I was listening to Sunday Morning on the radio yesterday and learned some things I didn’t know about Sidney Poitier when they shared an interview he gave a few years back.
He was the youngest of seven children and he was born three months early when his parents had travelled from the Bahamas to the US to work picking tomatoes. They didn’t know if he would survive and his father bought a small casket in case. His mother went to see a palm reader and the woman said he will survive and he will walk with Kings.
At 16, his parents worried that he was getting into trouble so they sent him to the US to live with his brother. He only had two years of schooling and didn’t know how to read. He decided to be an actor and tried to audition but was rejected because he couldn’t read the script.
He was working as a dishwasher at a restaurant and a Jewish cook asked him what was new in the newspaper. Sidney replied that he couldn’t say because he couldn’t read well. The cook asked if he wanted to read with him. Sidney said yes and when the restaurant closed each night he sat with the cook and they read together. Sidney said he learned so much and would never forget that kindness.
He went back to the first theatre he had auditioned at and did get a part this time. Soon he started auditioning for movies.
He ended up being the first Black man to earn a Best Actor Oscar (which didn’t happen again until 2002 with Denzel Washington).
He starred in To Sir, With Love, Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner… among many other films.
He spoke of a scene that happened In the Heat of the Night, released during the civil rights movement, when Sidney, playing a detective, was supposed to be slapped by a white plantation owner. Sidney told the movie director that he would have to slap the white man back in response. And it was written into the script.
Sidney Poitier blazed a trail and will never be forgotten. May he rest in peace.