The resident sophomore of ABC’s hit series Too Close for Comfort was standing in a corner, wearing a lampshade and talking to a plant, at a Hollywood bash when Tony Shepherd discovered him three years ago. “I don’t remember too much about that night except that this joker asked if I ever did any stand-up comedy,” confesses Jm J. Bullock. In fact, his funniest previous credit was his oddly spelled first name, but no matter. At 24, Shepherd may have seemed a wise guy at first glance (the average age of casting directors in Hollywood is 40), but as director of talent for Aaron Spelling Productions, Tony has the power to sign up a natural comic when he sees one.
Thus far Shepherd has placed more than 200 actors. His hunting instinct for stars comes from both blood and experience. He is the great-grandson of movie mogul Louis B. Mayer and the son of MGM/United Artists executive producer Richard (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) Shepherd. Tony, who left Amherst College after his sophomore year to work for London’s Old Vic, was made a coordinator of casting at ABC-TV in 1979. In the past five years he has directed the casting of 35 theatrical productions here and abroad.
Each day Shepherd sees at least five hopefuls (“to keep on top of the talent pool”), and when he is not in his office, the enthusiastic bachelor is sniffing out talent at theaters, comedy showcases, clubs or on TV. “I watch 20 to 30 hours a week,” says the executive, who earns around $50,000 a year.
What is he looking for? “It’s that old Lana Turner syndrome,” he says, recalling the legend of Turner’s serendipitous discovery as she sipped a soda at a drugstore in Hollywood. For Shepherd, who eventually wants to have his own production company, the unknown he is searching for has “that undefinable something. I look for that sparkle in someone’s eyes,” he says, adding, “Talent is the only lasting thing in this business.” ?