I was a little tweaked last night when I checked in briefly with the cybershpere before heading off to bed. I saw the news that Sydney Pollack had died.
I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. I mean, who didn’t love his cameo as Dustin Hoffman’s agent in TOOTSIE? Then to find out that guy directed the movie? And wait…he directed a bunch of other things, too? I quickly realized that he was the guy behind some of my favorite movies I’d seen as a kid–from JEREMIAH JOHNSON and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (both of which scared the hell out of me) to THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN and THE WAY WE WERE (two significant factors in the development of my affinity for "chick flicks", which I confess are a guilty pleasure of mine). I began to follow his career more closely. As a result, I think I have seen every Sydney Pollack movie at least once.
A couple of years ago, I had the ultimate fanboy moment. Robbye and I are at the Texas Film Commission Barbeque during the Austin Screenwriters Conference. I look over to my right, and who do you think is sitting not 30 feet away from me? You guessed it.
Pollack was there as an honoree, and I’d tried to catch the panel he’d done that day. Unfortunately, I was on a conflicting panel, so no go. But there he was. Robbye suggested that I go over and say hi, but I was suddenly all shy and befuddled. It took a little coaxing on her part, but I finally summoned the courage to do it.
I caught him at the perfect moment–well, perfect for me…maybe not for him. The swarm of people buzzing around him had scattered some. He’d just sat down to eat his food, which I am certain was by then cold. But I didn’t know what else to do.
This is probably my moment, I thought, and it won’t come again.
True enough, huh?
I stepped up to him.
"Mr. Pollack? I know you’re trying to eat, and I apologize for the interruption-"
And while you would expect most people in his position would run for cover, Pollack did exactly the opposite. He stood up straight away and set his plate down on his chair.
"None at all. None at all."
"I won’t take your time because I’m…not sure what to say to you other than I am a big fan and have been since I was a kid. Your work is one of the things that inspired me to get into the business."
And while you would expect most people in his position to make some crack like, "Sorry to hear that, kid," Pollack did the exact opposite.
"Well, thank you," he said, lingering on the last syllable, fishing for something. My name, I supposed.
Something flickered in his eye. Was it, per chance, recognition?
"Yes…you’re last year’s winner."
He held his hand out to me. I took it, shaking. I was utterly thrown. He KNEW WHO I WAS?!? I had no idea what to say. I chose the best (read: only) option available to me at the time.
"Congratulations. And thank you for your kind words. It means a lot to me to hear it."
"You’re welcome," I replied. "And thank you."
It was at that moment I realized I should probably let go of his hand.
"I’ll…let you get back to your food. I’m sure it’s cold."
He smiled. The knowing variety.
"It’s no problem. I’m glad you stopped to say hello."
At that, I begged off and returned to Robbye. I couldn’t string words together in any coherent fashion for about five minutes.
As a postscript, Robbye and I were having breakfast the next morning at the Driskill Hotel. We were catching up with a documentary filmmaker friend of mine, and who do you think sits in the booth next to us? Yessiree. And he waved and smiled (with recognition) and bade us good morning. My friend was impressed. It was cool.
Yesterday, George Clooney, who owes his last two movies to Pollack, said, "Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even
dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act. He’ll be missed terribly."
Straight up, George Clooney. I couldn’t agree more.