Lynn Stalmaster, an empathetic and tenacious casting director who changed the careers of hundreds of actors, including John Travolta, Jeff Bridges and Christopher Reeve, and cast hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV shows, died on February 12 in her Los Angeles home. He was 93 years old.
The cause was heart failure, her son Lincoln said.
Billy Wilder, Robert Wise, Hal Ashby, Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack and Norman Jewison all relied on Mr. Stalmaster’s great ability to discern a character’s inner life and match it to the thousands of actors who inhabited it. his mental Rolodex. This alchemical process, like Tom Donahue, the filmmaker behind “Casting By”, a 2012 documentary on the profession, he says, elevated Mr. Stalmaster’s work to a great art.
“Lynn had a wonderful gift,” said Mr. Jewison, the director and producer of films like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” both of which were chosen by Mr. Stalmaster. Mr. Jewison was the first filmmaker to give a casting director his own film credit when he listed Mr. Stalmaster on “The Thomas Crown Affair”, released in 1968.
“I’ve always encouraged him to find quirky people,” Mr. Jewison said. “For ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, I had to find actors who spoke Russian. Lynn found them in San Francisco, where there was a large Russian community. Neither of them was an actor. He was so ingenious. And he could read very well with the actors. He could keep them calm and safe.
Once a shy teenager who trained as an actor and auditioned in the 1950s, working on television and radio, Mr. Stalmaster was sensitive to the actor’s experience and became a strong advocate for those in who he believed. After meeting an 18-year-old John Travolta, he insisted he get the role that eventually went to Randy Quaid in Hal Ashby’s movie “The Last Detail,” starring Jack Nicholson, released in 1973.
It was a scuffle between the cast, Mr Travolta recalled in a telephone interview, but Mr Quaid’s physical presence was more akin to that of the character, as Mr Ashby and Mr Stalmaster said. to Mr. Travolta on a midnight phone call praising his work.
At the time, Mr. Travolta was doing theater and advertising in New York City, but Mr. Stalmaster believed in him so much that he harassed him for two years. When a role came up for a character in a TV comedy pilot set in a Brooklyn high school, Mr. Stalmaster urged him to turn down a lead role in a Broadway show and return to Los Angeles for a hearing.
He got the role – what turned out to be a turning point in the career of failed swashbuckling punk Vinnie Barbarino in a show that would find its own place in television history: “Welcome Back, Kotter”.
“He was pretty determined,” Mr. Travolta said of Mr. Stalmaster. “He didn’t let them consider anyone else. After “The Last Detail” he told me: “Don’t worry. It will happen. “
Mr. Stalmaster has participated in countless other careers.
He prompted Mike Nichols to cast a young Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate”. LeVar Burton was in college when Mr. Stalmaster selected him for the lead role in what became the 1977 hit television series “Roots”.
Geena Davis had trained as an actress but was working as a model when Mr. Stalmaster gave her a minor role in “Tootsie”, Sydney Pollack’s 1982 romantic comedy starring Mr. Hoffman. It was her first audition and the role would be her first film.
After seeing Christopher Reeve in a play with Katharine Hepburn, Mr. Stalmaster offered him a small role in “Gray Lady Down” (1978), Mr. Reeve’s first movie role, and then managed to lobby for him. he is the main role in “Superman”, released the same year.
“Lynn understood the actor’s process and the actor’s plight,” said David Rubin, casting director and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Mr. Stalmaster was his former boss and mentor.) Mr. Stalmaster’s career, he said, has shown that “being a success in Hollywood and being a mensch are not mutually exclusive.”
In 2016, Mr. Stalmaster became the first – and so far the only – casting director to receive an honorary Oscar for his work. During the Oscars ceremony, Mr. Bridges recalled how Mr. Stalmaster launched his own career in the early 1970s. At the time, Mr. Bridges was in his twenties and was trying to determine if he wanted to make a living in the company when Mr. Stalmaster asked him offered a role in “The Iceman Cometh,” the 1973 John Frankenheimer film based on Eugene. O’Neill is playing.
“It’s heavy stuff,” Mr. Bridges remembers thinking, as he told the audience about the awards. “It scared me. I didn’t want to do it, to tell you the truth. I didn’t think I could do it.
But he did, and the experience – terrifying but also joyful, he said – made him realize that he could make a living by playing. “I have to thank you, man,” said Mr. Bridges, nodding to Mr. Stalmaster, “for leading me down this road. Lynn Stalmaster is the master pitcher.
Lynn Arlen Stalmaster was born on November 17, 1927 in Omaha, Neb. His father, Irvin Stalmaster, was a judge of the Supreme Court of Nebraska; his mother, Estelle (Lapidus) Stalmaster, was a housewife. Lynn suffered from severe asthma and when he was 12 the family moved to Los Angeles for its temperate climate.
He became interested in theater and radio as a high school student in Beverly Hills and, after serving in the military, graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the School of Drama, Film and Television. at UCLA in Los Angeles.
Mr. Stalmaster has played roles in a few films, including “Flying Leathernecks”, a 1951 John Wayne film, and a day job as a production assistant for Gross-Krasne, a company which in the early years 1950, made films for television. When his casting director retired, he was promoted to this position and quickly opened his own agency.
“I spent the days meeting new actors, all these new great talents,” he said in “Casting By”, the documentary. He was working on “Gunsmoke” and other hit TV shows in 1956 when Robert Wise, the director who would do “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music”, asked him to cast “I Want to Live”, the 1958 film. with Susan Hayward based on the story of Barbara Graham, a prostitute sentenced to death.
Mr. Wise wanted actors who looked like the real characters in Graham’s life. It was Mr. Stalmaster’s big break, he recalls, as he found new faces to complete the cast, giving the film “a verisimilitude, the truth” that the director wanted to achieve.
His marriage to Lea Alexander ended in divorce, as did an early and brief marriage. In addition to his son, Lincoln, Mr. Stalmaster is survived by his daughter, Lara Beebower; two grandchildren; and his brother Hal.
Mr. Stalmaster’s kindness was as much a part of his craft as his matchmaking skills, Mr. Rubin said. But it wasn’t child’s play, and he was extremely persuasive, “firm in his creative perspective,” Mr. Rubin said, “but extremely adept at convincing others that it was in fact their idea. “.