Sydney Pollack

Ron Galella, Ltd./

Sydney Pollack helped make a sex symbol of Robert Redford, an Oscar-caliber star of Jane Fonda and a woman of Dustin Hoffman.

Pollack, the quintessential actor's director of Tootsie, The Way We Were and more, who seemed most comfortable in the company of Hollywood's biggest stars, and vice versa, died tonight of cancer at his Los Angeles home.

The filmmaker, a two-time Oscar-winner, was 73.

"Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better," George Clooney said in a statement. "A tip of the hat to a class act. He'll be missed terribly."

Pollack recently worked with Clooney on Michael Clayton, which Pollack acted in and helped produce, and Leatherheads, which he executive produced.

Michael Clayton, a Best Picture contender at this past February's Oscars, brought Pollack his sixth career nomination. He won his pair of statuettes for directing and producing the 1985 Best Picture winner, Out of Africa.

He also earned nominations for directing and producing Tootsie, the beloved cross-dressing 1982 comedy, and for directing the 1969 dance-marathon drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.

A former acting teacher who became an in-demand character actor, Pollack had memorable on-screen turns in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives and his own Tootsie, in which he played Hoffman's exasperated acting agent.


Columbia Pictures

Indicative of a career that seemed as vital as ever, Pollack can currently be seen in theaters as Patrick Dempsey's father in the comedy Made of Honor.

Pollack, the producer, likewise was busy. He had a number of films in the offing, including The Reader, an upcoming Ralph Fiennes-Kate Winslet romantic drama, from the production company he founded with Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning writer-director who died suddenly in March.

With its central love story, The Reader seems a prototypical Pollack production. As the filmmaker told E! Online in 2000, "I have never done a film without a love story."

And, he could have added, he never did a film without an A-list actor, either.

Hoffman, Tom Cruise (The Firm), Meryl Streep (Out of Africa), Paul Newman and Sally Field (Absence of Malice), and Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn (The Interpreter) all worked with Pollack, the director.

Harrison Ford made two movies with Pollack—Random Hearts and Sabrina.

Robert Redford made seven—Havana, Out of Africa, The Electric Horseman, Three Days of the Condor, The Way We Were, Jeremiah Johnson and This Property Is Condemned.

A star on a Pollack film, especially a Pollack film of the 1970s and 1980s, could almost bet on two things: the film selling a lot of tickets, and the film netting a lot of Oscar nominations. Actors who earned Academy Award nominations in Pollack films include Hoffman, Newman, Streep, Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were) and Holly Hunter (The Firm).

Made of Honor

Columbia Pictures

While Pollack was known for deftly and successfully working with Hollywood giants, he also had a knack for discovering talent. Or, maybe it's better put, he had a knack for recasting talent.

He spotted Greg Kinnear on E!'s Talk Soup, cast him as Ford's younger brother in Sabrina and set the TV host onto an Oscar-nominated acting career.

He directed the post-Barbarella Jane Fonda, not then noted as a serious actress, to her first Oscar nomination in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.

And he directed Jessica Lange, also not yet then noted as a serious actress, to her first Oscar-winning performance as Hoffman's insecure love interest in Tootsie.

Out of Africa

Universal Pictures

Of all the stars he worked with, Pollack was most associated with Redford. This Property Is Condemned, released in 1966, was Pollack's second feature as director, and one of Redford's first as a leading man. The two went on to work together on one of the biggest box-office hits of the 1970s, the love-song-inspiring The Way We Were, to one of the more notorious busts of the 1990s, the bad-review-inspiring Havana.

"I'll tell you something," Pollack said of Havana to the New York Times. "If I had to do it again, I'd do it. I loved that character that Redford played."

Pollack was biased. He saw in Redford "the quintessential American hero," he told E! Online, and "the loner, the guy who wanted to make his own rules, the guy who learns to become a real human being through the love of a woman," he expounded on to the Times.

A man who becomes a better man by becoming a woman was the premise of Tootsie, arguably Pollack's greatest success as director, Oscar wins notwithstanding, and his only film to make the American Film Institute's list honoring the 100 best U.S.-made movies.

Tootsie, in which difficult actor Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) becomes a soap star by pretending to be spunky actress Dorothy Michaels (also Hoffman), earned 10 Academy Award nominations, and reignited Pollack's left-for-dead acting career.

According to the filmmaker, Hoffman suggested—no, demanded—that Pollack play Michael Dorsey's agent, instead of Dabney Coleman, who'd been cast.

"Dustin was very fond of Dabney, but he felt he was a colleague and a peer," Pollack told E! Online. "He said, 'If a peer says to me, 'You're never going to work again,' I'm not gonna put on a dress. If you say to me, 'You're never gonna work again,' then maybe I'll put on a dress."

Coleman ended up playing the movie's boorish soap director; Pollack ended up on other directors' call sheets.

Michael Clayton

Warner Bros. Pictures

He played the midlife-crisis-suffering husband in Allen's Husbands and Wives. He played the tony Long Islander with a penchant for clothing-optional costume parties in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. He played Clooney's law-firm boss in Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton.

Pollack also did a good amount of TV, including stops on The Sopranos, Frasier and Will & Grace, where he occasionally appeared as Eric McCormack's prime-time father.

Born July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Ind., Pollack once said of his childhood to the Times, "I think of it with great sadness. It was a real cultural desert."

Pollack found a home in New York City, where acting class kept him busy as both student and teacher. Of his teaching career, Pollack said it only came about because he couldn't find work as an actor.

The turning point came in 1959 when John Frankenheimer, a prolific director of the era's live TV dramas who would later helm such films as the original Manchurian Candidate, hired Pollack as an acting coach. The gig led to TV directing gigs, which led to his first feature, The Slender Thread, a 1965 suicide hotline drama with, as would become Pollack's way, two stars, Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft.

Pollack's last dramatic film as director was the United Nations-set The Interpreter, which was released in 2005, the same year as his lone documentary as a filmmaker, Sketches of Frank Gehry, about the noted architect.

A prolific producer and executive producer, Pollack helped make high-profile Oscar fare (Minghella's Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley), smallish films (Sliding Doors, Searching for Bobby Fischer) and even a John Goodman vehicle (King Ralph).

In the end, Pollack was defined by big stars and big movies. He knew it. And embraced it.

"Not all those big movies are good for you. I suppose there's a lot of bad ones—I'm sure people would say I've made some of them," Pollack once told National Public Radio. "But the good ones do move you."

(Originally published May 26, 2008 at 6:05 p.m. PT.)

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