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Sydney Pollack
Sydney Pollack.jpg
At the Metropolitan Opera House, 2006
Sydney Irwin Pollack

(1934-07-01)July 1, 1934
Died May 26, 2008(2008-05-26) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Film director
  • producer
  • actor
Years active 1955–2008
Claire Bradley Griswold
(m. 1958)
Children 3

Sydney Irwin Pollack (July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008) was an American film director, producer and actor. Pollack directed more than 20 films and 10 television shows, acted in over 30 movies or shows and produced over 44 films. For his film Out of Africa (1985), Pollack won the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture. He was also nominated for Best Director Oscars for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) and Tootsie (1982).

Some of his other best-known works include Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Absence of Malice (1981). His subsequent films included Havana (1990), The Firm (1993), The Interpreter (2005), and he produced and acted in Michael Clayton (2007). Pollack also made appearances in Robert Altman's Hollywood mystery The Player (1992), Woody Allen's relationship drama Husbands and Wives (1993), and Stanley Kubrick's psychological drama Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Early life

Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants, the son of Rebecca (née Miller) and David Pollack, a semi-professional boxer and pharmacist. The family relocated to South Bend and his parents divorced when he was young. His mother died at the age of 37, when Pollack was 16.

Despite earlier plans to attend college and then medical school, Pollack left Indiana for New York City soon after finishing high school at age 17. Pollack studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre from 1952 to 1954, working on a lumber truck between terms.

After two years of army service ending in 1958, he returned to the Playhouse at Meisner's invitation to become his assistant. In 1960, John Frankenheimer, a friend of Pollack, asked him to come to Los Angeles to work as a dialogue coach for the child actors on Frankenheimer's first big picture, The Young Savages. It was during this time that Pollack met Burt Lancaster, who encouraged the young actor to try directing.


Pollack played a director in The Twilight Zone episode "The Trouble with Templeton" in 1961. But he found his real success in television in the 1960s by directing episodes of series, such as The Fugitive and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. After doing TV he made the jump into film with a string of movies that drew public attention. His film-directing debut was The Slender Thread (1965). Over time, Pollack's films received a total of 48 Academy Award nominations, winning 11 Oscars. His first Oscar nomination was for his 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, and his second in 1982 for Tootsie. For his 1985 film Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, Pollack won Academy Awards for directing and producing.

During his career, he directed 12 actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Jane Fonda, Gig Young, Susannah York, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Melinda Dillon, Jessica Lange, Dustin Hoffman, Teri Garr, Meryl Streep, Klaus Maria Brandauer and Holly Hunter. Young and Lange won Oscars for their performances in Pollack's films.

One of a select group of non- and/or former actors awarded membership in the Actors Studio, Pollack resumed acting in the 1990s with appearances in such films as Robert Altman's The Player (1992) and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999), often playing corrupt or morally conflicted power figures. As a character actor, Pollack appeared in films such as A Civil Action, and Changing Lanes, as well as his own, including Random Hearts and The Interpreter (the latter also being his final film as a director). He also appeared in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives as a New York lawyer undergoing a midlife crisis, and in Robert Zemeckis's Death Becomes Her as an emergency room doctor. His last role was as Patrick Dempsey's father in the 2008 romantic comedy Made of Honor, which was playing in theaters at the time of his death. He was a recurring guest star on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, playing Will Truman's (Eric McCormack) unfaithful but loving father, George. In addition to earlier appearances on NBC's Just Shoot Me and Mad About You, in 2007, Pollack made guest appearances on the HBO TV series The Sopranos and Entourage.

Pollack received the first annual Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking award from the Austin Film Festival on October 21, 2006. As a producer he helped to guide many films that were successful with both critics and movie audiences, such as The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Michael Clayton, a film in which he also starred opposite George Clooney and for which he received his sixth Academy Award nomination, in the Best Picture category. He formed a production company called Mirage Enterprises with the English director Anthony Minghella. The last film they produced together, The Reader, earned them both posthumous Oscar nominations for Best Picture. Besides his many feature film laurels, Pollack was nominated for five Primetime Emmys, earning two: one for directing in 1966 and another for producing, which was given four months after his death in 2008.

The moving image collection of Sydney Pollack is housed at the Academy Film Archive.


In the 2002 Sight & Sound Directors' Poll, Pollack revealed his top ten films in alphabetical order:

Personal life and death

Pollack was married to Claire Bradley Griswold, a former student of his, from 1958 until his death in 2008. They had three children: Steven (1959–1993), Rebecca (b. 1963), and Rachel (b. 1969). In November 1993, Steven died at the age of 34 in the crash of a small, single-engine plane which clipped a power line and burst into flames in Santa Monica, California. Claire, Pollack's wife, died on March 28, 2011 at 74 years of age, from Parkinson's disease.

Concerns about Pollack's health surfaced in 2007, when he withdrew from directing HBO's television film Recount, which aired on May 25, 2008. He died from cancer the following day at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, at the age of 73. He had been diagnosed about ten months prior to his death; the type of cancer has been variously cited as pancreatic, stomach, or of unknown primary origin.



Directing and producing

Year Title Director Producer Notes
1965 The Slender Thread Yes Paramount Pictures
1966 This Property Is Condemned Yes
1968 The Scalphunters Yes United Artists
1969 Castle Keep Yes Columbia Pictures
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Yes Cinerama Releasing Corporation
1972 Jeremiah Johnson Yes Warner Bros.
1973 The Way We Were Yes Columbia
1974 The Yakuza Yes Yes Warner Bros
1975 Three Days of the Condor Yes Paramount Pictures
1977 Bobby Deerfield Yes Yes Warner Bros
1979 The Electric Horseman Yes Universal Pictures
1981 Absence of Malice Yes Columbia Pictures
1982 Tootsie Yes Yes
1985 Out of Africa Yes Yes Universal Pictures
1990 Havana Yes
1993 The Firm Yes Yes Paramount Pictures
1995 Sabrina Yes Yes
1999 Random Hearts Yes Yes Columbia Pictures
2005 The Interpreter Yes Universal Pictures
2005 Sketches of Frank Gehry Yes Executive Sony Pictures Classics
2018 Amazing Grace Yes Neon

As executive producer

  • Sanford Meisner: The American Theatre's Best Kept Secret (1985)
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
  • Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
  • Iris (2001)
  • Birthday Girl (2001)
  • The Quiet American (2002)
  • Leatherheads (2008)
  • Recount (2008)

As producer only

  • Songwriter (1984)
  • Bright Lights, Big City (1988)
  • Presumed Innocent (1990)
  • Sliding Doors (1998)
  • Cold Mountain (2003)
  • Breaking and Entering (2006)
  • Michael Clayton (2007)
  • The Reader (2008)

Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
1962 War Hunt Sergeant Owen Van Horn
1975 Three Days of the Condor Taxi Driver
1979 The Electric Horseman Man Who Makes Pass At Alice Uncredited
1982 Tootsie George Fields
1992 The Player Dick Mellon
Death Becomes Her ER Doctor Uncredited
Husbands and Wives Jack
1998 A Civil Action Al Eustis
1999 Eyes Wide Shut Victor Ziegler
Random Hearts Carl Broman
2001 The Majestic Studio Executive Voice
2002 Changing Lanes Stephen Delano
2005 The Interpreter Secret Service Director Jay Pettigrew Uncredited
2006 Fauteuils d'orchestre Brian Sobinski
2007 Michael Clayton Marty Bach
2008 Made of Honor Thomas Bailey Sr. Final film role


Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
1956 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour Shuber Episode: "The Army Game"
1959 Playhouse 90 Andres Episodes: "For Whom the Bell Tolls: Parts 1 & 2"
The United States Steel Hour Benson Episode: "The Case of Julia Walton"
Armstrong Circle Theatre Albert Rousseau Episode: "35 Rue Du Marche"
Startime Harry Episode: "Something Special"
1959–1964 Brenner Detective Al Dunn 3 episodes
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Bernie Samuelson Episode: "The Contest for Aaron Gold"
Twilight Zone Arthur Willis Episode: "The Trouble with Templeton"
Tales of Wells Fargo Stan Ryker Episode: "Angry Town"
1961 Have Gun – Will Travel Joe Culp Episodes: "Quiet Night in Town: Part 1 & 2"
The Deputy Chuck Johnson Episode: "Spoken in Silence"
The Asphalt Jungle Louie Episode: "The Professor"
1961–1962 The New Breed Austin Rogers/Bert Masters 2 episodes
1962 Ben Casey Unknown Episode: "Monument to an Aged Hunter"
1994 Frasier Holden Thorpe (voice) Episode: "The Candidate"
1998 Mad About You Dr. Sydney Warren 1 episode
2000 Just Shoot Me! Himself Episode: "A&E Biography: Nina Van Horn"
King of the Hill Grant Trimble Voice; Season 4, Episode 23
2000–2006 Will & Grace George Truman 4 episodes
2003 Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin Narrator Voice; Documentary
2005 One Six Right: The Romance of Flying Himself Documentary
2006 American Masters Narrator Episode: "John Ford/John Wayne"
2007 The Sopranos Warren Feldman Episode: "Stage 5"
Entourage Himself

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Project Result
1970 Academy Awards Best Director They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Nominated
1983 Best Picture Tootsie Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1986 Best Picture Out of Africa Won
Best Director Won
2008 Best Picture Michael Clayton Nominated
2009 The Reader Nominated
1963 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Directing – Drama Series Ben Casey Nominated
1964 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Nominated
1966 Won
2008 Outstanding Television Movie Recount Nominated
Outstanding Variety Special James Taylor: One Man Band Nominated
1969 Golden Globe Awards Best Director They Shoot Horses Don't They? Nominated
1982 Tootsie Nominated
1985 Out of Africa Nominated
1983 British Academy Film Awards Best Film Tootsie Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1998 Outstanding British Film Sliding Doors Nominated
2003 Best Film Cold Mountain Nominated
Outstanding British Film Nominated
2008 Best Film The Reader Nominated

See also

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