Hollywood legend Lynn Stalmaster, whose name was synonymous with casting for more than 60 years, died at his home Friday of natural causes, according to a statement from his family. He was 93.
Stalmaster’s accomplishments are too numerous to list exhaustively, but among them: He became the first casting director to receive an honorary Oscar in 2016; he was the first casting director to receive a solo title card in a film’s credits, for ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ (1968); he cast about 400 films and TV shows from 1955-2017; and he helped launch the careers of countless actors who went on to be major stars.
Just a few of those to receive key early career boosts from Stalmaster: Dustin Hoffman, whom he pushed for in ‘The Graduate’ (1968, credited as a “casting consultant”); John Travolta, whom he submitted for ‘The Last Detail’ (1973; the role went to Randy Quaid, who earned an Oscar nomination for it) and ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ (the TV show that made Travolta a household name in 1975); Christopher Reeve, whom Stalmaster saw in a play with Katharine Hepburn, cast in a small role in the submarine drama ‘Gray Lady Down’, then pushed for the star-making lead in ‘Superman’ (1978); he cast LeVar Burton when he was still in college in the key role of Kunta Kinte in the blockbuster miniseries ‘Roots’ (1977).
Stalmaster was born in Omaha in 1927. The following year his father, Irvin, became the first Jewish man to serve on the Nebraska District Court and the state’s Supreme Court. His family relocated to California, where he attended Beverly Hills High School. He served in the Army, then received an MFA from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and worked for a time as an actor after graduation. His acting credits included ‘The Steel Helmet’ (directed by Sam Fuller) and ‘The Flying Leathernecks’ (starring John Wayne), both in 1951.
While appearing sporadically as Jimmy Rush on the TV series ‘Big Town’ (1952-55), he also served as a producer’s assistant for its makers, Gross-Krasne Productions. He inherited the role of casting director when theirs retired, gaining his first casting credit, for Gross-Krasne’s ‘The Lone Wolf’, in 1954. He cast 22 episodes of that show and one for ‘Big Town’ in 1955. He moved into casting films in 1956 with ‘Please Murder Me!’ (uncredited), ‘Screaming Eagles’ and ‘Johnny Concho’.
Stalmaster’s many notable credits include TV’s ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’, ‘Ben Casey’, ‘Hogan’s Heroes’, ‘My Favorite Martian’ and more than 300 episodes of ‘Gunsmoke’. His films include ‘In the Heat of the Night’, ‘The Killing of Sister George’, ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Jeremiah Johnson’, ‘Bound for Glory’, ‘New York, New York’, ‘Foul Play’, ‘North Dallas Forty’, ‘First Blood’ and ‘Tootsie’.
On presenting the Oscar to Stalmaster at the Governors Awards in 2016, Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges said the casting director had been “very, very good to me, and to the entire Bridges family” before listing some of the key projects Stalmaster had gotten Bridges, his father Lloyd and brother Beau over the years. The actor said he wasn’t sure he should commit to acting when Stalmaster cast him in ‘The Iceman Cometh’ (1973): “I thought, ‘Oh [expletive]; this is some heavy stuff!’ … it scared the hell out of me … I didn’t think I could pull it off.” He credited that production with giving him great insight into the anxiety and joy of the profession: “I can do this; I can do this for the rest of my life. Gotta thank you, man, for heading me down that road … Lynn Stalmaster is the Master Caster, man.”
Accepting the award, an emotional Stalmaster said, “I love you all. It’s so inspiring … Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be standing here. [I had] the opportunity to collaborate with many of the most gifted directors in film history. They were always open to a new talent they’d never encountered. And incidentally, ‘open’ is one of my favourite words, because as I’ve said many times, you never know where or when you will find the answer. And I’ve found the answer in some very strange places.”
In a statement Friday, Casting Society of America co-presidents Russell Boast and Rich Mento said, “We are heartbroken to share the news that Lynn Stalmaster, the iconic and beloved casting director, passed away this morning. A pioneer of our craft, Lynn was a trailblazer with over half a century of world-class film and television casting credits. He was a friend and mentor to many of us.
“We offer our condolences to his family and friends. Lynn will be deeply, deeply missed … Thank you, Lynn, for showing us the way.”
He is survived by his son Lincoln, daughter Lara, two grandchildren, Nick and Kayla, and a brother.