Earlier this month, we lost the person who some credit with creating the job of the independent casting director. After the studio system fell apart in the 1950s, Lynn Stalmaster, along with Marion Doughtery, helped define the role of casting director. And with Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, Stalmaster became the first person in his profession to receive a solo title card in a film’s credits. He was also the first and only casting director to have ever received an honorary Oscar, and the 93-year-old industry veteran left behind the impressive legacy of his six decades in the industry when he passed away from natural causes on February 12.
Amongst the more-than 400 casting credits attributed to Stalmaster on IMDb are titles such as The Great Escape, In the Heat of the Night, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Harold and Maude, Tootsie, Nine ½ Weeks and Battlefield Earth. A number of A-listers have Stalmaster to thank for early roles in their careers that helped them break into the business. He’s credited for having a hand in the castings of Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock in The Graduate, Christopher Reeve as the title superhero in Superman and John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the 1970s comedy series Welcome Back, Kotter. Fans of LeVar Burton and Geena Davis can also thank Stalmaster for casting the actors in some of their early roles, the hit 1977 series Roots and Sydney Pollack’s 1982 dramedy Tootsie, respectively. The career-starter also gave Jeff Bridges his first break in the film Halls of Anger, and the actor labeled Stalmaster the “master caster” during the 2016 award presentation for his honorary Oscar.
Upon news of his passing, the Casting Society of America (CSA) honored the casting director’s contributions to the profession. “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,” CSA co-presidents Rich Mento and Russell Boast shared in a statement. Other casting directors took to social media to pay tribute to the frontrunner who paved the way for their profession. “He was so kind to those of us starting out,” wrote Sharon Bialy in a Twitter post. “He left a legacy of how to be a caring, considerate and dedicated casting director.” Sandi Logan named him “a giant and a role model for all of us who followed in his footsteps.” Simone Pereira Hind honored him as “one of the first and best.”
Not only did Stalmaster set the stage for casting directors who came after him, but he also encouraged them during his acceptance speech for the 2016 honorary Academy Award. “Casting is alive and well in the new millennium,” asserted Stalmaster. “I so admire the achievements of today’s casting directors, and I’m so impressed with their creative contributions.” So whether it be the next generation of casting people he inspired, the actors whose careers he impacted or the well-loved projects he cast, Stalmaster’s legacy will continue to live on in Hollywood.