Oscar and Emmy-winning director – Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack, the actor, in 1982's Tootsie with Dustin Hoffman in drag and in 2007's Michael Clayton with George Clooney

In Christmas of 1982 I was working for Cobb Theaters in Tuscaloosa, Alabama when I was lucky to play what would become one of my favorite movies. The film was called Tootsie, and it starred Dustin Hoffman as a respected but perfectionist actor on the verge of turning forty. Nobody in New York wants to hire him anymore because he is so difficult to work with. Not having worked in four months, he eventually hears of an opening on the soap opera “Southwest General Hospital” (a parody of General Hospital) from his friend Sandy Lester (Teri Garr), who initially tries out for the role but doesn’t get it. In desperation, he cross-dresses and eventually wins the part. Besides Hoffman and Garr, Toosie also starred Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, George Gaynes, Lynne Thigpen and Geena Davis (in her film debut). It also starred Sydney Pollack who was also the film’s director.I was shock to learn that Oscar and Emmy-winning director and producer Sydney Pollack had taken his Final Taxi at 73. My wife and I had just rented Michael Clayton a film from 2007 where he appeared opposite George Clooney. This was a film which he also co-produced.

Sydney Irwin Pollack was born in 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Mr. Pollack developed a love of drama at South Bend High School and went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He studied there for two years teaching acting but also appearing onstage and in television.

Pollack had a notable role in a 1959 “Playhouse 90” telecast of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and also appeared on Broadway with Zero Mostel in “A Stone for Danny Fisher” and with Katharine Cornell and Tyrone Power in “The Dark Is Light Enough.”

Turning to directing he landed an assignment on the television series “Shotgun Slade” and on a few episodes of “Ben Casey, “Naked City,” “The Fugitive” and other well-known shows. In 1966 he won an Emmy for directing an episode of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”

Sydney Pollack directed five films during the 1960s. His feature debut was “The Slender Thread” which starred Sidney Portier and Ann Bancroft. The movie received two Oscar nominations. His second film was the first of seven collaborations with actor Robert Redford. “This Property is Condemned” starred Redford, Natalie Wood and Charles Bronson. Miss Wood received a Golden Globe nomination for the film. Pollack and friend Burt Lancaster teamed up for Pollack’s next two films as director. “The Scalphunters” is an underrated comedic Western. “Castle Keep” is an interesting misfire that wants to be a surreal anti-war film. Lancaster called on Pollack to finish directing his adaptation of John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” following creative differences with director Frank Perry. Sydney Pollack’s final film of the 1960s was one of his best. “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” received nine Oscar nominations including Pollack’s first as Best Director. Gig Young won a well-deserved Best Supporting Oscar for his performance as the organizer of the Depression-era dance marathon.

Pollack directed six films during the 1970s. His first film of the decade was 1972’s “Jeremiah Johnson.” It was his second collaboration with Robert Redford. Pollack was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes for the film. The following year Mr. Pollack directed Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand in “The Way We Were.” The film earned six Oscar nominations including a Best Actress for Streisand. Sydney Pollack’s “The Yakuza” is one of the best crime films of all time. Robert Mitchum is tough as nails as a WWII vet who returns to Japan to help out an old war buddy. The excellent supporting cast includes Brian Keith, Herb Edelman and Richard Jordon. In 1975 Pollack once again teamed up with Robert Redford for the thriller “Three Days of the Condor.” Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson and Faye Dunaway co-starred in the Oscar-nominated film. His last tow films of the 70’s were “Bobby Deerfield” and “The Electric Horseman.”

During the 1980s he only directed three films. “Absence of Malice” The film chalked up three Oscar nominations. Next came the gender-bending comedy “Tootsie.” Pollack not only produced and directed but also acted in the film as Dustin Hoffman’s agent. The movie earned ten Oscar nominations. Mr. Pollack received his second Best Director nod and his first nomination for Best Picture. Jessica Lange won for Best Supporting actress. His final film as director in the 1980s was “Out of Africa.” Once again, he teamed up with Robert Redford. The film received ten Oscar nominations and won six. Mr. Pollack won Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for “Out of Africa.”

Other films included, 1990’s “Havana” (His final film with Robert Redford.) 1993’s “The Firm” the remake of “Sabrina” and “The Interpreter.”

Sidney Pollack also produced a number of films for other filmmakers. His many producer credits include “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Presumed Innocent,” “White Palace,” “Dead Again,” “Flesh and Bone,” “Searching for Bobby Fisher,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Dead Again,” “Heaven,” “40 Shades of Blue” and “Cold Mountain.”

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