Hour Two: Director Sydney Pollack Is Dead

The director and actor died of cancer Monday afternoon. Pollack was 73 years old and won wide acclaim for his films Tootsie, which starred Dustin Hoffman, and the 1986 Robert Redford vehicle Out of Africa, which won an Academy Award.

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

(Soundbite of music)

MIKE PESCA, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, baby cuts. I'm Mike Pesca.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

And I'm Rachel Martin. It's Tuesday, May 27th, 2008. Baby cuts? Explain, please.

PESCA: I gave my little boy Milo a little haircut last night.

MARTIN: Oh, that's cute. Do you do that a lot?

PESCA: Well, no. Apparently, according to my wife, you need a certain applications. You need permission.

MARTIN: You have to be a licensed baby cutter?

PESCA: Yeah. You cannot just go in with a pair of scissors and say, you can't see. Snip, snip. Now, you can see. That is not allowed.

MARTIN: Why? What happened?

PESCA: And as a result, my wife will not be talking to me for two weeks.

MARTIN: Well, did you make Milo look bad? He's so cute! Did you ruin him?

PESCA: I don't think so. I think he could sustain a little snip-snip here and a snip-snip there. But, of course, you know, "The Wizard of Oz" was my barbering school. I just took the little curls out. But she said, I love his curls!

MARTIN: Curls are cute.

PESCA: And I explained to her, you see, when you cut a kid's hair, the curls are the first to go. It curls at the end. I'm just trying to, you know, save him from the John Cougar Mellencamp lifestyle, where you're looking out of half a head of hair.

MARTIN: I think it's cute that you even tried. That's very sweet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah! That's right! OK, I'll talk to you in two weeks.

MARTIN: OK, coming up on the show today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its list of endangered places. One of them is right in our own backyard. We're going to talk about the list coming up on the show.

PESCA: And it's New Music Tuesday. Al Green has a new record.

MARTIN: Love him.

PESCA: Yeah, so do Usher and Cyndi Lauper. Mm, I'm waiting.

MARTIN: Yeah, not so much.

PESCA: Yeah, Lizzie Goodman from Blender Magazine is here to review the new releases.

MARTIN: And there are, like, a gazillion books about how to deal with cancer, specifically breast cancer, and now there's a new one that's a little snarkier than most books about cancer. It's called "Five Lessons I didn't Learn from Breast Cancer" - parenthetical reference - "(And One Big One that I Did)." It's a really good book, really provocative. I started reading it. I was kind of annoyed. I got to the end and I totally loved it. I thought it was great. We'll chat with the author. We'll get the day's news headlines in just a minute, but first...

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PESCA: Director Sydney Pollack has died. The Academy-Award winner was diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago and died yesterday afternoon in his home in Los Angeles. He was 73 years old.

MARTIN: Pollack directed some of the most successful films of the 1970s and '80s, and directed Hollywood's top actors for more than 30 years. He won Oscars for producing and directing the 1986 epic "Out of Africa," starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, one of the seven times that Pollack and Redford worked together.

PESCA: Pollack was adept at all genres and worked with so many different actors, Sally Field and Paul Newman in "Absence of Malice," Barbara Streisand in "The Way We Were," Jane Fonda in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," Robert Mitchum in "The Yakuza," and Tom Cruise in "The Firm."

MARTIN: But Pollack maybe best known for his 1982 comedy "Tootsie" starring Dustin Hoffman. Pollack was nominated for best director for that film. He often took small acting roles in his movies, as well, and in "Tootsie," he played the frustrated agent to Dustin Hoffman's struggling actor.

(Soundbite of movie "Tootsie")

Mr. SYDNEY POLLACK: (As George Fields) You played a tomato for 30 seconds. They went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn't sit down.

Mr. DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Michael Dorsey) Yes. It wasn't logical.

Mr. POLLACK: (As George Fields) You were a tomato! A tomato doesn't have logic!

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Great bit.

PESCA: That's one nutty hospital. Last fall, Pollack co-produced "Michael Clayton," which got seven Oscar nominations. In that film, he also played law firm boss Marty Bach opposite George Clooney.

(Soundbite of movie "Michael Clayton")

Mr. POLLACK: (As Marty Bach) You've got something everybody wants. You have a niche. And if it's nostalgia, oh, boy, you should have seen me when I was a DA back in Queens. Let me give you a serious piece of advice. Leave it there. God forbid, you're not as good as you remember because I've seen that happen, too.

MARTIN: Pollack actually started off as an actor and made the switch to directing in the early '60s, after Burt Lancaster told him that was where his true talents lie. In a 2000 interview with NPR, Pollack explained how he directs actors.

(Soundbite of NPR's Morning Edition)

Mr. POLLACK: The real directing work happens while they're in their own trailers, and I'll go back and forth from one trailer to another trailer to talk to each one alone and not necessarily tell the other one what I've said. It isn't really a trick. It's just - you're - what happens in acting is, when two people don't know what's coming next, they become very dependent upon each other, and that's a lot of what good acting is. When you get in a scene with somebody and really listen, because you honestly don't know, like life, what's coming next, the connection is palpable.

PESCA: Pollack's last screen appearance was in "Made of Honor," a romantic comedy currently in the theaters, starring Patrick Dempsey. Sydney Pollack is survived by his wife Claire, two daughters, and six grandchildren.

MARTIN: Now, let's get more of the day's news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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