Jane Galloway Heitz was one-third of a triumvirate of influential Chicago casting directors known as “The Three Janes” because they shared the same first name.
At 64, she sold her house and moved to California to focus on her own acting career.
“That was always an inspiration,” said Eric Stonestreet, who plays Cam on ABC’s “Modern Family.”
After she moved to Hollywood, Stonestreet and other actors she’d helped returned her many kindnesses. They welcomed her into their homes, lives and Thanksgiving dinners. Some introduced her to their intended spouses to get her maternal stamp of approval.
She booked roles on “The Big Bang Theory,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Glee,” “Monk” and “Shameless,” among other TV shows.
She was a nurturing mentor who called actors “Sweetie,” but she was also something else, said actor-writer Jimmy Doyle, describing her as “Earth Mother-meets-Dorothy Parker.”
When she dropped a well-timed curse word in her trained theater voice, “it was delicious,” he said.
“She had the best voice,” Stonestreet said.
Ms. Heitz died of heart disease Nov. 13 at Highland Park Hospital, according to her daughter Amie Richardson. She was 78.
She “had a starring role in my career,” Stonestreet said.
After graduating from Kansas State University, he moved to Chicago and auditioned for her. He wound up landing 1996 Northwestern University football commercials in which he was painted Wildcats purple.
“She started me on the trajectory to me finding the success that I have,” Stonestreet said.
After he was hired for “Modern Family,” she celebrated with him.
“She gave me a lot of confidence,” said actor Rose Abdoo, who has appeared on TV’s “Scandal,” “Gilmore Girls” and “That’s so Raven.”
Once, she halted an audition to help an actor whose purse was just stolen by a thief who smashed her car window. “Jane completely went into mom mode and said, ‘I’m taking you to the hospital,’ ” Doyle said.
Ms. Heitz was born in Minneapolis. After the death of her orthopedic surgeon-father, her mother, like many of the women in the family, worked as a secretary at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Around 10, she appeared in her first play. She went on to study sketch comedy and improv at Minneapolis’ Brave New Workshop. Though relatives supported her dreams, “It was hard to understand, coming from this medical, conservative, German Lutheran family,” her daughter said.
In her early 20s, she moved to Chicago, found an apartment in Old Town and started auditioning.
She met her future husband, producer-director Bill Heitz, through the Old Town Players. They got married in 1965.
After the 1966 birth of their daughter, she continued to act, appearing in an Old Town Players production of “The Little Foxes.”
When she and her husband divorced in the late 1970s, she turned to casting work for steady pay. She eventually opened and ran her own agency, Heitz Casting.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she became one of Chicago’s “Three Janes,” along with fellow casting directors Jane Brody and Jane Alderman.
“Little by little,” Brody said, “our presence helped producers and directors to begin to see Chicago as a professional market.”
In 1988, she and her former husband remarried.
After a friend died in the late 1990s, Ms. Heitz recalibrated her life, according to her daughter. “It opened her eyes to her passion for acting. She thought: ‘I need to get back to this before it’s too late.’ ”
She auditioned for Steppenwolf Theatre Company and got a part in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” starring John Mahoney, Shannon Cochran and Linda Kimbrough. In 1998, the play moved to London.
“It literally was a dream come true,” her daughter said.
Ms. Heitz landed a role in David Lynch’s acclaimed 1999 film “Straight Story,” featuring Sissy Spacek, Richard Farnsworth and Harry Dean Stanton.
“All of that started happening when she sold the agency,” her daughter said.
She appeared in Remy Bumppo’s 1998 production of “Heartbreak House;” “Cyrano” with the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in 2000 and “Man and Superman” at Victory Gardens in 2001.
After her husband died in 2002, she started to think about moving back to California and did in 2005.
But she returned to the Chicago area in 2014.
Ms. Heitz loved her dogs — a Papillon named Daphne and Max the poodle — and her daughter’s Chihuahua Minnie.
She took her daughter to see “A Chorus Line” 13 times.
Ms. Heitz enjoyed Glenfiddich and other good Scotch. And when she served people tea, it was in a proper china cup and saucer.
She is also survived by three grandchildren.
Her funeral will be at 11 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Church of Our Saviour, 116 E. Church St., Elmhurst. A celebration of her life is to follow in the coming weeks. Friends in California also plan to honor her at a future gathering.