Oscar Directors: Pollack, Sydney–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

September 24, 2020

Sydney Pollack Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance:


Social Class:



Formal Education:


First Film:


First Oscar Nomination:

Gap between First Film and First Nom:

Other Oscars:

Other Oscar Nominations:

Oscar Awards:

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties):


Last Film:


Career Length:

Career Output:

Marriage: one; Claire Bradley Griswold, former student, from 1958


Death: 73

Sydney Irwin Pollack (July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008) was an American film director, producer and actor. who 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.

He was also nominated for Best Director Oscars for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) and Tootsie (1982).

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 TV viewers for his recurring role playing Will Truman’s father on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace (2000–2006).

Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Russian-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 while Pollack was a student.

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.

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.

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, 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.

In the 2002 Sight and Sound Directors’ Poll, Pollack revealed his top ten films in alphabetical order:

Citizen Kane
The Conformist
The Godfather Part II
Grand Illusion
The Leopard
Once Upon a Time in America
Raging Bull
The Seventh Seal
Sunset Boulevard.

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).

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. 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, 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.

His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered along the runway at the Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.


Year Title Role Notes
1965 The Slender Thread Director
1966 This Property Is Condemned Director
1968 The Scalphunters Director
1969 Castle Keep Director
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Director
1972 Jeremiah Johnson Director
1973 The Way We Were Director
1974 The Yakuza Director, producer
1975 Three Days of the Condor Director
1977 Bobby Deerfield Director, producer
1979 The Electric Horseman Director
1981 Absence of Malice Director
1982 Tootsie Director, producer, actor
1984 Songwriter Producer
1985 Out of Africa Director, producer
Sanford Meisner:
The American Theatre’s Best Kept Secret Executive producer
1988 Bright Lights, Big City Producer
1989 The Fabulous Baker Boys Executive producer
1990 Havana Director
Presumed Innocent Producer
1993 The Firm Director, producer
Searching for Bobby Fischer Executive producer
1995 Sabrina Director, producer
Sense and Sensibility Executive producer
1998 Sliding Doors Producer
1999 Random Hearts Director, producer
The Talented Mr. Ripley Executive producer
2001 Iris Executive producer
Birthday Girl Executive producer
2002 The Quiet American Executive producer
2003 Cold Mountain Producer
2005 Sketches of Frank Gehry Director, executive producer
The Interpreter Director
2006 Breaking and Entering Producer
2007 Michael Clayton Producer, actor
2008 Recount Executive producer
Leatherheads Executive producer
The Reader Producer nominated
2018 Amazing Grace Director Filmed in 1972 released in 2018
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”
1959-64 Brenner Detective Al Dunn 3 episodes
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 & 2”
The Deputy Chuck Johnson Episode: “Spoken in Silence”
The Asphalt Jungle Louie Episode: “The Professor”
1961-62 The New Breed Austin Rogers/Bert Masters 2 episodes
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 (voice) 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; Season 4: “Episode 23”
2000–06 Will & Grace George Truman 4 episodes
2001 The Majestic Studio Executive Voice
2002 Changing Lanes Stephen Delano
2003 Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin Narrator Voice; Documentary
2005 The Interpreter Jay Pettigrew Uncredited
2005 One Six Right: The Romance of Flying Himself Documentary
2006 Fauteuils d’orchestre Brian Sobinski
American Masters Narrator Episode: “John Ford/John Wayne”
2007 The Sopranos Warren Feldman Episode: “Stage 5”
Entourage Himself
Michael Clayton Marty Bach
2008 Made of Honor Thomas Bailey Sr. (final film role)

Awards and Nominations

1969 Academy Awards Best Director They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Nominated
1982 Best Picture Tootsie Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1985 Best Picture Out of Africa Won
Best Director Won
2007 Best Picture Michael Clayton Nominated
2008 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 Nominated
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 Won
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