Sydney Pollack Biography

(Film Director and Producer Best Known for His Movie 'Out of Africa')

Birthday: July 1, 1934 (Cancer)

Born In: Lafayette, Indiana, United States

Sydney Pollack was a renowned American director, producer and actor best known for his film ‘Out of Africa’, which won him Academy Awards for directing and producing. Born in early 1930s to first generation Russian-American parents, His formative years, spent at South Bend, were not happy one. His parents divorced when he was child and his mother, who was alcoholic, died when he was still in school. However, it was while studying at school that he first developed an interest in drama. So, after passing out, he left home to study acting in New York and made his acting debut at Broadway in mid 1950s. Later, he was called to do his military duty and on return, resumed where he left. However, he soon realized that he was better suited as a director than an actor and so from the middle of 1960s began directing movies. Soon, with a string of hits, he established himself in the Hollywood and won many awards and laurels. In the later part of his career, Pollack became prolific producer; but at the same time continued appearing in side roles. His last production ‘Margaret’ was released almost three years after his death.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Sydney Irwin Pollack

Died At Age: 73


Spouse/Ex-: Claire Griswold (m. 1958–2008)

siblings: Bernie Pollack

children: Rachel Pollack, Rebecca Pollack, Steven Pollack

Born Country: United States

Actors Directors

Died on: May 26, 2008

place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States

Ancestry: Ukrainian American

Notable Alumni: Neighborhood Playhouse School Of The Theatre, Stella Adler Studio Of Acting

Cause of Death: Cancer

U.S. State: Indiana

City: Lafayette, Indiana

More Facts

education: Stella Adler Studio Of Acting, Neighborhood Playhouse School Of The Theatre

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
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Major Works
Pollack’s first major work was ‘They Shoot Horses, Don't They?’ (1969). The film, portraying the Depression era, was not only a box office hit, but won numerous nominations and awards. ‘The Way We Are’ (1973) is another of his major works. It is considered one of the greatest romantic movies even to this day.
‘Tootsie’, his 1982 movie is considered to be among his best works. It was the second-highest grossing movie of 1982 after ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’.
Out of Africa’ is another of his important works. It not only did well in the box office, but also earned eleven Academy nominations, out of which it won in seven categories.
Awards & Achievements
In 1986, Sydney Pollack received two Academy Awards for his work in ‘Out of Africa’; one in the Best Picture category and the other in the Best Director category. Also in 1986, he received Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film for the same work.
For ‘Tootsie’ he received Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (1983), Bodil Award for Best American Film (1983) and New York Film Critic Circle Award for Best Director (1982).
Personal Life & Legacy
While teaching at Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, Pollack met Claire Bradley Griswold, who was a student at the same institute. They got married in 1958 and had three children; a son named Steven and two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel. Steven died in a plane crash in 1993.
By 2007, Pollack’s health began to suffer and he withdrew from work. He died at home on May 26, 2008 from cancer. His body was cremated and ashes were scattered. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.

Sydney Pollack Movies

1. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)


2. The Swimmer (1968)


3. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

  (Adventure, Western, Drama)

4. Three Days of the Condor (1975)

  (Mystery, Thriller)

5. Tootsie (1982)

  (Comedy, Drama, Romance)

6. The Yakuza (1974)

  (Drama, Thriller, Crime, Action)

7. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

  (Drama, Romance)

8. The Reader (2008)

  (Romance, Drama)

9. The Player (1992)

  (Drama, Thriller, Crime, Comedy)

10. Husbands and Wives (1992)

  (Comedy, Drama, Romance)


Academy Awards(Oscars)
1986 Best Picture Out of Africa (1985)
1986 Best Director Out of Africa (1985)
Primetime Emmy Awards
2008 Outstanding Made for Television Movie Recount (2008)
1966 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (1963)
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