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RIP Polly Platt, Production Designer and Producer, Driving Force for Directors

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 27, 2011 at 9:44AM

I first met producer/production designer Polly Platt on the set of Terms of Endearment, which went on to earn five Oscars including best picture. Truth is, the movie might not have turned out as well without her. It was TV executive producer/writer James L. Brooks' debut as a film director, and featured his strong screenplay based on the Larry McMurtry novel. But Brooks sought steering and advice from Platt, who earned an Oscar nomination for Terms of Endearment for art direction/set decoration, and continued to supportively work for Brooks at Gracie Films, and on subsequent Brooks projects including Broadcast News and I'll Do Anything.
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Thompson on Hollywood

I first met producer/production designer Polly Platt on the set of Terms of Endearment, which went on to earn five Oscars including best picture. Truth is, the movie might not have turned out as well without her. It was TV executive producer/writer James L. Brooks' debut as a film director, and featured his strong screenplay based on the Larry McMurtry novel. But Brooks sought steering and advice from Platt, who earned an Oscar nomination for Terms of Endearment for art direction/set decoration, and continued to supportively work for Brooks at Gracie Films, and on subsequent Brooks projects including Broadcast News and I'll Do Anything.

Platt died at age 72 Wednesday morning in Brooklyn, New York, from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. UPDATE: Brooks (@canyonjim) tweeted his eulogy: "Polly Platt was beautifully larger than life always. She loved film completely. Many directors, me for damn sure, owe her big time. Bye Pol."

Platt was also a valuable collaborator for her husband Peter Bogdanovich, helping him as more than production designer on many of his best films, including Targets, Paper Moon, What's Up Doc? and The Last Picture Show, also based on a McMurtry novel, when their marriage ended as her husband fell for his star, Cybill Shepherd. Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer were inspired by that breakup when they wrote their 1984 comedy Irreconcilable Differences. McMurtry dedicated his novel Somebody's Darling to Platt and Bogdanovich. "He's the locomotive, I'm the tracks," she told writer Peter Biskind in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

"Polly was a very strong driving force behind Peter," Peter Lewis told Biskind. "She did not let his ego get in the way as it later did."

Platt sublimated herself while helping other people to realize and visualize their vision; she never did take on the role of director herself, although I would have liked to see what she could do. She produced Cameron Crowe's 1989 Say Anything and helped turn Wes Anderson, Owen and Luke Wilson's Bottle Rocket into their first feature. Most recently Platt was executive producer on the doc Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. Platt was razor sharp, witty, and not did not suffer fools.

"There's a mood she has that's sort of reckless, that's sort of great," Brooks told Rachel Abramowitz in Is That A Gun In Your Pocket?: Women's Experience of Power in Hollywood. "Polly has a gear that most other people don't have. The I-don't-care-what-the-fuck-happens--that gear." Brooks and others described Platt's humility, which hurt her ability to "grant her ambition and talent its due," Abramowitz writes. "There is a constant inner war between pride and self-loathing."

"You know," Platt told Abramowitz, "I'm a woman who always thinks I'm wrong." That's not what the men who did their best work with Platt by their side thought.

[Photo courtesy of Thom Ernst.]

This article is related to: Obit


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.