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Phyllis Carlyle, Influential Talent Manager and ‘Accidental Tourist’, ‘Seven’ Producer, Dies at 80

Phyllis Carlyle, the former casting director who led the careers of Willem Dafoe, Geena Davis, Melanie Griffith, Andy Garcia and John Malkovich and produced films including Seven and The accidental tourist, has passed away. She turned 80.

Carlyle died Sept. 14 in Encino after a battle with lymphoma, friend Toni Greenberg announced.

The daughter of a popular singer and orchestra leader in the Big Band era, Carlyle also proved to be an invaluable asset to the likes of Ray Liotta, Benicio del Toro, Danny Boyle, Paul WS Anderson, David Caruso, Steven Bauer, and Jeremiah Chechik.

“She was my first rep and found me by looking me up in the phone book after seeing me inside [the 1981 film] The LovelessDafoe said in a statement. “She was tough and independent. I loved her job, and she did it with chutzpah.

The Cleveland native was running her own Carlyle Casting company in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s when she decided to move into management. She started by representing some actors for whom she had found a job.

“I knew the people I liked who got called in for auditions because they were good,” she recalled in a 2017 interview with acting teacher Howard Fine, “and then I would find [they] got shows and stuff. I thought, ‘I’ll talk to them and see if they want management.’”

When asked how important first impressions are when it comes to recognizing talent, Carlyle replied: “Ayn Rand once said something in a book that has stayed with me all my life: ‘You pretty much know everything you need to know about someone 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 compatriot of Bauer from Cuba who was then an unknown stand-up comedian, had come along.

“We had Steven Bauer on the field and Al Pacino and I watched Andy Garcia,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, why am I looking at him?’ And I said, ‘You know, if I look at him, I better draw him.’”

Phyllis Nadine Carlyle was born on August 22, 1942. Her father was Russ Carlyle, and until she was 7, she spent a lot of time on her father’s bus as he and his band crossed the country. “My father gave me a love for music and for talent,” she said. “It was an incredible foundation to build on.”

At the age of 10, she joined the Cleveland Playhouse to discover 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 founding her own outfit, A-Plus, in 1965. the city’s established Shirley Hamilton Talent.

After about a decade, Carlyle sold A-Plus, moved to LA, and freelanced for Leo Burnett and other agencies before opening Carlyle Casting, which quickly achieved success. She got Ted Danson his first commercial and Steve Guttenberg his SAG card.

Her first production credit came on the Lawrence Kasdan directed film The accidental tourist (1988) — she and Malkovich were executive 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 film Seven (1995) to the big screen.

The hands-on Carlyle also produced Maze (2000), directed by and starring Rob Morrow, ed Pathology (2008), starring Milo Ventimiglia. During her career, she had production deals with Columbia, Warner Bros., Paramount, Miramax, and Showtime.

Meanwhile, she also showed a knack for choosing 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 executives told me they were when it came time to make a deal. She loved every minute of it, because she knew that women at that time were not able to play football like that at work.

Survivors are her brother and two cousins.

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