When audiences flock to see the fourth "Indiana Jones" installment in less than two weeks, chances are slim that the first sight of Indy's weathered fedora and leather jacket back on the big screen will elicit anything more than a quick smile of recognition. No one will ponder how tough it was, after nearly two decades, to re-create the archaeologist's signature look. Or who was charged with the task.
But just so you know, that would be Bernie Pollack.
Pollack's goal when he became involved with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" as Harrison Ford’s wardrobe designer was to re-create the classic costume so flawlessly that audiences would never question its authenticity. But he would quickly find out that making an identical outfit would be more difficult than he'd expected.
"The last film was made 18 years ago," says Pollack (yes, he's Sydney's brother). "Everybody that worked on it was out of business. The hat maker was gone. The costumer was gone. So I had to start from scratch. I had to find fabric, find people who could make it. I mean, I'm making an iconic movie. He has got to look as good or better than in the other films in the series. If he looks less than that, I'm an ass."
Steven Spielberg, upon seeing Ford in character, was relieved with what Pollack had pulled off after an exhaustive search for fabrics, styles and craftsmen. "The first day we went in to test the hat," Pollack recalls, "Steven said, 'Oh, thank God -- I lost sleep wondering if you were going to be able to come up with the look of the hat that I wanted.' "
Ford, who has worked with Pollack on multiple films (including "Firewall," "What Lies Beneath," "Random Hearts," "Sabrina" and "Clear and Present Danger"), was equally pleased. "He's not just a designer who can read a script and say, 'This would be appropriate for this character and I suggest this,' " the actor says by telephone. "I consider costume critical to the representation of the character and as clues to his identity. What people see is far more important than what they're told. . . . He has a sense of storytelling and drama."
Pollack has helped flesh out characters for some of Hollywood's most celebrated films ("Ordinary People," "All the President's Men," "Tootsie," "Rain Man"), working steadily with such talents as Ford, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Interestingly enough, it's a career that he never planned to have.
The Pollack brothers had hoped to come to L.A. from their South Bend, Ind., home and find success as actors (Sydney, of course, went on to direct, produce and sometimes act). But along the way, dreams were replaced by necessity, and jobs became about paying the bills.
Bernie Pollack landed a low-on-the-totem-pole job working for costumer Ted Tetrick and designer Edith Head in the Redford-Natalie Wood film "This Property Is Condemned."
"I felt in the beginning," says Pollack from his San Fernando Valley home, "that I wasn't sure I could do it. But somehow I seemed to fall in easily. I enjoyed the work and the creativity."
That first film was a random opportunity that sparked Pollack's longtime collaboration with Redford, rising to costume supervisor and then designer on more than a half-dozen of the actor's movies.
"My experience with Bernie over 40 years has amounted to a journey and a lasting friendship," Redford says. "The strongest feature has been his professional and creative skill. He is simply the best -- not to mention his patience, as I have many times been a pain in the ass."
First, Pollack breaks down the script to identify the characters and their backgrounds. Era-specific films like "The Natural" or "Havana" require extensive research and photos from that time to ensure an authentic re-creation. For movies set in the present day, he often looks to the world of fashion, then adds his own twist, putting Hoffman and Cruise in high-collared, tie-less shirts and jackets in "Rain Man," for example.
"I worked with Bernie on 'Rain Man,' 'Tootsie,' 'Straight Time,' 'Marathon Man' and 'All the President's Men,' " Hoffman says. "Suffice it to say, those characters would not have existed without his artistic input. He is a rare bird."
And yet, for all the praise, Pollack's hope is that audiences don't realize what he's done. "If I do my job well, then nobody notices the wardrobe. It just assists in telling the story and creating realistic characters."
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Wear many hats
After Bernie Pollack re-created Indiana Jones' iconic look for the fourth in the film series, he ran amok with it -- for good reason. As insurance against damage from water, fire, blood, dirt, stunts and anything else the narrative might throw at the action hero-archaeologist, Pollack had to create:
30 identical fedoras
30 leather jackets
60 pairs of khaki pants