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Published: Saturday, 5/31/2008

Pollack's dual role

SOME Hollywood filmmakers leave an unforgettable mark on the world with their story-telling skills. Sydney Pollack, who died Monday at 73, was one. The prolific American producer, director, and actor didn't just make movies, he created classics.

Who else would have had the audacity to stick a middle-aged Dustin Hoffman into a dress and figure out how to make him look, well, attractive enough to play Tootsie?

Mr. Pollack's wide range of critically acclaimed films, which included the Academy Award-winning Out of Africa, featured A-list stars such as Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Sydney Poitier, Meryl Streep, Barbra Streisand, and Tom Cruise. He was a favorite of many talented actors because he was one of them.

Unlike many other top directors, Mr. Pollack was also an accomplished film and television actor. The tall Indiana native, who first had ambitions to become a dentist, eventually was drawn to acting, cutting his teeth - so to speak - in the New York theater world.

He studied under the renowned Sanford Meisner for several years before becoming the legendary acting coach's assistant. So when he turned to directing, he was able to forge strong relationships with the acting elite because, as one prominent film critic put it, "when he talked to them about acting he knew what he was talking about,"

That connection helped Mr. Pollack direct some of Hollywood's most successful and memorable films from the late 1960s through to the 1980s. The first of his six Oscar nominations was for directing Jane Fonda in the 1969 Depression-era drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They.

From The Way We Were to Absence of Malice and The Firm, Mr. Pollack's work delved into a variety of social issues and gained a worldwide reputation for its acute romantic and political sensibilities.

In his later years, he devoted more time to his first love of acting, appearing in movies by such luminaries as Woody Allen, Robert Altman, and Stanley Kubrick, to name just a few. He also played reoccurring roles in television series and sitcoms.

But there is little doubt that Sydney Pollack will be remembered more for the lasting imprint he left in the director's chair. Dentistry's loss was our gain. His unique ability to bring out the best in his actors will be missed.

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