Sad news broke late yesterday, with the announcement of the death of the film producer, writer and art director Polly Platt, who passed away of Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 72. Platt’s contribution to cinema has been greatly undervalued over the years, but she was someone with a diverse skill-set, who played a key role in a number of classic films.
Platt was born in Illinois in 1939, before moving to Germany with her father, who was a judge at the trials of Nazi war criminals. She returned to the States to study art in Pittsburgh, before moving to New York, where she met, and fell in love with, the future director Peter Bogdanovich, then a programmer at the Museum of Modern Art. They were soon married, and together wrote the script for “Targets,” the Roger Corman thriller that would become Bogdanovich’s first directorial outing, and on which Platt was credited as the production designer for the first time.
She and her husband worked together on “The Last Picture Show,” on which Bogdanovich began an affair with actress Cybill Shepherd, leaving Platt, but the two remained amicable, and Platt returned to design “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Paper Moon,” as well as branching out on films like “The Bad News Bears” and “A Star Is Born,” becoming the first woman in the Art Director’s Guild. But Platt’s talents weren’t just contained to the design world, and she made her debut as a full-flung screenwriter on Louis Malle‘s “Pretty Baby,” on which she also picked up an associate producer credit. That film was swiftly followed by the dark drama “Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff,” which Platt also wrote.
Design work followed on “The Man With Two Brains” and “Terms of Endearment,” the latter of which won her an Oscar nomination, and was the start of a long and fruitful relationship with director James L. Brooks, who installed her as executive vice president of his Gracie Films shingle. She continued to work as a production designer for a few years — most notably on “The Witches of Eastwick,” but Gracie Films became her focus.
While there, she executive produced the classic “Broadcast News,” introduced cartoonist Matt Groening‘s work to Brooks, leading, of course, to “The Simpsons,” and produced Cameron Crowe‘s debut “Say Anything,” and Wes Anderson‘s “Bottle Rocket.” Brooks told the L.A. Times that, “She couldn’t walk into a gas station and get gas without mentoring somebody. Movies are a team sport, and she made teams function. She would assume a maternal role in terms of really being there. The film was everything, and ego just didn’t exist.”
Platt kept working right up until recently: her last film, the Roger Corman documentary “Corman’s World: Exploits of A Hollywood Rebel” debuted at Sundance this year to strong reviews, and will be released later in the year. She’s survived by her children Antonia and Sashy Bogdanovich, and will be sorely missed by the many filmmakers who undoubtedly wouldn’t be where they are without her.