by Sherrie Saag, Communications, Jewish Federation of Omaha
Two well-known film industry pros, Lynn Stalmaster and Dan Mirvish, who also just happen to be native Omahans, plan to return to their hometown for the Omaha Jewish Reunion, Sept. 12-14.
Both will join panelists during An Afternoon of the Arts: Screen Time with Filmmakers program on Saturday from 1-3 p.m. in the JCC Theater. Don’t miss out on the great discussion; sign up for the Reunion and your registration covers the entire weekend of events.
Lynn Stalmaster, considered by most of Hollywood as “a true pioneer” in the art of film casting, was born in Omaha in 1927 to Nebraska District Judge Irvin A. and Estelle Lapidus Stalmaster, and he attended Dundee Elementary School.
The elder Stalmaster was a prominent legal figure in Omaha, having been selected for the Nebraska Supreme Court at the age of 31. Earlier, he served as an assistant state’s attorney and a Douglas County attorney.
Lynn has cast more than 400 productions during almost 50 years in show business and is credited with identifying the talent and jumpstarting the careers of John Travolta (Welcome Back Kotter), William Shatner, Jon Voight and Richard Dreyfuss, among many others.
He’s even earned the nickname “Master Caster”.
“Before Lynn, no one really knew who John was,” Travolta’s manager, Bob LeMond has been known to say.
And, if you pay attention to the credits of a lot of truly great films, you’ll see Stalmaster’s name.
Irvin and Estelle moved their family to California in 1938, when Lynn was 12. A self-described “shy child”, he came “out of his shell” during high school and college via acting. He enjoyed a good measure of success as a professional actor, though one day while working as an assistant to a group of producers, including fellow Omahan Phillip Krasne, he was asked to cast some shows. Soon, he was looking for cowboys for the television western, Gunsmoke.
The rest, as they say, is history. Among the projects Stalmaster has worked as casting director are Tootsie, Superman, The Graduate, West Side Story, Welcome Back Kotter, and Roots.
Other titles among his credits are An Officer and a Gentleman, 9 ½ Weeks, and The Untouchables.
For many, Stalmaster’s career seems glamorous and powerful; being able to create true stars; but he has said he doesn’t see it that way. “I don’t think of what I had as power. Decisions were made jointly with the director and producer. I wanted to help make the best possible film and hire the best possible actors. I had a responsibility not just to my clients, but to the actors as well.”
Once asked how it feels to now be the dean of his profession, he laughed it off, “I’ve just been around the longest!”
It’s been twenty years since Dan Mirvish released his first feature film, 1994’s Omaha (the movie) as his master’s thesis for the University of Southern California film school. He then founded the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah when his film wasn’t accepted at Sundance.
The movie was filmed almost entirely in Omaha. He recalled, “During production, I put on 20 pounds because I lived at home and was eating home cooking. My mom made cookies every day for the set. We were a well-fed crew in Omaha.”
Parents are Dr. Sydney and Linda Mirvish. He grew up near 59th Street and Underwood Avenue and was a 1985 graduate of Central high School.
He attended Washington University in St. Louis and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After working as a freelance journalist and speechwriter for US Senator Tom Harkin – Iowa, he traveled the world before pursuing his film education in California.
At the film’s local sneak preview at the Indian Hills Theater in 1994, Mirvish said the film rekindled memories of working at a Dundee donut shop the summer after high school. “After working at Dippy Donuts (near 60th and Center) for a summer, people might think you wouldn’t like donuts, but I liked them even more because they were such good donuts. Omaha (the movie) is a lot like that. I’ve devoted so much of my time to it, by all accounts, I should be sick of it, but I’m not.”
Dan Mirvish is also an award-winning director, screenwriter, producer, songwriter and author. Labeled a “cheerful subversive” by The New York Times, and “Hollywood’s Bad Boy” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mirvish was named one of Variety’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch and Film Festival Today’s Most Influential People in Independent Film.
Mirvish made headlines around the world as the co-creator (with Eitan Gorlin) of the Martin Eisenstadt hoax during the 2009 presidential election. In the wake of the publicity, they got a book deal from Farrar, Straus, Giroux (Faber & Faber) and wrote the critically-acclaimed satirical novel I Am Martin Eisenstadt: One Man’s Wildly Inappropriate Adventures with the Last Republicans.
As a regular blogger for The Huffington Post, Mirvish discovered “The Hathaway Effect,” correlating upswings in publicity for Anne Hathaway with the stock price of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway company. The effect was widely acknowledged by mainstream media outlets both for its substance and humor.
He was back in Omaha just last summer when he introduced his latest movie, Between Us, at Film Streams in August. Mirvish has come a long way since making Super-8 movies with friends from Lewis & Clark Junior High and will share his memories at the Omaha Jewish Reunion. Join both Lynn and Dan, fellow filmmakers and movie aficionados, at the Reunion! Register now, www.omahajewishreunion.com.
The Omaha World-Herald and The Hollywood Reporter contributed to this report.
Screen Time with Filmmakers
Saturday September 13, 1-3 p.m.
Andrew Bernstein, VP Global Publicity Disney Corp.
Rachel Jacobson, Founder/Director Film Streams
Dan Mirvish, Author, Director, Filmmaker
Lynn Stalmaster, Film Casting Director, retired
Mike Kelly, Omaha World Herald Feature Writer