Michael J. Pollard, a scene-stealing character actor who earned an Oscar nomination for the landmark 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” playing a getaway driver even though off-screen he never learned how to drive, died Nov. 20 at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 80.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said a friend, Dawn Walker.
Pollard was the chronic-nosebleeding loser Hugo Peabody in the original Broadway production of the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” (1960), then had a brief apprenticeship with the Walt Disney Co. He appeared in the Disney musical “Summer Magic” (1963), opposite Hayley Mills, before parting ways. “I wasn’t really the Mickey Mouse image anyway,” he later told The New York Times.
A successful journeyman, he made TV appearances on series including “Star Trek,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” He also won admiring reviews as the 14-year-old messenger who delivers tragic War Department telegrams in a 1959 TV adaptation of William Saroyan’s World War II homefront story “The Human Comedy.”
His talent for improvisation earned him the admiration of Warren Beatty, who came to know Pollard when both worked on the sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” Years later, Beatty used his clout as movie star and producer to hire Pollard as the gas-station-attendant-turned-accomplice C.W. Moss in “Bonnie and Clyde,” which critic Roger Ebert called “a milestone in the history of American movies.”
The movie was a revisionist tale of the Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, played by Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
In one memorable sequence, Pollard parks the getaway car during a bank heist and finds — at the worst possible moment — that he can’t maneuver out of the parking space. “There was this guy teaching me [to drive], but I couldn’t learn,” he told Ebert. “So here I was stuck in the parking place, and Penn said, [Director Arthur Penn] ‘Okay, do it that way.’”
Pollard said he was unmoved by those who found “Bonnie and Clyde” too brutal. “That’s dopey, man,” he told Ebert. “Everybody’s violent. They’re criticizing themselves. Everybody will realize that in a year or so and start on something else. I don’t know. Hey, maybe they’ll start on humor in movies. Too much humor in movies. Children laughing too much.”