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THE LION IN WINTER Producer Martin Poll Dead at 89

Katharine Hepburn The Lion in Winter Peter O’Toole
Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter

Martin Poll, best known for producing Anthony Harvey’s 1968 Best Picture Oscar nominee The Lion in Winter, starring Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II, died of "natural causes" on April 14 according to various online sources. Poll was 89.

An Avco Embassy release, The Lion in Winter was considered the favorite for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. The film had won the Best Film Award from the New York Film Critics Circle, while Harvey was the year’s Directors Guild Award winner. However, Carol Reed’s Columbia-distributed musical Oliver! turned out to be the winner in both categories.

(Curiously, the previous year another Embassy release, Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, unexpectedly lost the Best Picture Oscar to Norman Jewison’s United Artists-distributed In the Heat of the Night. But at least Nichols came out victorious.)

Out of its nine nominations, The Lion in Winter won three Oscars. One of these went to Katharine Hepburn, who became the first — and to date only — performer to win three (later four, for On Golden Pond) Academy Awards in the lead categories. Hepburn also made history by sharing her third Oscar with newcomer Barbra Streisand for William Wyler’s Funny Girl.

Among Poll’s other notable producing credits are Waris Hussein’s The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972), which earned Shirley MacLaine a number of good notices (Perry King played Joel Delaney); as an executive producer, Woody Allen’s Love and Death (1975), in which Allen and Diane Keaton play Russians enmeshed in a plot to assassinate Napoleon; and Lewis John Carlino’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976), a dysfunctional family tale starring Sarah Miles and Kris Kristofferson, and based on a novel by Mishima.

Among Poll’s other efforts were the Glenn Ford / Hope Lange comedy Love Is a Ball (1963); Sidney Lumet’s Belle de jour-like The Appointment (1969), in which attorney Omar Sharif suspects wife Anouk Aimée is a high-class prostitute; the Elizabeth Taylor / Laurence Harvey mystery Night Watch (1973); the Burt Reynolds Western The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing; and the box office flop comedy mystery Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), Farrah Fawcett’s failed attempt at movie stardom, with Jeff Bridges co-starring.

Another Poll-produced flop was the Sylvester Stallone / Billy Dee Williams 1981 crime thriller Nighthawks; and so were Ivan Passer’s psychological drama Haunted Summer, based on Anne Edwards’ novel about a special gathering featuring Lord Byron (Philip Anglim), Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Alice Krige), and Percy Shelley (Eric Stoltz); and Stuart Rosenberg’s My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (1991), with Scott Glenn and Kate Capshaw.

For television, among Poll’s efforts were — both as executive producer — Kevin Connor’s Diana: Her True Story (1993), starring Serena Scott Thomas as Princess Diana, and a 2003 Showtime remake of The Lion in Winter directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close starred. Both Close and Konchalovsky received Emmy nominations for their efforts; Close was luckier at the Golden Globes, winning Best Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television, while the film and Stewart were nominated.

According to Poll’s Variety obit, he restored the early silent era’s New York-based Biograph Studio, which he opened as the Gold Medal Studios in 1956. That was reportedly the largest film studio in the U.S. outside Los Angeles.

Among the films shot at Gold Medal in the late ’50s were Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, with Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal; Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, with Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, and Joanne Woodward; Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night, with Fredric March and Kim Novak; John Cromwell’s The Goddess, with Kim Stanley; and Daniel Mann’s Butterfield 8, with eventual Best Actress Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, and Eddie Fisher.

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