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