Sydney Pollack
Sydney Irwin Pollack

(1934-07-01)July 1, 1934
DiedMay 26, 2008(2008-05-26) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Film director
  • producer
  • actor
Years active1955–2008
Claire Bradley Griswold
(m. 1958)

Sydney Irwin Pollack (July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008) was an American film director, producer, and actor. Pollack is known for directing commercially and critically acclaimed studio films. Over his forty year career he received numerous accolades including two Academy Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award as well as nominations for three Golden Globe Awards and six BAFTA Awards.

Pollack won the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture for Out of Africa (1985).[1] He was also nominated for Best Director Oscars for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), and Tootsie (1982). Pollack's other notable films include Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), Absence of Malice (1981), The Firm (1993), and Sabrina (1995).

Pollack produced and acted in Michael Clayton (2007), and produced numerous films such as The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Iris (2001), Cold Mountain (2003) and The Reader (2008). Pollack also acted in Robert Altman's The Player (1992), Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives (1993), and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Early life

Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Jewish immigrants, 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 from alcoholism and emotional problems, died at the age of 37, when Pollack was 16.[2][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 to 1954, working on a lumber truck between terms.[4]

He was drafted for two years of army service as a truck driver at Fort Carson, Colorado[5] ending in 1958. He returned to the Playhouse at Meisner's invitation to become his assistant.[6] In 1960, John Frankenheimer, a friend of Pollack, asked him to come to Los Angeles 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.[6]


Pollack played a director in The Twilight Zone episode "The Trouble with Templeton" in 1960. He made his feature film debut as an actor in Denis Sanders' War Hunt (1962) where he met Robert Redford, who would go on to be the male lead in seven of Pollack's films as director.

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.[1]

During his career, he directed 12 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.

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 Robert Altman's The Player (1992) and Stanley Kubrick's 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 non-documentary 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. 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 & Sound Directors' Poll, Pollack revealed his top ten films in alphabetical order:[9]

Personal life and death

Pollack was married to Claire Bradley Griswold, a former student of his, from 1958 until his death in 2008. They had three children: Steven (1959–1993), Rebecca (b. 1963), and Rachel (b. 1969).[10] In November 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 in Santa Monica, California.[11][12] Claire Griswold died on March 28, 2011, at 74 years of age, from Parkinson's disease.[citation needed]

Concerns about Pollack's health surfaced in 2007, when he withdrew from directing HBO's television film Recount, which aired on May 25, 2008.[13] He died from cancer the following day at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, at the age of 73.[10] He had been diagnosed about ten months prior to his death; the type of cancer has been variously cited as pancreatic,[14] stomach,[15] or of unknown primary origin.[16]



Directing and producing

Year Title Director Producer Notes
1965 The Slender Thread Yes Paramount Pictures
1966 This Property Is Condemned Yes
1968 The Scalphunters Yes United Artists
1969 Castle Keep Yes Columbia Pictures
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Yes Cinerama Releasing Corporation
1972 Jeremiah Johnson Yes Warner Bros.
1973 The Way We Were Yes Columbia
1974 The Yakuza Yes Yes Warner Bros
1975 Three Days of the Condor Yes Paramount Pictures
1977 Bobby Deerfield Yes Yes Warner Bros
1979 The Electric Horseman Yes Universal Pictures
1981 Absence of Malice Yes Columbia Pictures
1982 Tootsie Yes Yes
1985 Out of Africa Yes Yes Universal Pictures
1990 Havana Yes
1993 The Firm Yes Yes Paramount Pictures
1995 Sabrina Yes Yes
1999 Random Hearts Yes Yes Columbia Pictures
2005 The Interpreter Yes Universal Pictures
2006 Sketches of Frank Gehry Yes Executive Sony Pictures Classics
2018 Amazing Grace Yes Neon

As executive producer

As producer only

Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
1962 War Hunt Sergeant 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 Emergency Room Doctor Uncredited
Husbands and Wives Jack
1998 A Civil Action Al Eustis
1999 Eyes Wide Shut Victor Ziegler
Random Hearts Carl Broman
2001 The Majestic Studio Executive Voice
2002 Changing Lanes Stephen Delano
2005 The Interpreter Secret Service Director Jay Pettigrew Uncredited
2006 Fauteuils d'orchestre Brian Sobinski
2007 Michael Clayton Marty Bach
2008 Made of Honor Thomas Bailey Sr. Final film role


Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
1956 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour Shuber Episode: "The Army Game"
1959 Playhouse 90 Andres Episodes: "For Whom the Bell Tolls: Parts 1 & 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 3 episodes
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Bernie Samuelson Season 6 Episode 4: "The Contest for Aaron Gold"
Twilight Zone Arthur Willis Episode: "The Trouble with Templeton"
Tales of Wells Fargo Stan Ryker Episode: "Angry Town"
1961 The Untouchables Charlie Episode: "The Big Train Part One"
Have Gun – Will Travel Joe Culp Episodes: "Quiet Night in Town: Part 1 & 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
2 episodes
1962 Ben Casey Unknown Episode: "Monument to an Aged Hunter"
1994 Frasier Holden Thorpe (voice) Episode: "The Candidate"
1998 Mad About You Dr. Sydney Warren Episode: "Cheating on Sheila"
2000 Just Shoot Me! Himself Episode: "A&E Biography: Nina Van Horn"
King of the Hill Grant Trimble Voice; Season 4: "Episode 23"
2000–2006 Will & Grace George Truman 4 episodes
2003 Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin Narrator Voice; Documentary
2005 One Six Right: The Romance of Flying Himself Documentary
2006 American Masters Narrator Episode: "John Ford/John Wayne"
2007 The Sopranos Warren Feldman Episode: "Stage 5"
Entourage Himself

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Project Result
1970 Academy Awards Best Director They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Nominated
1983 Best Picture Tootsie Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1986 Best Picture Out of Africa Won
Best Director Won
2008 Best Picture Michael Clayton Nominated
2009 The Reader Nominated
1963 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Directing – Drama Series Ben Casey Nominated
1964 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Nominated
1966 Won
2008 Outstanding Television Movie Recount Won
Outstanding Variety Special James Taylor: One Man Band Nominated
1969 Golden Globe Awards Best Director They Shoot Horses Don't They? Nominated
1982 Tootsie Nominated
1985 Out of Africa Nominated
1983 British Academy Film Awards Best Film Tootsie Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1998 Outstanding British Film Sliding Doors Nominated
2003 Best Film Cold Mountain Nominated
Outstanding British Film Nominated
2008 Best Film The Reader Nominated


  1. ^ a b "The 58th Academy Awards | 1986". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b MacNab, Geoffrey (August 14, 2002). "The secret of my success?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  3. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (May 27, 2008). "Sydney Pollack: 1934–2008, Prolific director known for A-list casts". SFGate. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Macnab, Geoffrey (May 28, 2008). "Sydney Pollack, film director revered by stars, dies aged 73". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  5. ^ Trott, Walt (June 18, 1973). "From the S&S archives: Sydney Pollock: A man for the stars". Stars and Stripes.
  6. ^ a b "Obituary: Sydney Pollack". The Daily Telegraph. London. May 28, 2008. Archived from the original on May 28, 2008. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  7. ^ Garfield, David (1980). "Strasberg Takes Over: 1951–1955". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-0254-2650-4. 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. ^ "2002 Top Ten Poll — How the directors and critics voted: Sydney Pollack". Sight and Sound. Archived from the original on June 26, 2012. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Cieply, Michael (May 27, 2008). "Sydney Pollack, Film Director, Is Dead at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  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". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  12. ^ "Film Maker's Son and Pilot Die in Crash of Small Plane". The New York Times. Associated Press. November 28, 1993. Retrieved May 26, 2008.
  13. ^ Clark, Mike (May 26, 2008). "Remembering Sydney Pollack, an actor's director". USA Today. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  14. ^ King, Susan (May 28, 2008). "Pollack's way with actors". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  15. ^ Stern, Marlow (October 16, 2017). "When Harvey Weinstein Tormented a Legendary Director on His Deathbed". The Daily Beast. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  16. ^ Gorman, Steve (May 26, 2008). "Sydney Pollack dies in Los Angeles". Reuters. Retrieved February 13, 2022.