Lynn Stalmaster, Celebrated Casting Director, Dies at 93


Lynn Stalmaster, a casting director with close to 400 credits whose eye for talent helped sculpt Hollywood for decades, has died, according to reports. His work included television classics like Gunsmoke and The Untouchables, and films like West Side Story, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crowne Affair, Deliverance, 10, First Blood, Tootsie, and 9 1/2 Weeks just to scratch the surface. In 2016 he was the first and only casting director to receive an Honorary Academy Award. He was 93 years old.

Stalmaster was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1927. His father, Irvin, was a lawyer who then served on the Nebraska Supreme Court and the District Court of Nebraska, the first Jewish man to do so. The family later relocated to Beverly Hills. After serving in the Army, Stalmaster studied theater at UCLA. His first Hollywood work came as an actor, and he appeared in Samuel Fuller’s Steel Helmet and Nicholas Ray’s The Flying Leathernecks, among other projects. He also worked for a production company as a set assistant, eventually finding his way to the casting department. Eventually he became one of the most trusted independent casting directors in town.

By the time of The Thomas Crowne Affair in 1968 he was the first casting director to receive a single-card credit in the titles.

Stalmaster is known to have pushed for Dustin Hoffman for the lead role in The Graduate, and got John Travolta the gig for Welcome Back, Kotter after remembering him for his audition for The Last Detail. He discovered LeVar Burton, still just a college sophmore, for the mini-series Roots. He also insisted Sam Shepard play the part of Chuck Yeager for The Right Stuff, one of the few times he said a film would just not work without a specific actor in a part.

He took copious notes on everything he saw, and this included a play in New York (A Matter of Gravity) in which a young Christopher Reeve appeared with Katherine Hepburn. Stalmaster cast him for a small role in the submarine disaster film Gray Lady Down, and when Richard Donner bemoaned “we can’t find Superman,” Stalmaster knew Reeve could do it.

At the Governors Awards, when he was given his Honorary Oscar, Bruce Dern said that “Lynn gave me and my entire generation the opportunity to dare to dream that we could make a difference or matter.” Jeff Bridges said that Stalmaster saw “an innate sense of truth.”

Accepting the award, Stalmaster urged industry professionals (and maybe people in general) to always remain open. “You never know where or when you will find the answer,” he said. “And I’ve found the answer in some very strange places.”

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