Miami, Florida, 20 February 1924 (some sources say 1927), grew up in the
Attended Western Senior High School and Governor's High School,
both in Nassau.
Married 1) Juanita Hardy, 1950, daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherry, Gina;
2) the actress Joanna Shimkus, 1976, two children.
1942–45—served in the U.S. Army as a physiotherapist;
member of the American Negro Theater: in
Days of Our Youth
and other plays; 1946—Broadway debut in
in all-black production; 1948—toured with play
; 1949—film debut in Signal Corps documentary
From Whom Cometh My Help
; 1950—fiction film debut in
No Way Out
; 1959—in stage play
A Raisin in the Sun
, and in film version, 1961; 1968—directed Broadway play
Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights
; 1969—co-founder, with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand, First
Artists Productions; 1972—first directed film,
Buck and the Preacher
Best Actor, Berlin Festival, and Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for
The Defiant Ones
, 1958; Best Actor Academy Award, and Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for
Lilies of the Field
, 1963; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1992; Screen
Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000.
c/o Verdon Productions, 9350 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212,
Films as Actor:
From Whom Cometh My Help (Signal Corps doc)
No Way Out (Mankiewicz) (as Dr. Luther Brooks)
Cry, the Beloved Country (Korda) (as Reverend Msimangu); Red Ball Express (Boetticher) (as Corporal Andrew Robertson)
Go, Man, Go! (Howe) (as Inman Jackson)
Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks) (as Gregory Miller)
Goodbye, My Lady (Wellman) (as Gates)
Edge of the City (Ritt) (as Tommy Tyler); Something of Value (Richard Brooks) (as Kimani); Band of Angels (Walsh)(as Rau-ru)
Mark of the Hawk (Audley) (as Obam); The Defiant Ones (Kramer) (as Noah Cullen); The Virgin Island (Jackson)(as Marcus)
Porgy and Bess (Preminger) (as Porgy)
All the Young Men (Bartlett) (as Towler)
A Raisin in the Sun (Petrie) (as Walter Lee Younger); Paris Blue (Ritt) (as Eddie Cook)
Pressure Point (Cornfield) (as Doctor)
Lilies of the Field (Nelson) (as Homer Smith)
The Long Ships (Cardiff) (as Ali Mansuh)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens) (as Simon of Cyrene); The Bedford Incident (Harris) (as Ben Munceford); A Patch of Blue (Green) (as Gordon Ralfe)
The Slender Thread (Pollack) (as Alan Newell); Duel at Diablo (Nelson) (as Toller)
To Sir with Love (Clavell) (as Mark Thackeray); In the Heat of the Night (Jewison) (as Virgil Tibbs); Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Kramer) (as John Prentice)
For Love of Ivy (Daniel Mann) (as Jack Parks)
The Lost Man (Arthur) (as Jason Higgs)
They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (Douglas) (title role)
The Organization (Medford) (as Virgil Tibbs); Brother John (Goldstone) (as John Kane)
The Wilby Conspiracy (Nelson) (as Shack Twala)
Shoot to Kill ( Deadly Pursuit ) (Spottiswoode) (as Warren Stantin); Little Nikita ( The Sleeper ) (Benjamin) (as Roy Parmenter)
Separate but Equal (Stevens Jr.—for TV) (as Thurgood Marshall; Children of the Dust (David Greene—for TV) (as Gypsy Smith)
Sneakers (Robinson) (as Donald Crease)
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (Robinson); To Sir With Love 2 (Bogdanovich—for TV) (as Mark Thackeray)
Mandela and de Klerk (Sargent—for TV) (as Nelson Mandela); The Jackal (Caton-Jones) (as Preston)
David and Lisa (Kramer?—for TV) (as Dr. Jack Miller)
Free of Eden (Ichaso) (as Will Cleamons + exec pr); The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (Champion—for TV) (as Noah Dearborn)
Films as Director:
Buck and the Preacher (+ ro as Buck)
A Warm December (+ ro as Matt Younger)
Uptown Saturday Night (+ ro as Steve Jackson)
Let's Do It Again (+ ro as Clyde Williams)
A Piece of the Action (+ ro as Manny Durrell)
By POITIER: books—
Sidney Poitier: an American Film Institute Seminar On His Work , 1976. This Life , New York, 1980.
By POITIER: articles—
"They Call Me a Do-It-Yourself Man," in Films and Filming (London), September 1959.
"Talking of Corruption," in Films and Filming (London), August 1961.
"Entertainment, Politics, and the Movie Business," interview with G. Noble, in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1977–78.
"Walking the Hollywood Color Line," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1980.
Interview with Frank Spotnitz, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September/October 1991.
On POITIER: books—
Rollins, Charlemae, Famous Negro Entertainers of Stage, Screen, and TV , New York, 1967.
Newquist, Roy, A Special Kind of Magic , New York, 1967.
Ewers, Carolyn H., Sidney Poiter: The Long Journey , New York, 1969.
Hoffman, William, Sidney , New York, 1971.
Null, Gary, Black Hollywood: The Negro in Motion Pictures , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.
Marill, Alvin H., The Films of Sidney Poitier , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1978.
Keyser, Lester, and Andre Ruszkowski, The Cinema of Sidney Poitier: The Black Man's Changing Role on the American Screen , San Diego, 1980.
Kelley, Samuel L., The Evolution of Character Portrayals in the Films of Sidney Poitier, 1950–78 , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1983.
Bergman, Carol, Sidney Poitier , Los Angeles, 1990.
On POITIER: articles—
Current Biography 1959 , New York, 1959.
Cripps, Thomas, "Death of Rastus: Negro in American Films since 1945," in Phylon , Fall 1967.
Mason, Clifford, "Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?," in the New York Times , 10 September 1967.
Sanders, Charles L., "Sidney Poitier: Man behind the Superman," in Ebony (Chicago), April 1968.
Hall, D. J., "Pride without Prejudice," in Films and Filming (London), December 1971 and January 1972.
Kael, Pauline, "Sidney Poitier," in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Kelley, Samuel, "Sidney Poitier: héros intégrationiste," in CinémAction (Paris), January 1988.
American Film , September-October 1991.
Everschor, Franz, "Keine Angst vor Schwarzen," in Film-dienst (Frankfurt/Main), 7 April 1992.
Radio Times (London), 23 April 1994.
Norman, Barry, "Liberty, Equality, and Sidney Poitier," in Radio Times (London), 16 August 1997.
* * *
As the Hollywood film industry ended the twentieth century, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, and Denzel Washington could be counted as major movie stars. But they owe a major part of their success to Sidney Poitier's pioneering efforts three decades earlier. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s Poitier singlehandedly transformed the Hollywood movie's image of the black man from the racist "coon" to the positive hero.
During the 1960s Poitier was the symbol of the liberal Hollywood, a black actor with dignity. But this had not been achieved "overnight," without struggle. During the early 1950s he took what parts he could land, from Joseph Mankiewicz's No Way Out , where he played an educated, bright, and dedicated doctor caught in a heated racial situation, to James Wong Howe's sole credit as a director, the creaky portrait of the Harlem Globetrotters' basketball enterprise, Go, Man, Go! Richard Brooks's somewhat sanitized portrait of inner-city America, Blackboard Jungle , made Poitier a star. Thereafter his presence became a symbol to the rising consciousness about racial segregation in the United States. Noted producers cast him in roles designed for his new image. Most self-conscious was Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones , with black and white chained together trying to escape from a brutal Southern prison camp. Otto Preminger's Porgy and Bess was the director's homage to black life in the South, while in Lilies of the Field Poitier assisted a group of nuns, a "feel good" classic.
During this period he was much honored, winning many awards, from prizes from the Venice and Berlin Film Festivals to a New York Film Critics Award for best actor to the William J. German Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Congress. He won a much-deserved Oscar for Lilies of the Field , and so became a top box-office draw for A Patch of Blue , To Sir, with Love , In the Heat of the Night , and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? In 1967 Poitier was rated number seven on a list of top moneymaking stars; the following year he ranked first.
By 1969 he had done so well he was able, with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, and Dustin Hoffman to create the First Artists Film Production Company. He had decided then to work within the Hollywood system and become a director, but Buck and the Preacher , A Warm December , and Uptown Saturday Night made precious little money. He returned to acting, with little success. Little Nikita ended his career as a leading man.
Poitier had become a member of the establishment, penning a celebrated autobiography in 1980. His black detective from the North made so famous with In the Heat of the Night was considered radical in the late 1960s. Two decades later no one commented on his roles as an FBI agent. In 1989 he was elected to the Board of Trustees for the American Museum of the Moving Image. In 1992 he was honored with the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, in 1994 he earned the National Board of Review Career Achievement Award, and in 1995 he was honored with the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award.