Sydney Pollack dies at 73
Sydney Pollack, who won an Academy Award as best director of “Out of Africa,” died Monday of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades. He was 73.
Pollack also was nominated for a best director Oscar for “Tootsie” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” Pollack won an Emmy for his direction of “The Game” in 1965, starring Cliff Robertson. Film. In addition to his Oscar for “Out of Africa,” which also won best picture, that film also earned Pollack the best director honor from the New York Critics Film Circle for that film.
Among the 100 best American love stories ranked by American Film Institute in June 2002, Pollack is the only director credited with two films near the top of list: “The Way We Were,” at No. 6, and “Out of Africa,” which is ranked No. 13.
In 2000, Pollack was honored with the John Huston Award from the Directors Guild of America as a “defender of artists’ rights.”
His filmography included such diverse films as “The Firm,” “Sabrina,” “The Electric Horseman,” “Bobby Deerfield,” “Presumed Innocent,” “King Ralph” and “Havana.” As a director, he is perhaps best regarded for the strong performances he has elicited from Hollywood stars, including Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Harrison Ford and Burt Lancaster. Pollack began his own career as an actor.
In more recent years, Pollack concentrated his energies and talents on producing and executive producing. Films made under Pollack’s Mirage banner include “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Innocent,” “White Palace,” “Ralph,” “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and “Flesh and Bone.”
Pollack was born on July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Ind. At 17, he left home for New York, where he enrolled in Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. After two years of study, Pollack became Meisner’s assistant, serving for six years until 1960. He also began to work professionally on the stage. In 1955, he appeared opposite Zero Mostel in “A Stone for Danny Fisher,” and the following year with Tyrone Power and Katherine Cornell in “The Dark Slight Enough.” Pollack also starred in “Stalag 17,” creating the stage role that would eventually be taken by William Holden for the film version.
Amid his theater studies, Pollack served in the military for two years and became friends with rising director John Frankenheimer, who honed his skills by shooting footage for the Air Force. Following their respective discharges, Frankenheimer directed Pollack in several TV adaptations of Ernest Hemingway novels. Frankenheimer eventually brought Pollack to Hollywood as a dialogue coach for “The Young Savages,” which starred Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters.
Once in Hollywood, Pollack began to direct TV segments, including series like “Shotgun Slade,” as well as episodes of such top shows as “The Defenders,” “Naked City,” “Ben Casey” and “Chrysler Theater.” More recently, he produced for TV, including the cable show “Fallen Angels” (1993).
While his directing career was blossoming, Pollack continued to act. He appeared in the 1962 film “War Hunt,” where he met and became friends with Redford. They went on to eventually collaborate on seven films: “This Property Is Condemned,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Way We Were,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “Electric Horseman,” “Out of Africa” and “Havana.”
Pollack made his feature directorial debut with “The Slender Thread” (1965), starring Anne Bancroft as a suicidal woman and Sidney Poitier as a crisis center worker trying to keep her on the telephone while emergency services track her down. The taut, groundbreaking drama was one of the first major motion pictures to depict a black man in a positive role. Pollack went on to direct such films as “This Property Is Condemned” (1966), “The Scalphunters” (1968) and “Castle Keep” (1969). He achieved his first major success with “Horses” (1970), a harrowing drama set during a Depression-era dance marathon, starring Gig Young and Jane Fonda. Young won the Oscar for best supporting actor, while Pollack and Fonda were nominated for best director and best actress, respectively.
During the mid-’70s, Pollack also delved into the action genre with “The Yakuza,” a thriller about a kidnapping committed by Japanese gangsters. Pollack next scored at the boxoffice with “The Way We Were” (1973), an old-fashioned love story starring Redford and Streisand set against the Red-scare era of McCarthyism.
He directed Redford again in the 1975 espionage thriller “Three Days of the Condor,” which also starred Cliff Robertson and Faye Dunaway. Pollack’s career peaked with “Out of Africa” (1985), a scrumptiously shot love story between writer Isak Dinesen (Meryl Streep) and Denys Finch Hatton (Redford). Pollack both produced and directed, winning Oscars for both.
Pollack also had a boxoffice hit in 1993 with “The Firm,” a well-regarded adaptation of John Grisham’s best-seller starring Tom Cruise.
His next directorial effort, a 1995 remake of “Sabrina” starring Harrison Ford, proved to be a both a critical flop and financial disappointment. Four years later, Pollack and Ford reunited to make “Random Hearts,” a drama about a man and a woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) who discover that their respective spouses — who perished in a plane crash — were lovers.
In more recent years, Pollack had flexed his acting talents, performing for other renowned directors. In 1992, he appeared in Robert Altman’s “The Player,” as well as in Robert Zemeckis’ “Death Becomes Her.” His performances were often comic, as when he played Judy Davis’ cheating husband in Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” as well as a memorable turn in his own “Tootsie,” where he played the fed-up agent for Dustin Hoffman character. In the late 1990s, Pollack replaced Harvey Keitel in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999).
The multidimensional Pollack was active in film industry affairs: He was a founding member of the Sundance Film Institute and served as president of the board of directors of the American Cinematheque. [thr]