Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SYDNEY POLLACK R.I.P. -- 1 JULY 1934 - 26 MAY 2008


It´s a sad day.

From IMDB:

Acclaimed director, producer, and actor Sydney Pollack has died of cancer. He was 73.

According to the AP, quoting Pollack's agent Leslee Dart, Pollack died Monday afternoon (5/26/08) at his home in Pacific Palisades, surrounded by family and friends.

Though Sydney Pollack started out as an actor and acting coach and later ended his career doubling producer duties with cameo and supporting roles, it was as a director that Pollack will probably best be remembered. His films had the sheen of the Golden Era of Hollywood, even though most were made in the `70s and `80s. They also spanned genres and included The Way We Were (`73), Three Days of the Condor (`75), The Electric Horseman (`79), Tootsie (`82), culminating in what was arguably his greatest success, Out of Africa (`85).

Sydney Irwin Pollack was born on July 1, 1934, in Lafayette and raised in South Bend, Indiana. He developed a love of acting at South Bend High School and went straight to New York and the Neighborhood Playhouse School for Theater. There, Sanford Meisner took him under his wing, first as a student and then as his assistant. Pollack received favorable marks from his students, which included Robert Duvall and Rip Torn, and Claire Griswold, a former pupil whom Pollack married and remained married to for 50 years.

His time at the Neighborhood Playhouse was destined not to last as long and, under the encouragement of director John Frankenheimer and nudging from Burt Lancaster, Pollack began directing. He started out small, in television shows such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Ben Casey.

He soon branched out into feature filmmaking. His first was The Slender Thread, starring Anne Bancroft and Sydney Poitier in a story about a desperate woman and the suicide hotline volunteer who attempts to keep her on the line while waiting for the police to find her.

The film fared poorly, both critically and financially, as, to a lesser extent, did Pollack's second feature, 1966's This Property Is Condemned, based upon a Tennessee Williams play (with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola). It featured Natalie Wood as a girl desperate to break out of her small town who sets her sights and hopes on a traveling railroad official and company hatchet man, played by Robert Redford. Property was the start of a lifelong association and friendship with Redford; Pollack would direct Redford in seven films in total, including some of his most famous.

His first success came with the depression-era The Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which followed the characters involved in a grueling dance marathon. It starred Jane Fonda and shattered her American image as a comely ingénue or a sex kitten and established her as a serious actress once and for all. She received her first Oscar nomination for the part.

Most actors benefited from appearing in a Pollack film. Twelve actors received Oscar nominations after being in one of his movies, including Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, and Dustin Hoffman. He was no stranger to the Academy himself. He was nominated three times for Best Director (Horses and Tootsie, winning for Out of Africa). Oddly enough, Redford never received a nomination for any of the multiply-lauded films in which he starred for Pollack.

Industry recognition was just part of his success. His films were also profitable at the box office. Hits included Horses, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, The Electric Horseman and The Firm.

Out of Africa was where everything gelled. It had an enormous canvas, an epic scope, a glorious score, luscious cinematography and two superstars (Redford and Streep) in the leads. The film was nominated for 11 awards, picking up seven including Best Picture and Director.

He had misses too. Havana, Random Hearts and Sabrina were the rare examples of critical and commercial failures.

Producing became a passion for him after this string of misfires. Along with the late Anthony Minghella, who died earlier this year during a throat operation, Pollack created Mirage Enterprises. The shop produced The Fabulous Baker Boys, Sense and Sensibility, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. But Mirage represented just a smattering of Pollack's producing duties, which also included Searching for Bobby Fischer, The Quiet American, Michael Clayton and the HBO film, Recount.

In recent years Pollack also specialized in the role of the powerful corporate or societal patriarch, one willing to lay down the law or to teach the hard truths of life to the protagonist. He played variations of it in Eyes Wide Shut, Changing Lanes and Michael Clayton and created what can only be described as avuncular malevolence, inspiring fear and awe while exuding a tinge of mercy. It was the stature of Pollack in the industry itself and his commanding presence on and off the screen that lent the roles their gravitas. They sprang from the man himself.

Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Steven, who died in 1993 in a plane crash in Santa Monica.

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