Casting director who found her milieu with the pulp mini-series
November 10, 2015
Rose Tobias Shaw, who has died aged 96, was a Polish-born casting director who became a television executive known as the “Queen of the Mini-series”.
She was born Rose Tobias in Poland on September 7 1919 and migrated with her parents and sister from a shtetl near Lodz to New York. She left school at an early age due to lack of money, so had to teach herself to read and write, becoming a voracious reader with an extraordinary capacity for absorbing information .
She first worked as a stylist, which led to a career in film, although her real wish was to become a dancer. Briefly engaged to Jerome Robbins, the director of West Side Story, she wisely dropped the idea of dancing and continued in film and television.
In 1952 Rose Tobias travelled as a publicist for a touring production of Porgy and Bess. Unable to appear in the American South, they went abroad to Egypt and throughout Europe. It was said that President Nasser developed such a strong attraction to her that the company hastily had to have her taken out of the country.
In a 1953 interview in TV Guide Rose Tobias Shaw described tracking every theatrical paper from London to New York and conducting 40 interviews a day. As a casting director she helped to discover George C Scott, Elliott Gould, Kim Novak and later Pierce Brosnan, whom she had seen for less than a minute in the film The Long Good Friday. She gave Brosnan a substantial part in a six-part NBC mini-series, from which he rose to be James Bond. James Dean, by contrast, did not get a part from Rose and was evicted from her room for sleeping on the chairs. Marlon Brando used to stop by before he went to the theatre .
In the late 1950s she began working as a producer for David Susskind on a late-night talk show for American television called Open End, a tenure which ended in 1965 when she met the British actor Maxwell Shaw, who was performing in New York in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage. It was love at first sight and she left New York for good to take up residence in London. Her marriage to Shaw proved a happy union for them both, lasting until he died in 1985.
Her career continued in London and it was there that she became known as the Queen of the Mini-series. Her credits included the 12-part American series, War and Remembrance (1988), The Bourne Identity (1988), Judith Krantz’s Till We Meet Again (1989), and Sins (1986). She worked with ITV before becoming a freelance casting director. and during her time there she cast the cult series The Prisoner (1967). Other credits included Equus (1977); The Jewel of the Nile (1985) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
While casting for The Human Factor (1979), she was nearly over-ruled by the film’s director Otto Preminger who wanted the novelist Jeffrey Archer to play the leading role of the diplomat who falls in love with an African girl. When it came to the screen test, a love scene between Archer and the model Iman, who was to play the girl, reduced the film crew to fits of giggles as Archer, dressed only in his underpants (“like the 'before’ photos in the Charles Atlas ad,” Rose recalled), was dwarfed by his statuesque girlfriend. The part went to Nicol Williamson, and Archer was told to stick to novels.
Rose Tobias Shaw was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the BFI in 1987. In the last years of her life she was looked after devotedly by her carer Simiso Mafu.
SHAW, Rose Tobias
Born: 9/7/1919, Poland
Died: 10/27/2015, England, U.K.
Rose Tobias Shaw’s western – actress, casting director:
Kraft Theater: The Outcasts of Poker Flats – 1958 [actress]
The Prisoner: Living in Harmony (TV) – 1968 [casting director]