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Sidney Poitier

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Also Known As: Sir Sidney Poitier Died:
Born: February 20, 1927 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Miami, Florida, USA Profession: actor, director, writer, construction worker, longshoreman, physiotherapist, busboy, dishwasher, janitor, messenger

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

As elegant and quietly commanding a personality as ever graced motion pictures, Sidney Poitier came to the fore of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s as a fine actor, and as an ambassador of America's long-delayed civil rights movement. While other actors and actresses of color made impact before and after him, Poitier in his time leveraged his mesmerizing screen presence into a culture-changing force. His very first film set off a chain of events that freed his native Bahamas of British colonial rule, and from there he not only became the first black Best Actor Oscar winner - for "Lilies of the Field" (1963) - but was the number-one box-office draw in 1967 in a triumvirate of movies: "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), "To Sir, with Love" (1967) and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" (1967). The regal Poitier's influence as an admirable role model of any color could not be underestimated. As he phased himself out of entertainment, his worldwide prestige would allow his native Bahamas to call on him to take on the new role of diplomat and representative to the United Nations. Simply put, Sidney Poitier became a beloved national treasure and symbol of a struggle almost as old as the United States...

As elegant and quietly commanding a personality as ever graced motion pictures, Sidney Poitier came to the fore of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s as a fine actor, and as an ambassador of America's long-delayed civil rights movement. While other actors and actresses of color made impact before and after him, Poitier in his time leveraged his mesmerizing screen presence into a culture-changing force. His very first film set off a chain of events that freed his native Bahamas of British colonial rule, and from there he not only became the first black Best Actor Oscar winner - for "Lilies of the Field" (1963) - but was the number-one box-office draw in 1967 in a triumvirate of movies: "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), "To Sir, with Love" (1967) and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" (1967). The regal Poitier's influence as an admirable role model of any color could not be underestimated. As he phased himself out of entertainment, his worldwide prestige would allow his native Bahamas to call on him to take on the new role of diplomat and representative to the United Nations. Simply put, Sidney Poitier became a beloved national treasure and symbol of a struggle almost as old as the United States itself.

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Ghost Dad (1990) Director
2.
  Fast Forward (1985) Director
3.
  Hanky-Panky (1982) Director
4.
  Stir Crazy (1980) Director
5.
  Piece Of The Action, A (1977) Director
6.
  Let's Do It Again (1975) Director
7.
  Uptown Saturday Night (1974) Director
8.
  Warm December, A (1973) Director
9.
  Buck and the Preacher (1972) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Sing Your Song (2011)
3.
 Tell Them Who You Are (2004) Cast
4.
 Last Brickmaker in America, The (2001) Henry Cobb
5.
 Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, The (1999) Noah Dearborn
6.
 Free of Eden (1999) Will Cleamons
7.
 David and Lisa (1998) Dr Jack Miller
8.
 Jackal, The (1997) Carter Preston--Fbi Deputy Director
9.
 Mandela and de Klerk (1997) Nelson Mandela
10.
 To Sir With Love II (1996) Mark Thackeray
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born in Miami, Florida when parents took a trip there to sell their produce
:
Raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas
1940:
Dropped out of school at age 13
1942:
Moved to Miami at age 15 to live with his brother Cyril
:
Relocated to New York City where he worked as a dishwasher and busboy in restaurants
1941:
Served in the US Army as a physiotherapist
1945:
Joined American Negro Theater and made stage debut in "Days of Our Youth" as Harry Belafonte's understudy
1946:
Broadway debut as understudy for all of the male roles in the American Negro Theater's all-black production of "Lysistrata"
1947:
Starred in the Broadway production of "Anna Lucasta"
1949:
Film debut, appearing in the Army Corps documentary short, "From Whence Cometh My Help"
1950:
Made feature film debut in Darryl F. Zanuck's "No Way Out"
1952:
TV acting debut in NBC's "The Philco Television Playhouse"
1958:
Received first Academy Award nomination for Stanley Kramer's "The Defiant Ones"; first black male to receive nomination
1959:
Returned to Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun"; first Broadway play written by a black woman; also first time a black man (Lloyd Richards) directed a Broadway show
1961:
Reprised Broadway role for Daniel Petrie's film version of "A Raisin in the Sun"
1963:
Became first Black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for "Lilies of the Field"
1965:
Portrayed an African American man, who falls in love with blind white female in "A Patch of Blue"
1967:
Had starring roles in three hit movies; "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "To Sir, With Love" and "In the Heat of the Night"
1968:
Made stage directing debut with Broadway production of "Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights"
1968:
Wrote original story for the film "For Love of Ivy"; also starred
1969:
Formed First Artists production company with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand and others
1970:
Reprised "In the Heat of the Night" role for the sequel, "They Call Me Mister Tibbs"
1971:
Once again reprised role of Virgil Tibbs for the third film, "The Organization"
1972:
Feature directorial debut, "Buck and the Preacher"
1975:
Directed and starred opposite Bill Cosby in "Let's Do It Again"
1977:
Last feature acting role for more than a decade in "A Piece of the Action"; also directed
1980:
Directed Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in "Stir Crazy"; first time directing a feature in which he did not also act
1980:
Penned his autobiography, <i>This Life</i>
1988:
Returned to acting with roles in Roger Spottiswoode's "Shoot to Kill" and Richard Benjamin's "Little Nikita"
1991:
Earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of Thurgood Marshall the ABC miniseries "Separate But Equal"
1992:
Joined an all-star cast for the high-tech caper, "Sneakers"
1996:
Reprised role of Mark Thackaray 30 years later in the Peter Bogdanovich directed, "To Sir, With Love II" (CBS)
1997:
Co-starred with Michael Caine for the Showtime miniseries, "Mandela and De Klerk"
1997:
Played FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston in Michael Caton-Jones' "The Jackal"
1999:
Had lead role in the highly-rated CBS TV-movie "The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn"
2000:
Helmed second autobiographical work, <i>The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography</i>
2001:
Appeared in the CBS telefilm, "The Last Brickmaker in America"
2008:
Penned his third book, <i>Life Beyond Measure - letters to my Great-Granddaughter</i>; earned a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word for the CD version
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

Poiter was rated the Number 7 top money-making star in the 1967 Quigley poll of exhibitors, and placed Number 1 in 1968.

"You could characterize my career as a fairly successful and substantive one if you were to look at all 42 films I've made. Most of the scripts I did were written by whites. To require a white person to write only for whites is stupid. To require me to write only for blacks is also stupid." --Sidney Poitier at American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Film and Television Studies seminar (quoted in American Film, September/October 1991)

"Poitier's ascension to stardom in the mid-1950s was no accident. ... in this integrationist age Poitier was the model integrationist hero. In all his films he was educated and intelligent. ... His characters were tame, never did they act impulsively, nor were they threats to the system. ... And finally they were non-funky, almost sexless and sterile.

Poitier was also acceptable for black audiences. He was the paragon of black middle-class values and virtues. ... he did not carry any ghetto cultural baggage with him. No dialect. No shuffling. No African cultural past. ... he was the complete antithesis of all the black buffoons who had appeared before in American movies.

Finally, Poitier became a star because of his talent. He may have played the old tom dressed up with modern intelligence and reason, but he dignified the figure. Always on display was the actor's sensitivity and strength." --Donald Bogle ("Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks" 1973)

He was given the William J German Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee in 1966.

Poitier was decorated Knight Commander for the Order of the British Empire (1974)

He received the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Award for his longstanding committment to civil rights and excellence in the portrayal of minorities in the film and entertainment industry in 1993.

In 1997, Poitier was named the Bahamas' ambassador to Japan; the actor holds dual citizenship

"No one expected that the son of a tomato farmer and a semi-literate lady would ever make a stir of any consequence. I flirted with reform school. I was an incorrigible kid to some extent. I didn't know where I was, who I was, or what I was. And the society in which I lived didn't care too much.

There was a teacher in the Carribean. His name was Mr Fawkes and he taught like Thackeray [Poitier's character in "To Sir With Love"]. He was so remarkable. He used to tell us stories about those places beyond our limited horizon.

He stimulated our imagination and nurtured it. I learned how to daydream and that, after all, is what I apply when I work nowadays." --Poitier to Daily News, April 7, 1996

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Juanita Hardy. Dancer. Married on April 29, 1950; divorced in 1965.
companion:
Diahann Carroll. Actor, singer.
wife:
Joanna Shimkus. Actor. Married on January 23, 1976; born in 1943; met in Paris while co-starring in "The Lost Man" (1969).

Family close complete family listing

father:
Reginald James Poitier. Tomato farmer. From Cat Island in the Bahamas.
mother:
Evelyn Poitier. Tomato farmer. From Cat Island in the Bahamas.
brother:
Cyril Poitier. Born c. 1911; died on November 13, 1991 of cancer; oldest brother; helped raise Sidney; moved to Miami from Cat Island in 1929; had bit roles in Poitier's movies "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974), "Let's Do it Again" (1975) and "A Piece of the Action" (1977).
daughter:
Beverly Poitier. Born in 1951; mother, Juanita Hardy.
daughter:
Pamela Poitier. Born in 1952; mother, Juanita Hardy.
daughter:
Sherri Poitier. Born in 1953; mother, Juanita Hardy.
daughter:
Gina Poitier. Actor. Mother, Juanita Hardy.
daughter:
Anika Poitier. Actor. Born c. 1972; mother, Joanna Shimkus.
daughter:
Sydney Tamiia Poitier. Actor. Mother, Joanna Shimkus; acted with father in Showtime movie "Free of Eden" (1999).
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"This Life" Alfred A. Knopf
"The Long Journey" Signet
"The Films of Sidney Poitier" Citadel Press
"The Cinema of Sidney Poitier" A.S. Barnes & Co. Inc.
"The Films of Sidney Poitier" Chelsea House
"The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography" HarperCollins
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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