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Obituary: Michael J Pollard

Baby-faced actor who received an Oscar nomination for his role in 'Bonnie and Clyde'


Offbeat: Michael J Pollard

Offbeat: Michael J Pollard

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Offbeat: Michael J Pollard

Michael J Pollard, who has died aged 80, was a character actor who was best known as Warren Beatty's and Faye Dunaway's sidekick in the classic 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

Once described by Nora Ephron as "Potato face - everyone loves a potato," the Method-trained actor was known for his offbeat roles, many of them scene-stealers.

He was, perhaps, notable as the larcenous couple's getaway driver in Bonnie and Clyde, as Clarence "C W" Moss, a performance which won him a Golden Globe nomination alongside his Oscar shortlisting, and the Bafta Best Newcomer award.

He was born Michael John Pollack Jr at Passaic, New Jersey, on May 30 1939, to parents of Polish descent; his father was a barman who, by working 60 hours a week, made enough to put Michael Jr through private school.

He decided he wanted to be an actor after seeing Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and enrolled at the Actors Studio in New York, where he worked with Marilyn Monroe, at her request - "She liked my different kinda face".

After local theatre, Pollard ventured into television, and in 1959 won his first significant parts, as a shoeshine boy in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a 13-year-old in another (thanks to his slight build, Pollard spent much of his career playing roles younger than his years).

On Broadway he featured in a non-singing role in the original 1960-61 production of the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Fans of the first season of Star Trek will remember Pollard for the episode "Miri" (1966), in which he and Kim Darby (with whom he had appeared in Bye Bye Birdie and who would soon co-star with John Wayne in True Grit) played members of a race of children who die upon reaching puberty.

Pollard guest-starred in other 1960s favourites, such as The Lucy Show, Gunsmoke and Lost in Space (as a cosmic Peter Pan figure), and in 1969 he played opposite Oliver Reed in Hannibal Brooks, about a prisoner of war who escapes on an elephant; Pollard played an American PoW who forms a partisan group to fight the Nazis in Austria.

In 1970 he co-starred with Robert Redford in Little Fauss and Big Halsy as a motorcyclist who becomes a mechanic for Robert Redford, who, having been banned for drinking on the track, rides under his name.

Then at 33 he played the 17-year-old Billy the Kid in Dirty Little Billy (1972).

Pollard's 1980s films included Melvin and Howard; Roxanne, with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah; American Gothic, with Rod Steiger; Scrooged, Richard Donner's re-working of A Christmas Carol, with Bill Murray; and Tango & Cash, with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell.

In 1990 Pollard was reunited with Warren Beatty, who had become a friend, for Dick Tracy (1990), as surveillance expert Bug Bailey.

Later, he played a hippie in the Patrick Swayze/Melanie Griffith romcom Forever Lulu, "the Rat Catcher" in the sci-fi horror Split Second, starring Rutger Hauer, and had a cameo in Rob Zombie's horror film House of 1000 Corpses (2003).

One little-known legacy left by Pollard is Michael J Fox's acting name: when he was new on the scene there was another actor named Michael Fox, so he chose the middle initial "J" in tribute to Pollard.

Pollard, who died on November 21, was twice married and divorced, to the actress Beth Howland, with whom he had a daughter, and Annie Tolstoy, with whom he had a son; his children survive him.

© Telegraph