By Michelle Tauber
June 09, 2008 12:00 PM

Back in 1982, few people in Hollywood wanted to meet with a fledgling actor named Tom Cruise. But director Sydney Pollack took Cruise under his wing. “Throughout the years, unpretentious and never condescending, he shared with me what he loved about family, storytelling, food, flying and a great bottle of vino,” Cruise said of Pollack, who died at 73 on May 26, after a battle with cancer.

Indeed, Pollack knew how to put actors in their best light—and they loved him for it. An actor, producer and director of 20 films, Pollack specialized in big movies with big stars, telling the New York Times in 1982, “stars are like thoroughbreds … when they do what they do best—whatever it is that’s made them a star—it’s really exciting.” He made seven films with good friend Robert Redford and won an Oscar for 1985’s Out of Africa. (His business partner, director Anthony Minghella, died in March.)

The son of an Indiana pharmacist, Pollack moved to New York City to pursue acting after high school. In 1958 he married his wife Claire, a drama student; they had three children, Rebecca, Rachel and Steven. (Steven died in a plane crash in California in 1993.) Through it all, Pollack never wavered in his passion for movies and those who make them. “He guided me artistically and personally,” said Nicole Kidman, “not just as a director or producer but as a mentor and a friend.” Said George Clooney: “Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act.”