Biography

One of the first generation of feature filmmakers who learned their craft directing for television – a generation that included William Friedkin, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer  – writer-producer-director Sydney Pollack forged a wide-ranging career that leaned heavily towards grown up, character-driven dramas while tossing in the occasional comedy curveballs, like the gender-bending hit Tootsie (1982). Pollack's work earned him two Oscars – both for Out of Africa (1985) – and nominations for five more, including a nod for his role in producing The Reader (2008), one of his last films. Born in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1934 and raised in South Bend, Pollack's father was a pharmacist who once boxed professionally; his mother was a homemaker who died when he was a teenager.  Pollack fell in love with drama at South Bend High School and, despite his father's disapproval, opted to forgo college in favor of moving to New York City and trying to become a professional actor. He studied under the renowned Sandford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater and quickly earned roles in such Broadway productions as A Stone for Danny Fisher, with Zero Mostel, and The Dark Is Light Enough, starring legendary stage actress Katharine Cornell. He also made more than a dozen episodic television appearances, notably in the two-part Playhouse 90 production of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1959); the stellar cast included Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Jason Robards, Maria Schell, Nehemiah Persoff and legendary acting teacher Herbert Berghof, under the direction of Frankenheimer, who was only four years Pollack's senior. By the early 1960s, Pollack's agent -- powerhouse Lew Wasserman -- also secured some directing gigs for his young client Encouraged by Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster, whom he met through Frankenheimer, Pollack redirected his ambition behind the camera and didn't act again until 1982, with the exception of a brief, unbilled bit in his own The Electric Horseman (1979). But Pollack's return to acting was showstopper: He played Dustin Hoffman's exasperated agent in Tootsie, and if he didn't quite steal the show from his temperamental star – the two feuded throughout production -- he gave him a run for his money – this despite the fact that he was uncredited. Until his death, Pollack alternated between acting and directing, sometimes doing both, and left his mark on a generation television viewers playing the recurring role of Will's philandering father on Will & Grace. His last film roles were as George Clooney's boss and Patrick Dempsey's father in, respectively, Michael Clayton (2007) and Made of Honor (2008). Pollack was know for his skill at directing actors, which he attributed to his own experience as a performer. Over the course of a directing career that spanned five decades, Pollack directed 20 films, including critical and box office successes like They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), The Way We Were (1973), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and The Firm (1993). Interspersed among the hits were some spectacular misses: The Harrison Ford-Julia Ormond remake of Sabrina (1995); Bobby Deerfield (1977), with Al Pacino; and the notorious Havana (1990), with Raul Julia, Lena Olin and Po

Fast Facts

  • Studied acting from 1953-54 at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse with legendary teacher Sanford Meisner; Pollack subsequently taught there from 1954-59.
  • Once studied dance with Martha Graham.
  • Directed more than 80 TV shows, including episodes of Ben Casey, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Fugitive and The Defenders.
  • In addition to directing the classic 1982 comedy Tootsie, he played the role of Dustin Hoffman's agent at the urging of the star.
  • His 2005 political thriller The Interpreter was the first motion picture ever allowed to film inside the United Nations building.

Awards

  • 1966, Emmy — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama: Winner
  • 1963, Emmy — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama: Nominee
  • 1985, Oscar — Best Motion Picture of the Year: Winner
  • 1983, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 1970, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 1986, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 1969, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 1985, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Winner
  • 1982, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 1982, Oscar — Best Motion Picture of the Year: Nominee
  • 2007, Oscar — Best Motion Picture of the Year: Nominee
  • 2003, BAFTA Film Awards — The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year: Nominee
  • 1998, BAFTA Film Awards — The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year: Nominee
  • 1983, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Direction: Nominee
  • 2008, Emmy — Outstanding Made for Television Movie: Winner
  • 2008, Emmy — Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special: Nominee
  • 2003, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Film: Nominee
  • 1964, Emmy — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama: Nominee
  • 2008, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Film: Nominee
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  • 2008, Oscar — Best Motion Picture of the Year: Nominee
  • 1983, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Film: Nominee
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  • 1986, Berlin Film Festival — Berlinale Camera: Winner

Relationships

  • Rebecca Miller Pollack — Mother
  • Steven Pollack — Son
  • Rebecca Pollack-Parker — Daughter
  • Rachel Pollack Sorman — Daughter
  • Sharon Pollack Griffith — Sister
  • Claire Griswold — Wife
  • Bernie Pollack — Brother
  • David Pollack — Father

Details

  • Birth Name: Sydney Irwin Pollack
  • Birth Place: Lafayette, IN
  • Birthday: July 1, 1934, Cancer
  • Died: May 26, 2008
  • Profession: Director, Actor, Producer
  • User Rating:4.25 out of 5 (12 ratings)
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