Just As I Thought

Sydney Pollack

Director Sydney Pollack Dies at 73
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008; 9:28 PM

Sydney Pollack, 73, a director and producer of popular Hollywood movies for nearly four decades, including the comedy “Tootsie,” and who won Academy Awards for “Out of Africa,” died Monday of cancer at his home in Los Angeles.

Pollack, who called himself “Mr. Mainstream,” was wildly successful at filmmaking with mass appeal but drew mixed reviews during a prolific career.

Pollack’s skill with performers has been credited to his own start in show business as a theater and television actor in the 1950s. With his glasses and curly hair, he became a recognizable presence over the years, thanks to memorable cameo appearances in films and on television.

As a young man, he had been a student of Sanford Meisner, who taught “the Method” acting technique that uses the performer’s emotional memory to add realistic touches to a role.

“He was the most influential person in my life in terms of my thinking about drama, about life itself,” Pollack said of Meisner in 1993. “Everything I do is from the point of view of acting. I think of cinematography from an actor’s point of view. My scripts are from an actor’s point of view. Once you find the spine of a part, it becomes a wonderful mold for the whole movie. You measure every single thing against it.”

In later years, Pollack had a significant impact as a producer by using his reputation for commercial success to support other directors, some of them untested. Last year, he backed screenwriter and first-time director Tony Gilroy on the critically praised “Michael Clayton,” a thriller with George Clooney.

He also teamed with writer-producer-director Anthony Minghella to produce such films as “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999), “Iris” (2001), “The Quiet American” (2002) and “Cold Mountain” (2003). Movie critic and historian David Sterritt said Pollack’s “main importance was as a kind of hyphenate — someone who produced, directed and sometimes acted.”

“He was one of the consummate professionals of the last 40 years or so in Hollywood,” Sterritt said. “On his own films, or those he supported as a producer or actor, he reached a high level of achievement, if not always a high level of art.”

Sydney Pollack was born July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Ind., and raised in South Bend. He once described himself as an “unpopular and rather sad kid” while growing up in Indiana, and he made awkward attempts to fit in socially by playing sports. He once took up boxing but, with his poor vision, “didn’t see the punches until they were too close.”

Movies enchanted him, but he vividly recalled his father, a boxer-turned-pharmacist, discouraged his ambitions as an actor as an unmanly trade. Sydney Pollack’s two siblings went into entertainment: Bernie became a costume designer, and Sharon became a dance instructor. After high school, Pollack went to New York in 1954 and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse under Meisner, who was so impressed that he made him his assistant. Pollack’s students included Robert Duvall, Rip Torn, Brenda Vaccaro and Claire Griswold, whom he married in 1958.

Besides his wife, of Los Angeles, survivors include two daughters, Rebecca Pollack and Rachel Pollack, both of Los Angeles, a brother and six grandchildren. A son, Steven Pollack, died in a small-plane crash in 1993. [Washington Post]

Browse the Archive

Browse by Category