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Hollywood roulette master Lynn Stalmaster dies at 93




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 who launched hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV shows, died on February 12 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93 years old.

The cause was heart failure, his son Lincoln said.

Billy Wilder, Robert Wise, Hal Ashby, Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack and Norman Jewison all relied on Mr. Stalmasters’ 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 said, raised the work of Mr. Stalmasters to the rank of 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 played by Mr. Stalmaster. Mr. Jewison was the first filmmaker to give a casting director his own film credit when he had Mr. Stalmaster listed in 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. None of them were actors. He was so ingenious. And he could read very well with the actors. He could keep them calm and safe.

A shy teenager who had trained as an actor and was in the audition trenches in the 1950s, working on television and radio, Mr. Stalmaster listened to the acting experience and became a ardent defender of those in whom he believed. John Travolta, 18, he pushed for the role that eventually went to Randy Quaid in The Last Detail, the movie Hal Ashby, starring Jack Nicholson, released in 1973.

It was dead heat between the cast, Mr Travolta recalled in a telephone interview, but Mr Quaids’ physical presence was more like the characters, as Mr Ashby and Mr Stalmaster told Mr Travolta on a phone call at midnight 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 stalked him for two years. When a role appeared for a character in a comedy television pilot set in a Brooklyn high school, Mr. Stalmaster urged him to decline a starring role in a Broadway show and return to Los Angeles for a hearing.

He got the role that turned out to be a turning point as the missing swashbuckling punk Vinnie Barbarino on a show that would find its own place in television history: Welcome Back, Kotter.

He was very 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 play a young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. LeVar Burton was in college when Mr. Stalmaster picked him to direct what in 1977 became the hit television series Roots.

Geena Davis had trained as an actress but was working as a model when Mr. Stalmaster chose her in a minor role in Tootsie, Sydney Pollacks 1982 romantic comedy with Mr. Hoffman. It was her first audition, and the role would be her film debut.

After seeing Christopher Reeve in a play with Katharine Hepburn, Mr. Stalmaster suggested him a small role in Gray Lady Down (1978), Mr. Reeves’ first role, and then successfully lobbied him to be the chef. leader of Superman, released that same year.

Lynn understood the actor process and the plight of actors, said David Rubin, fellow casting director and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Mr. Stalmaster was his former boss and mentor.) Mr. Stalmasters’ career, he said, has shown that being successful in Hollywood and being a man are not mutually exclusive.

In 2016, Mr. Stalmaster became the first and so far the only casting director to receive an honorary Oscar for all of his work. During the Oscars ceremony, Mr. Bridges recalled how Mr. Stalmaster started his own career in the early 1970s. At the time, Mr. Bridges was in his early twenties and was trying to find out if he wanted to make a living in the business when Mr. Stalmaster asked him offered a role in The Iceman Cometh, John Frankenheimers 1973 film based on the play by Eugene ONeill. .

It’s something heavy, Mr. Bridges recalls, as he told the awards audience. 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 terrifying but also joyful experience, he said, made him realize that he could make a living by playing. I have to thank you, man, Mr. Bridges said, nodding to Mr. Stalmaster, for leading me down this road. Lynn Stalmaster is the Master Caster.

Lynn Arlen Stalmaster was born on November 17, 1927 in Omaha, New York. 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 at the age of 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, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Los Angeles Television.

Mr. Stalmaster has had roles in a few films, including Flying Leathernecks, a 1951 photo of John Wayne, and a day job as a production assistant for Gross-Krasne, a company which, in the early 1950s, was making films for television. When his casting director retired, he was promoted to the job and quickly opened his own agency.

I spent the days meeting new actors, all these great new talents, he says 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 play I Want to Live, the 1958 film starring 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. Stalmasters’ big break, he recalls, finding new faces to complete the cast, giving the film a verisimilitude, the truth 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. Stalmasters’ kindness was as much a part of his craft as his matchmaking abilities, Mr. Rubin said. But he wasn’t straightforward and he was extremely convincing, firm in his creative perspective, Mr. Rubin said, but extremely adept at convincing others that it was in fact their idea.

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