Sheila Manning, Casting Director for Commercials, Dies at 79

Courtesy Chase Watson
Sheila Manning (left) and hairstylist Tina Cassaday

She hired Farrah Fawcett, Michael J. Fox and Shannen Doherty when they were just starting out and worked on famous Coke and Apple ads.

Sheila Manning, the veteran casting director for commercials who gave early career breaks to the likes of Farrah Fawcett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael J. Fox and River and Joaquin Phoenix, has died. She was 79.

Manning died Aug. 29 of natural causes at her home in Beverly Hills, writer-director Chase Watson told The Hollywood Reporter. She cast his upcoming film, Metal Heavy.

Manning also served several terms as a governor of the Commercials Peer Group at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and was proud to have spearheaded the campaign that led to the creation in 1997 of an annual Emmy for outstanding commercial.

Manning employed hundreds of diverse people for the iconic Coca-Cola commercial "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" that premiered in July 1971 and cast the memorable Apple Computer ad that was directed by Ridley Scott and played during the 1984 Super Bowl.

"I love commercials," Manning told Backstage in 2006. "It's fast. It's been fun for me because changes are always there. You get to get to the performers before they make it."

As a single mother, she left an in-house studio casting position to open Sheila Manning Casting in 1963 — she was one of the first in her field to go independent — and during her career cast tens of thousands of projects, often seeing more than 2,000 people a week for jobs.

Also among the young actors Manning hired: Shannen Doherty, Elijah Wood, Angus T. Jones, Jake Lloyd, Haley Joel Osment, Nolan Gould, David Dorfman and Efren Ramirez.

Manning picked Fawcett for Ultra Brite toothpaste and Wella Balsam shampoo commercials soon after the actress first arrived in Los Angeles at age 20 in 1967.

"She was the first of her type," Manning told Entertainment Weekly in 2009. "The sexiness was there, but it was not overt. There was almost a shyness to it."

Manning also did casting on such movies as The Boys in Company C (1978), Prom Night (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), Melanie (1982), The Myth (2005) and Metal Heavy, which Watson has dedicated to her.

She co-founded the Association of Independent Commercial Casting Directors and received the Seymour Heller Award from the Talent Managers Association.

Survivors include her son, John. Donations in her name can be made to the ASPCA in recognition of her love for dogs.