Sydney Pollack

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. His 1985 film Out of Africa won him Academy Awards for directing and producing.[1] He was also nominated for Best Director Oscars for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) and Tootsie (1982) in which he also appeared.

Sydney Pollack
Pollack in 2000
Sydney Irwin Pollack

(1934-07-01)July 1, 1934
DiedMay 26, 2008(2008-05-26) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, producer, director
Years active1950–2008
Claire Bradley Griswold
(m. 1958)

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 is probably best known to television viewers for his recurring role playing Will Truman's father on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace (2000–2006).

Early life

Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants,[2] the son of Rebecca (née Miller) and David Pollack, a semi-professional boxer and pharmacist.[2] The family relocated to South Bend and his parents divorced when he was young. His mother, who suffered alcoholism and emotional problems, died at the age of 37 while Pollack was a student.[3]

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.[4] Pollack studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre from 1952–54, working on a lumber truck between terms.[4]

After two years army service, ending in 1958, he returned to the Playhouse at Meisner's invitation to become his assistant.[5] In 1960, John Frankenheimer, a friend of Pollack, asked him to come to Los Angeles in order 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.[5]


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).[3] 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.[6]

During his career, he directed 12 different 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.

His disputes with Hoffman during the filming of Tootsie became well known. Eventually Hoffman began pushing the idea that Pollack play the role of his agent and Pollack reluctantly agreed despite not having any film roles in 20 years. Their off-screen relationship added authenticity to their scenes in the movie, most of which feature them arguing. Pollack subsequently took on more acting roles in addition to producing and directing. He appeared as himself in the documentary One Six Right, describing his joy in owning and piloting his Cessna Citation X jet aircraft.

One of a select group of non- and/or former actors awarded membership in The Actors Studio,[7] Pollack resumed acting in the 1990s with appearances in such films as The Player (1992) and 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 Truman. 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.[8]


In the 2002 Sight and Sound Directors' Poll, Pollack revealed his top ten films: Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Conformist, The Godfather Part II, Grand Illusion, The Leopard, Once Upon a Time in America, Raging Bull, The Seventh Seal, and Sunset Boulevard.[9]


Pollack's brother, Bernie, is a costume designer, producer, and actor.

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), Rebecca (1963), and Rachel (1969).[10] In 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.[11][12] Claire, Pollack's wife, died on March 28, 2011 at 74 years of age, due to Parkinson's disease.


Concerns about Pollack's health surfaced in 2007, when he withdrew from directing HBO's television film Recount,[13] which aired on May 25, 2008. Pollack died the next day at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by his family who confirmed that cancer was the cause of death but declined to provide specifics.[10][14] His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered along the runway at the Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.


Directing and producing
YearFilmRole(s)Academy Awards
1965 The Slender ThreadDirector2
1966 This Property Is CondemnedDirector
1968The ScalphuntersDirector
1969Castle KeepDirector
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?Director19
1972Jeremiah JohnsonDirector
1973The Way We WereDirector26
1974The YakuzaDirector, producer
1975Three Days of the CondorDirector1
1977Bobby DeerfieldDirector, producer
1979The Electric HorsemanDirector1
1981Absence of MaliceDirector3
1982TootsieDirector, producer, actor110
1985Out of AfricaDirector, producer711
Sanford Meisner: The American Theatre's Best Kept SecretExecutive producer
1988Bright Lights, Big CityProducer
1989The Fabulous Baker BoysExecutive producer4
Presumed InnocentProducer
1993The FirmDirector, producer2
Searching for Bobby FischerExecutive producer1
1995SabrinaDirector, producer2
Sense and SensibilityExecutive producer17
1998Sliding DoorsProducer
1999Random HeartsDirector
The Talented Mr. RipleyExecutive producer5
2001IrisExecutive producer13
2002The Quiet AmericanExecutive producer1
2003Cold MountainProducer17
2005Sketches of Frank GehryDirector, executive producer
The InterpreterDirector
2006Breaking and EnteringProducer
2007Michael ClaytonProducer, actor17
2008RecountExecutive producerN/AN/A
LeatherheadsExecutive producer
The ReaderProducer15
2018Amazing Grace (shot in 1972)Director
Year Title Role Notes
1956 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour Shuber Episode: "The Army Game"
1959 Playhouse 90 Andres Episodes: "For Whom the Bell Tolls: Part 1" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls: Part 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 Episodes:
"Family Man"
"Good Friend"
"Point of Law"
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" and "Quiet Night in Town: Part 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 Episodes: "The Compulsion to Confess" and "Walk This Street Lightly"
1962 Ben Casey Episode: "Monument to an Aged Hunter"
War Hunt Sgt. 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
1994 Frasier Holden Thorpe Episode: "The Candidate"
1998 Mad About You Dr. Sydney Warren Episode: "Cheating on Sheila"
A Civil Action Al Eustis
1999 Eyes Wide Shut Victor Ziegler
Random Hearts Carl Broman
2000 Just Shoot Me! Himself Episode: "A&E Biography: Nina Van Horn"
King of the Hill Grant Trimble Voice
Episode: "Transnational Amusements Presents: Peggy's Magic Sex Feet"
2000–2006 Will & Grace George Truman Episodes:
"Oh Dad, Poor Dad, He's Kept Me in the Closet and I'm So Sad"
"Cheatin' Trouble Blues"
"Blanket Apology"
2001 The Majestic Studio Executive Voice
2002 Changing Lanes Stephen Delano
2003 Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin Narrator Voice
2005 The Interpreter Jay Pettigrew Uncredited
2005 One Six Right: The Romance of Flying Himself Documentary: Van Nuys Airport. Sydney discussing his love of flying and his Citation 10 private jet.
2006 Fauteuils d'orchestre Brian Sobinski
American Masters Narrator Episode: "John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend"
2007 The Sopranos Warren Feldman Episode: "Stage 5"
Entourage Himself
Michael Clayton Marty Bach
2008 Made of Honor Thomas Bailey Sr. (final film role)


  1. "THE 58TH ACADEMY AWARDS | 1986". Retrieved July 23, 2017.
  2. MacNab, Geoffrey (August 14, 2002). "The secret of my success?". London, UK: The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  3. McLellan, Dennis (May 27, 2008). "Sydney Pollack: 1934–2008, Prolific director known for A-list casts". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  4. Macnab, Geoffrey (May 28, 2008). "Sydney Pollack, film director revered by stars, dies aged 73". London, UK: The Independent. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  5. "Obituary: Sydney Pollack". London, UK: The Telegraph. May 28, 2008. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  6. "The 58th Academy Awards | 1986". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  7. Garfield, David (1980). "Strasberg Takes Over: 1951–1955". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 93. ISBN 0-02-542650-8. Various directors and playwrights, including Frank Corsaro, Martin Fried, Jack Garfein, Michal V. Gazzo, Charles Gordone, Israel Horovitz, Arthur Penn, Eleanor Perry, Frank Perry, Sidney Pollack, Mark Rydell, Alan Schneider, and John Stix, have also been granted membership on the basis of their contributions to the life and work of The Actors Studio, as have certain other non-performers, such as Liska March and Carl Schaeffer.
  8. "Sydney Pollack Collection". Academy Film Archive.
  9. Sight and Sound Top Ten Poll 2002: "How the directors and critics voted: Sydney Pollack". – British Film Institute
  10. Cieply, Michael (May 27, 2008). "Sydney Pollack, Film Director, Is Dead at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2008.
  11. Brown, Scott Shibuya (November 27, 1993). "Crash of Private Plane Kills 2 in Santa Monica: Accident: The son of filmmaker Sidney Pollack is one of the fatalities. A third man aboard is critically injured after the aircraft dived and hit an apartment building carport". LA Times. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  12. "Film Maker's Son and Pilot Die in Crash of Small Plane". The New York Times. AP. November 28, 1993. Retrieved May 26, 2008.
  13. Mike Clark (May 26, 2008). "Remembering Sydney Pollack, an actor's director". USA Today. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
  14. "Actor and director Sydney Pollack dies at 73". Associated Press. May 26, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2008.
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