When director John Ford was in his declining days Polly Platt went to pay a final visit. The great man was virtually bed ridden, physically unkempt but nonetheless still sharp of mind. They chatted as the afternoon sun beamed through the mostly shuttered blinds and at a certain point he paused in the midst of a story, gave her a sharp gaze and said, “what’s all this about you and Peter?”
Platt, without going into the gory details, gave him the broad strokes of how husband Peter Bogdanovich became besotted with his discovery Cybill Shepherd during the filming of The Last Picture Show. Ford took it all in and when she finished let out a sigh and bellowed, “the man’s a fool,” and added, “darling, anytime you want you can move in with me.”
I probably felt the same way as Ford though I never made such an invitation. For close to 30 years she was a friend and the news of her death Wednesday has shaken me to the core. She was the oddest combination of frailty and vulnerability on the one hand and acute focus and concentration on the other that I have ever encountered.
It had been about a year since I last talked to her. She told me about the Roger Corman documentary she was working on and was about to tell her my favorite Roger anecdote (courtesy of Bruce Dern). But before I could get a word out she jumped in with “gotta go.”
At that point she may have already moved out of Hollywood. I can only imagine the pain of her last days. She hadn’t told many of her condition and it wasn’t uncommon not to hear from her for months. Polly had struggled with her own personal demons and it was best to give her the space to work things out in her time. She always bounced back.
Polly was resilient and generous.
When another friend was going through difficult times, she listened to the tale of woe I detailed. “Give me her number, she needs to hear a sympathetic voice,” was her response. What was exchanged in that subsequent conversation remains their secret. All I know is that one got the sympathetic voice that had been sorely missing.
Polly Platt was an agile mind. She was better than good at a lot of things and that served her both well and ill. Her career credit list rarely fully reflected what she did. Her contributions to such films as The Last Picture, Paper Moon and Terms of Endearment were considerably more substantive than costume or production designer that were officially listed. That didn’t make her unique in a town that extends and withholds true contributions. But those who were on the ground knew that a lot of things simply would never have gotten done without her prodding and persistence.
We were at the Austin Film Festival years ago (my invitation certainly had to have been the result of her overtures to its organizers) at a screening of a short by a young filmmaker named Wes Anderson. It was called Bottle Rocket and both of us were impressed by its power and finesse. I came back and told friends about this stunning early work. Polly returned and marched into Jim Brooks’ office and told him that they were going to make a film with this talent. If memory serves, Brooks’ deal at Sony allowed his shingle to “put” films with budgets of less than $10 million. Bottle Rocket, the feature, cost $6.5 million.
Gracie Films _ Brooks’ company where Polly was a senior production executive _ was a fruitful period of her career. She nurtured such diverse talents as Cameron Crowe and Matt Groening among others.
But like so many aspects of her life a day came where she said “gotta go.”
Polly was all about the work. She was a first rate producer; she was a great designer; she was a crackerjack writer. Her script for Lieberman in Love was a major factor in its winning best live-action short at the 1996 Oscars.
And she would have been a first class director. There were several projects she came close to directing and we’re all the poorer that they never quite coalesced.
Aside from laziness I was putting off picking up the phone and calling her because I was politicking to get her the career achievement award from the Los Angeles Film Critics. That’s the call I wanted to make; a small and deserved recognition that would have 1) one thrilled her and 2) driven her crazy writing an acceptance speech.
In my mind I’d already begun to cut the tribute reel and lineup the list of invitees who would have been so pleased to watch her squirm and shine.
Life just won’t be as much fun without Polly Platt. There’s a hole in my heart that’s never going to be filled completely by the laughter and joy she provided.