I’m Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell
about movie director and producer Sydney Pollack. He made many popular movies
with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. The award-winning movies he
directed in the nineteen seventies and eighties include “The Way We Were”,
“Tootsie” and “Out of Africa.”
Sydney Pollack also acted in many films,
including “Tootsie,” released in nineteen eighty-two. In the movie, Dustin Hoffman plays an actor, Michael Dorsey. He
has trouble getting acting jobs because he is very difficult to work with. He goes to see his agent, George Fields,
whose job is to get him acting jobs.
Sydney Pollock plays the agent.
Fields:"Nobody will hire you."
Dorsey: "Are you saying that nobody in New
York will work with me?"
Fields: "No, that's too limiting. Nobody in Hollywood will work with you
either. I can't even send you up for a
commercial. You played a tomato for
thirty seconds and they went half a day over schedule because you wouldn't sit
Dorsey: "Yes, it wasn't logical."
Fields: "You were a tomato! A tomato doesn't
have logic! A tomato can't move!
Dorsey: "That's what I said! So if he can't
move, how's he gonna sit down, George?
Michael Dorsey proves his agent wrong.
He dresses up like a woman and gets a job acting on a popular daytime television
was a huge success. But filming it was not easy. Hoffman and Pollack argued
about the movie. Pollack wanted to bring attention to the love affair between
the two main characters. Hoffman wanted to make a funnier version of the story.
The movie cost more money and took more time to make than it was supposed
to. But in the end, “Tootsie” received
ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It earned over one hundred
and seventy million dollars in the United States.
Pollack made movies with big stars, high production values and often political
or moral subjects. His movies were popular with the general public while also
remaining sharply intelligent. He said that his movies were not about special
effects and high technology action scenes. He said his movies were character
driven stories defined by the performances of the actors.
Sydney Irwin Pollack was born in
nineteen thirty-four in Lafayette, Indiana. His parents were Russian-Americans
who met in college in Indiana. In high
school, Sydney discovered his love of theater. He later moved to New York City
to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. Pollack studied
there for two years, then continued working as an assistant to the head of the
school’s acting department. In nineteen fifty-eight, he married Claire
Pollack acted in many plays during this early part of his career. One person he
met during these years was the actor Burt Lancaster. Lancaster suggested that Pollack try directing instead of acting.
Pollack later said that his time as an acting teacher helped him a great deal
in developing his method as a director.
the nineteen sixties, Sydney Pollack began directing shows on television like
“Ben Casey” and “Naked City.” His first
full-length movie, “The Slender Thread,” came out in nineteen sixty-five,
followed a year later by “This Property is Condemned.” These were not
Then, in nineteen sixty-nine, Pollack
directed “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” This movie tells an intense story
about a group of people in a dance competition during the Great Depression in
the nineteen thirties. Jane Fonda and Michael
Sarrazin give powerful performances as two struggling contestants. The film
received nine Academy Award nominations, including one for Pollack.
Redford starred in many of Pollack’s movies. The two became friends in the
early nineteen sixties. They worked
together on seven movies. One is a
western, "Jeremiah Johnson.”
Another is “The Way We Were” which stars the actress and singer Barbra
Streisand. In “Three Days of the
Condor” Robert Redford plays a worker at the Central Intelligence Agency who
becomes caught in a deadly political plot.
Pollack's best movie is probably “Out of Africa” which was released in nineteen
eighty-five. This beautifully filmed movie was based on a book by the Danish
writer Karen Blixen about her life. She wrote the book under the name Isak
Dinesen. She moved to Kenya in nineteen fourteen to buy land and operate a
Pollack’s movie version brought to life
the great love story between Baroness Blixen and the big-game hunter Denys
Finch Hatton. Two of the biggest stars of the nineteen eighties,
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, play the lovers. Here they meet for the first
time. Karen Blixen is looking at the
wildlife on her land when her horse runs away. She sees a lion walking towards
Finch Hatton: "I
wouldn't run. If you do, she'll think you're something good to eat.”
Blixen: "Do you
have a gun?"
Finch Hatton: "She
won't like the smell of you."
Blixen: "Shoot it."
"She's had breakfast."
"Let's give her a moment."
Blixen: "Oh my God,
(The lion walks away.)
Blixen: "How much
closer did you expect her to let her come?"
Finch Hatton: "A
bit. She wanted to see if you would run. That's how they decide -- a lot like
people that way."
Blixen: "She almost
had me for lunch!"
Finch Hatton:" It
wasn't her fault, baroness. She's a lion."
Africa” won seven Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture for
Five years later, Pollack directed
“Havana”, also starring Robert Redford. This movie was followed by “The Firm”
and “Sabrina.” In two thousand five
Pollack directed “The Interpreter” starring Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Part
of the movie was filmed in the United Nations building in New York City. It is
the only movie ever filmed inside the buildings of the UN General Assembly and
Sydney Pollack once said that he backed
into filmmaking and never actually trained for the job. He said that directing
movies made him very tense. He noted that every fifteen-minute period in making
a movie represents thousands of dollars, so a director is concerned about the
clock every minute.
also produced many films during his long career. He started a production
company called Mirage Productions in the nineteen eighties. He said that he liked the creative part of
being a producer. And he said he liked producing because not getting the praise
or the blame for a movie was a big relief.
production credits include “Sense and Sensibility”, “The Talented Mister
Ripley” and “Cold Mountain.” He also
produced “Michael Clayton" which was nominated for Best Picture in two
In two thousand five, he directed and
produced “Sketches of Frank Gehry," a documentary about the famous
architect. Here, Pollack talks about his friendship with Frank Gehry.
Sydney Pollack: "Frank’s got his own original and
sort of perverse way of doing things. We’ve been friends for several years. We
spend a lot of time together bemoaning the difficulties of trying to find
personal expressiveness within disciplines that makes stringent commercial demands.
Several people approached him with the idea of making a documentary about him.
When he asked me if I’d do it, I thought he was crazy. It’s not just that I
didn’t know anything about making documentaries, I didn’t even know anything
about architecture. That’s why you’re perfect, he said."
his career, Sydney Pollack never stopped acting. He said that once in a while
he could not resist being able to spy on other directors by acting in their
films. He said that he learned new methods and techniques from these directors.
Pollack has played many kinds of roles in movies such as “Husbands and Wives”
directed by Woody Allen; “Eyes Wide Shut”, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and
“The Player”, directed by Robert Altman. He even made appearances in television
shows such as “Will and Grace” and “Entourage.”
“Michael Clayton” Pollack plays a high-powered lawyer named Marty Bach. He is
head of a group of lawyers involved in a difficult case. Here is a scene with
Pollack and George Clooney who plays one of the lawyers, Michael Clayton.
knows how valuable you are, Michael, everyone who needs to know."
"I’m forty-five years old and I’m broke. I’ve been riding shotgun for
twelve years and I got no equity. I’m sorry,I don’t feel reassured."
Nobody told you to go into the bar business."
I only opened it so that I have something else, I’d have a way out."
"I had no idea that you were so unhappy."
"How many times did I ask you to put me back on a litigation team."
"Hey, anyone can go to court, you think that’s so special?"
I was good at it!"
"Wonderful, so are a lot of people. At this, what you do, you’re
in his career, Pollack was involved in many film and acting organizations. For
example, he served as director of the Actors Studio West in Los Angeles,
California and as a chairman for the American Cinematheque.
Pollack died of cancer at his home in Los Angeles, California in two thousand
eight. He was seventy-three years old. His many films will continue to
influence generations of movie lovers.
program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.
Barbara Klein. You can learn about other interesting Americans on our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for People in America in VOA