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Phyllis Carlyle, the onetime casting director who managed the careers of Willem Dafoe, Geena Davis, Melanie Griffith, Andy Garcia and John Malkovich and produced films including Seven and The Accidental Tourist, has died. She was 80.
Carlyle died Sept. 14 in Encino after a battle with lymphoma, friend Toni Greenberg announced.
The daughter of a popular vocalist and orchestra leader in the Big Band era, Carlyle also proved to be invaluable to the likes of Ray Liotta, Benicio del Toro, Danny Boyle, Paul W.S. Anderson, David Caruso, Steven Bauer and Jeremiah Chechik.
“She was my first representative and found me by looking me up in the phone book after seeing me in [the 1981 film] The Loveless,” Dafoe said in a statement. “She was tough and independent. She loved her work, and she did it with chutzpah.”
The Cleveland native was running her own Los Angeles-based Carlyle Casting company in the mid-1970s when she decided to segue into management. She started out by representing some of the actors for whom she had found jobs.
“I knew the people I liked who were getting called in for auditions, because they were good,” she recalled in a 2017 interview with acting teacher Howard Fine, “and then I would notice [they] were getting shows and stuff. I thought, ‘I’ll talk to them and see if they want management.'”
Asked how important a first impression is when it comes to recognizing talent, Carlyle replied: “Ayn Rand said something once in a book that has stayed with me my whole life: ‘You actually know everything you need to know about somebody in the first 30 seconds, and then you spend the rest of the time you know them learning that you were right.'”
She also told a story about visiting the set of Scarface (1983) when during a break in shooting she watched Bauer take on Al Pacino in a game of racquetball. Garcia, a friend and countryman of Bauer’s from Cuba who was then an unknown stand-up comedian, had come along.
“We had Steven Bauer on the court and Al Pacino and I was watching Andy Garcia,” she remembered. “I thought, ‘Wow, why am I watching him?’ And I said, ‘You know, if I’m watching him, I better sign him.'”
Phyllis Nadine Carlyle was born on Aug. 22, 1942. Her father was Russ Carlyle, and until she was 7, she spent a lot of time on her dad’s bus as he and his band crisscrossed the country. “My father gave me a love for music and for talent,” she said. “It was an incredible foundation to build from.”
At age 10, she joined the Cleveland Playhouse to explore acting and later studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York before returning to Cleveland, where she married (and soon divorced) a disc jockey.
In Chicago, Carlyle worked for and managed several talent agencies before launching her own outfit, A-Plus, in 1965. Within 18 months, her agency, which handled models for catalogs and print ads and actors for voice-over work and commercials, rivaled the well-established Shirley Hamilton Talent in town.
After about a decade, Carlyle sold A-Plus, moved to L.A. and freelanced for Leo Burnett and other agencies before opening Carlyle Casting, which quickly found success. She landed Ted Danson his first commercial and Steve Guttenberg his SAG card.
Her first producing credit came on the Lawrence Kasdan-directed The Accidental Tourist (1988) — she and Malkovich were the exec producers on the best picture nominee that saw Davis win the Oscar for best supporting actress — and it took her five years to finally get David Fincher’s critically acclaimed Seven (1995) to the big screen.
The hands-on Carlyle also exec produced Maze (2000), directed by and starring Rob Morrow, and Pathology (2008), starring Milo Ventimiglia. She had production deals with Columbia, Warner Bros., Paramount, Miramax and Showtime during her career.
Meanwhile, she also demonstrated a talent for picking executives; at her company, she gave starts to Rick Yorn, Erik Kritzer, Glenn Rigberg, Robert Goodman, Spencer Baumgarten, Bill Robinson and Robert Stein.
“Phyllis was a pioneer for women in the entertainment business,” Kritzer, the producer and co-founder of Link Entertainment, said in a statement. “She had the negotiating skills to challenge any buyer and the ability to connect with artists on the most creative level.
“I remember always telling her how intimidated some execs told me they were when it was time to make a deal. She loved every minute of it, as she knew women at that time were not able to play ball like that in the workforce.”
Survivors include her brother and two nephews.
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