Pam Polifroni, Longtime Casting Director on ‘Gunsmoke,’ Dies at 90

Erin Nyren

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Pam Polifroni, a longtime casting director for “Gunsmoke” who gave early acting roles to Jodie Foster, Jon Voight, Loretta Swit and others, has died. She was 90.

Polifroni died in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, Nov. 21 as a result of dementia, her daughter-in-law confirmed to Variety.

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With more than 50 credits to her name by the end of her career, Polifroni worked in both film and television, though most of her hires appeared on the small screen.

Polifroni worked on “Gunsmoke” beginning in 1966 and continued through 1975. She was responsible for suggesting and landing Bette Davis for a guest role on the show, and also gave Jon Voight one of his earliest Hollywood parts. One of Jodie Foster’s youngest roles, at age seven, came after being hired by Polifroni for a small role in “Gunsmoke.” Loretta Swit also appeared on the series thanks to Polifroni, as well as on “Hawaii Five-O,” ahead of her well-known work on “M*A*S*H.” She also returned to cast “Gunsmoke’s” five TV movies in 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993, and 1994.

(Above: Polifroni with Loretta Swit)

Others to whom Polifroni provided early-career work included Genie Francis, Emilio Estevez, Meg Tilly, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, Sam Elliott, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Vic Morrow, Ted Danson and Bruce Boxleitner.

Polifroni also discovered Michael Learned for CBS’ “The Waltons.” The series was based on the TV movie “The Homecoming,” which starred Patricia Neal in the role of the mother, but Neal wasn’t interested in a TV series. After Polifroni saw Learned in a play in San Francisco, Learned wound up playing Olivia Walton for eight seasons.

As for her work in film, Polifroni worked at Disney for a time, handling casting for “Tron” starring Jeff Bridges, Boxleitner and David Warner, as well as the Ray Bradbury adaptation “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983), starring Jason Robards. She also cast “The Shootist,” John Wayne’s last film, and “Telefon” with Charles Bronson.

She worked on “Santa Barbara” for nine years in the late ’80s-early ’90s, receiving three Artios nominations for best casting for TV soaps and winning once, in 1990.

Polifroni was twice married, to musician Francis “Poli” Polifroni and Mammoth ski school director Howard Gray. The first marriage resulted in one child and ended in divorce in 1960. She was married to Gray until his death in 2008. She was heavily involved in the Moonlight Angels Auxiliary in Oceanside, Calif. after she retired, eventually becoming treasurer and a member of the board.

Survivors include Polifroni’s son, Dr. Mark Polifroni and his wife, Rebecca, as well as a brother, Lawrence “Larry” Paulson.

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