Sidney Poitier

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Sir Sidney Poitier
KBE
Sidney Poitier-NPS.jpg
Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan
Incumbent
Assumed office
April 15, 1997
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister
Personal details
Born (1927-02-20) February 20, 1927 (age 87)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Citizenship
Spouse(s)
Children
  • Beverly Poitier
  • Pamela Poitier
  • Sherri Poitier
  • Gina Poitier
  • Anika Poitier
  • Sydney Tamiia
Occupation Actor, director, writer, diplomat

Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE[1] (/ˈpwɑːtj/ or /ˈpwɑːti./; born February 20, 1927), is a Bahamian-American actor, film director, author, and diplomat.

In 1964,[2] Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor[3] for his role in Lilies of the Field.[4] The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three successful films, all of which dealt with issues involving race: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year.[5] In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.

Poitier has directed a number of popular movies, such as A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, (with friend Bill Cosby), Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder) and Ghost Dad (also with Cosby). In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated "To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being."[6] Since 1997, he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Sidney Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.[7]

Early life[edit]

Sidney Poitier's parents were Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier,[8] Bahamian farmers who owned a farm on Cat Island and traveled to Miami in the U.S.A. to sell tomatoes and other produce. Reginald worked as a cab driver in Nassau, Bahamas.[9] Poitier was born in Miami while his parents were visiting. His birth was two months premature and he was not expected to survive, but his parents remained three months in Miami to nurse him to health.[10] Poitier grew up in the Bahamas (then a British colony) but because of his birth in the U.S., he automatically gained U.S. citizenship.[10]

Poitier lived with his family on Cat Island until he was ten, when they moved to Nassau.[11][12] He was raised a Roman Catholic,[13] but, later on, he became an agnostic[14] with views closer to deism.[15]

At the age of 15 he was sent to Miami to live with his brother. At the age of 17, he moved to New York City and held a string of jobs as a dishwasher. A Jewish waiter sat with him every night for several weeks helping him learn to read the newspaper.[16] He then decided to join the United States Army after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theatre.[17][18]

Hollywood[edit]

Acting career[edit]

Poitier (left) at the 1963 March on Washington, alongside actors Charlton Heston (right) and Harry Belafonte

Poitier joined the American Negro Theater, but was rejected by audiences. Contrary to what was expected of black actors at the time, Poitier's tone deafness made him unable to sing.[19] Determined to refine his acting skills and rid himself of his noticeable Bahamian accent, he spent the next six months dedicating himself to achieving theatrical success. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, for which he received good reviews. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). His performance in No Way Out, as a doctor treating a white bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most black actors of the time were offered. Poitier's breakout role was as a member of an incorrigible high school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955).

Poitier was the first male black actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award (for The Defiant Ones, 1958). He was also the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field in 1963). (James Baskett was the first black male to receive an Oscar, an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus in the Walt Disney production of Song of the South in 1948, while Hattie McDaniel predated them both, winning as Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939's Gone with the Wind, making her the first black person to be nominated for and receive an Oscar). His satisfaction at this honor was undermined by his concerns that this award was more of the industry congratulating itself for having him as a token and it would inhibit him from asking for more substantive considerations afterward.[20] Poitier worked relatively little over the following year; he remained the only major black actor and the roles offered were predominately typecast as a soft-spoken appeaser.[21]

He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the film version released in 1961. He also gave memorable performances in The Bedford Incident (1965), and A Patch of Blue (1965) co-starring Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters. In 1967, he was the most successful draw at the box office, the commercial peak of his career, with three popular films, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night. The last film featured his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, detective whose subsequent career was the subject of two sequels: They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971).

Poitier began to be criticized for being typecast as over-idealized black characters who were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality faults, such as his character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Poitier was aware of this pattern himself, but was conflicted on the matter: he wanted more varied roles, but also felt obliged to set a good example with his characters to defy previous stereotypes, as he was the only major black actor in the American film industry at the time. For instance, in 1966 he turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC production of Othello with that spirit in mind.[22] In 2001, Poitier received an Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. With the death of Ernest Borgnine in 2012, Poitier became the oldest living man to have won the Academy Award for Best Actor.[23] On March 2, 2014, Poitier appeared with Angelina Jolie at the 86th Academy Awards, to present the Best Director award. He was given a standing ovation.

Directorial career[edit]

Poitier directed several films, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy which for years was the highest grossing film directed by a person of African descent.[24] His feature film directorial debut was the western Buck and the Preacher in which Poitier also starred, alongside Harry Belafonte. Poitier replaced original director Joseph Sargent. The trio of Poitier, Cosby, and Belafonte reunited again (with Poitier again directing) in Uptown Saturday Night. Poitier also directed Cosby in Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, and Ghost Dad. Poitier also directed the first popular dance battle movie Fast Forward in 1985.

From 1995 to 2003 he served as a Member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company.[25]

Recording career[edit]

Poitier recorded an album with the composer Fred Katz called Poitier Meets Plato, in which Poitier recites passages from Plato's writings.[26]

Diplomatic career[edit]

In April 1997, Poitier was appointed Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan, a position he currently holds. He is also the Ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO.

Personal life[edit]

Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950, until 1965. He has been married to Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian-born former actress of Lithuanian and Irish descent, since January 23, 1976. He has four daughters with his first wife and two with his second: Beverly,[27] Pamela,[28] Sherri,[29] Gina,[30] Anika,[31] and Sydney Tamiia.[32]

Honors and awards[edit]

Poitier receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.

Filmography[edit]

Actor[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1947 Sepia Cinderella Extra Uncredited
1949 From Whence Cometh My Help Himself Documentary
1950 No Way Out Dr. Luther Brooks
1951 Cry, the Beloved Country Reverend Msimangu
1952 Red Ball Express Cpl. Andrew Robertson
1954 Go, Man, Go! Inman Jackson
1955 Blackboard Jungle Gregory W. Miller
1956 Good-bye, My Lady Gates Watson
1957 Edge of the City Tommy Tyler Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1957 Something of Value Kimani Wa Karanja
1957 Band of Angels Rau-Ru Ponce de Leon
1957 Mark of the Hawk, TheThe Mark of the Hawk Obam
1958 Virgin Island Marcus
1958 Defiant Ones, TheThe Defiant Ones Noah Cullen BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actor[33]
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1959 Porgy and Bess Porgy Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1960 All the Young Men Sgt. Eddie Towler
1961 Raisin in the Sun, AA Raisin in the Sun Walter Lee Younger Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1961 Paris Blues Eddie Cook
1962 Pressure Point Doctor (Chief Psychiatrist)
1963 Long Ships, TheThe Long Ships Aly Mansuh
1963 Lilies of the Field Homer Smith Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actor[34]
1965 Bedford Incident, TheThe Bedford Incident Ben Munceford
1965 Greatest Story Ever Told, TheThe Greatest Story Ever Told Simon of Cyrene
1965 Patch of Blue, AA Patch of Blue Gordon Ralfe Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1965 Slender Thread, TheThe Slender Thread Alan Newell
1966 Duel at Diablo Toller (contract horse dealer)
1967 To Sir, with Love Mark Thackeray
1967 In the Heat of the Night Det. Virgil Tibbs Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Dr. John Wade Prentice
1968 For Love of Ivy Jack Parks
1969 Lost Man, TheThe Lost Man Jason Higgs
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Narrator documentary
1970 They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! Virgil Tibbs
1971 Brother John John Kane
1971 Organization, TheThe Organization Detective Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs SFPD Homicide
1972 Buck and the Preacher Buck
1974 Warm December, AA Warm December Matt Younger
1974 Uptown Saturday Night Steve Jackson
1975 Wilby Conspiracy, TheThe Wilby Conspiracy Shack Twala
1975 Let's Do it Again Clyde Williams
1977 Piece of the Action, AA Piece of the Action Manny Durrell
1979 Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist Narrator short subject
1988 Shoot to Kill Warren Stantin
1988 Little Nikita Roy Parmenter
1992 Sneakers Donald Crease
1994 Century of Cinema, AA Century of Cinema Himself documentary
1996 Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick Himself documentary
1996 To Sir, with Love II Mark Thackeray
1997 Jackal, TheThe Jackal FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston
2001 Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey Narrator documentary
2004 Tell Them Who You Are Himself documentary
2008 Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project Himself documentary

Director[edit]

Year Title
1972 Buck and the Preacher
1973 Warm December, AA Warm December
1974 Uptown Saturday Night
1975 Let's Do it Again
1977 Piece of the Action, AA Piece of the Action
1980 Stir Crazy
1982 Hanky Panky
1985 Fast Forward
1990 Ghost Dad

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1991 Separate But Equal Thurgood Marshall Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
1995 Children of the Dust Gypsy Smith
1996 To Sir, with Love II Mark Thackeray
1997 Mandela and de Klerk Nelson Mandela Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie
1998 David and Lisa Dr. Jack Miller
1999 Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, TheThe Simple Life of Noah Dearborn Noah Dearborn
1999 Free of Eden Will Cleamons
2001 Last Brickmaker in America, TheThe Last Brickmaker in America Henry Cobb

Works about Poitier[edit]

Autobiographies[edit]

Poitier has written three autobiographical books:

Poitier is also the subject of the biography Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) by historian Aram Goudsouzian.[citation needed]

Poitier wrote the novel Montaro Caine, released in May 2013.

Movies about Poitier[edit]

  • Sidney Poitier, an Outsider in Hollywood (Sidney Poitier, an outsider à Hollywood). Documentary film by Catherine Arnaud. Arte, France, 2008, 70 minutes.
  • Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light. American Masters, PBS. USA, 2000. 60 minutes.[38]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Because Poitier is a citizen of The Bahamas, a Commonwealth realm, this is a substantive (as opposed to honorary) knighthood, which entitles him to the style "Sir". However, Poitier employs the title only in connection with his official ambassadorial duties.
  2. ^ http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2014/02/25/black-history-month-poitier-oscar/5817735/
  3. ^ James Baskett won an Honorary Academy Award for his performance in Walt Disney's Song of the South (1946). The award was not competitive. See Awards for James Baskett, Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Awards for Sidney Poitier at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ "Top Ten Money Making Stars". Quigley Publishing Co. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  6. ^ Sidney Poitier awards: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards database
  7. ^ article 12 August 2009 Washington Post
  8. ^ Sidney Poitier Film Reference biography
  9. ^ Davis Smiley interviews Sidney Poitier[dead link]
  10. ^ a b Adam Gourmand, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004), p.8.
  11. ^ "Sidney Poitier". Oprah Presents Master Class. Season 1. Episode 7. April 22, 2012. Oprah Winfrey Network. http://www.oprah.com/topics/entertainment/movies/actors/sidney-poitier.htm.
  12. ^ Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. (2000). New York. HarperCollins.
  13. ^ Winfrey, Oprah (October 15, 2000). "Oprah Talks to Sidney Poitier". The Oprah Winfrey Show. Retrieved September 16, 2010. "I come from a Catholic family." 
  14. ^ Sidney Poitier (2009). Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter. HarperCollins. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-06-149620-2. "The question of God, the existence or nonexistence, is a perennial question, because we don't know. Is the universe the result of God, or was the universe always there?" 
  15. ^ Sidney Poitier (2009). Life Beyond Measure. HarperCollins. pp. 85–86. ISBN 9780061737251. "I don't see a God who is concerned with the daily operation of the universe. In fact, the universe may be no more than a grain of sand compared with all the other universes. ...It is not a God for one culture, or one religion, or one planet." 
  16. ^ Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) Aram Goudsouzian, University of North Carolina Press ISBN 9780807828434 p44
  17. ^ Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man. (2000). New York: HarperCollins Publishers
  18. ^ Chenrow, Fred; Chenrow, Carol (1974). Reading Exercises in Black History. Elizabethtown, PA: The Continental Press, Inc. p. 46. ISBN 08454-2105-5 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  19. ^ Goudsouzian; Sidney Poitier; p 69, 133
  20. ^ Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press. pp. 58–9. 
  21. ^ Ibid. pp. 81–2.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Harris. p. 161.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ Lauren Moraski (July 10, 2012). "Ernest Borgnine's death makes Sidney Poitier the oldest living best actor Oscar winner". Celebrity Circuit. CBS News. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  24. ^ Black Enterprise
  25. ^ "Actor Takes Center Stage as Disney Trial Grinds On" New York Times article 12 August 2004
  26. ^ Goudsouzian, Aram; Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon, The University of North Carolina Press, 200, page 395
  27. ^ Poitier-Henderson Holds Book Signing - WLBT 3 - Jackson, MS:
  28. ^ The New York Times > New York Region > Hundreds Mourn Ossie Davis in Harlem
  29. ^ Daughters of King, Malcolm X Also Have a Message
  30. ^ Atlanta News, Sports, Atlanta Weather, Business News | ajc.com
  31. ^ Chronicle - New York Times
  32. ^ Advice For Upn: Get Rid Of 'Abby' - New York Daily News
  33. ^ a b "Berlinale 1958: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  34. ^ a b "Berlinale 1963: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  35. ^ Hollywood Foreign Press Association - Cecil B. DeMille Award Jan 2015
  36. ^ "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
  37. ^ "Film Society of Lincoln Center honors the life and career of Sidney Poitier", Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, May 2, 2011
  38. ^ Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]