Winning an Emmy in 1966 was Sydney Pollack’s ticket out of television. He never worked in the medium again.
Pollack, then 32, was part a generation itching to get into film that learned its trade in TV, instead of through directing B-movies. Pollack’s win came from an episode of NBC’s Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, the last of TV’s dramatic anthologies that flourished in the 1950s. While the idea of having a past-his-prime comic introducing serious dramas seems odd, the show drew big names. (Hope earned $20,000 an episode, or $200,000 today.) Among the stars of episodes that ranged from police dramas to Westerns and musicals were Shelley Winters and Robert Wagner. And besides Pollack, directors included John Cassavetes, Daniel Petrie and Sam Peckinpah, who did an episode set in the post-Civil War West.
The same year Pollack’s Chrysler Theatre episode aired, he directed the 1965 movie The Slender Thread with Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. It earned two Oscar noms. Of the 20 films Pollack directed, he was nominated for best director for 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and 1982’s Tootsie, and won for 1985’s Out of Africa. In 2007, it was announced that Pollock would return to TV to direct HBO’s Recount. But the discovery of cancer forced him to bow out, replaced by Jay Roach. Pollack, 73, died May 26, 2008, the day after Recount premiered.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.