Sydney Pollack, film director revered by stars, dies aged 73

Sydney Pollack, who has died aged 73, was an astonishingly versatile director. Look through his filmography and what leaps out is its diversity. Whether documentaries about architects (Sketches of Frank Gehry), old-fashioned Hollywood weepies (Out of Africa), political thrillers (Three Days of the Condor), gender-bending comedies (Tootsie), romance (Sabrina), gruelling Depression-era dramas (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?), or westerns (Jeremiah Johnson), Pollack had every base covered. He was also active as a producer and made many scene-stealing cameos as a character actor.

Like his close friend Anthony Minghella (with whom he ran Mirage Enterprises), Pollack was a liberal humanist – a director who specialised in intelligent, well-crafted mainstream movies which were not ashamed to trade in emotion but often also had a political edge.

To become a film-maker, he had made a remarkable journey. Pollack was born and raised in Indiana. His father was a semi-professional middleweight boxer turned pharmacist. He had no connections in film or theatre but as a teenager had left Indiana to seek his fortune in New York.

"I got out of high school when I was 17 and I went to my father. I said that I really didn't want to go to medical school. (He couldn't afford to send me there anyway.) I said, give me a couple of years. I've saved a bit of money and I just would like to go to New York – I had just seen it in movies," Pollack told me when I interviewed him in 2002.

Pollack told the story of his success in New York as if it was a matter of lucky accidents. He had found an ad for an acting school by chance. There, he met "the guy who changed my life", the legendary acting coach Sanford Meisner. He studied hard, even taking dance lessons with Martha Graham (an unlikely image given that Pollack was a thickset Midwesterner). Between terms, he worked on a lumber truck. Meisner eventually hired him as an assistant. "What I was really doing without knowing it was learning a basis for directing," he said of his time as Meisner's apprentice.

Meisner, like Pollack's other mentor, Burt Lancaster, quickly recognised Pollack's ability and work ethic. "He was a big, big star and a very intimidating man," Pollack recalled of Lancaster, who spotted him working as a dialogue coach on The Young Savages after Pollack had been lured to Hollywood by John Frankenheimer. Lancaster told Pollack he should stop "horsing around" trying to be an actor and direct instead. Lancaster introduced him to agent and studio boss Lew Wasserman, who let him direct "a very bad television show", setting his directorial career in motion.

Actors clearly revered Pollack. Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman all worked with him. His collaboration with Robert Redford was especially fruitful; they acted together in War Hunt in 1962 and went on to make such pictures as Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, Out of Africa and Havana. "We did films in our 30s, our 40s and our 50s. I've grown old with him," Pollack recalled.

Perhaps his versatility counted against him. Pollack was so active as a producer, actor and talent scout that he did not direct as many features as might have been expected. Pollack admitted he was frustrated by the gaps between his movies. But he took great pride in supporting young film-makers such as Steve Zallian (Searching For Bobby Fischer) and Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys), giving them the chance that Lancaster and Wasserman had afforded him. He also helped Kenneth Branagh, Ang Lee and Tom Tykwer make their first US movies.

The best of Pollack's own work will stand the test of time. Tootsie is an acknowledged classic while Three Days of the Condor is one of the best thrillers of the Watergate era.

Tributes from Hollywood

GEORGE CLOONEY

"Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better."

SALLY FIELD

"Having the opportunity to know Sydney and work with him was a great gift in my life. He was a good friend and a phenomenal director and I will cherish every moment that I ever spent with him."

BARBRA STREISAND

"He knew how to tell a love story. And he was a very good friend, someone I even shared secrets with."

TOM CRUISE

"Throughout the years, unpretentious and never condescending, he shared with me what he loved about family, storytelling, food, flying and a great bottle of vino. He was a Renaissance man and a great friend. I will miss him dearly."

MICHAEL HENRY WILSON

"There's a line that you hear in practically all of Sydney's films – "I'm going home" – and so many of his films are about finding yourself, finding your roots, finding your home. The journey is really what a lot of his films are about."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions