational history and portraiture.

Cinesound Productions was an Australian feature film company established in June 1931. Ken G Hall, the General Manager, directed all but one of the 17 films produced. He was committed to making the type of entertainment the public wanted to enjoy and creating a Hollywood-style star system, promoting Cinesound as a ‘little Hollywood’.

Cinesound established a talent school at Rushcutters Bay Studio for young actors, offering training in ‘deportment, enunciation, microphone technique and limbering’. By 1940 the school had over 200 students. The casting books contain applications, letters and photographs sent by aspiring students – ‘the names of dozens of beautiful girls and handsome men who are breaking their hearts to become motion picture players’, according to The World News in 1938.   

The individual images can be removed and studied separately through the lens of art history for a number of qualities – the stamp of the photographic studio, the signature of the photographer, or use of particular kinds of lighting.

In total, three scrapbooks containing over 1500 portraits demonstrate an aspect of the history of Australian filmmaking. They are a record of mostly unknown and keen amateurs; ‘starstruck’ hopefuls dreaming of making it big in the local industry. As Cinesound casting director George Cross said in an interview, ‘Everyone would like to be a star’. 

Below is a gallery of selected pages from the Cinesound casting books:

Book now for Starstruck

Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 November 2017 until 4 March 2018 before travelling around the country.

Book your tickets now at the National Portrait Gallery website.

Explore more of the casting books on the Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits website.

Supported by the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program, an Australian Government program aiming to improve access to the national collections for all Australians.