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Foxy Lady

Thursday, June 9, 2011
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Born-and-bred New Yorker Tracy Pollan comes from a famous literary family, but decided to follow a different path to success. A working actress, she and husband Michael J. Fox—plus their beautiful children—have formed their own iconic family. Not one to leave behind her roots, Tracy’s familiar face can be seen both on screen and around town, from the Upper East Side to the Hamptons. Here, she reveals her secret for balancing work and family—even a family as prominent as hers.

from the pages of AVENUE’s June issue…

by Martin Marks
photographed by Chayo Mata
styled by Cricket Burns

It’s hard to picture a typical family dinner—be it al fresco in the Hamptons or on wintry Upper East Side—for Tracy Pollan. For one thing, there’s her exceptional professional background as an actress, activist and designer. Then there’s her family: husband Michael J. Fox and the couple’s four children. And let’s not forget the extended Pollan clan. Those assembled at the table on any given evening might include her father, Stephen Pollan, the financial guru and professional coach turned writer; her mother, Corky Pollan, Gourmet’s former style director, New York Magazine’s Best Bets Editor and now Cooking Channel contributor turned blogger; and her brother, Michael Pollan, food activist, professor, and—
surprise, surprise—writer of such works as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Undoubtedly, these dinners are rather exceptional. “Well, as you can imagine,” says Pollan, “the food is pretty amazing. My mother’s a fantastic cook, and my brother as well. I grew up in a really foodie family, so we get together and basically our entire weekend is built around discussing, shopping for and cooking a meal for no less than 17 people.”

Born on Long Island and then raised in Manhattan, one could say that Tracy Pollan’s roots are as literary as they are culinary, with an orbit that revolved around books as much as it did around the meals over which they were discussed. “I grew up in a very literary family,” she explains. “Everybody in my family writes, and my husband writes as well, so it continues on. The thing that was so prevalent in our house was literature. Everybody was always reading and always talking about books.” She pauses, and then laughs. “I wish I had the writing skills that certainly my parents and my brother have. I think it skipped me. My kids are better writers than I am!” And yet, it was Pollan’s love of the written word that first inspired her to go into acting. “From a very young age, I would read these books,” she says. “But I wouldn’t just be reading them. I would put the book down and become so emotionally involved that I wanted to explore the character. I think my mother would just kind of roll her eyes.” Realizing how these early experiences with literature affected her eventually translated into reading and then performing in plays. At Dalton, a school renowned for its strong theater department, Pollan started acting in theatrical productions—and that was how her career began. She also became best friends with Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey, whom she met in a program for Dalton students who were bad at math. Pollan and Grey now live on opposite coasts, but talk constantly, and their daughters have become best friends.

After high school graduation, Pollan worked in theater and film in New York, with no plans to move west to Hollywood. Then, an amazing opportunity seemed to “just come out of nowhere,” as she describes it. It was, of course, the recurring role of Ellen Reed on the popular television show “Family Ties” starring Michael J. Fox. “It really wasn’t what I was looking to do,” remembers Pollan. “My whole family was in New York, and I felt like that’s where I wanted to spend my early twenties. But I went out to L.A., and I remember I had to do an audition for Michael. That was the first time we met.” When Pollan got offered the job, she spent several weeks weighing her options. “I remember those days so clearly, asking myself, ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ In the end, I decided to jump in and go for it.” At the time, she wasn’t that familiar with the show, or with the work of the show’s lead—her future husband. “Back to the Future had just come out, so one of the first things I did was go see it,” she says. “And I remember thinking to myself that this guy really has something.” For several years, there was a sort-of-moved-to-L.A. vibe to her life, as she flew out west and stayed in hotels while she shot the show, and then flew back home during her weeks off. When Fox and Pollan got married, the couple stayed in L.A. for a short time. But when they had their first son,
they decided to move back to the East Coast. “I loved growing up in Manhattan, and my whole family was still living in New York. There’s so much the city has to offer, and I feel that kids [here] have an opportunity to be independent from a very early age,” says Pollan. “Because I was so familiar with New York, it seemed like an easier way to raise a family. For me, it’s really all I knew, and I felt it was the best of every world.”

And now that her baby boy is a big brother to three little sisters, Pollan can look back on the decision without any doubts. “Our kids are such New Yorkers,” she says. “They’re very savvy and used to the fast pace. I’m always struck by it when I go someplace else. My girls are 16 and it’s great that they can just move around by themselves.” Though New York is her home, the family also keeps a house in Connecticut. “My parents have a place that’s literally two seconds away, so that’s another spot where the whole family gets together,” Pollan notes. Meanwhile, her summers are largely spent in the Hamptons. “We’re all so lucky because we have a house in the country so we can get away on weekends,” she says. “The kids get to run around outside and ride their bikes, but then we also get to be in Manhattan. That really is the best of both worlds.”

As an actress in addition to a mom, Pollan has been hard at work. Having made guest appearances on such popular television shows as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Medium” in recent years, Pollan then starred as Beth Holloway-Twitty in the 2009 film Natalee Holloway, which tells the true story of a teen’s disappearance during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. “I was familiar with the story, and it definitely touched me because I have three daughters of my own,” Pollan says sympathetically. Since the first film aired, there have been many more developments in the case. Not surprisingly, Pollan was approached about making a second movie, though she admits that she was a little conflicted at first. “The film was incredibly successful, and it really moved people a lot,” she says, “but it was such a difficult film to make because it’s such a sad, sad story.”
But Pollan overcame her hesitation. “Natalee meant a lot to a lot of people,” she says, “and I saw that there was still so much to the story that needed to be told. In the end, I decided to do it, and I was really glad I did, even though, emotionally, it was very difficult.” The sequel, Justice for Natalee, came out just this May. In this one, Pollan had even further opportunity to explore any connection she may feel with Beth. “I started watching interviews with Natalee’s mom, and I was so taken by her resilience and composure, her ability to take what really is the most tragic experience that anyone can go through and do something positive with it,” says Pollan. “I think that’s a really important message to get out there.” No doubt her attraction to a focus-on-the-positive mentality is at least partially born of Pollan’s own experience with hardship. Though hardly comparable to the loss of a child, her husband’s struggles with illness and his ability, along with Pollan, to create something great from that pain—the highly influential Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research—has inspired many.

Pollan has been on the board of directors since its inception. So it’s been a long time that Pollan has wanted to design something for the Foundation, something that would have a message and that would directly benefit its mission. One day, on a shopping trip in East Hampton, Pollan and her son wandered into Ralph Lauren’s RRL Store. “I was showing him these original dog tags they sell there,” she says. “I thought they were a great symbol. I really liked the way they looked aesthetically, and I remember saying, ‘This is what I want to do.’” As she was explaining the idea to her son, a man who looked familiar to Pollan walked in and started listening to their conversation. It was Jerry Lauren, brother to Ralph. “I had never met him before, and it was just so fortuitous,” remembers Pollan. “I started talking to him about it, and he loved the idea.” Thus her latest project for the Foundation was born. Pollan designed a line of dog tags for Ralph Lauren inscribed with either “Be Inspired” or “Be Involved,” with the proceeds going straight to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. In Pollan’s own words, “It’s literally a way to keep a person close to your heart.”
Aside from this impromptu project, Pollan’s Hamptons life is mostly a respite from her busy schedule. For the most part, summertime is focused on pleasure rather than business. “The beach is a big thing for me. I have to go everyday, and I boogie board like crazy,” Pollan says, describing herself as an “ocean fanatic.”

And of course, food remains a big part of her life. Her list of favorite Hamptons dining spots is quite diverse, ranging from Sushi 1—“It’s a great Japanese restaurant that isn’t that far from us”—to Townline BBQ in Sagaponack to Stone Creek Inn and Tutto Il Giorno in Sag Hargor to “that lobster place on the way to Montauk.” She frowns trying to remember. “It’s a little shack on the side of the road, and they have the most amazing lobster rolls,” she concludes, giving up on the name. “Honestly, we’ll drive anywhere for a meal.” And then, of course, there are the meals at home. “I do a lot of cooking over the summer. There’s an amazing farmer’s market in our town, and I’ll also travel to different farmer’s markets. I’ll go and get fresh produce, and make a great big meal. We have a lot of friends there [in the Hamptons], so we’re always a big group, and we’ll just move from house to house.” And though September—and the work it brings—seems to come far too soon, Pollan focuses on living in the moment. Today, this moment is being spent around her family table in the Hamptons. “I really try, if I can, to keep my summers free,” she says with a smile. “I relish that time with my family, with my children and with my friends.”
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