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Poitier, Sidney 1927–

Sidney Poitier 1927

Actor, director

At a Glance

Thrown Out of First Audition

First Black Actor to Win Academy Award

Key Activist for Civil Rights

Selected filmography

Sources

At a 1992 banquet sponsored by the American Film Institute (AFI), a bevy of actors, filmmakers, and others gathered to pay tribute to Sidney Poitier. Superstar Denzel Washington called the veteran actor and director a source of pride for many African Americans, the Los Angeles Times reported, while acting luminary James Earl Jones ventured that his colleague had played a great role in the life of our country. Poitier himself was typically humble in the face of such praise, but he has acknowledged that his presence on film screens in the 1950s and 1960s did much to open up larger and more nuanced roles for black performers. I was selected almost by history itself, he averred to Susan Ellicott of the London Times.

After gracing dozens of films with his dignified, passionately intelligent presence, Poitier began to focus increasingly on directing; a constant in his life, however, has been his work on behalf of charitable causes. And he has continued to voice the need for film projects that, as he expressed it to Los Angeles Times writer Charles Champlin, have a commonality with the universal human condition.

Born in Miami, Florida, but raised in the Bahamas, Poitier experienced severe poverty as a boy. His father, a tomato farmer, was the poorest man in the village, the actor recalled in an interview with Frank Spotnitz for American Film. My father was never a man of self-pity, he continued, adding that the elder Poitier had a wonderful sense of himself. Every time I took a part, from the first part, from the first day, I always said to myself, This must reflect well on his name. The family moved from the tiny village of Cat Island to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, when Poitier was 11 years old, and it was there that he first experienced the magic of cinema.

After watching, rapt, as a western drama transpired on the screen, Poitier ran to the back of the theater to watch the cowboys and their horses come out. After watching the feature a second time, he again went out to wait for the figures from the screen to emerge. Poited told the Los Angeles Times, And when I told my friends what had happened, they laughed and they laughed and they said to me, Everything you saw was on film. And they explained to me what film was. And I said, Go on.

At a Glance

Born in 1927 (some sources say 1924) in Miami, FL; son of Reginald (a tomato farmer) and Evelyn Poitier; married Juanita Hardy, 1950 (divorced 1965) married Joanna Shimkus (an actress), c. 1976; children: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina (with Hardy); Anika, Sydney (with Shimkus). Military Service: Served briefly in U.S. Army.

Career: Worked as dishwasher and as janitor at American Negro Theater, New York City, early 1940s; stage appearances include Days of Our Youth, Lysistrata, Anna Lucasta, and A Raisin in the Sun; appeared in numerous films; wrote screenplay, For Love of Ivy, 1965; Free of Eden, executive producer, 1999; wrote autobiography, This Life, 1981; wrote second memoir, The Measure of A Man, 2000; named Bahamas ambassador to Japan, 1997-.

Memberships: Named to board of directors of Walt Disney Corporation, 1994-.

Awards: Academy Award, best actor, for Lilies of the Field, 1964, honorary award, 2002; American Film Institute, Life Achievement Award, 1992, named one of 50 greatest screen legends, 1999; New Yorks Associated Black Charities, Black History Maker Award, 1997; Screen Actors Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000; NAACP, Hall of Fame Award, 2001; Grammy, Best Spoken Word Album, 2001.

Addresses: Home Los Angeles, CA. Office Bahamas Foreign Ministry, Ambassador to Japan, East Hill St, PO Box N-3746, Nassau, Bahamas.

Thrown Out of First Audition

Poitier made his way to New York at age 16, serving for a short time in the Army. He has often told the story of his earliest foray into acting, elaborating on different strands of the tale from one recitation to the next. He was a teenager, working as a dishwasher in a New York restaurant. I didnt study in high school, he told American Films Spotnitz. I never got that far. I had no intentions of becoming an actor. Seeing an ad for actors in the Amsterdam News, a Harlem-based newspaper, he went to an audition at the American Negro Theater. I walked in and there was a man therebig strapping guy. He gave me a script.

The man was Frederick ONeal, a cofounder of the theater; impatient with young Poitiers Caribbean accent and shaky reading skills, ONeal lost his temper: He came up on the stage, furious, and grabbed me by the scruff of my pants and my collar and marched me toward the door, the actor remembered to Los Angeles Times writer Champlin. Just before he threw me out he said, Stop wasting peoples time! Why dont you get yourself a job as a dishwasher. Stunned that ONeal could perceive his lowly status, Poitier knew he had to prove his antagonist wrong. I have, and had, a terrible fierce pride, Poitier told the audience at the American Film Institute fête, as reported by Daily Variety. I determined right then I was going to be an actor.

Poitier continued in his dishwashing job; in his spare time he listened assiduously to radio broadcasts, he noted to Champlin, trying to lighten the broad A that characterizes West Indian speech patterns. He had some help in one aspect of his informal education, however: Daily Variety quoted his speech at the AFI banquet, in which he thanked an elderly Jewish waiter in New York who took the time to teach a young black dishwasher how to read, persisting over many months. Ultimately, Poitier returned to the American Negro Theater, persuading its directors to hire him as a janitor in exchange for acting lessons.

Poitier understudied for actor-singer Harry Belafonte in a play called Days of Our Youth, and an appearance one night led to a small role in a production of the Greek comedy Lysistrata. Poitier, uncontrollably nervous on the latter plays opening night, delivered the wrong lines and ran off the stage; yet his brief appearance so delighted critics, most of whom otherwise hated the production, that he ended up getting more work. I set out after that to dimensionalize my understanding of my craft, he told Champlin.

Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 feature No Way Out, portraying a doctor tormented by the racist brother of a man whose life he couldnt save. Director Joseph Mankiewicz had identified Poitiers potential, and the film bore out the filmmakers instincts. Poitier worked steadily throughout the 1950s, notably in the South African tale Cry, the Beloved Country, the classroom drama The Blackboard Jungle, and the taut The Defiant Ones, in which Poitier and Tony Curtis played prison escapees manacled together; their mutual struggle helps them look past racism and learn to respect each other. Poitier also appeared in the film version of George Gershwins modern opera Porgy and Bess.

First Black Actor to Win Academy Award

It was in the 1960s, howeverwith the civil rights movement spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others gathering momentumthat Poitier began to make his biggest mark on American popular culture. After appearing in the film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberrys play, A Raisin in the Sun, in a role hed developed on the stage, he took the part of an American serviceman in Germany in the 1963 production Lilies of the Field. This role earned him a best actor statuette at the Academy Awards, making him the first black actor to earn this honor.

Most of my career unfolded in the 1960s, which was one of the periods in American history with certain attitudes toward minorities that stayed in vogue, Poitier reflected to Ellicott of the London Times. I didnt understand the elements swirling around. I was a young actor with some talent, an enormous curiosity, a certain kind of appeal. You wrap all that together and you have a potent mix.

The mix was more potent than might have been anticipated, in fact; by 1967 Poitier was helping to break down filmic barriers that hitherto had seemed impenetrable. In To Sir, With Love Poitier played a charismatic schoolteacher, while In the Heat of the Night saw him portray Virgil Tibbs, a black detective from the North who helps solve a murder in a sleepy southern town and wins the grudging respect of the racist police chief there. Responding to the derisive labels flung at him, Poitiers character glowers, They call me Mister Tibbs. The films volatile mixture of suspense and racial politics eventually spawned two sequels starring Poitier and a television series (Poitier did not appear in the small screen version).

Even more stunning, Poitier wooed a white woman in the comedy Guess Whos Coming to Dinner; his fiancées parents were played by screen legends Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. The film was considered a watershed because it was Hollywoods first interracial love story that didnt end tragically. Poitiers compelling presencearticulate, compassionate, softspoken, yet demanding respect from even the most hostilehelped make this possible. Reflecting on the anti-racist agenda of filmmakers during this period, Poitier remarked to Ellicott, I suited their need. I was clearly intelligent. I was a pretty good actor. I believed in brotherhood, in a free society. I hated racism, segregation. And I was a symbol against those things.

Key Activist for Civil Rights

Of course, Poitier was more than a symbol. At the AFI banquet, reported David J. Fox in the Los Angeles Times, James Earl Jones praised his friends work on behalf of the civil rights struggle, declaring, He marched on Montgomery [Alabama] and Memphis [Tennessee] with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said of Sidney: Hes a man who never lost his concern for the least of Gods children. Indeed, Rosa Parks, who in 1955 touched off a crucial battle for desegregation simply by refusing to sit in the negro section of a Montgomery bus, attended the tribute and lauded Poitier as a great actor and role model.

In 1972 Poitier took a co-starring role with Belafonte in the revisionist western Buck and the Preacher for Columbia Pictures. After a falling out with the director of the picture, Poitier took over; though he and Belafonte urged Columbia to hire another director, a studio representative saw footage Poitier had shot and encouraged him to finish the film himself. And thats how I became a director, he told Los Angeles Times contributor Champlin.

Poitier is best known for helming comedic features co-starring his friend and comedian Bill Cosby; in addition to the trilogy of caper comedies of the 1970s Uptown Saturday Night, Lets Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action they collaborated on the ill-fated 1990 fantasy-comedy Ghost Dad, which was poorly received by both critics and moviegoers. Poitier also directed the hit 1980 comedy Stir Crazy, which starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, as well as several other features.

Poitier took only a handful of film roles in the 1980s, but in 1991 he played Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall in the television film Separate but Equal. James Earl Jones described the performance as a landmark actor portraying a landmark figure, in one of the landmark moments of our history. And in 1992 he returned to the big screen for the espionage comedy-drama Sneakers, which co-starred Robert Redford, River Phoenix, and Dan Aykroyd. It was a wonderful, breezy opportunity to play nothing heavy, he noted to Bary Koltnow of the Orange County Register. It was simple, and I didnt have to carry the weight. I havent done that in a while, and it was refreshing.

That year also saw the AFI tribute gala for Poitier, during which the actor welcomed young filmmakers into the fold and enjoined them to be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey, reported Daily Variety. I fully expected to be wise by now, Poitier noted in his speech, but Ive come to this place in my life armed only with the knowledge of how little I know. I enter my golden years with nothing profound to say and no advice to leave, but I thank you for paying me this great honor while I still have hair, and my stomach still has not obscured my view of my shoetops.

Poitier observed to Champlin that during this golden age the demands of art had taken a back seat to domestic concerns to a large degree. Its very important, but its not the nerve center, he insisted. There is the family, and there is music and there is literature as well as political issues. Poitier noted that he and his wife, actress Joanna Shimkus, travel a great deal since they reside in California and have children in New York, and, as the actor put it, I live in the world.

Poitier returned to the small screen for 1995s western drama Children of the Dust. As a presence, reported Chris Dafoe of the Los Angeles Times, its apparent that hes viewed with respect, even awe, by virtually everyone on the set. He continued to work periodically, including working with his daughter, Sydneyalso an actressand was also the subject of an American Masters documentary, Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light. He also re-created the role of Mark Thackery in a sequel to To Sir With Love.

Poitier, who has a dual American-Bahamian citizenship, was appointed as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. He also wrote his second memoir, The Measure of A Man. The audiobook version, which he narrated, won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album. He has also received many honors and awards. In 2002 he received an honorary Oscar for a career that, according to Variety, signaled a turning point for African Americans in film. He was also on hand to witness the second African-American male to win an Oscar for Best Actor, and to see the first African-American female to win for Best Actress.

Poitier has received many awards and honors for both his tremendous body of work in film and his humanitarian efforts. He was named one of the AHs fifty greatest screen legends. He was presented with the NAACPs Hall of Fame Award for his constant depiction of positive screen images. He was also honored by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) with a lifetime achievement award. Costar Michael Moriarty observed that Poitier lived up to his legendary status: You see a face that youve grown up with and admired, someone who was an icon of America, a symbol of strength and persistence and grace. And then you find out that he is everything he symbolizes on screen. Poitier commented to Parade magazinequoted by Jet I was the only person. It took an awful long time for there to be enough flexibility in attitudes in this business for there to be room for others. He also stated in Jet, Ive been at this game for 52 years. I would only like to continue if whats ahead of me complements whats behind me.

Selected filmography

Films

No Way Out, 1949.

Cry, the Beloved Country, 1952.

The Blackboard Jungle, 1955.

Edge of the City, 1957.

Something of Value, 1957.

The Defiant Ones, 1958.

Porgy and Bess, 1959.

All the Young Men, 1960.

A Raisin in the Sun, 1961.

Lilies of the Field, 1963.

The Long Ships, 1964.

The Bedford Incident, 1965.

The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965.

A Patch of Blue, 1965.

The Slender Thread, 1965.

Guess Whos Coming to Dinner, 1967.

In the Heat of the Night, 1967.

To Sir, With Love, 1967.

For Love of Ivy, 1968.

The Lost Man, 1969.

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, 1970.

Buck and the Preacher, 1972.

A Warm December, 1973.

Uptown Saturday Night, 1974.

Lets Do It Again, 1975.

A Piece of the Action, 1977.

Shoot to Kill, 1988.

Little Nikita, 1988.

Sneakers, 1992.

The Jackal, 1997.

Television

Separate but Equal, 1991.

Children of the Dust, 1995.

To Sir With Love 2, 1996.

Mandela and de Klerk, Showtime, 1997.

Free of Eden, Showtime, 1999.

The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, 1999.

Last Brickmaker in America, 2001.

As Director

Buck and the Preacher, 1972.

A Warm December, 1973.

Uptown Saturday Night, 1974.

Lets Do It Again, 1975.

A Piece of the Action, 1977.

Stir Crazy, 1980.

Hanky-Panky, 1982.

Fast Forward, 1985.

Ghost Dad, 1990.

Sources

Books

Whos Who Among African Americans, 14th Edition, Gale, 2001.

Periodicals

American Film, September 1991, pp. 18-21, 49.

Daily Variety, March 16, 1992, p. 18.

Jet, February 17, 1997, p. 63; March 3, 1997, pp. 52-53; March 27, 2000, p. 54; March 19, 2001, p. 54.

Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service, April 13, 2001; March 22, 2002.

Library Journal, May 15, 2001, p. 182. Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1992 (Calendar), p. 8; March 14, 1992, pp. F1, F4; February 26, 1995 (Television Times), pp. 5-6.

Orange County Register, September 11, 1992, p. P6.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, p. 63.

Time, April 28, 1997, p. 83; September 22, 1997, p. 103.

Times (London), November 8, 1992.

Variety, March 4, 2002, p. S20.

On-line

Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com

Simon Glickman and Ashyia N. Henderson

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Poitier, Sidney 1927–

POITIER, Sidney 1927


PERSONAL


Born February 20, 1927, in Miami, FL; raised in Nassau, Bahamas; son of Reginald James (a tomato farmer) and Evelyn (a tomato farmer; maiden name, Outten) Poitier; married Juanita Hardy (a dancer), April 29, 1950 (divorced, 1965); married Joanna Shimkus (an actress), January 23, 1976; children: (first marriage) Beverly Poitier Henderson, Pamela, Sherri, Gina; (second marriage) Anika, Sydney Tamiia (an actress). Education: Studied acting with American Negro Theatre, New York City, beginning 1945; trained for the stage with Paul Mann and Lloyd Richards. Avocational Interests: Reading, music, golf, football, tennis, gardening, travel.


Addresses: Agent Martin Baum, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.


Career: Actor, director, producer, and executive. First Artists (film production company), founder (with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, and Dustin Hoffman), 1969; Walt Disney Co., member of board of directors, 1998. Center Theatre Group, member. Appointed ambassador to Japan from the Bahamas, 1997. University of Southern California, member of board of councilors, School of Cinema and Television. American Museum of the Moving Image, member of board of trustees; also member of Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Charles Drew Medical Group, and Los Angeles Olympic Committee. Worked as a janitor, dishwasher, construction worker, messenger, and longshoreman. Military service: U.S. Army, physiotherapist, 194145.


Member: American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors' Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, American Film Institute (founding trustee; first vice president), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (life member).


Awards, Honors: Georgio Cini Award, Venice Film Festival, 1958, for Something of Value; Film Award nomination, best foreign actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1958, for Edge of the City; Silver Berlin Bear, best actor, Berlin International Film Festival, New York Film Critics Award, best actor, and Film Award, best foreign actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, all 1958, Academy Award nomination, best actor, Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a drama, and nomination for Golden Laurel Award, top male dramatic performance, all 1959, all for The Defiant Ones; nomination for Golden Laurel Award, top male new personality, 1959; Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a musical or comedy, 1960, for Porgy and Bess; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best actor in a drama, 1960, for A Raisin in the Sun; Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a drama, and Film Award nomination, best foreign actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, both 1962, for A Raisin in the Sun; Silver Berlin Bear, best actor, 1963, Academy Award, best actor, 1964, Golden Globe Award, best actor in a drama, 1964, nomination for Golden Laurel Award, top male dramatic performance, 1964, and Film Award nomination, best foreign actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1965, all for Lilies of the Field; William J. German Human Relations Award, American Jewish Congress, 1966; Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a drama, 1966, nomination for Golden Laurel Award, male dramatic performance, 1966, and Film Award nomination, best foreign actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1967, all for A Patch of Blue; Golden Apple Star of the Year Award, Hollywood Women's Press Club, 1967; nomination for Golden Laurel Award, outstanding action performance, 1967, for Ralph Nelson's Duel at Diablo; Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture actor in a drama, Film Award, best foreign actor, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and nomination for Golden Laurel Award, male dramatic performance, all 1968, for In the Heat of the Night; Star of the Year Award, National Association of Theatre Owners, 1968; nomination for Golden Laurel Award, outstanding male star, 1968; Prize San Sebastian, best actor, San Sebastian International Film Festival Award, 1968, for For Love of Ivy; Golden Globe Award, male world film favorite, 1969; nomination for Golden Laurel Award, outstanding male star, 1970; decorated knight commander, Order of the British Empire, 1974; Coretta Scott King Book Award, Social Responsibilities Round Table, American Library Association, 1981, for This Life; Cecil B. De Mille Award, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, 1982; Emmy Award nomination, best actor in a miniseries or special, 1991, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best actor in a miniseries or television movie, 1992, both for Separate But Equal; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1992; Thurgood Marshall Award, 1993; Career Achievement Award, National Board of Review, 1994; Kennedy Center Honor, 1995; Image Award nomination, outstanding actor in a television movie, miniseries, or drama special, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1996, for Children of the Dust; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or special, 1997, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a male actor in a television movie or miniseries, 1998, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best actor in a miniseries or television movie, International Press Academy, 1998, and Image Award, outstanding lead actor in a television movie, miniseries or drama special, 1998, all for Mandela and de Klerk; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite supporting actor in a suspense movie, 1998, for The Jackal; Image Award, outstanding actor in a television movie, miniseries, or dramatic special, 2000, for The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn; Life Achievement Award, Screen Actors Guild, 2000; inducted into Hall of Fame, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Grammy Award, best spokenword album, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 2001, for The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography; Honorary Academy Award, 2002; Living Legend Award, Trumpet Awards, 2002; also received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.


CREDITS


Film Appearances:

From Whom Cometh My Help (documentary short film), U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1949.

Dr. Luther Brooks, No Way Out, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1950.

Reverend Msimangu, Cry, the Beloved Country (also known as African Fury ), Lopert, 1952.

Corporal Andrew Robertson, Red Ball Express, Universal, 1952.

Inman Jackson, Go, Man, Go!, United Artists, 1954.

Gregory W. Miller, The Blackboard Jungle, MetroGoldwynMayer, 1955.

Gates, Goodbye, My Lady (also known as The Boy and the Laughing Dog ), Warner Bros., 1956.

Tommy Tyler, Edge of the City (also known as A Man Is Ten Feet Tall ), MetroGoldwynMayer, 1957.

Kimani Wa Karanja, Something of Value (also known as Africa Ablaze ), MetroGoldwynMayer, 1957.

RauRu, Band of Angels, Warner Bros., 1957.

Noah Cullen, The Defiant Ones, United Artists, 1958.

Oban, The Mark of the Hawk (also known as Accused ), Universal, 1958.

Porgy, Porgy and Bess, Columbia, 1959.

Sergeant Eddie Towler, All the Young Men, Columbia, 1960.

Marcus, Virgin Island (also known as Our Virgin Island ), FilmsaroundtheWorld, 1960.

Eddie Cook, Paris Blues, United Artists, 1961.

Walter Lee Younger, A Raisin in the Sun, Columbia, 1961.

Doctor, Pressure Point, United Artists, 1962.

Homer Smith, Lilies of the Field, United Artists, 1963.

Aly Mansuh, The Long Ships (also known as Dugi brodovi ), Columbia, 1964.

Ben Munceford, The Bedford Incident, Columbia, 1965.

Simon of Cyrene, The Greatest Story Ever Told (also known as George Stevens Presents the Greatest Story Ever Told ), United Artists, 1965.

Gordon Ralfe, A Patch of Blue, MetroGoldwynMayer, 1965.

Alan Newell, The Slender Thread, Paramount, 1965.

Toller, Ralph Nelson's Duel at Diablo (also known as Duel at Diablo ), United Artists, 1966.

John Wade Prentice, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Columbia, 1967.

Detective Virgil Tibbs, In the Heat of the Night, United Artists, 1967.

Mark Thackeray, To Sir, with Love, Columbia, 1967.

Jack Parks, For Love of Ivy, Cinerama, 1968.

Jason Higgs, The Lost Man, Universal, 1969.

Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs, They Call Me Mister Tibbs!, United Artists, 1970.

Narrator, King: A Filmed Record ... Montgomery to Memphis, Marion, 1970.

John Kane, Brother John, Columbia, 1971.

Detective Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs, The Organization, United Artists, 1971.

Buck, Buck and the Preacher, Columbia, 1972.

Dr. Matt Younger, A Warm December, National General, 1973.

Steve Jackson, Uptown Saturday Night, Warner Bros., 1974.

Clyde Williams, Let's Do It Again, Warner Bros., 1975.

Shack Twala, The Wilby Conspiracy, United Artists, 1975.

Manny Durrell, A Piece of the Action, Warner Bros., 1977.

Narrator, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (also known as Paul Robeson: A Film Tribute ), 1979.

Warren Stantin, Shoot to Kill (also known as Deadly Pursuit ), Buena Vista, 1988.

Roy Parmenter, Little Nikita (also known as The Sleepers ), Columbia, 1988.

Donald Crease, Sneakers, Universal, 1992.

World Beat, 1993.

Himself, A Century of Cinema, 1994.

Himself, Wild Bill, Hollywood Maverick: The Life and Times of William A. Wellman, Wild Bill Pictures, 1995.

Carter Preston, The Jackal (also known as Le chacal and Der Schakal ), Universal, 1997.

Reverend Msimangu (in archive footage), Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist, 1998.

Film Director:

Buck and the Preacher, Columbia, 1972.

A Warm December, National General, 1973.

Uptown Saturday Night, Warner Bros., 1974.

Let's Do It Again, Warner Bros., 1975.

A Piece of the Action, Warner Bros., 1977.

Stir Crazy, Columbia, 1980.

Hanky Panky, Columbia, 1982.

Fast Forward, Columbia, 1985.

Ghost Dad, Universal, 1990.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

Thurgood Marshall, Separate But Equal, ABC, 1991.

Gypsy Smith, Children of the Dust (also known as A Good Day to Die ), CBS, 1995.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Mark Thackeray, To Sir, with Love 2, CBS, 1996.

Nelson Mandela, Mandela and de Klerk, Showtime, 1997.

Dr. Jack Miller, Oprah Winfrey Presents: David and Lisa, ABC, 1998.

Will Cleamons, Free of Eden, Showtime, 1999.

Title role, The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, CBS, 1999.

Henry Cobb, The Last Brickmaker in America, CBS, 2001.

Narrator, Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey, PBS, 2001.

Television Appearances; Specials:

The American Film Institute Tenth Anniversary Special, CBS, 1977.

The Night of 100 Stars II, ABC, 1985.

The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katherine Hepburn, PBS, 1986.

Narrator, Bopha!, PBS, 1987.

The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1989.

Host, Voyager: Rendezvous with Neptune, TBS, 1989.

The American Film Institute Salute to Gregory Peck, 1989.

Sinatra 75: The Best Is Yet to Come (also known as Frank Sinatra: 75th Birthday Celebration ), CBS, 1990.

Celebrate the Soul of American Music, syndicated, 1991.

Back to School '92 (also known as Education First! ), CBS, 1992.

The American Film Institute Salute to Sidney Poitier (also known as The 20th Annual American Film Institute Life Achievement Award ), NBC, 1992.

The 19th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1992.

The American Film Institute Salute to Elizabeth Taylor, ABC, 1993.

An American Reunion: New Beginnings, Renewed Hope (also known as An American Reunion: The People's Inaugural Celebration ), HBO, 1993.

Hollywood Stars: A Century of Cinema, The Disney Channel, 1995.

Interviewee, James Earl Jones, Arts and Entertainment, 1995.

The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, 1995.

The Kennedy Center Honors, CBS, 1997.

(In archive footage) Small Steps, Big Strides: The Black Experience in Hollywood, AMC, 1998.

League of Legends, 1998.

An Evening of Stars: A Celebration of the Educational Excellence Benefiting the Negro College Fund, syndicated, 1999.

"Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light," American Masters, PBS, 2000.

Interviewee, Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters, Arts and Entertainment, 2000.

The BBC and the BAFTA Tribute to Michael Caine, 2000.

(In archive footage) Playboy: The Party Continues, 2000.

Interviewee, Quincy Jones: In the Pocket, PBS, 2001.

A Tribute to Barbra Streisand (also known as The 29th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award: A Salute to Barbra Streisand ), Fox, 2001.

Muhammad Ali's AllStar 60th Birthday Celebration!, CBS, 2002.

(Uncredited; in archive footage) Inside the Playboy Mansion, Arts and Entertainment, 2002.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

The 36th Annual Academy Awards, 1964.

Presenter, The 37th Annual Academy Awards, 1965.

Presenter, The 40th Annual Academy Awards, 1968.

Presenter, The 41st Annual Academy Awards, 1969.

The 22nd Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1990.

Presenter, The 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 1991.

The Great Ones: The National Sports Awards, NBC, 1993.

The 1997 ESPY Awards, ABC and ESPN, 1997.

The 70th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1998.

The 6th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, TNT, 2000.

The 32nd Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2001.

The 74th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 2002.

The 10th Annual Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2002.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

"Parole Chief," Philco Television Playhouse, NBC, 1952.

Tommy Tyler, "A Man Is Ten Feet Tall," Philco Television Playhouse, NBC, 1955.

"The Fascinating Stranger," Ponds Theatre (also known as Kraft Television Theatre ), ABC, 1955.

"A Tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt on Her Diamond Jubilee," Sunday Showcase, NBC, 1959.

Himself, Cinepanorama, 1961.

The Strolling '20s, CBS, 1966.

"A Time for Laughter," ABC Stage '67, ABC, 1967.

The New Bill Cosby Show, CBS, 1972.

Himself and MechaPoitier, "Mecha Streisand," South Park, Comedy Central, 1998.

Guest, The Oprah Winfrey Show, syndicated, 2000.

Guest on the series Changing Stages, PBS.

Television Work; Movies:

Executive producer, Free of Eden, Showtime, 1999.

Stage Appearances:

(Stage debut) Days of Our Youth, American Negro Theatre Playhouse, New York City, 1945.

(Broadway debut) Polydorus, Lysistrata, Belasco Theatre, 1946.

On Striver's Row, American National Theatre Playhouse, New York City, 1946.

Lester, Anna Lucasta, National Theatre, New York City, 1947.

Walter Lee Younger, A Raisin in the Sun, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, 1959.

The Night of 100 Stars II, Radio City Music Hall, New York City, 1985.

Also appeared in productions of The Fisherman, Freight, Hidden Horizon, Rain, Riders to the Sea, Sepia Cinderella, and You Can't Take It with You, all with American Negro Theatre.

Major Tours:

Lester, Anna Lucasta, U.S. cities, 1948.

Stage Work:

Director, Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights, John Golden Theatre, New York City, 1968.


RECORDINGS


Audio Books:

Narrator, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, by Sidney Poitier, HarperAudio, 2000.


Videos:

The Directors: Norman Jewison, 1997.

The Making of "Changing Lanes, " 2002.


WRITINGS


Books:

This Life (autobiography), Knopf (New York City), 1980.

(With Carol Bergman) The Films of Sidney Poitier, Chelsea House, 1988.

The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, Harper San Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 2001.


ADAPTATIONS


The screenplay For Love of Ivy, released by Cinerama in 1968, was based on an original story by Poitier.

OTHER SOURCES


Books:

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 36, Gale, 2002.

Ewers, Catharine, The Long Journey, Signet, 1969.

Keyser, Lester J., and Andre H. Ruszkowski, The Cinema of Sidney Poitier, A. S. Barnes, 1980.

Marill, Alvin H., The Films of Sidney Poitier, Citadel, 1978.

Paige, David, Sidney Poitier, Creative Education, 1976.

Poitier, Sidney, This Life, Knopf, 1980.

Poitier, Sidney, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, Harper San Francisco, 2001.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press, 2000.

Periodicals:

American Film, SeptemberOctober, 1991, p. 18.

Entertainment Weekly, fall, 1996, p. 70; February 22, 2002, p. 110.

Jet, December 18, 1995, p. 61; March 3, 1997, April 14, 1997, p 19; May 5, 1997, p. 6.

Parade, November 1, 1998, p. 18; June 4, 2000, p. 21.

Time, September 22, 1997, p. 103.

Other:

"Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light" (television special), American Masters, PBS, 2000.

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Poitier, Sidney 1927-

Sidney Poitier 1927-

Actor, director

At a Glance

Thrown Out of First Audition

First Black Actor to Win Academy Award

Key Activist for Civil Rights

Sources

At a 1992 banquet sponsored by the august American Film Institute (AFI), a bevy of actors, filmmakers, and others gathered to pay tribute to Sidney Poitier. Superstar Denzel Washington called the veteran actor and directora source of pride for many African Americans, the Los Angeles Times reported, while acting luminary James Earl Jones ventured that his colleague hadplayed a great role in the life of our country. Poitier himself was typically humble in the face of such praise, but he has acknowledged that his presence on film screens in the 1950s and 1960s did much to open up larger and more nuanced roles for black performers.I was selected almost by history itself, he averred to Susan Ellicott of the LondonTimes.

After gracing dozens of films with his dignified, passionately intelligent presence, Poitier began to focus increasingly on directing; a constant in his life, however, has been his work on behalf of charitable causes. And he has continued to voice the need for film projects that, as he expressed it toLos Angeles Times writer Charles Champlin,have a commonality with the universal human condition.

Born in Miami, Florida, but raised in the Bahamas, Poitier experienced severe poverty as a boy. His father, a tomato farmer,was the poorest man in the village, the actor recalled in an interview with Frank Spotnitz for American Film.My father was never a man of self-pity, he continued, adding that the elder Poitierhad a wonderful sense of himself. Every time I took a part, from the first part, from the first day, I always said to myself, This must reflect well on his name. The family moved from the tiny village of Cat Island to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, when Poitier was 11 years old, and it was there that he first experienced the magic of cinema.

After watching rapt as a western drama transpired on the screen, Poitier recollected gleefully to Chris Dafoe of the Los Angeles Times, he ran to the back of the theater to watch the cowboys and their horses come out. After watching the feature a second time, he again went out to wait for the figures from the screen to emerge.And when I told my friends what had happened, they laughed and they laughed and they said to me, Everything you saw was on film. And they explained to me what film was. And I said, Go on.

At a Glance

Born in 1927 (some sources say 1924) in Miami, FL; son of Reginald (a tomato farmer) and Evelyn poitier; married second wife, Joanna Shimkus (an actress), c. 1976; children: two.

Served briefly in U .S. Army; worked as dishwasher and as janitor at American Negro Theater, New York City, early 1940s Stage appearances include Days of Our Youth, Lysistrata, Anna Lucasta, and A Raisin in the Sun. Film appearances includeNo Way Out, 1949,Cry, the Beloved Country, 1952, The Blackboard Jungle, 1955, Edge of the City, 1957, Something of Value, 1957, The Defiant Ones, 1958, Porgy and Bess, 1959, All the Young Men, 1960, A Raisin in the Sun, 1961, Lilies of the Field, 1963, The Long Ships, 1964, The Bedford Incident, 1965, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965,A Patch of Blue, 1965, The Slender Thread, 1965, Guess Whos Coming to Dinner, 1967, In the Heat of the Night, 1967, To Sir, With Love, 1967, For Love of Ivy, 1968, The Lost Man, 1969, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, 1970, Buck and the Preacher, 1972, A Warm December, 1973, Uptown Saturday Night, 1974, lets Do It Again, 1975,A Piece of the Action, 1977 Shoot to Kill 1988, Little Nikita, 1988, Separate but Equal(television film), 1991, Sneakers, 1992, and Children of the Dust (television film), 1995, White Mans Burden, 1995. Directed Buck and the Preacher, A Warm December, Uptown Saturday Night, Lets Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, Stir Crazy, 1980, Hanky-Panky, 1982, Fast Forward, 1985, and Ghost Dad, 1990, Named to board of directors of Walt Disney Corporation, 1994.

Awards: Academy Award for best actor, 1964, for Lilies of the Field; Life Achievement Award, American Film institute, 1992.

Addresses: HomeLos Angeles, CA.

Thrown Out of First Audition

Poitier made his way to New York at age 16, serving for a short time in the Army. He has often told the story of his earliest foray into acting, elaborating on different strands of the tale from one recitation to the next. He was a teenager, working as a dishwasher in a New York restaurant.I didnt study in high school, he told American Filmjs Spotnitz.I never got that far. I had no intentions of becoming an actor. Seeing an ad for actors in the Amsterdam News, a Harlem-based newspaper, he went to an audition at the American Negro Theater.I walked in and there was a man therebig strapping guy. He gave me a script.

The man was Frederick ONeal, a cofounder of the theater; impatient with young Poitiers Caribbean accent and shaky reading skills, ONeal lost his temper:He came up on the stage, furious, and grabbed me by the scruff of my pants and my collar and marched me toward the door, the actor remembered to Los Angeles Times writer Champlin.Just before he threw me out he said, Stop wasting peoples time! Why dont you get yourself a job as a dishwasher. Stunned that ONeal could perceive his lowly status, Poitier knew he had to prove his antagonist wrong.I have, and had, a terrible fierce pride, Poitier told the audience at the American Film Institute fête, as reported by Daily Variety.I determined right then I was going to be an actor.

Poitier continued in his dishwashing job; in his spare time he listened assiduously to radio broadcasts, he noted to Champlin,trying to lighten the broad A that characterizes West Indian speech patterns. He had some help in one aspect of his informal education, however: Daily Variety quoted his speech at the AFI banquet, in which he thankedan elderly Jewish waiter in New York who took the time to teach a young black dishwasher how to read, persisting over many months. Ultimately, Poitier returned to the American Negro Theater, persuading its directors to hire him as a janitor in exchange for acting lessons.

Poitier understudied for actor-singer Harry Belafonte in a play called Days of Our Youth, and an appearance one night led to a small role in a production of the Greek comedy Lysistrata.Poitier, uncontrollably nervous on the latter plays opening night, delivered the wrong lines and ran off the stage; yet his brief appearance so delighted critics, most of whom otherwise hated the production, that he ended up getting more work.I set out after that to dimensionalize my understanding of my craft, he told Champlin.

Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 feature No Way Out, portraying a doctor tormented by the racist brother of a man whose life he couldnt save. Director Joseph Mankiewicz had identified Poitiers potential, and the film bore out the filmmakers instincts. Poitier worked steadily throughout the 1950s, notably in the South African tale Cry, the Beloved Country, the classroom drama The Blackboard Jungle, and the taut The Defiant Ones, in which Poitier and Tony Curtis played prison escapees manacled together; their mutual struggle helps them look past racism and learn to respect each other. Poitier also appeared in the film version of George Gershwins modern opera Porgynd Bess.

First Black Actor to Win Academy Award

It was in the 1960s, howeverwith the civil rights movement spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others gathering momentumthat Poitier began to make his biggest mark on American popular culture. After appearing in the film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberrys play A Raisin in the Sun,, in a role hed developed on the stage, he took the part of an American serviceman in Germany in the 1963 production Lilies of the Field.This role earned him a best actor statuette at the Academy Awards, making him the first black actor to earn this honor.

Most of my career unfolded in the 1960s, which was one of the periods in American history with certain attitudes toward minorities that stayed in vogue, Poitier reflected to Ellicott of the London Times.I didnt understand the elements swirling around. I was a young actor with some talent, an enormous curiosity, a certain kind of appeal. You wrap all that together and you have a potent mix.

The mix was more potent than might have been anticipated, in fact; by 1967 Poitier was helping to break down filmic barriers that hitherto had seemed impenetrable. In To Sir, With Love Poitier played a charismatic schoolteacher, while In the Heat of the Night saw him portray Virgil Tibbs, a black detective from the North who helps solve a murder in a sleepy southern town and wins the grudging respect of the racist police chief there. Responding to the derisive labels flung at him, Poitiers character glowers, They call me Mister Tibbs. The films volatile mixture of suspense and racial politics eventually spawned two sequels starring Poitier and a television series (Poitier did not appear in the small screen version).

Even more stunning, Poitier wooed a white woman in the comedy Guess Whos Coming to Dinner; his fiancées parents were played by screen legends Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. The film was considered a watershed because it was Hollywoods first interracial love story that didnt end tragically. Poitiers compelling presencearticulate, compassionate, soft-spoken, yet demanding respect from even the most hostilehelped make this possible. Reflecting on the anti-racist agenda of filmmakers during this period, Poitier remarked to Ellicott, I suited their need. I was clearly intelligent. I was a pretty good actor. I believed in brotherhood, in a free society. I hated racism, segregation. And I was a symbol against those things.

Key Activist for Civil Rights

Of course, Poitier was more than a symbol. At the AFI banquet, reported David J. Fox in the Los Angeles Times, James Earl Jones praised his friends work on behalf of the civil right struggle, declaring, He marched on Montgomery [Alabama] and Memphis [Tennessee] with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said of Sidney: Hes a man who never lost his concern for the least of Gods children. Indeed, Rosa Parks, who in 1955 touched off a crucial battle for desegregation simply by refusing to sit in the negro section of a Montgomery bus, attended the tribute and lauded Poitier as a great actor and role model.

In 1972 Poitier took a co-starring role with Belafonte in the revisionist western Buck and the Preacher for Columbia Pictures. After a falling out with the director of the picture, Poitier took over; though he and Belafonte urged Columbia to hire another director, a studio representative saw footage Poitier had shot and encouraged him to finish the film himself. And thats how I became a director, he toldLos Angeles Times contributor Champlin.

Poitier is best known for helming comedie features co-starring his friend comedian Bill Cosby; in addition to the trilogy of caper comedies of the 1970s Uptown Saturday Night, Lets Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action they collaborated on the ill-fated 1990 fantasy-comedy Ghost Dad,which was poorly received by both critics and moviegoers. Poitier also directed the hit 1980 comedy Stir Crazy, which starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, as well as several other features.

Poitier took only a handful of film roles in the 1980s, but in 1991 he played Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall in the television film Separate but Equal.James Earl Jones described the performance as a landmark actor portraying a landmark figure, in one of the landmark moments of our history. And in 1992 he returned to the big screen for the espionage comedy-drama Sneakers, which co-starred Robert Redford, River Phoenix, and Dan Aykroyd. It was a wonderful, breezy opportunity to play nothing heavy, he noted to Bary Koltnow of the Orange County Register.It was simple, and I didnt have to carry the weight. I havent done that in a while, and it was refreshing.

That year also saw the gala AFI tribute to Poitier, during which the actor welcomed young filmmakers into the fold and enjoined them to be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey, reported Daily Variety.I fully expected to be wise by now, Poitier noted in his speech, but Ive come to this place in my life armed only with the knowledge of how little I know. I enter my golden years with nothing profound to say and no advice to leave, but I thank you for paying me this great honor while I still have hair, and my stomach still has not obscured my view of myshoetops.

Poitier observed to Champlin that during this golden age the demands of art had taken a back seat to domestic concerns to a large degree. Its very important, but its not the nerve center, he insisted.There is the family, and there is music and there is literature as well as political issues. Poitier noted that he and his wife, actress Joanna Shimkus, travel a great deal since they reside in California and have children in New York, and, as the actor put it, I live in the world.

Poitier returned to the small screen for 1995s western drama Children of the Dust.As a presence, reported Chris Dafoe of the Los Angeles Times, its apparent that hes viewed with respect, even awe, by virtually everyone on the set. Costar Michael Moriarty observed that Poitier lived up to his legendary status: You see a face that youve grown up with and admired, someone who was an icon of America, a symbol of strength and persistence and grace. And then you find out that in the everyday, workaday work of doing movies, he is everything he symbolizes on screen.

For Poitier, the challenge of doing meaningful work involves transcending the racial and social barriers he helped tumble with his early film appearances. He has insisted that large budgets are not necessary to make a mark and that violence too often seems the only way to resolve conflicts on the screen. We suffer pain, we hang tight to hope, we nurture expectations, we are plagued occasionally by fears, we are haunted by defeats and unrealized hopes, he said of humans in general in his interview with Champlin, adding thatwhen you make drama of that condition, its almost as if words are not necessary. It has its own language spoken everywhere, understood everywhere.

Sources

American Film, September 1991, pp. 18-21, 49.

Daily Variety, March 16, 1992, p. 18.

Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1992 (Calendar), p. 8; March 14, 1992, pp. FI, F4; February 26, 1995 (Television Times), pp. 5-6.

Orange County Register, September 11, 1992, p. P6.

Times (London), November 8, 1992.

Simon Glickman

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Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

Actor Sidney Poitier's (born 1924) presence in film during the 1950s and 1960s opened up the possibility for bigger and better roles for black performers.

At a 1992 banquet sponsored by the august American Film Institute (AFI), a bevy of actors, filmmakers, and others gathered to pay tribute to Sidney Poitier. Superstar Denzel Washington called the veteran actor and director "a source of pride for many African Americans, " the Los Angeles Times reported, while acting luminary James Earl Jones ventured that his colleague had "played a great role in the life of our country." Poitier himself was typically humble in the face of such praise, but he has acknowledged that his presence on film screens in the 1950s and 1960s did much to open up larger and more nuanced roles for black performers. "I was selected almost by history itself, " he averred to Susan Ellicott of the London Times.

After gracing dozens of films with his dignified, passionately intelligent presence, Poitier began to focus increasingly on directing; a constant in his life, however, has been his work on behalf of charitable causes. And he has continued to voice the need for film projects that, as he expressed it to Los Angeles Times writer Charles Champlin, "have a commonality with the universal human condition."

Born in 1924 in Miami, Florida, but raised in the Bahamas, Poitier experienced severe poverty as a boy. His father, a tomato farmer, "was the poorest man in the village, " the actor recalled in an interview with Frank Spotnitz for American Film. "My father was never a man of self-pity, " he continued, adding that the elder Poitier "had a wonderful sense of himself. Every time I took a part, from the first part, from the first day, I always said to myself, 'This must reflect well on his name."' The family moved from the tiny village of Cat Island to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, when Poitier was 11 years old, and it was there that he first experienced the magic of cinema.

After watching rapt as a western drama transpired on the screen, Poitier recollected gleefully to Chris Dafoe of the Los Angeles Times, he ran to the back of the theater to watch the cowboys and their horses come out. After watching the feature a second time, he again went out to wait for the figures from the screen to emerge. "And when I told my friends what had happened, they laughed and they laughed and they said to me, 'Everything you saw was on film.' And they explained to me what film was. And I said, 'Go on."'

Thrown Out of First Audition

Poitier made his way to New York at age 16, serving for a short time in the Army. He has often told the story of his earliest foray into acting, elaborating on different strands of the tale from one recitation to the next. He was a teenager, working as a dishwasher in a New York restaurant. "I didn't study in high school, " he told American Film's Spotnitz. "I never got that far. I had no intentions of becoming an actor." Seeing an ad for actors in the Amsterdam News, a Harlem-based newspaper, he went to an audition at the American Negro Theater. "I walked in and there was a man there—big strapping guy. He gave me a script."

The man was Frederick O'Neal, a cofounder of the theater; impatient with young Poitier's Caribbean accent and shaky reading skills, O'Neal lost his temper: "He came up on the stage, furious, and grabbed me by the scruff of my pants and my collar and marched me toward the door, " the actor remembered to Los Angeles Times writer Champlin. "Just before he threw me out he said, 'Stop wasting people's time! Why don't you get yourself a job as a dishwasher."' Stunned that O'Neal could perceive his lowly status, Poitier knew he had to prove his antagonist wrong. "I have, and had, a terrible fierce pride, " Poitier told the audience at the American Film Institute fête, as reported by Daily Variety. "I determined right then I was going to be an actor."

Poitier continued in his dishwashing job; in his spare time he listened assiduously to radio broadcasts, he noted to Champlin, "trying to lighten the broad A that characterizes West Indian speech patterns." He had some help in one aspect of his informal education, however: Daily Variety quoted his speech at the AFI banquet, in which he thanked "an elderly Jewish waiter in New York who took the time to teach a young black dishwasher how to read, persisting over many months." Ultimately, Poitier returned to the American Negro Theater, persuading its directors to hire him as a janitor in exchange for acting lessons.

Poitier understudied for actor-singer Harry Belafonte in a play called Days of Our Youth, and an appearance one night led to a small role in a production of the Greek comedy Lysistrata. Poitier, uncontrollably nervous on the latter play's opening night, delivered the wrong lines and ran off the stage; yet his brief appearance so delighted critics, most of whom otherwise hated the production, that he ended up getting more work. "I set out after that to dimensionalize my understanding of my craft, " he told Champlin.

Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 feature No Way Out, portraying a doctor tormented by the racist brother of a man whose life he could not save. Director Joseph Mankiewicz had identified Poitier's potential, and the film bore out the filmmaker's instincts. Poitier worked steadily throughout the 1950s, notably in the South African tale Cry, the Beloved Country, the classroom drama The Blackboard Jungle, and the taut The Defiant Ones, in which Poitier and Tony Curtis played prison escapees manacled together; their mutual struggle helps them look past racism and learn to respect each other. Poitier also appeared in the film version of George Gershwin's modern opera Porgy and Bess.

First Black Actor to Win Academy Award

It was in the 1960s, however—with the civil rights movement spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others gathering momentum—that Poitier began to make his biggest mark on American popular culture. After appearing in the film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun, in a role he'd developed on the stage, he took the part of an American serviceman in Germany in the 1963 production Lilies of the Field. This role earned him a best actor statuette at the Academy Awards, making him the first black actor to earn this honor.

"Most of my career unfolded in the 1960s, which was one of the periods in American history with certain attitudes toward minorities that stayed in vogue, " Poitier reflected to Ellicott of the London Times. "I didn't understand the elements swirling around. I was a young actor with some talent, an enormous curiosity, a certain kind of appeal. You wrap all that together and you have a potent mix."

The mix was more potent than might have been anticipated, in fact; by 1967 Poitier was helping to break down filmic barriers that hitherto had seemed impenetrable. In To Sir, With Love Poitier played a charismatic schoolteacher, while In the Heat of the Night saw him portray Virgil Tibbs, a black detective from the North who helps solve a murder in a sleepy southern town and wins the grudging respect of the racist police chief there. Responding to the derisive labels flung at him, Poitier's character glowers, "They call me Mister Tibbs." The film's volatile mixture of suspense and racial politics eventually spawned two sequels starring Poitier and a television series (Poitier did not appear in the small screen version).

Even more stunning, Poitier wooed a white woman in the comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; his fiancée's parents were played by screen legends Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. The film was considered a watershed because it was Hollywood's first interracial love story that did not end tragically. Poitier's compelling presence—articulate, compassionate, soft-spoken, yet demanding respect from even the most hostile—helped make this possible. Reflecting on the anti-racist agenda of filmmakers during this period, Poitier remarked to Ellicott, "I suited their need. I was clearly intelligent. I was a pretty good actor. I believed in brotherhood, in a free society. I hated racism, segregation. And I was a symbol against those things."

Key Activist for Civil Rights

Of course, Poitier was more than a symbol. At the AFI banquet, reported David J. Fox in the Los Angeles Times, James Earl Jones praised his friend's work on behalf of the civil right struggle, declaring, "He marched on Montgomery [Alabama] and Memphis [Tennessee] with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said of Sidney: 'He's a man who never lost his concern for the least of God's children."' Indeed, Rosa Parks, who in 1955 touched off a crucial battle for desegregation simply by refusing to sit in the "negro" section of a Montgomery bus, attended the tribute and lauded Poitier as "a great actor and role model."

In 1972 Poitier took a co-starring role with Belafonte in the revisionist western Buck and the Preacher for Columbia Pictures. After a falling out with the director of the picture, Poitier took over; though he and Belafonte urged Columbia to hire another director, a studio representative saw footage Poitier had shot and encouraged him to finish the film himself. "And that's how I became a director, " he told Los Angeles Times contributor Champlin.

Poitier is best known for helming comedic features co-starring his friend comedian Bill Cosby; in addition to the trilogy of caper comedies of the 1970s—Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action—they collaborated on the ill-fated 1990 fantasy-comedy Ghost Dad, which was poorly received by both critics and moviegoers. Poitier also directed the hit 1980 comedy Stir Crazy, which starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, as well as several other features.

Poitier took only a handful of film roles in the 1980s, but in 1991 he played Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall in the television film Separate but Equal. James Earl Jones described the performance as "a landmark actor portraying a landmark figure, in one of the landmark moments of our history." And in 1992 he returned to the big screen for the espionage comedy-drama Sneakers, which co-starred Robert Redford, River Phoenix, and Dan Aykroyd. "It was a wonderful, breezy opportunity to play nothing heavy, " he noted to Bary Koltnow of the Orange County Register. "It was simple, and I didn't have to carry the weight. I haven't done that in a while, and it was refreshing."

That year also saw the gala AFI tribute to Poitier, during which the actor welcomed young filmmakers into the fold and enjoined them to "be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey, " reported Daily Variety. "I fully expected to be wise by now, " Poitier noted in his speech, "but I've come to this place in my life armed only with the knowledge of how little I know. I enter my golden years with nothing profound to say and no advice to leave, but I thank you for paying me this great honor while I still have hair, and my stomach still has not obscured my view of my shoetops."

Poitier observed to Champlin that during this "golden age" the demands of art had taken a back seat to domestic concerns to a large degree. "It's very important, but it's not the nerve center, " he insisted. "There is the family, and there is music and there is literature" as well as political issues. Poitier noted that he and his wife, actress Joanna Shimkus, travel a great deal since they reside in California and have children in New York, and, as the actor put it, "I live in the world."

Poitier returned to the small screen for 1995's western drama Children of the Dust. As a presence, reported Chris Dafoe of the Los Angeles Times, "it's apparent that he's viewed with respect, even awe, by virtually everyone on the set." Costar Michael Moriarty observed that Poitier lived up to his legendary status: "You see a face that you've grown up with and admired, someone who was an icon of America, a symbol of strength and persistence and grace. And then you find out that in the everyday, workaday work of doing movies, he is everything he symbolizes on screen."

Poitier continued to star in television movies with 1996's To Sir With Love II (directed by Peter Bogdanovich) and the 1997 Showtime docudrama Mandela and de Klerk. The latter tells the story of Nelson Mandela's last years in prison to his election as leader of South Africa. Both received mixed reviews.

For Poitier, the challenge of doing meaningful work involves transcending the racial and social barriers he helped tumble with his early film appearances. He has insisted that large budgets are not necessary to make a mark and that violence too often seems the only way to resolve conflicts on the screen. "We suffer pain, we hang tight to hope, we nurture expectations, we are plagued occasionally by fears, we are haunted by defeats and unrealized hopes, " he said of humans in general in his interview with Champlin, adding that "when you make drama of that condition, it's almost as if words are not necessary. It has its own language—spoken everywhere, understood everywhere."

Further Reading

American Film, September 1991, pp. 18-21, 49.

Daily Variety, March 16, 1992, p. 18.

Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1992 (Calendar), p. 8; March 14, 1992, pp. F1, F4; February 26, 1995 (Television Times), pp. 5-6.

New York Times, April 6, 1996, p. A20; February 15, 1997, p. A15.

Orange County Register, September 11, 1992, p. P6.

Times (London), November 8, 1992. □

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Poitier, Sidney

POITIER, Sidney



Nationality: American. Born: Miami, Florida, 20 February 1924 (some sources say 1927), grew up in the Bahamas. Education: Attended Western Senior High School and Governor's High School, both in Nassau. Family: Married 1) Juanita Hardy, 1950, daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherry, Gina; 2) the actress Joanna Shimkus, 1976, two children. Career: 1942–45—served in the U.S. Army as a physiotherapist; member of the American Negro Theater: in Days of Our Youth and other plays; 1946—Broadway debut in Lysistrata in all-black production; 1948—toured with play Anna Lucasta; 1949—film debut in Signal Corps documentary From Whom Cometh My Help; 1950—fiction film debut in No Way Out; 1959—in stage play A Raisin in the Sun, and in film version, 1961; 1968—directed Broadway play Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights; 1969—co-founder, with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand, First Artists Productions; 1972—first directed film, Buck and the Preacher. Awards: Best Actor, Berlin Festival, and Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for The Defiant Ones, 1958; Best Actor Academy Award, and Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Lilies of the Field, 1963; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1992; Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000. Address: c/o Verdon Productions, 9350 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1949

From Whom Cometh My Help (Signal Corps doc)

1950

No Way Out (Mankiewicz) (as Dr. Luther Brooks)

1952

Cry, the Beloved Country (Korda) (as Reverend Msimangu);Red Ball Express (Boetticher) (as Corporal Andrew Robertson)

1954

Go, Man, Go! (Howe) (as Inman Jackson)

1955

Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks) (as Gregory Miller)

1956

Goodbye, My Lady (Wellman) (as Gates)

1957

Edge of the City (Ritt) (as Tommy Tyler); Something of Value(Richard Brooks) (as Kimani); Band of Angels (Walsh)(as Rau-ru)

1958

Mark of the Hawk (Audley) (as Obam); The Defiant Ones(Kramer) (as Noah Cullen); The Virgin Island (Jackson)(as Marcus)

1959

Porgy and Bess (Preminger) (as Porgy)

1960

All the Young Men (Bartlett) (as Towler)

1961

A Raisin in the Sun (Petrie) (as Walter Lee Younger); Paris Blue (Ritt) (as Eddie Cook)

1962

Pressure Point (Cornfield) (as Doctor)

1963

Lilies of the Field (Nelson) (as Homer Smith)

1964

The Long Ships (Cardiff) (as Ali Mansuh)

1965

The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens) (as Simon of Cyrene);The Bedford Incident (Harris) (as Ben Munceford); A Patch of Blue (Green) (as Gordon Ralfe)

1966

The Slender Thread (Pollack) (as Alan Newell); Duel at Diablo (Nelson) (as Toller)

1967

To Sir with Love (Clavell) (as Mark Thackeray); In the Heat of the Night (Jewison) (as Virgil Tibbs); Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Kramer) (as John Prentice)

1968

For Love of Ivy (Daniel Mann) (as Jack Parks)

1969

The Lost Man (Arthur) (as Jason Higgs)

1970

They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (Douglas) (title role)

1971

The Organization (Medford) (as Virgil Tibbs); Brother John(Goldstone) (as John Kane)

1975

The Wilby Conspiracy (Nelson) (as Shack Twala)

1988

Shoot to Kill (Deadly Pursuit) (Spottiswoode) (as Warren Stantin); Little Nikita (The Sleeper) (Benjamin) (as Roy Parmenter)

1991

Separate but Equal (Stevens Jr.—for TV) (as Thurgood Marshall; Children of the Dust (David Greene—for TV) (as Gypsy Smith)

1992

Sneakers (Robinson) (as Donald Crease)

1996

Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (Robinson); To Sir With Love 2 (Bogdanovich—for TV) (as Mark Thackeray)

1997

Mandela and de Klerk (Sargent—for TV) (as Nelson Mandela);The Jackal (Caton-Jones) (as Preston)

1998

David and Lisa (Kramer?—for TV) (as Dr. Jack Miller)

1999

Free of Eden (Ichaso) (as Will Cleamons + exec pr); The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (Champion—for TV) (as Noah Dearborn)




Films as Director:

1972

Buck and the Preacher (+ ro as Buck)

1973

A Warm December (+ ro as Matt Younger)

1974

Uptown Saturday Night (+ ro as Steve Jackson)

1975

Let's Do It Again (+ ro as Clyde Williams)

1977

A Piece of the Action (+ ro as Manny Durrell)

1980

Stir Crazy

1982

Hanky Panky

1984

Shootout

1985

Fast Forward

1990

Ghost Dad




Publications


By POITIER: books—


Sidney Poitier: an American Film Institute Seminar On His Work, 1976. This Life, New York, 1980.


By POITIER: articles—

"They Call Me a Do-It-Yourself Man," in Films and Filming (London), September 1959.

"Talking of Corruption," in Films and Filming (London), August 1961.

"Entertainment, Politics, and the Movie Business," interview with G. Noble, in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1977–78.

"Walking the Hollywood Color Line," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1980.

Interview with Frank Spotnitz, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September/October 1991.


On POITIER: books—

Rollins, Charlemae, Famous Negro Entertainers of Stage, Screen, and TV, New York, 1967.

Newquist, Roy, A Special Kind of Magic, New York, 1967.

Ewers, Carolyn H., Sidney Poiter: The Long Journey, New York, 1969.

Hoffman, William, Sidney, New York, 1971.

Null, Gary, Black Hollywood: The Negro in Motion Pictures, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.

Marill, Alvin H., The Films of Sidney Poitier, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1978.

Keyser, Lester, and Andre Ruszkowski, The Cinema of Sidney Poitier: The Black Man's Changing Role on the American Screen, San Diego, 1980.

Kelley, Samuel L., The Evolution of Character Portrayals in the Films of Sidney Poitier, 1950–78, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1983.

Bergman, Carol, Sidney Poitier, Los Angeles, 1990.


On POITIER: articles—

Current Biography 1959, New York, 1959.

Cripps, Thomas, "Death of Rastus: Negro in American Films since 1945," in Phylon, Fall 1967.

Mason, Clifford, "Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?," in the New York Times, 10 September 1967.

Sanders, Charles L., "Sidney Poitier: Man behind the Superman," in Ebony (Chicago), April 1968.

Hall, D. J., "Pride without Prejudice," in Films and Filming (London), December 1971 and January 1972.

Kael, Pauline, "Sidney Poitier," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.

Kelley, Samuel, "Sidney Poitier: héros intégrationiste," in CinémAction (Paris), January 1988.

American Film, September-October 1991.

Everschor, Franz, "Keine Angst vor Schwarzen," in Film-dienst (Frankfurt/Main), 7 April 1992.

Radio Times (London), 23 April 1994.

Norman, Barry, "Liberty, Equality, and Sidney Poitier," in Radio Times (London), 16 August 1997.


* * *

As the Hollywood film industry ended the twentieth century, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, and Denzel Washington could be counted as major movie stars. But they owe a major part of their success to Sidney Poitier's pioneering efforts three decades earlier. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s Poitier singlehandedly transformed the Hollywood movie's image of the black man from the racist "coon" to the positive hero.

During the 1960s Poitier was the symbol of the liberal Hollywood, a black actor with dignity. But this had not been achieved "overnight," without struggle. During the early 1950s he took what parts he could land, from Joseph Mankiewicz's No Way Out, where he played an educated, bright, and dedicated doctor caught in a heated racial situation, to James Wong Howe's sole credit as a director, the creaky portrait of the Harlem Globetrotters' basketball enterprise, Go, Man, Go! Richard Brooks's somewhat sanitized portrait of inner-city America, Blackboard Jungle, made Poitier a star. Thereafter his presence became a symbol to the rising consciousness about racial segregation in the United States. Noted producers cast him in roles designed for his new image. Most self-conscious was Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones, with black and white chained together trying to escape from a brutal Southern prison camp. Otto Preminger's Porgy and Bess was the director's homage to black life in the South, while in Lilies of the Field Poitier assisted a group of nuns, a "feel good" classic.

During this period he was much honored, winning many awards, from prizes from the Venice and Berlin Film Festivals to a New York Film Critics Award for best actor to the William J. German Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Congress. He won a much-deserved Oscar for Lilies of the Field, and so became a top box-office draw for A Patch of Blue, To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? In 1967 Poitier was rated number seven on a list of top moneymaking stars; the following year he ranked first.

By 1969 he had done so well he was able, with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, and Dustin Hoffman to create the First Artists Film Production Company. He had decided then to work within the Hollywood system and become a director, but Buck and the Preacher, A Warm December, and Uptown Saturday Night made precious little money. He returned to acting, with little success. Little Nikita ended his career as a leading man.

Poitier had become a member of the establishment, penning a celebrated autobiography in 1980. His black detective from the North made so famous with In the Heat of the Night was considered radical in the late 1960s. Two decades later no one commented on his roles as an FBI agent. In 1989 he was elected to the Board of Trustees for the American Museum of the Moving Image. In 1992 he was honored with the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, in 1994 he earned the National Board of Review Career Achievement Award, and in 1995 he was honored with the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award.

—Douglas Gomery

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Poitier, Sidney

Sidney Poitier

Born: February 20, 1924
Miami, Florida

African American actor

Actor Sidney Poitier's presence in film during the 1950s and 1960s opened up the possibility for bigger and better roles for African American performers.

Poor childhood

Born on February 20, 1924, in Miami, Florida, but raised in the Bahamas, Sidney Poitier was the son of Reginald and Evelyn Poitier. His father was a tomato farmer, and the family was very poor. Still, Poitier later told Frank Spotnitz in American Film that his father "had a wonderful sense of himself. Every time I took a part, from the first part, from the first day, I always said to myself, 'This must reflect well on his name.'" The family moved from the village of Cat Island to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, when Poitier was eleven years old, and it was there that he first experienced the magic of the movies. Poitier returned to Miami at age fifteen to live with his older brother Cyril.

Poitier left for New York City at age sixteen, serving briefly in the army. He then worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant. Seeing an ad for actors in a newspaper, he went to a tryout at the American Negro Theater. Theater cofounder Frederick O'Neal became impatient with Poitier's Caribbean accent and poor reading skills. "He came up on the stage, furious, and grabbed me by the scruff of my pants and my collar and marched me toward the door," Poitier told the Los Angeles Times. Poitier, determined to succeed, continued working in the restaurant but listened to radio broadcasts in his spare time to improve his speaking. He later returned to the theater and was hired as a janitor in exchange for acting lessons.

Acting career picks up

Poitier served as an understudy (one who learns a performer's lines in case that performer is unable to perform) for actor-singer Harry Belafonte (1927) in a play called Days of Our Youth, and an appearance one night led to a small role in a production of the Greek comedy Lysistrata. On opening night of the latter play Poitier was so nervous that he delivered the wrong lines and ran off the stage; still, his brief appearance so impressed critics that he ended up getting more work.

Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 feature No Way Out, playing a doctor tormented by the racist (one who is prejudiced against other races) brother of a man whose life he could not save. Poitier worked steadily throughout the 1950s, appearing in the South African tale Cry, the Beloved Country, the classroom drama The Blackboard Jungle, and The Defiant Ones, in which Poitier and Tony Curtis (1925) play prison escapees who are chained together; their struggle helps them look past their differences and learn to respect each other.

In the 1960s Poitier began to make his mark on American popular culture. After appearing in the film version of Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun, in a role he had developed on the stage, Poitier took the part of an American serviceman in Germany in Lilies of the Field (1963). This role earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, making him the first African American to earn this honor.

Breaking down barriers

In 1967 Poitier appeared in three hit movies. In To Sir, With Love he played a schoolteacher, while in In the Heat of the Night he played Virgil Tibbs, a black detective from the North who helps solve a murder in a southern town and wins the respect of the prejudiced police chief there. In the comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, also starring Spencer Tracy (19001967) and Katherine Hepburn (1907), Poitier's character is engaged to a white woman. The film was Hollywood's first love story between members of different races that did not end tragically. Reflecting on the feelings of filmmakers during this period, Poitier remarked to Susan Ellicott of the London Times, "I suited their need. I was clearly intelligent. I was a pretty good actor. I believed in brotherhood, in a free society. I hated racism, segregation [separation based on race]. And I was a symbol against those things."

Of course, Poitier was more than a symbol. David J. Fox reported in the Los Angeles Times that actor James Earl Jones (1931), at a tribute to Poitier hosted by the American Film Institute (AFI) in 1992, remembered, "He marched on Montgomery and Memphis with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [19291968], who said of Poitier: 'He's a man who never lost his concern for the least of God's children.'" Rosa Parks (1913), who in 1955 became a civil rights hero simply by refusing to sit in the "negro" section of a Montgomery bus, attended the tribute and praised Poitier as "a great actor and role model."

Begins directing

In 1972 Poitier costarred with Belafonte in the western Buck and the Preacher for Columbia Pictures. After an argument with the film's director, Poitier took over; though he and Belafonte urged Columbia to hire another director, a studio official saw footage Poitier had shot and encouraged him to finish the film himself. Poitier went on to direct three features starring comedian Bill Cosby (1937) in the 1970s: Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action. They also worked together on the comedy Ghost Dad (1990), which was a disaster. Poitier also directed the hit comedy Stir Crazy (1980), as well as several other features.

Poitier took only a handful of film roles in the 1980s, but in 1991 he played Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (19081993) in the television film Separate but Equal. In 1992 he returned to the big screen for the comedy-drama Sneakers, which costarred Robert Redford (1937) and River Phoenix (19701993). The AFI tribute to Poitier also took place in 1992; in his speech he welcomed young filmmakers into the fold and urged them to "be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey," reported Daily Variety.

Later years

Poitier and his wife, actress Joanna Shimkus, travel a great deal because they live in California and have children in New York. Poitier returned to television for 1995's western drama Children of the Dust. He continued to star in television movies with To Sir with Love II (1996) and the Showtime drama Mandela and de Klerk (1997). The latter follows the story of Nelson Mandela's (1918) last years in prison to his election as leader of South Africa. Both received mixed reviews.

In 2000 Poitier received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. In April of that year, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (the story of his own life) was published. In February 2001 Poitier won a Grammy award for best spoken-word album for his reading of the book. Poitier was presented with the NAACP's (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Hall of Fame Award in March 2001. In March 2002 Poitier was awarded an honorary Academy Award for his long, dignified career. The award was especially meaningful because it came on the same night that African Americans won both the Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Actress (Halle Berry) awards.

For More Information

Bergman, Carol. Sidney Poitier. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Biography. San Francisco: Harper-SanFrancisco, 2000.

Poitier, Sidney. This Life. New York: Knopf, 1980.

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Poitier, Sir Sidney

Sir Sidney Poitier, 1927–, Bahamian-American actor, b. Miami, raised in the Bahamas, returned to the United States at 15. The first African-American actor to achieve leading man status in Hollywood films, Poitier combines attractiveness and poise with an innate projection of dignity and self-assurance. Many of his plays and films have directly addressed issues of race, including his Broadway triumph, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1959, film 1961), and such films as the pioneering No Way Out (1950), his movie debut; the internationally acclaimed Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), after Alan Paton's novel; The Defiant Ones (1957), the film that established Poitier's reputation; Lilies of the Field (1963; Academy Award); Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967), which treated the subject of interracial marriage; and In the Heat of the Night (1967). He turned to directing in 1971; among his films are Buck and the Preacher (1972), A Patch of Blue (1973), and Stir Crazy (1980). In 1991 he portrayed Thurgood Marshall in the Emmy-winning television film Separate but Equal. Knighted in 1968, he was appointed the Bahamas' ambassador to Japan in 1997.

See his autobiographical works, This Life (1980), The Measure of a Man (2000), and Life beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-granddaughter (2008); biography by A. Goudsouzian (2004).

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Poitier, Sidney

Poitier, Sidney (1927– ) US actor and director. His first major role was in No Way Out (1950). Poitier received an Oscar nomination for best actor in The Defiant Ones (1958). He was the first black actor to win a best actor Academy Award, for Lilies of the Field (1963). Other films include Blackboard Jungle (1955), To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (all 1967). The films he directed include Stir Crazy (1980).

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