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WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ... / Ex-Houston pitchman Michael Pollack has made it in Arizona / Fame, fortune followed him West


Tue 04/15/2008 Houston Chronicle, Section Business, Page 1, 3 STAR R.O. Edition

OVER the years, a handful of Houston entrepreneurs became famous doing their own TV commercials.

But there has never been a phenomenon quite like Michael Pollack.

With his long and fluffy golden hair, gold chains, smooth voice and swagger, he became a "modern folk hero in Houston," according to a 1984 Houston Post article.

A Web site devoted to Pollack's time in Houston calls him "our own Elvis."

Pollack mania grew out of his TV ads for Colonial House Apartments, a 1,800-unit complex near the corner of Gulfton and Chimney Rock.

In one TV ad - captured for eternity on YouTube - the Colonial House theme song blares, while tenants kiss, dance and grill poolside, and Pollack declares: "I've created an exciting new lifestyle in beautiful southwest Houston!"

At the end of the spot, a woman springs from a pool, triumphantly holding high a clunky video recorder - free if you sign a lease.

The apartment complex has since taken on a more modest image, but what ever happened to Michael Pollack?

He left town more than two decades ago. He tossed his chains and went west.

No longer the Pied Piper of swinging singles, Pollack, 53, is a successful community-minded real estate developer based in Mesa, Ariz.

Pollack fans can take heart in knowing he hasn't lost his flair.

He has longish hair. His office building contains crystal chandeliers, Louis XVI-and-Louis XVII-style furniture and a piano.

Some people would call the decor flamboyant, Pollack said, "but I just call it me."

He owns more than 100 projects, mostly shopping centers, and is helped by his Ivy League-looking son Daniel Pollack.

Pollack "has been pretty much of a legend out here," said Steve Berman, mayor of Gilbert, Ariz.

He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the marching band program of Mesquite High School in Gilbert, said Berman, who noted, "We just built a senior center, and Michael paid a big chunk of it."

His name is well known in the Chandler and Mesa, Ariz., area, said Dave Bigos, mayor and council assistant for the city of Chandler: "He's constantly doing things."

Free restoration

Last year, free of charge, Pollack paid his workers to restore a dilapidated building that became a social services center for Chandler.

"No one asked him to do it," Bigos said.

Connected to Pollack's office is his huge private museum of 3-D advertising.

Fresh out of high school in San Jose, Calif., he started developing homes and apartments with his father or on his own. He became wealthy by his early 20s, he said.

After moving to Houston in 1980, he redeveloped the Orchard Apartments, which had resembled what he described as "a war zone." For his next project, Colonial House, he began flashing his Hollywood moves.

Counter to the conventional wisdom, Pollack didn't own Colonial House. He was hired by the company representing the owners to be a consultant and spokesman.

As a consultant he believed that promoting the complex as a singles mecca made sense, because it contained mostly one-bedroom units.

According to media reports then, Pollack lived in a super-size Colonial House apartment called "the Dream Suite," which had a colored water fountain inside and a king-size water bed.

Where he really lived

The Dream Suite was real, but Pollack says he never lived there. His home was the Four Leaf Towers and later the Houstonian, he said.

His glamorous stud image was just an act, he maintains, designed to rent apartments.

"I was promoting day and night," Pollack said. "To me, it was a job."

In a 1984 Houston Post profile, Pollack said his commercials tried to evoke a "happening type of feeling."

In that same article, he was asked to name his favorite food. His answer: "Meat."

According to Houston City magazine, he'd show up at nightclubs in a chauffeured custom Cadillac limousine with a moon roof. He traveled with an entourage, including bodyguards in satin jackets adorned with Pollack's silhouette.

His bodyguards could not always be there to protect him.

One commercial featured Pollack in a safari outfit and a tiger. He had a fear of cats, even little cats, and being next to the full-grown beast was terrifying, he recalled.

Left town in 1986

In 1986, Pollack left Houston because, he said, the local economy and apartment market looked increasingly grim.

Colonial House was foreclosed on in 1988. It was acquired by DRG Funding Corp., the lender that financed the complex's redevelopment. Pollack moved back to California, working there a few years before settling in Mesa.

In Houston, the Colonial House era is no more. A year after the foreclosure, the mammoth complex changed its name to Lantern Village.

On a recent afternoon, there was no dancing in the Lantern Village clubhouse. The grounds were quiet except for birds chirping in oak trees.

A mild-mannered man who seemed to be in charge of the business office said of the complex: "It's a nice place."

He wouldn't give his name.


To view the Colonial House commercial featuring Michael Pollack, go to www.watchingyou.com/michaelpollack.html



Favorite suit 1984: White 2008: Black

Footwear 1984: Snakeskin boots 2008: Black boots

Jewelry 1984: Gold chains, medallions and diamondstudded watch 2008: Movado watch

Car 1984: Chauffeured custom Cadillac limo 2008: Mercedes

Motto 1984: "Live life to its fullest each and every day" 2008: "Cover your assets"

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