Pam Polifroni, Casting Director on ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘The Waltons’ and ‘Tron,’ Dies at ninety

She gave early career breaks to Jodie Foster, Jon Voight, Loretta Swit and many others.

Pam Polifroni, a casting director who had a long stint on Gunsmoke, spotted Michael Learned for The Waltons and worked on films including the original Tron and The Shootist, has died. She was 90.

Polifroni died Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, her daughter-in-law, Rebecca Coleman-Polifroni, said.

Polifroni spent almost a decade on Santa Barbara and was nominated three times for the Casting Society of America’s Artios Award for her work on the NBC soap opera, winning in 1990.

Starting on Gunsmoke in 1966, she hired Bette Davis and gave Jon Voight one of his early television jobs in L.A. during her first season on the CBS Western. She then cast Jodie Foster in a small part in 1969 when the actress was 7 and put future M*A*S*H star Loretta Swit on two episodes in 1970.

Polifroni also cast the 1971 CBS telefilm The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which starred Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton. When producers were unsure whether Neal would be up to the task of starring in the subsequent Waltons series, she brought in Learned, whom she had seen on the stage in San Francisco, to play Olivia. Polifroni cast for the show from 1972-80.

She also worked for Disney on Tron (1982), starring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner, and the Ray Bradbury adaptation Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), starring Jason Robards.

She described her experience on Tron as “a little strange since the people at Disney knew little about sci-fi and I knew even less.”

And she cast two movies directed by Don Siegel: The Shootist (1976), John Wayne’s final film, and the Charles Bronson-starrer Telefon (1977).

Along the way, Polifroni boosted the early careers of Dennis Hopper, Sam Elliott, Harrison Ford, Genie Francis, Emilio Estevez, Meg Tilly, Corbin Bernsen, David Carradine, Richard Dreyfuss, Vic Morrow and Ted Danson.

“I cast for freshness and for interesting characterizations,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1976. “The nicest compliment I can get is for a producer to say afterward, ‘The people you sent us didn’t seem like actors. They seemed like real people.’ That’s the trick, to get reality up there on the screen.”

Born in Glendale, California, Polifroni began as a secretary on NBC’s The Loretta Young Show, working for the producer, casting director and star for four years. Casting director Jack Murton thought she had a “flair” for what he did, so he asked her to be his assistant on a show called The Lineup.

From there, she became casting director on the ABC daytime series Day in Court and Morning Court, choosing 50 to 75 actors every week. As a result, she became familiar with the talents of a large pool of actors in a short period of time.

Polifroni went on to work for CBS and ABC and on Cimarron StripHawaii Five-OGilligan’s IslandAll in the FamilyThe Wild Wild WestHotelThe Love BoatGeneral Hospital and MacGyver, among many other shows. Her final credits came on the telefilms Gunsmoke: The Long Ride and Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice in 1993 and ’94.

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Pam Polifroni, Casting Director on ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘The Waltons’ and ‘Tron,’ Dies at ninety

by Katie Lane time to read: 2 min