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Sidney Poitier
(actor; born February 20, 1927, Miami, Florida)
In an age of Spike Lee retrospectives, Denzel Washington blockbusters, and Magic Johnson multiplexes, it is perhaps easy to forget the pioneering impact Sidney Poitier's career has had on American culture. For 20 years, beginning in the early '50s, he was the top and virtually sole African-American film star--the first black actor to become a hero to both black and white audiences. Poitier was also the first black actor to win a prestigious international film award (Venice Film Festival, Something of Value, 1957), the first to be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award (The Defiant Ones, 1958), the first to star as a romantic lead (Paris Blues, 1961), the first to win the Oscar (Lilies of the Fields, 1963), the first to become the number one box office star in the country (1968), and the first to insist on a film crew that was at least 50 percent African-American (The Lost Man, 1969). Poitier also starred in the first mainstream movies to condone interracial marriages and permit a mixed couple to hug and kiss (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 1967) and to attack apartheid (The Wilby Conspiracy, 1975). The New York Times' Vincent Canby once pointed out: "Poitier does not make movies, he makes milestones."

His parents were poor tomato farmers in the Bahamas. He was their seventh and last child. The family's struggles hammered home a lesson he would always live by: Survival requires everybody to carry a load. In fact, by the age of 13, he was working full-time to support the family.

At 16, he arrived in New York City, totally alone, with three dollars in his pocket. In order to escape the cold, he lied about his age and joined the army. It was a short stint that lasted less than a year. Back in New York he got a job as a dishwasher and stumbled into acting. While looking for a second job to make ends meet, he came across an ad calling for actors. Without any experience or training, and barely able to read, he auditioned for the American Negro Theatre. He was humiliated off the stage, but six months later, better prepared, he auditioned again. His first production, Days of Our Youth, led to nearly 10 more with the company, a national tour of Anna Lucasta in 1944 and, two years later at 22, his first film--No Way Out. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, it launched the career that, in the words of his good friend Harry Belafonte, "put the cinema and millions of people in the world in touch with a truth about who we are. A truth that could have for a longer time eluded us had it not been for him and the choices he made."



Sidney Poitier was so successful that he eventually became mainstream! How mainstream? After Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), he was criticized by some members of the Black community for roles which seemed to be unfashionably focused on integration. He directed his first film in 1972, five years before Spike Lee. In April 1997, he was named the Bahamas' ambassador to Japan. He also sits on Walt Disney's Board of Directors, and recently received the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award.
A good deed here, a good deed there, a good thought here, a good comment there, all added up to my career in one way or another.
-Sidney Poitier

Almost all the job opportunities were reflective of the stereotypical perception of blacks that had infected the whole consciousness of the country.
-Sidney Poitier

As a man, I've been representative of the values I hold dear. And the values I hold dear are carryovers from the lives of my parents.
-Sidney Poitier

But I always had the ability to say no. That's how I called my own shots.
-Sidney Poitier

But my dad also was a remarkable man, a good person, a principled individual, a man of integrity.
-Sidney Poitier

History passes the final judgment.
-Sidney Poitier

I come from a great family. I've seen family life and I know how wonderful, how nurturing, and how wonderful it can be.
-Sidney Poitier

I decided in my life that I would do nothing that did not reflect positively on my father's life.
-Sidney Poitier

I had chosen to use my work as a reflection of my values.
-Sidney Poitier

I had learned something of Miami from people who had visited there, so I knew what to expect.
-Sidney Poitier

I learned quite quickly that there were places I couldn't go, that I would be questioned if I wandered into various neighborhoods.
-Sidney Poitier

I never had an occasion to question color, therefore, I only saw myself as what I was... a human being.
-Sidney Poitier

I wanted to explore the values that are at work, underpinning my life.
-Sidney Poitier

I wanted to look at them because I feel, internally, that I am an ordinary person who has had an extraordinary life.
-Sidney Poitier

I was not the kind of a principal player that was so in demand that eight or 10 or 12 scripts came per month.
-Sidney Poitier

I was the only Black person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to representation of 18 million people.
-Sidney Poitier

I'll always be chasing you... Glory.
-Sidney Poitier

I've had it all my life and when it can time for me to start a family, I was quite anxious to do so.
-Sidney Poitier

If you apply reason and logic to this career of mine, you're not going to get very far. You simply won't.
-Sidney Poitier

In my case, the body of work stands for itself... I think my work has been representative of me as a man.
-Sidney Poitier

Jackie Robinson is a true legend.
-Sidney Poitier

Mine was an easy ride compared to Jackie Robinson's.
-Sidney Poitier

My autobiography was simply the story of my life.
-Sidney Poitier

My father was a poor man, very poor in a British colonial possession where class and race were very important.
-Sidney Poitier

Since I couldn't actuate the things that I wanted to do, the only weapon I had was to say no.
-Sidney Poitier

So I had to be careful. I recognized the responsibility that, whether I liked it or not, I had to accept whatever the obligation was. That was to behave in a manner, to carry myself in such a professional way, as if there ever is a reflection, it's a positive one.
-Sidney Poitier

So I'm OK with myself, with history, my work, who I am and who I was.
-Sidney Poitier

So it's been kind of a long road, but it was a good journey altogether.
-Sidney Poitier

So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness.
-Sidney Poitier

The journey has been incredible from its beginning.
-Sidney Poitier

The next morning we came into the port at Miami. I saw the buildings. For me they were tall, tall buildings; there was nothing like them in Nassau.
-Sidney Poitier

There is not racial or ethnic domination of hopelessness. It's everywhere.
-Sidney Poitier

To be compared to Jackie Robinson is an enormous compliment, but I don't think it's necessarily deserved.
-Sidney Poitier

To simply wake up every morning a better person than when I went to bed.
-Sidney Poitier

We all suffer from the preoccupation that there exists... in the loved one, perfection.
-Sidney Poitier

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