“Tom Pollock was pivotal in my development as both a filmmaker and businessman from the get-go. He was there at the very beginning when I was fresh out of USC film school and throughout the unexpected successes that transformed our lives and careers. He helped in the creation of Lucasfilm along with American Graffiti and Star Wars, and stood firm and unrelenting by those he believed in. A champion of creativity, Tom was a good friend and will be missed by all of us who were lucky to know him.”
UPDATED Monday, August 3, 8:49 AM : Spike Lee sent this tribute to Tom Pollock, who presided over and stood firm during the launch of Lee’s provocative 1989 film Do The Right Thing:
“My Deep Condolences To Mr. Tom Pollock’s Family. Mr. Pollock Is A Key Figure In My Development As A Young Filmmaker While He Was Head Of Universal Pictures. Mr. Pollock Let Me Make And Supported My Films. The Unsung Hero Of DO THE RIGHT THING Is Mr. Tom Pollock. He Put His Neck On The Line. He Did Not Cave In When Many Racists Pundits Told Him Not To Release DO THE RIGHT THING In The Summer For Fear BLACK FOLKS Would Run Amok, Would RIOT Coming Out Of Movie Theaters. Despite Tremendous Pressure Mr. Pollock Stood His Ground,Releasing DO THE RIGHT THING On June 30th, 1989 (Same Day As Tim Burton’s BATMAN) And So Help Change The Her/History Of American Cinema. I Will Miss You My Friend.
EARLIER, Sunday, August 2, 4:19 PM: Tom Pollock has died. Pollock is the former attorney who became Universal Pictures chairman and later partners with Ivan Reitman in Montecito Picture Company. He was 77 years old.
Pollock oversaw films that included Jurassic Park, the Back to the Future trilogy, Do the Right Thing, Fried Green Tomatoes, Backdraft, Twins, Cape Fear, Parenthood, The Flintstones, Kindergarten Cop, the Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd, Casper, Waterworld, Sneakers, Lorenzo’s Oil, Casino, and Schindler’s List.
As an attorney, Pollock will always be remembered for making arguably the greatest ever deal for a filmmaker client when he brokered the Star Wars deal for George Lucas that gave the filmmaker rights to the franchise. It was a billion-dollar deal.
The condolences have begun to pour in: “We are incredibly saddened by the loss of Tom Pollock. He played a critical role in securing our Studio’s legacy, and was an extraordinary executive, influential attorney, and a dear friend to so many of us,” said Ron Meyer, Vice Chairman NBCUniversal. “We will forever feel his impact on our company and within our industry. On behalf of everyone at Universal, we send our deepest condolences to his family and honor his extraordinary accomplishments.”
Born April 10, 1943 in Los Angeles, Pollock started his career as the assistant to George Stevens, who was the founding director of the American Film Institute and later became the manager of business affairs for AFI’s new film school, the Center for Advanced Film Studies. He went on to start his own law firm in 1970 and George Lucas became one his first clients which led to the aforementioned Star Wars deals. He was also a key player in launching the production of iconic movie franchises such as Indiana Jones and Superman.
In 1986, he took the post of Executive Vice President of MCA Inc. and Universal Pictures chairman. During his time at Universal, the studio garnered seven Academy Award nominations which included the Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List. Other titles that earned nods included titles that have remained benchmarks in cinematic history including Field of Dreams, Born on the Fourth of July, Scent of a Woman, In the Name of the Father, Apollo 13 and Babe. He also amplified the talent of some of the most acclaimed filmmakers of our time including Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Ivan Reitman, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, George Miller, James Cameron among others.
“Tom Pollock was my lawyer and friend early on in my career,” said Imagine Entertainment Co-chair Michael Rosenberg. “He introduced me to Brian and Ron 31 years ago so he was a great matchmaker in addition to being a superb deal maker. I am saddened by this unexpected and tragic loss.”
Bob Gazzale, President & CEO, AFI, remembered the Hollywood exec through the official AFI Twitter account. “Tom Pollock loved movies – powerfully and passionately,” he said. “His legacy will show how he devoted his unmatched legal mind to championing great stories, and lucky for all movie lovers, he believed that those stories could both challenge and entertain. We have lost a fierce advocate for the art form, but at AFI his spirit will live on.”
Dolemite Is My Name writer took to Twitter to share a memory of the Pollock saying, “Tom Pollock was a good guy. Green lit our first film. And then he covered his face at the first test screening “What did I do?” (It was “Problem Child” so that was an appropriate response).”
Producer Shep Gordon also paid tribute to the Hollywood exec. “Tom Pollock was my friend,” he said. “As good a friend as anyone could hope for. Our relationship started when I hired Tom to represent my film company. By far the smartest man I ever worked with, we shared such great times. The last decade we had a group of industry veterans who met for what we call AN OLD JEWS LUNCH at IL PICCOLINO. We will miss him so much, hearing his stories as well as seeing his joy and passion for food. Save me a seat at the table wherever you are!”
Pollock became the first Vice Chairman of MCA/Universal Studios after Seagram Co. acquired MCA in 1995. He exited the company in 1996 and taught in the Film Studies Program at the University of California Santa Barbara.
He became a member of AFI’s Board of Trustees and in 1996 became the Chairman of the Board in 1996. Most recently, he served as Vice Chairman of the AFI Board of Directors and as chair of the AFI Awards film jury.
Under the aforementioned The Montecito Picture Company, he and Reitman produced films such as Road Trip, Old School, the Oscar-nominated pic Up in the Air, the 2016 iteration of Ghostbusters and many others.
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