Feb. 20th, 1927
Miami, Florida, USA
6' 2 1/2"
Sidney Poitier's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles
Guest TV Roles[none found]
A native of Cat Island, The Bahamas, (though born in Miami during a mainland visit by his parents), Poitier grew up in poverty as the son of a dirt farmer. He had little formal education and at the age of 15 was sent to Miami to live with his brother, in order to forestall a growing tendency toward delinquency. In the U.S., Poitier first experienced the racial chasm that divides the country, a great shock to a boy coming from a society with a black majority. A determination to find and create opportunities for blacks was born in him because of the poor treatment he received on the streets of Miami. At 18, he went to New York, did menial jobs and slept in a bus terminal toilet. A brief stint in the Army as a worker at a veteran's hospital was followed by more menial jobs in Harlem. An impulsive audition at the American Negro Theatre was rejected so forcefully that Poitier dedicated the next six months to overcoming his accent and performance ineptness. On his second try, he was accepted. He was spotted in a rehearsal and given a bit part in a Broadway production of "Lysistrata," for which he got excellent reviews. By the end of 1949, he was having to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). Poitier's performance as a doctor treating a white bigot got him plenty of notice and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and prominent than most black actors of the time were getting. Nevertheless, the roles were still less interesting and prominent than those white actors routinely obtained. But seven years later, after turning down several projects he considered demeaning, Poitier got a number of roles that catapulted him into a category rarely if ever achieved by a black man of that time, that of starring leading man. One of the films, The Defiant Ones (1958), gave Poitier his first Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Five years later, he won the Oscar for Lilies of the Field (1963), the first black to win for a leading role. Poitier maintained activity on stage, on screen, and in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. His roles in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and To Sir, with Love (1967) were for their time landmarks in the breaking down of social barriers between blacks and whites, and Poitier's talent, conscience, integrity, and inherent likability placed him on equal footing with the white stars of the day. He took on directing and producing chores in the Seventies, achieving success in both arenas. Although he has reduced the frequency of his roles in recent years, he remains one of the most respected and beloved figures in American cinema of the twentieth century.
- Future wife 'Joanna Shimkus' (qv) encouraged him to direct his first film, _Buck and the Preacher (1972)_ (qv), after he and the original director could not agree creatively.
- Sits on USC School of Cinema-Television's Board of Councilors.
- During the early 1980s a man named David Hampton conned his way into the homes of several wealthy and prominent New Yorkers (including a dean at Columbia University) by falsely claiming to be Poitier's son. Playwright 'John Guare' (qv), fascinated by the way the story illustrated the magic that the mere mention of Poiter's name held for people of his generation (especially white people), based his play "Six Degrees of Separation" on Hampton's story. The play was adapted into the movie _Six Degrees of Separation (1993)_ (qv) in 1993, with 'Will Smith (I)' (qv) as the character based upon Hampton.
- Along with 'Gary Cooper (I)' (qv), is the most represented actor on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time, with five of his films on the list. They are: _A Raisin in the Sun (1961)_ (qv) at #65, _The Defiant Ones (1958)_ (qv) at #55, _Lilies of the Field (1963)_ (qv) at #46, _Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)_ (qv) at #35, and _In the Heat of the Night (1967)_ (qv) at #21.
- His role in _The Bedford Incident (1965)_ (qv) marked the first time he would play a role in which his character's race was not an issue.
- His performance as Virgil Tibbs in _In the Heat of the Night (1967)_ (qv) is ranked #20 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
- Of Haitian ancestry from his father's side.
- Premiere Magazine ranked him as #20 on a list of the Greatest Movie Stars of All Time in their Stars in Our Constellation feature (2005).