John Travolta certainly knows the value of a having a casting director in his corner.
If not for the faith a legendary one named Lynn Stalmaster had in his talent, the enduring star might never have won the role of Sweathog Vinnie Barbarino in the sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter," which set him on a course of fame that exploded soon afterward with the success of such movies as "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease." Travolta is among those paying tribute to "my beloved Lynn" (as he puts it) and others in the documentary "Casting By," which has its HBO debut Monday night at 9.
"I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for Lynn and his so believing in me," Travolta said. "At age 18, I was up for the movie 'The Last Detail,' in the part Randy Quaid eventually played. Lynn was just hellbent to get me cast in that, and he really fought for me, but Randy had an innate essence that was the character. When that didn't work out, Lynn stayed determined to get me established, and the next thing that came up was the pilot for 'Kotter.' "
For his part, Stalmaster, 85, maintains he doesn't like to say he "discovered" anyone, though William Shatner, Jon Voight, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Reeve and LeVar Burton are among others whose careers he had a major hand in launching.
Directed by Tom Donahue, "Casting By" also honors such other staples of that profession as Juliet Taylor, Ellen Lewis and the late Marion Dougherty. Along with Stalmaster, those names are as familiar to movie-credit hawks as they are to Travolta and the other actors and directors featured in the project. They include Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Glenn Close, Diane Lane, John Lithgow, Jeff Bridges, Bette Midler, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone.