by Vivienne McCarthy
While any suggested relationship between art, fashion and photography has long enlivened — and indeed enraged — cultural commentators and art historians alike, the fact remains the three are moving towards one another in more ways than one.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Leonard Pollack’s gorgeous townhouse in Germantown. Pollack, 62, a costume designer who spent 30 years in Hollywood, also paints and uses glass to render his own unique mosaic style. Pollack is beyond a character. His living room contains much of his artwork; his beautiful chandelier in the dining room comes from the Wiltern Theater in Hollywood, and the furniture reflects his love of art deco style.
Pollack took the chandelier from the Wiltern Theater when it was reported in the press that the theater was scheduled for demolition. (That decision was later reversed.) The lighting is subdued and pulses from all angles of each room. (Just imagine inlaid, brightly colored floor lighting and tract lighting in an upstairs hallway depicting men on high wires.)
Entering his master bathroom is almost like walking into the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. A Roman landscape of sunset, emerging moon and stars are skillfully painted on the walls and ceiling. Indeed, the room in chiaroscuro seems fluid, almost like stepping into a dream.
The son of Russian Jews, Pollack spent his formative years in South Philadelphia, and after graduation from Dobbins High School attended the Parsons School of Design in New York City’s legendary Bohemian neighborhood, Greenwich Village. (A fellow classmate was famed fashion designer Donna Karan.) After graduation he worked for a Seventh Avenue fashion house, Mignon. which designed clothes for the cognescenti.
“They were big supporters of President Nixon” said Pollack, “and believe it or not, despite the fact that I was just an assistant, my designs so impressed them that I was chosen to design the inauguration outfits for the Nixon women. We made Women’s Wear Daily that year, and it really launched my career.”
It was during the era of the early ’70s when Pollack gadded about New York City and his fondest memories were of Studio 54, meeting Bianca Jagger, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli and her mother, Judy Garland.
“It was an amazing time” muses Pollack. “I feel lucky to have lived through that period. Yes, it was utterly hedonistic, but it was so free. It was a time when eccentricity was laude … creativity was encouraged. The air seemed always to be sugared with promise.”
In the late ’70s Pollack moved to Los Angeles and began a career in costume design. “One of my first design jobs in Hollywood” he said, “was working with movie director Martin Donovan, who wrote the screenplay for ‘Death Becomes Her.’”
It was the English director Ken Russell, however, whom Pollack remembers most fondly. “I had so admired his work; he was really ahead of his time, and the outrageous, somewhat sexual themes in his work were lambasted by the critics. Despite that, Russell won an Oscar for his direction of ‘Women in Love.’ He had a flamboyant, edgy style, reminiscent of the Italian director, Federico Fellini. It was after seeing Russell’s musical, ‘The Boyfriend,’ that I was motivated to travel to England to try and meet him. We are still great friends.He is the most interesting person I ever met.”
Pollack was asked by Russell’s then-wife, Shirley Russell, to help on the movie, “Savage Messiah,” and later on the costumes for a movie on Gustav Mahler, who was Leonard Bernstein’s favorite composer. It was during the production of “Mahler” that Russell wrote the screenplay for The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy,” for which Pollack also designed many of the outrageous costumes. “Right after that I became special features photographer on ‘Valentino,’ starring Rudolf Nureyev. What a great experience it was to work with Nureyev. He was a real diva, but what presence!”
Pollack traveled to some of the most glamorous cities of the world during that time — Barcelona, London, Paris, etc. “Europe had a great influence on my work” he said. “Photography, painting, designing clothes.”
Ten years ago Pollack moved back to Philadelphia to care for his ill mother, and he now devotes his time to interior design, painting, photography and, of course, his museum-quality mosaic work. Pollack has never been married and has no children. Of close family members, he has just one living sister.
Reflecting on his long career, Pollack muses, “I’ve had my highs, and I’ve had my lows, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I don’t dwell on the past too much, and I don’t think too much of what I will be doing in 10 years. Every minute is an adventure.”
Pollack can be reached on 215-849-5927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.