Sydney Irwin Pollack (July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008) was an American film director, producer and actor. Born in Lafayette, Indiana to Russian Jewish immigrants, Pollack studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, where he later taught acting. He began directing television shows in the 1960s before moving to films.
Pollack directed more than 21 films and 10 television shows, acted in over 30 films or shows, and produced over 44 films. Some of his best known works include Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Absence of Malice (1981). His 1985 film Out of Africa won him Academy Awards for directing and producing; he was also nominated for Best Director Oscars for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Tootsie, the latter of which he also appeared in. Later films included Havana (1990), The Firm (1993), Sabrina (1995) and The Interpreter (2005).
Despite earlier plans to attend college and then medical school, Pollack left Indiana for New York City soon after finishing high school at age 17. Pollack studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse from 1952 to 1954, working on a lumber truck between terms. After two years' army service until 1958, he returned to the Playhouse at Meisner’s invitation to become his assistant. In 1960, John Frankenheimer, a friend of Pollack's, asked him to come to Los Angeles in order to work as a dialogue coach for the child actors on Frankenheimer's first big picture, The Young Savages. It was during this time that Pollack met Burt Lancaster, who encouraged the young actor to try directing.
While directing Tootsie, his rows with star Dustin Hoffman became well known. Eventually Hoffman began pushing the idea that Pollack play the role of his agent, and Pollack reluctantly agreed despite not having had any film roles in 20 years. Their off-screen relationship added authenticity to their scenes in the movie, most of which feature them arguing. Pollack subsequently took on more acting roles in addition to producing and directing. He appeared as himself in the Documentary One Six Right, describing his joy of owning and piloting his Citation X jet aircraft.
He resumed his acting career with appearances in such films as The Player (1992) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), often playing corrupt or morally conflicted power figures. As a character actor, Pollack appeared in films such as A Civil Action, and Changing Lanes, as well as his own, including Random Hearts and The Interpreter. He also appeared in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives as a New York lawyer undergoing a midlife crisis, and in Robert Zemeckis' Death Becomes Her as an emergency room doctor. His last role was as Patrick Dempsey's father in the 2008 romantic comedy Made of Honor, which was playing in theaters at the time of his death. He had a recurring guest star role on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, playing Will Truman's (Eric McCormack) unfaithful but loving father, George Truman. In 2007, Pollack made guest appearances on the HBO TV series The Sopranos and Entourage as well as appearances on NBC's Just Shoot Me and Mad About You.
Pollack received the first annual Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking award from the Austin Film Festival on October 21 2006. As a producer he helped to guide many films that were successful with both critics and movie audiences, such as The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Michael Clayton, a film in which he also starred in opposite George Clooney, and for which he received his sixth and final Academy Award nomination, in the Best Picture category. He formed a production company called Mirage Enterprises with the English director Anthony Minghella.
Concerns about Pollack's health had surfaced in 2007 when suddenly he stepped out of directing HBO's television film Recount. The film aired on May 25 2008. Pollack died the next day of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California, surrounded by family.
|Year||Film||Oscar nominations||Oscar wins|
|1965||The Slender Thread||2|
|1966||This Property Is Condemned|
|They Shoot Horses, Don't They?||9||1|
|1973||The Way We Were||6||2|
|1975||Three Days of the Condor||1|
|1979||The Electric Horseman||1|
|1981||Absence of Malice||3|
|1985||Out of Africa||11||7|
|2005||Sketches of Frank Gehry|