Leading Hollywood Talent Dies

Producer, director and actor Sydney Pollack died Monday at the age of 73. Listeners are offered a brief tribute to his work in front of and behind the camera.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Finally, we want to pause to recognize the life of one of Hollywood's biggest talents, Sydney Pollack. He died yesterday from cancer at the age of 73. In a career that spanned five decades, Sydney Pollack directed, produced or acted in dozens of films including "Absence of Malice," "Husbands and Wives" and 2007's "Michael Clayton." He produced that Oscar winner and also played law firm chief Marty Bach on screen.

Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana. In high school he became passionate about theatre. He skipped college, moved to New York and enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. After appearing in a handful of Broadway productions in the 1950s, Pollack turned to directing. He began on TV series such as "Naked City" and "The Fugitive" and then moved to the movies.

In his film career, Pollack worked with marquee names like Tom Cruise, Jane Fonda and Dustin Hoffman who starred in "Tootsie." Pollack also had an onscreen roll as Hoffman's agent.

(Soundbite of "Tootsie")

Mr. SYDNEY POLLACK: (As George Fields) I'm trying to stay calm here. You are a wonderful actor.

Mr. DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Michael Dorsey) Thank you.

Mr. POLLACK: (As George Fields) But you're too much trouble. Get some therapy.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Michael Dorsey) OK. Thanks. I'm going to raise 8,000 dollars, and I'm going to do Jeff's play.

Mr. POLLACK: (As George Fields) Michael, you're not going to raise 25 cents. No one will hire you.

MARTIN: That 1982 film earned Pollack an Oscar nomination for best director. Four years later he won Academy Awards as director and producer for the film "Out of Africa" starring Robert Redford and Meryl Steep. Pollack attributed much of his success behind the camera to his acting background. In a 1993 NPR interview he acknowledged that as a director he let everybody know who was the boss.

Mr. POLLACK: My instinct is to be in charge, I suppose. And that's what led to the directing. Somebody once said there are guests and there are hosts, and you have to be a host to be a director. You can't wait for somebody to do it for you. And that begins to be a habit. And sometimes you find yourself doing that in life, and I suppose it can drive other people crazy.

MARTIN: Pollack was also a star on the small screen with roles on "Will & Grace," "The Sopranos" and "Mad About You." Most recently he served as executive producer for the television drama, "The Number One Ladies Detective Agency." The project stars Jill Scott and is filming episodes for HBO this summer. Pollack was diagnosed with cancer last year. He's survived by his wife Claire, two daughters Rebecca and Rachel, his brother Bernie, and six grandchildren.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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