On this day: Sydney Pollack dies
May 26 2008: A Hollywood legend
Born in Indiana in 1934, Sydney Pollack's career saw him embrace life as an actor, director, producer and a Torah student, not to mention a stint in the US army in the 1950s.
When he died at the age of 73, he was still critically lauded – the last film he produced was The Reader, for which he won a posthumous Best Picture Oscar,
His Hollywood trajectory began with TV directing in the 1960s and continued to a slew of Academy Award nominated films in the next few decades. Some 48 of his films were shortlisted for Oscars, with more than ten winning, including Out of Africa and Tootsie.
He directed the best and brightest of Hollywood, from Robert Redford to Barbra Streisand, and Paul Newman to Jessica Lange. He also moved into acting, playing roles in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives and Eyes Wide Shut, as well as guest appearances on television shows including Will and Grace and The Sopranos.
In the 1980s, he returned to his Jewish roots – his parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants – and began studying Torah with other Streisand and other showbiz names. One of the rabbis who taught the course, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, said of Pollack: "Sydney had some basic Jewish knowledge, but his strength lay in his penetrating, incisive mind."
What the JC said about Out of Africa: Although marvellously atmospheric in its recreation of the sights and sounds of that continent [it] is, at nearly three hours and seven academy awards, far too long and slow. Meryl Streep, as the real-life Karen Blixen suffers womanfully as she contends with crop failures, fire, bankruptcy, racialism, syphilis and general male chauvinism as well as with her emotional relationships with two individual chauvinists.
See more from the JC archives here.