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
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterHubert Ingraham (1999-02; 2007-12)
Perry Christie (2002-07; 2012-Pres.)
Personal details
Born(1927-02-20) February 20, 1927 (age 87)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
CitizenshipUnited States
The Bahamas
Spouse(s)Juanita Hardy (1950–1965)
Joanna Shimkus (1976–present)
ChildrenBeverly Poitier
Pamela Poitier
Sherri Poitier
Gina Poitier
Anika Poitier
Sydney Tamiia
OccupationActor, director, writer, diplomat
 
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Sir Sidney Poitier
KBE
Sidney Poitier-NPS.jpg
Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan
Incumbent
Assumed office
April 15, 1997
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterHubert Ingraham (1999-02; 2007-12)
Perry Christie (2002-07; 2012-Pres.)
Personal details
Born(1927-02-20) February 20, 1927 (age 87)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
CitizenshipUnited States
The Bahamas
Spouse(s)Juanita Hardy (1950–1965)
Joanna Shimkus (1976–present)
ChildrenBeverly Poitier
Pamela Poitier
Sherri Poitier
Gina Poitier
Anika Poitier
Sydney Tamiia
OccupationActor, director, writer, diplomat

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

In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor[2] for his role in Lilies of the Field.[3] The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three successful films: 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. In all three films, issues revolve around the race of the characters Poitier portrays.[4] 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) and Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). 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."[5] 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.[6]

Early life[edit]

Sidney Poitier's parents were Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier,[7] Bahamian farmers who owned a farm on Cat Island and traveled to Miami in the U.S.A. to sell tomatoes and other produce.[8] 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.[9] 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.[9]

Poitier lived with his family on Cat Island until he was ten, when they moved to Nassau.[10][11] He was raised a Roman Catholic,[12] but, later on, he became an agnostic[13] with views closer to deism.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16][17]

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.[18] 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).[citation needed]

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 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). 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.[19] 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.[20]

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).[citation needed]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25]

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,[26] Pamela,[27] Sherri,[28] Gina,[29] Anika,[30] and Sydney Tamiia.[31]

Honors and awards[edit]

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

Filmography[edit]

Actor[edit]

YearTitleRoleNotes
1947Sepia CinderellaExtraUncredited
1949From Whence Cometh My HelpHimselfDocumentary
1950No Way OutDr. Luther Brooks
1951Cry, the Beloved CountryReverend Msimangu
1952Red Ball ExpressCpl. Andrew Robertson
1954Go, Man, Go!Inman Jackson
1955Blackboard JungleGregory W. Miller
1956Good-bye, My LadyGates Watson
1957Edge of the CityTommy TylerNominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1957Something of ValueKimani Wa Karanja
1957Band of AngelsRau-Ru Ponce de Leon
1957Mark of the Hawk, TheThe Mark of the HawkObam
1958Virgin IslandMarcus
1958Defiant Ones, TheThe Defiant OnesNoah CullenBAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actor[32]
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1959Porgy and BessPorgyNominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1960All the Young MenSgt. Eddie Towler
1961Raisin in the Sun, AA Raisin in the SunWalter Lee YoungerNominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1961Paris BluesEddie Cook
1962Pressure PointDoctor (Chief Psychiatrist)
1963Long Ships, TheThe Long ShipsAly Mansuh
1963Lilies of the FieldHomer SmithAcademy 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[33]
1965Bedford Incident, TheThe Bedford IncidentBen Munceford
1965Greatest Story Ever Told, TheThe Greatest Story Ever ToldSimon of Cyrene
1965Patch of Blue, AA Patch of BlueGordon RalfeNominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1965Slender Thread, TheThe Slender ThreadAlan Newell
1966Duel at DiabloToller (contract horse dealer)
1967To Sir, with LoveMark Thackeray
1967In the Heat of the NightDet. Virgil TibbsNominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1967Guess Who's Coming to DinnerDr. John Wade Prentice
1968For Love of IvyJack Parks
1969Lost Man, TheThe Lost ManJason Higgs
1970King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to MemphisNarratordocumentary
1970They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!Virgil Tibbs
1971Brother JohnJohn Kane
1971Organization, TheThe OrganizationDetective Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs SFPD Homicide
1972Buck and the PreacherBuck
1974Warm December, AA Warm DecemberMatt Younger
1974Uptown Saturday NightSteve Jackson
1975Wilby Conspiracy, TheThe Wilby ConspiracyShack Twala
1975Let's Do it AgainClyde Williams
1977Piece of the Action, AA Piece of the ActionManny Durrell
1979Paul Robeson: Tribute to an ArtistNarratorshort subject
1988Shoot to KillWarren Stantin
1988Little NikitaRoy Parmenter
1992SneakersDonald Crease
1994Century of Cinema, AA Century of CinemaHimselfdocumentary
1996Wild Bill: Hollywood MaverickHimselfdocumentary
1996To Sir, with Love IIMark Thackeray
1997Jackal, TheThe JackalFBI Deputy Director Carter Preston
2001Ralph Bunche: An American OdysseyNarratordocumentary
2004Tell Them Who You AreHimselfdocumentary
2008Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles ProjectHimselfdocumentary

Director[edit]

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

Television[edit]

YearTitleRoleNotes
1991Separate But EqualThurgood MarshallNominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
1995Children of the DustGypsy Smith
1996To Sir, with Love IIMark Thackeray
1997Mandela and de KlerkNelson MandelaNominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie
1998David and LisaDr. Jack Miller
1999Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, TheThe Simple Life of Noah DearbornNoah Dearborn
1999Free of EdenWill Cleamons
2001Last Brickmaker in America, TheThe Last Brickmaker in AmericaHenry 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]

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. ^ 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
  3. ^ Awards for Sidney Poitier at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ "Top Ten Money Making Stars". Quigley Publishing Co. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  5. ^ Sidney Poitier awards: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards database
  6. ^ article 12 August 2009 Washington Post
  7. ^ Sidney Poitier Film Reference biography
  8. ^ Davis Smiley interviews Sidney Poitier[dead link]
  9. ^ a b Adam Gourmand, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004), p.8.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. (2000). New York. HarperCollins.
  12. ^ Winfrey, Oprah (October 15, 2000). "Oprah Talks to Sidney Poitier". The Oprah Winfrey Show. Retrieved September 16, 2010. "I come from a Catholic family." 
  13. ^ 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?" 
  14. ^ 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." 
  15. ^ Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) Aram Goudsouzian, University of North Carolina Press ISBN 9780807828434 p44
  16. ^ Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man. (2000). New York: HarperCollins Publishers
  17. ^ 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). 
  18. ^ Goudsouzian; Sidney Poitier; p 69, 133
  19. ^ Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press. pp. 58–9. 
  20. ^ Ibid. pp. 81–2.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ Harris. p. 161.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ Black Enterprise
  24. ^ "Actor Takes Center Stage as Disney Trial Grinds On" New York Times article 12 August 2004
  25. ^ Goudsouzian, Aram; Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon, The University of North Carolina Press, 200, page 395
  26. ^ Poitier-Henderson Holds Book Signing - WLBT 3 - Jackson, MS:
  27. ^ The New York Times > New York Region > Hundreds Mourn Ossie Davis in Harlem
  28. ^ Daughters of King, Malcolm X Also Have a Message
  29. ^ Atlanta News, Sports, Atlanta Weather, Business News | ajc.com
  30. ^ Chronicle - New York Times
  31. ^ Advice For Upn: Get Rid Of 'Abby' - New York Daily News
  32. ^ a b "Berlinale 1958: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  33. ^ a b "Berlinale 1963: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  34. ^ Hollywood Foreign Press Association - Cecil B. DeMille Award Jan 2015
  35. ^ "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
  36. ^ "Film Society of Lincoln Center honors the life and career of Sidney Poitier", Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts, May 2, 2011
  37. ^ Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]