Los Angeles: Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay as director, producer and sometime actor whose star-laden movies like The Way We Were, Tootsie and Out of Africa were among the most successful of the 1970s and ’80s, died on Monday at home here. He was 73.
The cause was cancer, said publicist Leslee Dart, who spoke for his family.
tars’ director: Director Sydney Pollack on a New York set of the thriller, The Interpreter, one of his last motion pictures.
Pollack’s career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the film makers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art.
Hollywood honoured Pollack in return. His movies received multiple Academy award nominations, and as a director he won an Oscar for his work on the 1985 film Out of Africa as well as nominations for directing They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) and Tootsie (1982).
Michael Clayton, of which Pollack was a producer and a member of the cast, was nominated for a best picture Oscar earlier this year.
He delivered a trademark performance as an old-bull lawyer who demands dark deeds from a subordinate, played by George Clooney. Most recently, Pollack portrayed the father of Patrick Dempsey’s character in Made of Honor.
Pollack became a prolific producer of independent films in the latter part of his career. With a partner, film maker Anthony Minghella, he ran Mirage Enterprises, a production company whose films included Minghella’s Cold Mountain and the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, released last year, the last film directed by Pollack.
Minghella died in March, at the age of 54.
Apart from the Gehry documentary, Pollack never directed a movie without stars. His first feature, The Slender Thread, released by Paramount Pictures in 1965, starred Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft.
In his next 19 films—every one a romance or drama but for the single comedy, Tootsie—Pollack worked with Burt Lancaster, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Streisand and others. A frequent collaborator was Robert Redford.
Sydney Irwin Pollack was born on 1 July 1934, in Lafayette, Indiana, and reared in South Bend.
He developed a love of drama at South Bend High School and, instead of going to college, went to New York and enrolled at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He studied there for two years under Sanford Meisner, who was in charge of its acting department, and remained for five more as Meisner’s assistant, teaching acting but also appearing onstage and in television.
Curly-haired and almost 6 feet 2 inches tall, Pollack had a notable role in a 1959 Playhouse 90 telecast of For Whom the Bell Tolls, an adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel directed by John Frankenheimer.
Earlier, Pollack had appeared on Broadway in A Stone for Danny Fisher and in The Dark Is Light Enough. But he said later that he probably could not have built a career as a leading man.
Instead, Pollack took the advice of Burt Lancaster, whom he had met while working with Frankenheimer, and turned to directing. Lancaster steered him to the entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, and through him Pollack landed a directing assignment on the television series Shotgun Slade.
Pollack reached perhaps his career pinnacle with Out of Africa. Released by Universal, the film, based on the memoirs of Isak Dinesen, paired Streep and Redford in a period drama that reworked one of the director’s favourite themes, that of star-crossed lovers. It captured Oscars for best picture and best director.
Among Pollack’s survivors are two daughters, his wife, Claire Griswold, who was once among his acting students.
The couple married in 1958, while Pollack was serving a two-year hitch in the army. Their only son, Steven, died at age 34 in a 1993 plane crash.
© 2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES