The Golden Gentleman Of Hollywood
Sidney Poitier, the Golden Gentleman of Hollywood, died six days after the start of 2022 (January 6th, 2022) at his home in Beverly Hills (Los Angeles – California) as a result of a combination of heart failure, Alzheimer, and cancer prostate (according to the death certificate obtained by the TMZ website). And although he is no longer with us on this earthly plane, at ISM wanted to pay a heartfelt tribute to this famous man on the Big Screen.
We can only start with how a Gentleman is identified. A man with this distinction is characterized by the behavior of absolute courtesy with the people around him, deep nobility regardless of gender, race, or creed, and exuberant distinction in any situation. Qualities that were always present in the behavior of one of the Afro-descendant men in Hollywood with values and principles unalterable over time, we are referring to our Golden Gentleman of Hollywood, Sidney Poitier.
Sidney from his childhood in the Bahamas developed high self-esteem. He was not able to differentiate between skin tones, on the contrary, he only saw people with the same rights, duties, and obligations. That is why he was always ready to give his image and resources to the defense of civil rights on the big screen, as well as stand by the African-American political activist Martin Luther King and in turn, participate in peaceful demonstrations such as the Pilgrimage of Prayer for Freedom (1957) and the March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington (1963).
This actor and director was raised within a family and society where mutual respect, great affection, integrity, and laughter were the premises. These teachings nurtured his life and helped him translate into each of the characters he played in the mecca of cinema.
His multiple characters reflected the kindness, sacrifice, dignity, and greatness of human life, thus leaving an extensive cinematographic legacy with more than 50 films since 1950.
His physical departure has been the center of great posthumous recognition by the industry, such as the cases of Denzel Washington (actor), Oprah Winfrey (writer and television presenter), Lupita Nyong’o (actress), and many more representatives of the Afro-American community living in the United States.
“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together. He also opened doors for a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans.” Farewell words from ex-President Barack Obama through his Twitter account.
6 Emblematic Movies Of Poitier
Sidney Poitier never really wanted to be an actor. The truth is that at the age of 15 he didn’t know how to read well either. Words made up of more than three syllables were quite a challenge, and every time he had to read them, he got a feeling of defeat.
So, how did Sidney get into acting? The answer is by accident during his stay in New York City. In his search for a job as a dishwasher, he came across an advertisement that powerfully caught his attention and said “Actor Wanted” and although Sidney did not know what that job was about, he decided to attend the casting with gallantry.
That day two stories converged. The first was the impetus of creating a fruitful career in acting, while the second story is the narration of the moment when this actor with entrenched convictions felt deeply offended as never before in his life.
Poitier auditioned but due to his poor reading skills, acting, Caribbean accent, and skin color, Sidney was disrespectfully kicked out. He was held by his coat collar and pants belt and thrown into the street. The words of that man were “You can’t read, you can hardly speak, and you have that accent… Why don’t you go find a job as a dishwasher?”
That day was one of intense reflection for the golden gentleman of Hollywood. Walking down Lenox Avenue, he thought about what happened, and his indignation at that situation that he constantly remembered led him to make the best decision of his life, Sidney chose to be an actor! His choice was based on his love for himself. His thought was that he was worth more than the perception that that man had of him, and once he managed to prove it to him, he would leave that profession, and that’s how this magical journey began…
His induction studies in the performing arts began in the American Negro Theater located in Harlem (NYC). Here, he offered his job as a janitor in exchange for his acting training. After not-so-pleasant experiences, he could be the substitute for the main role of the plot of the work. And on the day of the premiere Sidney had to play the leading role because the main actor (Harry Belafonte) could not attend. In that unique moment, the son of tomato farmers from the Bahamas was able to demonstrate the meaning of perseverance, determination, effort, and with his brilliant talent, he was able to captivate all attendees. Since then, job offers in acting for Sidney began to arrive.
His first professional job was on Broadway in the classic play Lysistrata (a Greek comedy) in 1946. This was followed by the play Anna Lucasta and later his film debut in No Way Out in 1950.
A narrative that is based on the medical assistance to an intolerant Caucasian criminal by a doctor of color (Dr. Luther Brooks) played by Sidney. Poitier’s first film role broke Hollywood’s established stereotypes for African-American actors, while this film was the first to directly address racism.
“My Values are not disconnected from the values of the black community, so I go in front of the camera with a responsibility to be respectful…” Sidney Poitier
Blackboard Jungle (1955). This film struck the social chord of an educational system and helped revolutionize Rock and Roll music in a soundtrack for a big-budget movie. With this performance, Poitier was full of praise for his participation in the secondary role as Gregory Miller, a troubled student who decides to stay in school.
Three years later comes The Defiant Ones (1958) and with it his first nomination for the Academy Awards. This dramatic film had its center in racial harmony. Two shackled fugitives, John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier), escape from the prison truck. As they try to evade the police, they overcome their racial prejudices.
In 1963 the film would come that changed the life of this actor born at seven months in Miami and raised in Nassau (Bahamas), Lilies of the Field. This cinematic drama dives into Faith and is about an ex-soldier (Homer Smith) played by Sidney, who is persuaded by an order of nuns to do farm work and build a chapel. During the process, Smith earns the respect and admiration of all. This leading role brought Poitier his first Oscar, and he thus became the first black man to receive this award for Best Actor in 1964.
“What the character was doing was exhibiting a vast sense of self and the wonders of being alive. The wonders of being a Human and the responsibilities…” Sidney stated in an interview conducted by the Academy of Achievement in 2014.
It was followed in 1967 by In the Heat of the Night. This film also starred the winner of the Honorary Oscar in 2002. The plot deals with the resolution of a crime in a small town in Mississippi. Here, the police chief of the southern place decides to interrogate the only African-American man who was traveling as a foreigner through the city. Sidney played this character, but this outsider was a detective from Philadelphia. This film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1968.
“When I read the script I told the producer (Walter Mirisch – very close friend) I can’t play this. In the scene, this guy comes up to me and slaps me and I glare at him and walk away… I can’t do that because the human responses that would be natural in those circumstances we’re suppressing serve the values of greed on the part of the acquiescence of Hollywood. You certainly won’t do it with me. Not only will I not, but I will respond as a human being would naturally respond. It blows me up and I’ll blow it back up and you have to put it in writing.” Sydney anecdote. So, it was!
The last milestone that Poitier marks that same year is in the story of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? This film is a family drama that involves racial tolerance. The story is based on an African-American doctor who travels to meet his in-laws, unleashing a series of intra-family conflicts associated with racial stigma. The actors who performed the main characters are Katharine Hepburn (Christina Drayton), Spencer Tracy (Matt Drayton), Sidney Poitier (John Prentice), and Katharine Houghton (Joey Drayton). This film breaks the discriminatory social barrier towards people of color, as Sidney becomes the first African-American man to kiss a white woman on the big screen.
Sidney Poitier was also a producer and director from the late 1970s. He was born unusually while his parents were on a business trip from the Bahamas to Miami (FL). His parents were dedicated to the cultivation of tomatoes and later sold them. In one of those trips to sell the agricultural product, Sidney’s mother (Evelyn) broke her waters at seven months of gestation and gave birth to Sidney (her last-child) in the African-American section through a midwife from the North American city, for there were no hospitals for colored people.
The life of this Golden Gentleman of Hollywood is an example of integrity, values, and effort. He learned to read while working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Queens (NYC) with lessons from a Jewish waiter every night after work. He opened the doors for new African-American movie stars. He broke down social stigmas that fit with the color barrier where African-Americans could only personify criminals or servitude.
At 94, the movie icon left behind six daughters from two marriages, the last to Canadian actress and model Joanna Shimkus in 1976.
ISM mourns the departure of this stronghold man from the big screen. Rest In Peace, Sidney Poitier (1927–2022).
Some of our information was taken from the American Academy of Achievement interview with Sidney Poitier.
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