To Sir With Love-💔 ❤️ Sidney Poitier-The Epitome of Grace and Dignity Passed Away At 94. Jan 6. 2022.

He was one of a king,

We lost another one.

Sidney Poitier broke down more doors for African Americans actors and actresses than perhaps any single person. Being from Miami born to Bahamian parents, he was staunch supporter of the Civil Right Movement.

Sidney Poitier portrayal of resolute heroes in films like “To Sir With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” established him as Hollywood’s first Black matinee idol and helped open the door for Black actors and actresses in the film industry, died on Thursday night at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.

In the 1960’s to 70’s Mr. Poitier was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood and a top box-office draw, ranked fifth among male actors in Box Office magazine’s poll of theater owners and critics; he was behind only Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and John Wayne. Yet racial squeamishness would not allow Hollywood to cast him as a romantic lead, despite his exceptional good looks.

“To think of the American Negro male in romantic social-sexual circumstances is difficult, you know,” he told an interviewer. “And the reasons why are legion and too many to go into.”

To Sir, with Love is a 1967 British drama film that deals with social and racial issues in an inner city school. It stars Sidney Poitier and features Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall and singer Lulu making her film debut. James Clavell directed from his own screenplay.

He was the first Black performer to win the Academy Award for best actor, for “Lilies of the Field.”

I know he won an Oscar for “Lilies of the Field,” but my personal favorites are “In The Heat Of The Night,” and “They Call Me Mr. Tibbs.”

Tibbs was introduced in the 1965 novel In the Heat of the Night, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

In 1967 Mr. Poitier appeared in three of Hollywood’s top-grossing films, elevating him to the peak of his popularity. “In the Heat of Night” placed him opposite Rod Steiger, as an indolent, bigoted sheriff, with whom Virgil Tibbs, the Philadelphia detective played by Mr. Poitier, must work on a murder investigation in Mississippi. (In an indelible line, the detective insists on the sheriff’s respect when he declares, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”) In “To Sir, With Love” he was a concerned teacher in a tough London high school, and in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a taboo-breaking film about an interracial couple, he played a doctor whose race tests the liberal principles of his prospective in-laws, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Throughout his career, a heavy weight of racial significance bore down on Mr. Poitier and the characters he played. “I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” he once wrote.

Mr. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, but he was born on Feb. 20, 1927, in Miami, where his parents traveled regularly to sell their tomato crop. The youngest of nine children, he wore clothes made from flour sacks and never saw a car, looked in a mirror or tasted ice cream until his father, Reginald, moved the family from Cat Island to Nassau in 1937 after Florida banned the import of Bahamian tomatoes.

When he was 12, Mr. Poitier quit school and became a water boy for a crew of pick-and-shovel laborers. He also began getting into mischief, and his parents, worried that he was becoming a juvenile delinquent, sent him to Miami when he was 14 to live with a married brother, Cyril.

Mr. Poitier played a Philadelphia detective and Rod Steiger played a bigoted Mississippi sheriff in “In the Heat of Night,” one of three hit films in which Mr. Poitier appeared in 1967.
Mr. Poitier played a Philadelphia detective and Rod Steiger played a bigoted Mississippi sheriff in “In the Heat of Night,” one of three hit films in which Mr. Poitier appeared in 1967.

Mr. Poitier had known nothing of segregation growing up on Cat Island, so the rules governing American Black people in the South came as a shock to him. “It was all over the place like barbed wire,” he later said of American racism. “And I kept running into it and lacerating myself.”

In less than a year he fled Miami for New York, arriving with $3 and change in his pocket. He took jobs washing dishes and working as a ditch digger, waterfront laborer and delivery man in the garment district. Life was grim. During a race riot in Harlem, he was shot in the leg. He saved his nickels so that on cold nights he could sleep in pay toilets.

In late 1943 Mr. Poitier lied about his age and enlisted in the Army, becoming an orderly with the 1267th Medical Detachment at a veterans hospital on Long Island. Feigning a mental disorder, he obtained a discharge in 1945 and returned to New York, where he read in The Amsterdam News that the American Negro Theater was looking for actors.

His first audition was a flop. With only a few years of schooling, he read haltingly, in a heavy West Indian accent. Frederick O’Neal, a founder of the theater, showed him the door and advised him to get a job as a dishwasher.

Undeterred, Mr. Poitier bought a radio and practiced speaking English as he heard it from a variety of staff announcers. A kindly fellow worker at the restaurant where he washed dishes helped him with his reading. Mr. Poitier finally won a place in the theater’s acting school, but only after he volunteered to work as a janitor without pay.

His lucky break came when another actor at the theater, Harry Belafonte, did not show up for a rehearsal attended by a Broadway producer. Mr. Poitier took the stage instead and was given a part in an all-Black production of “Lysistrata” in 1946. Although panned by the critics, it led to a job with the road production of “Anna Lucasta.”

“No Way Out” was followed by a sprinkling of film and television roles, but Mr. Poitier still bounced between acting jobs and menial work.

In 1951 he married Juanita Marie Hardy, a dancer and model, whom he divorced in 1965. They had four daughters, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina. In 1976 he married Joanna Shimkus, his co-star in “The Lost Man” (1969), a film about a gang of Black militants plotting to rob a factory. They had two daughters, Anika and Sydney.

Ms. Shimkus survives him. His daughter Gina Patrice Poitier Gouraige died in 2018. Complete information about his survivors was not immediately available.
Image
Mr. Poitier with Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones” (1958), which established him as a star and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Mr. Poitier with Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones” (1958), which established him as a star and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor.Credit…United Artists

After breakout movies like “Blackboard Jungle” and “The Defiant Ones,” Mr. Poitier’s fate was tied to Hollywood, his purpose to expand the boundaries of racial tolerance. “The explanation for my career was that I was instrumental for those few filmmakers who had a social conscience,” he later wrote.

Remembering Hank Aaron, Colin Powell, Stephen Sondheim, Beverly Cleary, DMX, Cicely Tyson, Larry King, Olympia Dukakis, Chuck Close, Michael K. Williams, Bob Dole, Janet Malcolm and many others who died this year.

In “The Defiant Ones” and “In the Heat of the Night,” racial politics coincided with meaty roles. Just as often, however, Mr. Poitier found himself playing virtuous messengers of racial harmony in mawkish films like “A Patch of Blue” (1965) or taking race-neutral roles in less than memorable films, like a newspaper reporter in the Cold War naval drama “The Bedford Incident” (1965), Simon of Cyrene in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965) or the former cavalry sergeant in “Duel at Diablo” (1966).

“The Defiant Ones” remained one of Mr. Poitier’s favorite films, but to get the part he had to cross swords with Samuel Goldwyn, who was assembling a cast for “Porgy and Bess.” After Mr. Belafonte turned down the role of Porgy as demeaning, Mr. Goldwyn set his sights on Mr. Poitier, who also regarded the musical as an insult to Black people. As Mr. Poitier told it in his lively, unusually frank first memoir, “This Life” (1980), Mr. Goldwyn pulled strings to ensure that unless Mr. Poitier played Porgy, the director Stanley Kramer would not hire him for “The Defiant Ones.”

Mr. Poitier, seething, bowed to the inevitable. “I didn’t enjoy doing it, and I have not yet completely forgiven myself,” he told The New York Times in 1967.

The critics who would later accuse him of bowing and scraping before the white establishment seemed to dismiss Mr. Poitier’s longstanding, outspoken advocacy for racial justice and the civil rights movement, most visibly as part of a Hollywood contingent that took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Early in his career, his association with left-wing causes and his friendship with the radical singer and actor Paul Robeson made him a politically risky proposition for film and television producers.

His style, however, remained low-key and nonconfrontational. “As for my part in all this,” he wrote, “all I can say is that there’s a place for people who are angry and defiant, and sometimes they serve a purpose, but that’s never been my role.”

Mr. Poitier with Claudia McNeil in the 1959 Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Reviewing his performance, Brooks Atkinson of The Times wrote, “Mr. Poitier is a remarkable actor with enormous power that is always under control.”
Mr. Poitier with Claudia McNeil in the 1959 Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Reviewing his performance, Brooks Atkinson of The Times wrote, “Mr. Poitier is a remarkable actor with enormous power that is always under control.”

In 1959 Mr. Poitier made a triumphant return to Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” winning ecstatic reviews. “Mr. Poitier is a remarkable actor with enormous power that is always under control,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times. “Cast as the restless son, he vividly communicates the tumult of a high-strung young man. He is as eloquent when he has nothing to say as when he has a pungent line to speak. He can convey devious processes of thought as graphically as he can clown and dance.” Mr. Poitier repeated the role in the 1961 film version of the play.

With the rise of Black filmmakers like Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Poitier, now in his 40s, turned to directing and producing. He had proposed the idea for the romantic comedy “For Love of Ivy” (1968), in which he starred with Abbey Lincoln. After joining with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand in 1969 to form a production company called First Artists, he directed the western “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), in which he acted opposite Mr. Belafonte, and a series of comedies, notably “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974) and “Let’s Do It Again” (1975), in which Mr. Poitier and Bill Cosby teamed up to play a pair of scheming ne’er-do-wells, and “Stir Crazy” (1980), with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

The critics thought little of Mr. Poitier’s directing talents, but enthusiastic audiences, Black and white, made all three films box-office hits. Neither audiences nor critics found much to like in subsequent directorial efforts, like the comedy “Hanky Panky” (1982), with Mr. Wilder and Gilda Radner, or “Ghost Dad” (1990), with Mr. Cosby as a dead father who refuses to leave his three children alone.

President Barack Obama presented Mr. Poitier with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. President Barack Obama presented Mr. Poitier with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

In his later years, Mr. Poitier turned in solid performances in forgettable action films and thrillers like “Shoot to Kill” (1988), “Little Nikita” (1988) and “Sneakers” (1992). It was television that provided him with two of his grandest roles.

In 1991 he appeared in the lead role in the ABC drama “Separate but Equal,” a dramatization of the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1997 he delivered a widely praised performance as Nelson Mandela in “Mandela and de Klerk,” a television movie focusing on the final years of Mr. Mandela’s imprisonment by the white-minority government in South Africa, with Michael Caine in the role of President F.W. de Klerk.

“Sidney Poitier and Nelson Mandela merge with astonishing ease, like a double-exposure photograph in which one image is laid over the other with perfect symmetry,” Caryn James wrote in a review in The New York Times.

In 2002, Mr. Poitier was given an honorary Oscar for his career’s work in motion picture. (At that same Oscar ceremony, Denzel Washington became the first Black actor since Mr. Poitier to win the best-actor award, for “Training Day.”) He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. And in 2009, President Barack Obama, citing his “relentless devotion to breaking down barriers,” awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. Poitier was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. He became Sir Sidney Poitier

Mr. Poitier’s memoir “This Life” was followed by a second, “The Measure of a Man,” in 2000. Subtitled “A Spiritual Autobiography,” it included Mr. Poitier’s thoughts on life, love, acting and racial politics. It generated a sequel, “Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” (2008).

Despite his role in changing American perceptions of race and opening the door to a new generation of Black actors, Mr. Poitier remained modest about his career. “History will pinpoint me as merely a minor element in an ongoing major event, a small if necessary energy,” he wrote. “But I am nonetheless gratified at having been chosen.”

About unholypursuit

A. White, an award winning former librarian, who is also a long time member of Romantic Time and Publisher's Weekly. A. White has been writing for over fifteen years. She took classes in creative writing in college, specializing in ancient myths and legends. and later at a local community center while living in Chicago. In college she won the national contest to verbally list every country in the world, it's capital and ingenious language. Her works are mainly horror, fantasy, extreme, and sci-fi as well as, as some may says, "the truly strange predicament and puzzling." Books that I've written are "Clash with the Immortals, and eleven others which are part of the "Unholy Pursuit saga,". She has been working on the Chronicles since 2007. She wished to complete them all before introducing them to public so the readers wouldn't have to for the continuation to be written. The ideas of the book come from classic literature such as whose work greatly influence the world world such as Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, Euripides, Socrates, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle and many more. The "Book of Enoch" influenced the usage of Azazael as a main character and love interest. I created the primary main character from the Chronicle of Saints. I wanted to show them as real flesh and blood with thoughts, desires and yearning as any human. Not as they are so often depicted. So I created one of my own to show her as a real human that everyone can relate to.
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19 Responses to To Sir With Love-💔 ❤️ Sidney Poitier-The Epitome of Grace and Dignity Passed Away At 94. Jan 6. 2022.

  1. David Lim says:

    Sidney played his role well with guts. A blessed soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jovi says:

    Seems to me every year, this time of the year we lose another icon 😢
    Now, we will have to listen to those who can’t sing. All they can do is shake their fanny in the camera.
    Now, we will have to watch television shows and movies made by those who can’t act. Again, all they can do is shake their fanny in the camera.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jovi, I hadn’t thought about that. We did lose Cicely Tyson last year didn’t we. Betty White was lose last year too. Well, I say we the people being entertained must start demanding better entertainment.

      Yes, I have noticed there’s a lot of fanny shaking going on. 🤣

      Like

  3. Hamael says:

    I know it’s hard for most people to believe but this is how the average black man behave like Mr. Poitier. The average black man is nothing how he’s portrayed in rap music. I realized that the urban black person is what’s so common in main stream America, but the urban black people are not the standard in how most black people behave. It became the standard in order to demonize black people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Honey, this was truly a man of distinction. I read the book you posted and you learn the journey of a man who didn’t know what he needed to do to get where he wanted to be, but God positioned him so that what he needed came to him. (Like the older gentleman who taught him to read when he was working as a dishwasher.) When we suddenly lost Cicely Tyson last year, I think I was dizzy in disbelief. Her book that was released just before she passed away is awesome. Another one of Sidney Portier’s books that I have and enjoyed reading was, “Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter.” I think you would enjoy that one too if you haven’t read it!

    Thanks so much as always for your dedication to detail and decency my friend. 😊🙏🏼🤗💖😘 Have a FANtabulous weekend! 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  5. He was absolutely epic.

    Liked by 1 person

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