Mary Jo Slater is a casting director and producer for film, television and theatre. She has over 100 movie credits to her name. Her first casting job was Chapter Two on Broadway in 1977. She went on to cast theatre productions, before moving into film and television.
As a casting director, Slater has been nominated six times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series, including three nominations for The Tudors.
Her son is actor Christian Slater. She is also the mother of actor Ryan Slater.
Mary Jo was one of the first resident of the 10th Avenue building.
T2C: When did you first more into Manhattan Plaza and how did you get into the building?
Mary Jo Slater: I was an original tenant starting in 1977. It came about because I was Manny Azenburg’s receptionist and his assistant. We were located in the Actor’s Equity building and there were flyers about coming to see these amazing apartments. As a struggling single working mom and suddenly I had a two bedroom, two bath apartment overlooking the Hudson. My rent was based on my income. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have John Lindsey, Bella Abzug and Patrick Monahan to thank for securing the federal subsidy of the buildings. It was the first Mitchell Lama, Section 8 and building of its kind. When I left in 1986, I cried for a year. When the government steps in, puts their money where their mouth’s are and opens the doors to people, to create camaraderie and community, this can turn hellish neighborhoods into nirvana.
T2C: There were a lot of famous people who were in that building. When you lived there who was in residence?
Mary Jo Slater: Larry David lived next door, Alicia Keys, Mickey Rourke, Angela Lansbury, Alan Menken, Giancarlo Esposito, Andrea McArdle, Kristen Vigard, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Meehan, Patrick Dempsey, Tom Fontana, Jack Warden, Martha Swope, Marge Champion, John Spencer, Jim Valley, Gloria Graham, Terrance Howard, there were just so many fabulous people.
T2C: What are your most memorable memory of living there?
Mary Jo Slater: When Christian was 7, we were riding in the elevator and four very beautiful transvestites entered. Christian stated “Mommy these ladies are so tall”. The next day Tennessee Williams, was in the elevator with us. Also while dining at Curtain Up, someone was thrown off their terrace and machete’d to death in front of us.
Samuel L. Jackson was our security guard for a short time. He got fired because he was taking the children of prostitutes to the swimming pool, so they did not have to see what their mother’s were up to.
T2C: Did you cast any people who lived in the building?
Mary Jo Slater: I was the casting director for “One Life to Live”, so I cast many from the building, so they would have health insurance.
T2C: You had your son Christian in the building. Had he started acting when he was living there?
Mary Jo Slater: His first profession job was in 1980 in The Music Man, with Dick Van Dyke. He played Winthrop Paroo. I wanted to cast him in a film with Jason Robards, but he didn’t want to audition. Once on set, the kid who got the role got all the girls. Suddenly Christian was interested in acting.
T2C: What made you move out?
Mary Jo Slater: Christian was very successful in New York. I heard about a movie that was right for him. At the time he was doing Landscape of the Body by John Guare at Second Stage. Sam Cohn saw him the play and wanted to represent him. I told Sam if you get Christian this meeting we will sign with you. He got the meeting and Christian was cast in “The Legend of Billie Jean”. He then got the film “The Name of The Rose”, so we moved to Hollywood. I of course need a job so I called a friend and ended up becoming the VP of casting for MGM. I really missed Manhattan Plaza. I went through culture shock.
T2C: You’ve produced a documentary Miracle on 42nd Street to showcase Manhattan Plaza. What made you take on this project?
Mary Jo Slater: I was having lunch with USA network VP of casting Nancy Perkins who also lived in Manhattan Plaza. We got the rights to do the story. It was a labor of love and took 5 1/2 years. This building was a role model for affording housing for artists. Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordan, all lived there and performed there.
T2C: What didn’t make it into this film that you would have liked to have seen?
Mary Jo Slater: A lot, so many neighbors had great stories. I could have never become a casting director, if it weren’t for being supported by the building.
T2C: What is your fondest memory of New York?
Mary Jo Slater: The camaraderie, the friendships, Broadway, Neil Simon, Chapter Two, the last cast of Grease, I was in love with what I was doing.
T2C: What would you like us to know that we haven’t asked you?
Mary Jo Slater: I lived through the AIDS crisis and took my neighbor to the hospital where he died. That’s the kind of place Manhattan Plaza is. There were five people over the age of 100 that lived in the building. Rodney Kirk, the Director of Manhattan Plaza, was a minister who married me to my second husband in the Duke Ellington Room and baptized Ryan in my apartment. Richard Hunnings, gave us office space that certainly contributed to creating this labor of love.
Miracle on 42nd Street is available on Amazon and will soon be available to stream.