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.]