Lynn Stalmaster, who was the first casting director to receive an Academy Award, died today at home in Los Angeles. He was 93 and his death was confirmed by Laura Adler of the Casting Society of America.
Stalmaster had a legendary vision for casting. He is credited with moving Dustin Hoffman into The Graduate, Christopher Reeve as Superman, and tabbing the young John Travolta for TV comedy classic Welcome Back, Kotter, among many others.
The November 2016 Governors Awards saw Stalmaster become the first casting director to receive an Academy Award. The Honorary Oscar recognized his long and meritorious career.
Stalmaster also had another notable achievement: on Norman Jewison’s 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair Stalmaster became the first casting director to receive a single-card credit in the titles.
Stalmaster has more than 400 casting credits among them such classics as Inherit the Wind (1960), The Great Escape (1963), In the Heat of the Night (1967), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Harold and Maude (1971), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), Tootsie (1982), Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986), and The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990).
“Never compromise,” he said at the Governors Awards. “No matter what the size of a role, even if it’s just a reaction.”
Stalmaster wasn’t only good at spotting actors. For the 1972 film Deliverance, he held a casting call at a Georgia elementary school. There he discovered Billy Redden, who is best remembered as the young banjo player. Ned Beatty was also chosen for the film, his first major film role.
The list of Stalmaster credits includes William Shatner (Judgment at Nuremberg), LeVar Burton for the blockbuster series Roots; country singer Mac Davis in North Dallas Forty (1979); and tabbed Oscar nominee Sam Shepard as test pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983’s The Right Stuff.
Stalmaster was born on Nov. 17, 1927, in Omaha, Nebraska. His family later moved to Los Angeles and he attended Beverly Hills High School and UCLA, where he earned a master’s in theater arts. Early in his career, he was an actor in such films as The Steel Helmet (1951), written and directed by Samuel Fuller, and Flying Leathernecks (1951), starring John Wayne.
The savvy Stalmaster hedged his bets, though, working as a producer’s assistant and seguing to cast their shows after their original casting director retired. He became an independent a few years later and never looked back.
Stalmaster’s family is preparing an announcement on his passing. We will update with details on survivors and a memorial when that is issued.