Childhood & Early Life
Sydney Irwin Pollack was born on July 1, 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana. His father, David Pollack, was a pharmacist and a semi-professional boxer and mother, Rebecca (née Miller) was a pianist and a singer. He had a brother; Bernie, who later became a costume designer, actor and producer.
Sydney spent his formative years at South Bend, where the family shifted when he was a child. However, the time was not a happy one. His mother developed emotional problems and became alcoholic. Subsequently, his parents divorced and his mother died when he turned sixteen.
Sydney had his education at South Bend High School. It was here that he first developed an interest in drama. Although his father wanted him to become a dentist, on graduating from school in 1952, he went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.
From 1952 to 1954, he studied drama with Sanford Meisner, known for his ‘Meisner technique’. To sustain his education, he drove lumber trucks between terms. Later, he also began acting as Meisner’s assistant.
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In 1955, Sydney Pollack made his acting debut in a Broadway comedy, ‘The Dark Is Light Enough'. In the following year, he appeared as Shuber in ‘The Army Game’ episode of ‘The Kaiser Aluminum Hour’, a popular television series.
His career was interrupted in 1957 as he was called to perform his two year military service. On being released, he returned to New York and resumed performing in different television series like ‘Playhouse 90’, ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre’, ‘Star time’, ‘The United States Steel Hour’ etc.
Side by side, he began to serve as assistant to Meisner. By that time, he had realized acting was not his strongest point and so he took up teaching as a means of earning his living. At the same time, he continued appearing in different shows.
In 1960, his friend, John Frankenheimer invited him to Los Angeles to work as a dialogue coach for the child actors of his upcoming film. Pollack accepted the offer and shifted to Los Angeles.
While in Los Angeles, Pollack met Burt Lancaster, who encouraged him to try directing. Meanwhile, he kept on appearing for different television series; ‘The Twilight Zone’ (1960) and ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ (1961), being the most significant of them. He also directed a few episodes of these series.
In 1962, Pollack made his film debut as Sgt. Owen Van Horn in ‘War Hunt’. In 1965, he made his directorial debut in films with ‘The Slender Thread’. Although it opened to indifferent reviews and did poorly at the box office it received two Academy Award nominations.
In 1966, his movie ‘This Property Is Condemned’ was released. Set in a fictional town in Mississippi in the Depression era, the story was based on the eponymous 1946 one-act play by Tennessee Williams. However, it also did poorly at the box office.
In 1968, he had two films released; ‘The Scalphunters’, a western film concerning a fur trapper and ‘Castle Keep’, a war film based on a novel of the same name by William Eastlake. However, he had to wait for another year for a real hit.
’They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ released on December 10, 1969, was both a financial and critical success. Pollack also received Academy Award nomination as Best director, but failed to win it.
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His next film, ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ was released three years later on December 21, 1972. The film, based partly on the life of mountain man John "Liver-Eating" Johnson, was a huge hit.
He next made a romantic drama film titled ‘The Way We Are’ (1973). Told partly in flashback, the film was not only a commercial success; but also received a number of nominations and awards.
His next film 'The Yakuza' was released in Japan in 1974 and a year later in the USA. He was both the director and producer of the film; but unfortunately, it had a lackluster reception at the box office. In comparison, his next film 'Three Days of the Condor', a political thriller released in 1975, did reasonably well.
In 1977, Pollack directed and produced ‘Bobby Deerfield’; but it failed to impress the audience. Therefore, for the time being, he gave up producing and concentrated on direction.
His next movie, ‘The Electric Horseman’, released in December 1979, was a commercial success. Made with $12.5 million it earned $68.8 million at the box office. So was his 1981 movie, ‘Absence of Malice’, which grossed $40,716,963. However, he had to wait till 1982 for his first super hit movie.
‘Tootsie’, released on December 17, 1982, tells the story of a talented actor, who is forced to take up the identity of a woman because nobody wants to hire him anymore. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and smashed all his previous records at the box office.
Pollack next movie, ‘Out of Africa’, was released in 1985. Made with a budget of $28 million, it earned $128.5 million at the box office and won seven Academy Awards. Though rather long, the film is one of his best works.
In 1988 and 1989, he produced two films; ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ and ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’. His next directorial work was ‘Havana’ (1990). However the film bombed at the box office.
Thereafter, Pollack began to produce films regularly; but did not give up directing all together. Among the films he now directed and produced are ‘The Firm’ (Director-Producer, 1993), ‘Sabrina’ (Director- Producer, 1995), ‘Random Heart’ (Director, 1999) and 'The Interpreter' (Director, 2005).
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In 2006, Pollack made a documentary film, titled ‘Sketches of Frank Gehry’. It is about the life and work of the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, who was also his friend. It was the last film he directed.
Although he was more famous as director and producer of feature films the actor in him did not die. He kept on appearing in small roles in different films and television series.
In 2007, he appeared as Marty Bach in his award winning production, ‘Michael Clayton’. However, his last appearance as an actor was in ‘Made of Honor’ (2008), a film directed by Paul Weiland and produced by Neal H. Moritz