This week saw the death, tragically from cancer, of one of the best sons of the film industry, Mr. Sydney Irwin Pollack. He started his career directing in television shows and acting and he moved on to films in 1965 with “The Slender Thread” starring Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft.
Mr. Pollack was a brilliant director and will be remembered for directing many A list Hollywood stars such as, Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand in “The Way We Were”, Sally Field and Paul Newman in “Absence of Malice, ” Tom Cruise in “The Firm,” and ” Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in “The Interpreter. 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” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as well as nominations for directing “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969) and “Tootsie” (1982) with Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange.
Pollack was also an actor and a familiar face on television in shows such as “Will & Grace”, playing Will’s father, the “The Sopranos,” “Frasier” and “Mad About You.” He also appeared in films; his last screen appearance being in “Made of Honor,” a romantic comedy currently playing in theaters, where he played the father of star Patrick Dempsey’s character. Last fall, Warner Brothers released “Michael Clayton”. Mr. Pollack was not only a producer of the movie but also a member of the cast. He was a good actor who studied theater with the legendary Sanford Meisner. It was his first passion and he initially launched his career as a film actor in the same movie as Robert Redford (1962’s War Hunt). In Michael Clayton he delivered a trademark performance playing a hardened old lawyer demanding “dark deeds” from an underling played by George Clooney. Mr. Pollack also ran Mirage Enterprises, a production company, with a partner, Mr. Anthony Minghella whose films included “Cold Mountain” and the documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” which was released last year. This was the last film directed by Mr. Pollack.
Mr. Pollack’s work on all these movies has been well-documented and remembered in obituaries from coast to coast and beyond. I have read much about his achievements but not many mention the movie I know him most for and I wanted to add a personal note here on my blog. Mr. Pollack will be remembered best in this household for his work on what is definitely my husband’s favorite movie of all time “Jeremiah Johnson”. He even named his son Jeremiah after seeing it. It is a beautifully filmed movie about a mountain man and we have watched it many times. In a featurette documentary about the movie, Pollack can be seen tackling the different aspects of capturing the story and he talks about his desire to portray the beauty and the harshness of the life of a mountain man. Mr. Pollack was dedicated to his art and tireless in his efforts to give the viewing public the very best. During the filming of Jeremiah Johnson above the snowline in Utah, at temperatures of below -25 degrees he would wrestle with Robert Redford holding a camera to get the effects of a struggle to the death just right! He was tenacious and uncompromising in what he was trying to achieve, “I’ve been trying to shoot this sequence where a 600lb Grizzly bear runs into a cabin, and I’ve been trying to do it for 2 weeks now and I still haven’t got it,” he said, “so I’ll go out to try again for a couple of hours and if I still don’t get it I’ll be back again. I just have to get it!”
It was memorable! We loved his work and I wanted to remember him here. He is a tremendous loss to the industry and to the public and our condolences go out to his wife, Claire Griswold, two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and his six grandchildren.