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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

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" returned Poitier to the familiar turf of "Negro problem" pictures, but with a contemporized twist: instead of battling the unabashed ignorance of racist America, he found himself opposite sophisticated Northerners played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film). The grand old screen duo played an ostensibly enlightened couple who find their liberal sensibilities strained when their daughter brings home her fiancé, an older, divorced doctor, who just happens to be Poitier. Again under Kramer's direction, the picture parlayed the myriad pitfalls of the stark realities simple "love" still faced, given the country's darkly drawn racial lines, especially at the zenith of the civil rights movement; the Supreme Court had just that summer struck down 14 Southern states' standing laws against interracial marriages, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while the film was still in theaters. The film's heady discourse struck a chord, taking in a for-the-time whopping $56.7 million at the box office in North America. But Poitier's most dauntlessly cool performance came in "In the Heat of the Night," a steamy neo-noir that set Poitier in the heart of...

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" returned Poitier to the familiar turf of "Negro problem" pictures, but with a contemporized twist: instead of battling the unabashed ignorance of racist America, he found himself opposite sophisticated Northerners played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film). The grand old screen duo played an ostensibly enlightened couple who find their liberal sensibilities strained when their daughter brings home her fiancé, an older, divorced doctor, who just happens to be Poitier. Again under Kramer's direction, the picture parlayed the myriad pitfalls of the stark realities simple "love" still faced, given the country's darkly drawn racial lines, especially at the zenith of the civil rights movement; the Supreme Court had just that summer struck down 14 Southern states' standing laws against interracial marriages, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while the film was still in theaters. The film's heady discourse struck a chord, taking in a for-the-time whopping $56.7 million at the box office in North America. But Poitier's most dauntlessly cool performance came in "In the Heat of the Night," a steamy neo-noir that set Poitier in the heart of the deep South - still so blatantly segregated that Poitier nixed location shooting in Mississippi, prompting the production to move to tiny Sparta, IL. Poitier played a Philadelphia homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs, initially accused of a murder in a hick Mississippi town, who then assists the local Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger) solve the case. Under the deft direction of Norman Jewison, Poitier and Steiger played a dueling character study; a sophisticated black authority the likes of which the town has never seen versus an abrasive, outwardly racist yokel stereotype more enlightened and thoughtful than he lets on. The film also proved a hit, winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Steiger). Poitier's three films in 1967 made him, by total box-office receipts, the No. 1 box-office draw in Hollywood. And yet, even in the thick of his success, Poitier's singular identification as the spokesman for African-Americans came with proportionate scrutiny. While he had embraced the civil rights movement publicly - he keynoted the annual convention of Martin Luther King's activist Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August 1967 - some in the African-American community (as well as some film critics) began vocalizing their displeasure with the never-ending string of saintly and sexless characters Poitier played. Black playwright and drama critic Clifford Mason became the sounding board for these sentiments in an analysis published on the front page of The New York Times' drama section on Sept. 10, 1967. Mason referred to Poitier's characters as "unreal" and essentially "the same role, the antiseptic, one-dimensional hero." Although devastated by the attacks, Poitier himself had begun to chafe against the cultural restrictions which cast him as the unimpeachable role model instead of a fully flawed and functioning human. Sidney Poitier attempted to take a greater hand in his work, penning a romantic comedy that he would star in called "For the Love of Ivy" (1968), and attempting a more visceral representation of the travails of inner city America in "The Lost Man" (1969), but neither met the success of his previous films or effectively muted his critics. The Times' Vincent Canby called the latter, "Poitier's attempt to recognize the existence and root causes of black militancy without making anyone - white or black - feel too guilty or hopeless." He also founded a creator-controlled studio, First Artists Corp., with partners Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand. But his damaged image, amid an up-and-coming crop of black actors unencumbered by his "integrationist" stigma, enforced a sense of isolation about Poitier, likely amplified by a falling out with his longtime friend Belafonte and his estrangement from wife Juanita. Some of that oddly went reflected in an unlikely, blaxploitation-infused sequel, "They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!" (1970), in which he reprised his classic character to ill-effect. By 1970, Poitier had struck up a passionate new romance with Canadian model Joanna Shimkus and exiled himself to a semi-permanent residence in The Bahamas. He would make one more forgettable Tibbs sequel, "The Organization" (1971), but he would return to Hollywood in a different capacity. With Hollywood now recognizing the power of the black purse, even for cheaply produced "blaxploitation" pictures, Columbia saw the potential for "Buck and the Preacher" (1972), in which Harry Belafonte and Poitier would play mismatched Western adventurers who team up to save homesteading former slaves from cowboy predators. Belafonte co-produced and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign by the studio to complete the film in the director's chair. He produced, directed and starred in his next outing, a tepid romance called "A Warm December" (1973), which tanked, but he found his stride soon after back among friends. He directed and starred with Belafonte, Bill Cosby and an up-and-coming Richard Pryor in their answer to the blaxploitation wave, "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974), an action/comedy romp about two regular guys (Cosby and Poitier) whose devil-may-care night out becomes an odyssey through the criminal underworld. "Uptown" proved such a winning combo that Poitier would make two more successful buddy pictures starring himself and Cosby: "Let's Do it Again" (1975) and "A Piece of the Action" (1977). Poitier also returned to Africa and an actor-only capacity for another anti-apartheid film, "The Wilby Conspiracy" (1975), co-starring Michael Caine. After marrying Shimkus in 1976, he returned to the States most notably to direct Pryor's own buddy picture; the second comedy pairing Pryor with Gene Wilder, "Stir Crazy" (1980), a story about two errant New Yorkers framed for a crime in the west and imprisoned. With Poitier letting the two actors' fish-out-of-water comic talents play off their austere environs, the film became one of highest-grossing comedies of all time. A later outing with Wilder, "Hanky Panky" (1982), and a last directorial turn with Cosby, the infamous flop "Ghost Dad" (1990), proved profoundly less successful. After more than a decade absent from the screen, Poitier made a celebrated return as an actor in the 1988 action flick "Shoot to Kill" and the espionage thriller "Little Nikita" (1988), though both proved less than worthy of the milestone. He would take parts rarely after that; only those close to his heart in big-budget TV movie events: NAACP lawyer -later the U.S.'s first African-American Supreme Court justice - Thurgood Marshall in "Separate But Equal" (ABC, 1991); Nelson Mandela, the heroic South African dissident and later president, in "Nelson & De Klerk" (Showtime, 1997); and "To Sir, With Love II" (CBS, 1996). He also took some choice supporting roles in feature actioners "Sneakers" (1992) and "The Jackal" (1997). In 1997, the Bahamas appointed Poitier its ambassador to Japan, and has also made him a representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier No. 22 in the top 25 male screen legends, and in 2006, the AFI's list of the "100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time" tabulated more Poitier films than those of any other actor except Gary Cooper (both had five). In 2002, he was given an Honorary Oscar with the inscription, "To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being," and in 2009, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. trade, accepts one teaching marginal, troubled cockney students in London and reached them via honest empathy and by treating them as adults. Buoyed by the popular title song by Brit-pop star Lulu (who also played a student), the film became a sleeper hit.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

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 (1972) 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.
 Mandela and de Klerk (1997) Nelson Mandela
9.
 Jackal, The (1997) Carter Preston--Fbi Deputy Director
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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