Honestly, he’s on my “I thought he was dead” list. He was eighty, and honestly he was someone I didn’t think about much. This is in part because I can’t stand Bonnie and Clyde. Mostly, when I think of Michael J. Pollard, I think of him as a small, pleasant presence in fairly obscure movies, generally. But I remember him more than a lot of other people, I suspect, because some of those obscure movies are ones I watch more than most people watch Bonnie and Clyde.
He’s had one of those delightfully eclectic character actor careers, and one of those careers that’s so old that he was on an episode of Lux Playhouse. (“The Miss and Missiles,” which also featured Marlon Brando’s older sister Jocelyn.) He did two episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, filling in for Bob Denver who’d been drafted. (Denver was found 4-F and returned to the show.) He had a pretty solid ’60s TV career, in fact, with appearances on both Lost in Space and Star Trek as well. Frankly, he had the sort of career where I was surprised not to see any appearances on Perry Mason and relatively few Westerns—only four, from what I can tell.
He’d appeared sporadically in movies while doing his TV acting; his first movie was an uncredited appearance in 1959’s It Happened to Jane, a year after his first TV appearance in an episode of Omnibus. But in 1967, he was in Bonnie and Clyde, possibly due to his association with Warren Beatty, who had himself been on one of those two Dobie Gillis episodes. (Oh, do I need to get to Warren Beatty at some point.) And that’s where most people appear to have first noticed him. Roger Ebert, for example, had glowing things to say about him in his review of the movie. And certainly my problems with the movie aren’t to do with him.
In fact, though, he’d already done two of the four movies I remember him from at that point. In 1963, he appeared in Summer Magic as Digby Popham, son of Burl Ives and Una Merkel. Digby’s none too bright, but he’s a decent sort of person. In 1966, he’s Stanley the Uncredited Airplane Mechanic in The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Stanley finds the whole thing funny and is in the movie for I don’t know, about thirty seconds? Warren Beatty brought him in for Dick Tracy in the ’90s, and he was in Roxanne in the ’80s as one of the bumbling members of Steve Martin’s volunteer fire department.
Also, remember what I said about small presence? Yeah. He was 5’6″. Shorter, in fact, than I am. But when another actor named Michael who is, generously, himself none so tall was looking for a middle initial because he needed one for reasons (they’re good reasons that would take some going into here), he chose J in tribute to Pollard. And that is why we have Michael J. Fox. Which is an interesting legacy.