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Mike Lemon, casting director for movies and TV, founder of Mike Lemon Casting, filmmaker, and outspoken LGBTQ advocate, has died at 74


Mike Lemon, 74, of Philadelphia, a retired local casting director for major motion pictures and TV shows, founder of Mike Lemon Casting, filmmaker, writer, teacher, and outspoken LGBTQ advocate, died Sunday, May 1, of lung cancer at Pennsburg Manor nursing home.

Over his long career, from the mid-1980s to 2019, Mr. Lemon amassed 35 casting credits, two director credits, one writing credit, and seven contributing credits on the movie and TV database IMDb.com. Using his catalog of thousands of local actors, he connected them to roles big and small in dozens of films and TV shows, commercials, and industrial productions that were made in Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere.

An advocate and role model for local performers and revered for his “authenticity,” “kindness,” and “encouragement,” Mr. Lemon had casting credits that included the 2005 film In Her Shoes, starring Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley MacLaine; 2001′s Ocean’s Eleven, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts; 1995′s 12 Monkeys, starring Pitt, Bruce Willis, and Madeleine Stowe; and 1993′s Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

He also supplied actors for director M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense; and for the CBS TV series Hack in 2002 and 2003.

“In a business that is frustrating and nerve wracking and where rejection is the rule, nothing made you feel better than knowing you were going to a Mike Lemon casting session,” said one actor in an online tribute.

His daughter, Kat, said at his celebration of life on May 20: “He loved getting to play a part in people’s stories that way.”

Mr. Lemon acted in local community and dinner theaters; taught acting, screenwriting, and directing classes; and was an assistant to casting director Elina de Santos before opening Mike Lemon Casting in the late 1980s. He wrote and directed the 2003 autobiographical short called Touched, a film about “what happens when two profoundly lonely men who are strangers, one older and gay, and the second younger and questioning, take one last chance at making a sincere human connection.”

It won top prize as the best short gay male film at the 2003 Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and was named best dramatic short at the 2003 Wilmington Independent Film Festival. “The low-key direction and script by Mike Lemon are masterly,” wrote one reviewer. “Heartbreaking and unforgettable.”

Mr. Lemon also wrote and directed the 2008 short Valentine’s Day. A master of subtlety, he had an acting motto that “less is more.”

“He was a performer at heart,” said his son, Mike Jr. “He loved to talk to people, and he was instantly likable. He had a Rolodex brain for people.”

Born Sept. 2, 1947, in Richmond, Ind., Mr. Lemon was an only child, and he and his mother moved to Kennett Square after his father died when he was a teenager. He graduated from Kennett High School in 1965, attended Pennsylvania State University for a time, and graduated from Villanova University with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1972.

He acted in plays in high school and college, competed on Jeopardy! and other TV game shows, hung out at Longwood Gardens, and excelled at puzzles and trivia. He married Karen Wallace in the early 1970s, and they lived in Drexel Hill and Springfield, Delaware County, and had sons Tim, JJ, Tom, Scott, Mike Jr., and Jeff, and daughter Kat. They separated in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Lemon opened his casting company in the basement of his home, storing actor head shots and profiles in filing cabinets, and later moved to offices in Philadelphia. He was easy to talk to, many actors said, and made them feel as if their relationship was important and special.

In 2015, he wrote and directed a 20-song musical called Storyland that was performed by adults in a children’s series at the Players Club of Swarthmore. “The show was a pure representation of my dad,” his daughter said. “It was silly, clever, emotional, playful, and full of joy. The audience felt it. The room was filled with it. After the show, the only complaints I heard were that people’s cheeks hurt from smiling too much.”

Jeff Lemon wrote a poem about his father: “Dad was born a playful boy, and a playful boy he stayed,” it began. “A life path of games, and playfulness, and lovingness he laid.”

Mr. Lemon enjoyed old Hollywood movies, reveled in the attachments he made with his students, and had several projects in mind when he died. He doted on his grandchildren and called his children his “Lemon drops.”

“He had a beautiful way,” his daughter said, “of making people feel OK with being exactly who they were.”

In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Lemon is survived by 12 grandchildren and other relatives.

He donated his body to science programs.

Donations in his name may be made to the Attic Youth Center, 255 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19102, and Entertainment Community Fund, formerly the Actors Fund, 729 Seventh Ave., 10th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.



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