Sidney Poitier

Last updated
Sir

Sidney Poitier

KBE
Sidney Poitier 1968.jpg
Poitier in 1968
Born (1927-02-20) February 20, 1927 (age 92)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
CitizenshipThe Bahamas, United States
Occupation
  • Actor
  • director
  • author
  • diplomat
Years active1946–present
Spouse(s)
Children6, including Sydney Tamiia Poitier
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service1943–1944
RankEnlisted
Bahamian Ambassador to Japan
In office
1997 2007 [1]

Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE [2] ( /ˈpwɑːti/ ; born February 20, 1927) is a Bahamian-American actor and film director.

Bahamian Americans are Americans of Bahamian ancestry. There are an estimated 56,498 people of Bahamian ancestry living in the US as of 2015.

Contents

In 1964, [3] Poitier became the first Bahamian and first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor [lower-alpha 1] for his role in Lilies of the Field . [4] He continued to break ground by starring in three successful 1967 films, all of which dealt with issues involving race and race relations: 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]

Academy Award for Best Actor Award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy Award for Best Actor is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given in honor of an actor who has delivered an outstanding performance in a leading role while working within the film industry. The award is traditionally presented by the previous year's Best Actress winner.

The Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama was first awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as a separate category in 1951. Previously, there was a single award for "Best Actor in a Motion Picture" but the splitting allowed for recognition of it and the Best Actor – Musical or Comedy.

<i>Lilies of the Field</i> (1963 film) 1963 film by Ralph Nelson

Lilies of the Field is a 1963 film adapted by James Poe from the 1962 novel of the same name by William Edmund Barrett, and stars Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Stanley Adams, and Dan Frazer. It was produced and directed by Ralph Nelson. The title comes from Matthew 6:27-33, a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, and its parallel scripture from Luke 12:27-30. It also features an early film score by prolific composer Jerry Goldsmith. The film was turned into a Broadway musical in 1970, retitled Look to the Lilies, with Shirley Booth in the role of Mother Maria Marthe.

Poitier has directed a number of films, including Uptown Saturday Night , Let's Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action , with Bill Cosby; Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder; and Ghost Dad, also with Cosby. From 1997 to 2007, he served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. [6]

<i>Uptown Saturday Night</i> 1974 film by Sidney Poitier

Uptown Saturday Night is a 1974 American action comedy crime film written by Richard Wesley and directed by and starring Sidney Poitier, with Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte co-starring. Cosby and Poitier teamed up again for Let's Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977). Although their characters have different names in each film, the three films are considered to be a trilogy. Uptown Saturday Night premiered June 15, 1974 at the Criterion Theatre in New York, and opened to positive reviews.

<i>A Piece of the Action</i> (film) 1977 film by Sidney Poitier

A Piece of the Action is a 1977 American crime comedy film directed by and starring Sidney Poitier and co-starring Bill Cosby. It was the third film pairing of Poitier and Cosby, following Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and Let's Do It Again (1975). The films are considered a trilogy, even though the actors play characters with different names in each film. It was also Poitier's last acting role for more than a decade, as he focused his attentions on directing only.

<i>Stir Crazy</i> (film) 1980 American comedy film directed by Sidney Poitier

Stir Crazy is a 1980 American comedy film directed by Sidney Poitier, produced by Hannah Weinstein and written by Bruce Jay Friedman. The film stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor as unemployed friends who are given 125-year prison sentences after being framed for a bank robbery. While in prison they befriend other prison inmates. The film reunited Wilder and Pryor who had appeared previously in the 1976 comedy thriller film Silver Streak. The film was released in the United States on December 12, 1980 to mixed critical reviews and was a major financial success.

Poitier was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. [7] On August 12, 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. [8] In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film. [7] In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier 22nd of 25 on their list of Greatest Male Stars of classic Hollywood cinema. 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 Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his "remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being". [9]

Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms

Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.

Presidential Medal of Freedom Joint-highest civilian award of the United States, bestowed by the President

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the president of the United States. The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest civilian awards of the United States. The presidential medal seeks to recognize those people who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors". The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Early life

Sidney Poitier was the youngest of seven surviving children, [10] born to Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, [11] Bahamian farmers who owned a farm on Cat Island. The family would travel to Miami to sell tomatoes and other produce. Reginald also worked as a cab driver in Nassau, Bahamas. [12] 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 in Miami for three months to nurse him to health. [13] Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, then a British Crown colony. Because of his birth in the United States, he automatically received American citizenship. [13]

The Bahamas Country in North America

The Bahamas, known officially as the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, is a country within the Lucayan Archipelago,in the Caribbean. The archipelagic state consists of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, and is located north of Cuba and Hispaniola, northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, southeast of the U.S. state of Florida, and east of the Florida Keys. The capital is Nassau on the island of New Providence. The designation of "the Bahamas" can refer either to the country or to the larger island chain that it shares with the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force describes the Bahamas territory as encompassing 470,000 km2 (180,000 sq mi) of ocean space.

Cat Island, Bahamas Place in Cat Island, Bahamas

Cat Island is in the central Bahamas, and is one of its districts. Cat Island also has the nation's highest point, Mount Alvernia. It rises to 206 feet (63 m) and is topped by a monastery called The Hermitage. This assembly of buildings was erected by the Franciscan "Brother Jerome".

Miami City in southeastern Florida

Miami, officially the City of Miami, is an American city that is the seat of Miami-Dade County, and is the cultural, economic and financial center of South Florida. The city covers an area of about 56 square miles (150 km2) between the Everglades to the west and Biscayne Bay to the east. Miami is the sixth most densely populated major city in the United States with an estimated 2018 population of 470,914. The Miami metropolitan area is home to 6.1 million people, the second-most populous in the southeastern United States and the seventh-largest in the nation. The city has the third tallest skyline in the U.S. with over 300 high-rises, 55 of which exceed 490 ft (149 m).

Poitier's uncle believed that the Poitier ancestors on his father's side had migrated from Haiti, [14] and were probably among the runaway slaves who established maroon communities throughout the Bahamas, including Cat Island. He noted that Poitier is a French name, and that there were no white Poitiers from the Bahamas. [15] [ page needed ] However, there had been a white Poitier on Cat Island; the name came from planter Charles Leonard Poitier of English heritage who had immigrated from Jamaica in the early 1800s. In 1834, his wife's estate on Cat Island had 86 slaves, 39 men and 47 women. The slaves kept the name Poitier, a name that had been introduced into England during the Norman conquest in the 11th century. [16]

Haiti Unitary republic in the Caribbean

Haiti, officially the Republic of Haiti and formerly called Hayti, is a country located on the island of Hispaniola, east of Cuba in the Greater Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean Sea. It occupies the western three-eighths of the island which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti is 27,750 square kilometers (10,714 sq mi) in size and has an estimated population of 10.8 million, making it the most populous country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the second-most populous country in the Caribbean after Cuba.

Maroon (people) African refugees who escaped from slavery in the Americas and formed independent settlements. The term can also be applied to their descendants.

Maroons were Africans and their descendants in the Americas who formed settlements away from New World chattel slavery. Some had escaped from plantations, but others had always been free, like those born among them in freedom. They often mixed with indigenous peoples, thus creating distinctive creole cultures.

Poitier lived with his family on Cat Island until he was 10, when they moved to Nassau. There, he was exposed to the modern world, where he saw his first automobile, first experienced electricity, plumbing, refrigeration, and motion pictures. [17] [18] He was raised a Roman Catholic [19] but, later became an agnostic [20] with views closer to deism. [21]

At the age of 15, he was sent to Miami to live with his brother's large family. At the age of 16, he moved to New York City and held a string of jobs as a dishwasher. A waiter sat with him every night for several weeks helping him learn to read the newspaper. [22] In 1943, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army during World War II. He only served briefly as a mental hospital attendant and feigned insanity to get discharged, but dropped this tactic. After talking to a psychiatrist, Poitier was eventually granted release from the Army, [23] after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theater. [24] [25]

Hollywood

Acting

A scene from the play A Raisin in the Sun. From left: Louis Gossett Jr. as George Murchison, Ruby Dee as Ruth Younger and Poitier as Walter Younger. A Raisin in the Sun 1959 2.JPG
A scene from the play A Raisin in the Sun . From left: Louis Gossett Jr. as George Murchison, Ruby Dee as Ruth Younger and Poitier as Walter Younger.

Poitier joined the North 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. [26] 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, though it ran a failing four days, he received an invitation to understudy for Anna Lucasta. [27] 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 Caucasian bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most African-American actors of the time were offered. In 1951, he traveled to South Africa with the African-American actor Canada Lee to star in the film version of Cry, the Beloved Country. [28] Poitier's breakout role was as Gregory W. Miller, a member of an incorrigible high-school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955). [29]

Poitier was the first black male 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 African-American 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. [30] Poitier worked relatively little over the following year; he remained the only major actor of African descent and the roles offered were predominantly typecast as a soft-spoken appeaser. [31]

Poitier (left) at the 1963 March on Washington, alongside actors Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston Poitier Belafonte Heston Civil Rights March 1963.jpg
Poitier (left) at the 1963 March on Washington, alongside actors Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston

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). Many of the films in which Poitier starred during the 1960s would later be cited as social thrillers by both filmmakers and critics. [32] [33] [34] [35]

Poitier began to be criticized for being typecast as over-idealized African-American 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 he also felt obliged to set an example with his characters, by challenging old stereotypes as he was the only major actor of African descent being cast in leading roles in the American film industry, at that time. For instance, in 1966, he turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC television production of Othello with that spirit in mind. [36]

In 2002, Poitier received the 2001 Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. With the death of Ernest Borgnine, in 2012, he became the oldest living man to have won the Academy Award for Best Actor. [37] 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. Jolie thanked him for all his Hollywood contributions, stating "we are in your debt". Poitier gave a brief acceptance speech, telling his peers to "keep up the wonderful work" to warm applause.

Directing

Poitier directed several films, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy , which for many years was the highest-grossing film directed by a person of African descent. [38] His feature film directorial debut was the Western, Buck and the Preacher, in which Poitier also starred, alongside Harry Belafonte. Poitier replaced the original director, Joseph Sargent. The trio of Poitier, Cosby, and Belafonte reunited, with Poitier again directing, in Uptown Saturday Night . He directed Cosby in Let's Do It Again , A Piece of the Action , and Ghost Dad . Poitier directed the first popular dance battle movie, Fast Forward , in 1985.

Recording

Poitier recorded an album with the composer Fred Katz called Poitier Meets Plato , in which Poitier recites passages from Plato's writings. [39]

Business

Poitier at a book signing Sidney Poitier.jpg
Poitier at a book signing

From 1995 to 2003, Poitier served as a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney Company. [40]

Diplomatic service

In April 1997, Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan, a position he held until 2007. From 2002 to 2007, he was concurrently the ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO. [6]

Personal life

Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950, until 1965. In 1959, Poitier began a nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll . [41] He has been married to Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian former actress, since January 23, 1976. He has four daughters with his first wife and two with his second: Beverly, [42] Pamela, [43] Sherri, [44] Gina, [45] Anika, [46] and Sydney Tamiia. [47]

In addition to his six daughters, Poitier has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. [48]

Honors and awards

Poitier receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama in August 2009. Sidney Poitier PMF.jpg
Poitier receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama in August 2009.

Filmography

Actor

YearTitleRoleNotes
1947 Sepia Cinderella ExtraUncredited
1949From Whence Cometh My HelpHimselfDocumentary
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 TylerNominated – 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 The Mark of the Hawk Obam
1958 Virgin Island Marcus
1958 The Defiant Ones Noah Cullen BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actor [49]
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated – Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1959 Porgy and Bess PorgyNominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1960 All the Young Men Sgt. Eddie Towler
1961 A Raisin in the Sun Walter Lee YoungerNominated – 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 The 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
Silver Bear for Best Actor [50]
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated – Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
Nominated – New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
1965 The Bedford Incident Ben Munceford
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Simon of Cyrene
1965 A Patch of Blue Gordon RalfeNominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated – Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1965 The Slender Thread Alan Newell
1966 Duel at Diablo Toller (contract horse dealer)Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Action Performance
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
Nominated – Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Dr. John Wade PrenticeFotogramas de Plata Award for Best Foreign Performer
1968 For Love of Ivy Jack Parks Prize San Sebastián for Best Actor
1969 The Lost Man Jason Higgs
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis NarratorDocumentary
1970 They Call Me Mister Tibbs! Lt. Virgil Tibbs
1971 Brother John John Kane
1971 The Organization Lt. Virgil Tibbs
1972 Buck and the Preacher Buck
1973 A Warm December Matt Younger
1974 Uptown Saturday Night Steve Jackson
1975 The Wilby Conspiracy Shack Twala
1975 Let's Do it Again Clyde Williams NAACP Image Award for Best Director
1977 A Piece of the Action Manny Durrell
1979 Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist NarratorShort subject
1988 Shoot to Kill Warren Stantin
1988 Little Nikita Roy Parmenter
1992 Sneakers Donald CreaseNominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
1994 A Century of Cinema HimselfDocumentary
1996Wild Bill: Hollywood MaverickHimselfDocumentary
1996 To Sir, with Love II Mark Thackeray
1997 The Jackal FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor – Suspense
2001 Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey NarratorDocumentary
2004Tell Them Who You AreHimselfDocumentary
2008 Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project HimselfDocumentary

Director

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

Television

YearTitleRoleNotes
1962 The Jack Paar Tonight Show Himself1 episode
1969 The Mike Douglas Show Himself1 episode
1972 The Dick Cavett Show Himself1 episode
1972 The New Bill Cosby Show Himself1 episode
1975 The Merv Griffin Show Himself1 episode
1979 The Mike Douglas Show Himself1 episode
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 SmithNominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
1996 To Sir, with Love II Mark Thackeray
1997 Mandela and de Klerk Nelson Mandela Nominated—CableACE Award for Best Actor in a Movie or Miniseries
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
1998 David and Lisa Dr. Jack Miller
1999 The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn Noah Dearborn NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Nominated—Black Reel Award for Best Actor: T.V. Movie/Cable
1999Free of EdenWill Cleamons
2000-2007 The Oprah Winfrey Show Himself5 episodes
2001The Last Brickmaker in AmericaHenry Cobb
2008 Larry King Live Himself1 episode

Works about Poitier

Autobiographies

Poitier has written three autobiographical books:

Poitier is also the subject of the biography Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) by historian Aram Goudsouzian. [54]

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

Films about Poitier

See also

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References

Informational notes

  1. James Baskett won an Honorary Academy Award for Song of the South (1946); it was not competitive.

Citations

  1. Sidney Poitier Biography Archived July 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine AETN UK. The Biography Channel. 2005–2011. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
  2. 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 former official ambassadorial duties.
  3. Bill Goodykoontz, Gannett Chief Film Critic (February 25, 2014). "Oscar win proved Sidney Poitier was second to none". Usatoday.com. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
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  21. Sidney Poitier (2009). Life Beyond Measure. HarperCollins. pp. 85–86. ISBN   978-0-06-173725-1. 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.
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