Lilies of the Field
“No one expected the son of a tomato farmer and a semi-literate lady to ever make a stir of any consequence. I flirted with reform school. I was an incorrigible kid to some extent. I didn’t know where I was, who I was or what I was. And the society in which I lived didn't care too much.” Sidney Poitier
A veteran actor and inspiration for many, Sidney Poitier helped revolutionize American cinema with his award-winning acting performances. He first gained attention through the starring turn of Noah Cullen in The Defiant Ones (1958), where he took home a BAFTA Award, a Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actor from the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as Oscar and Golden Globe nomination. Poitier then amazed viewers and critics by collecting an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards and a second Berlin International Film Festival Silver Berlin Bear for the lovely portrayal of unemployed construction worker Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field (1963). The actor was also praised after taking roles in For Love of Ivy (1968, won a San Sebastián International Film Festival Award) and the TV movie The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999, earned an Image Award). For his inspirational role in both the acting world and society, Sidney Poitier was garnered with various awards like the 1969 Golden Globe World Male Film Favorite, the 1969 Fotogramas de Plata for Best Foreign Performer, the 1982 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the 1992 American Film Institute and the 1994 National Board of Review Lifetime Achievement Awards, the 2000 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and the 2002 Oscar Honorary Award.
Off screen, Poitier authored two autobiographies: “This Life” (1980) and “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” (2000). He also became one of USC School of Cinema-Television’s Board of Councilors, a non-resident Bahamian ambassador to Japan (since April 1997), and a worker for the United Nations (UN) Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Back in 1974, the actor was named a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE).
On a more private note, Poitier has been married twice. His first marriage was to Juanita Hardy, with whom he shares four daughters. He is now married to Joanna Shimkus and is the father of their two daughters.
Childhood and Family:
Born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida, Sidney Poitier is the youngest of eight siblings to Bahaman tomato farmers Reginald James Poitier and Evelyn Poitier. One of his brothers, Cyril Poitier, died on November 13, 1991, of cancer.
Going to formal school for only one and a half years, Sidney quit at the age of 13 to work and help support the family. Three years later, he went to New York and served in the Army. Amid his attempt to seek a fulfilling job, the barely-literate boy joined an audition for the American Negro Theater and studied stage performance with Paul Mann and Lloyd Richards. Eventually, he landed a role that would be the kickoff of his successful acting career.
As for his married life, Sidney was the former husband of dancer Juanita Hardy, whom he wed on April 29, 1950. The couple divorced in 1965. Their daughters are Beverly (born 1951), Pamela (born 1952), Sherri (born 1953) and Gina (actress). He then married his The Lost Man (1969) costar, actress Joanna Shimkus (born on October 30, 1943), on January 23, 1976. From his second marriage, Sidney has two daughters, Anika (born in 1972) and Sydney Tamiia (born on September 15, 1973), both of whom followed in their father’s footsteps and became actors.
The Defiant Ones
Studying acting at the American Negro Theater, teenager Sidney Poitier made his stage debut in the student production of “Days of Our Youth” (1945). Progressing rapidly, the young actor made a Broadway debut as the understudy for all of the male roles in “Lysistrata” (1946, toured with the production in 1948) and starred in the Broadway staging of “Anna Lucasta” (1947).
Taking a part in the Army Signal Corps short documentary From Whence Cometh My Help (1949), Poitier eventually had his first acting experience on the big screen in the film No Way Out (1950), as Dr. Luther Brooks. He followed it up with other movie roles, such as Reverend Msimangu in the adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), Cpl. Andrew Robertson in the war drama Red Ball Express (1952), Inman Jackson in the sport drama Go, Man, Go (1954) and Gregory W. Miller in the high school drama Blackboard Jungle (1955). Meanwhile, Poitier, who first appeared on TV in a 1952 episode of “Philco Television Playhouse,” returned to the series in 1955, playing Tommy Tyler. His next performances were in Good-bye, My Lady (1956) and Edge of the City (1957, earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Actor).
Brilliantly costarring as runaway convict Noah Cullen, opposite Tony Curtis, in The Defiant Ones (1958), Poitier took home a BAFTA for Best Foreign Actor and a Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actor from the Berlin International Film Festival. For the role, he also received an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. The talented actor proceeded with the Golden Globe-nominated turn as crippled Porgy in Porgy and Bess (1959) and a beautiful stage portrayal of Walter Lee Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959), which he skillfully reprised on the wide screen in 1961 (earned a Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination). In 1960, he took the leading part of Sgt. Eddie Towler in the war movie All the Young Men (1960).
Following Pressure Point (1962, starred as a prison psychiatrist), Poitier gathered wide appreciation through the role of Homer Smith, an unemployed construction worker encountering a group of nuns, in Lilies of the Field (1963). Before long, he reaped an Oscar, two Golden Globes and a Berlin International Film Festival Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actor, as well as a BAFTA nomination. Still delivering stunning performances, Poitier starred as Gordon Ralfe, who helps a blind white girl, in A Patch of Blue (1965, received a Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination), acted alongside James Garner in the western movie Duel at Diablo (1966) and played Detective Virgil Tibbs in the crime drama In the Heat of the Night (1967).
1968 saw the performer delve deeper into acting with his stage directorial debut in “Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights,” as well as his first story writing work for the drama movie For Love of Ivy, in which he also starred as Jack Parks and won a San Sebastián International Film Festival for Best Actor. The recipient of the 1969 Golden Globe World Male Film Favorite and the 1969 Fotogramas de Plata for Best Foreign Performer, Poitier costarred with future wife, Joanna Shimkus, in The Lost Man (1969).
He then reprised his 1967 role in the sequels They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970) and The Organization (1971), before making a first attempt in movie directing with Buck and the Preacher (1972, also had the titular character of a wagon master). Poitier also took on double tasks, as director and actor, in his next four movies: the drama A Warm December (1973), as well as the comedy films Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975, starred opposite Bill Cosby) and A Piece of the Action (1977, re-teamed with Bill Cosby). For the next decade, he focused on directing with the comedy Stir Crazy (1980, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor), Hanky Panky (1982, co-starring Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner) and the musical Fast Forward (1985).
Three years later, Poitier returned to acting by accepting the lead role of Warren Stantin in the action thriller Shoot to Kill (1988). The director of Ghost Dad (1990), the veteran actor still gave a strong impression and was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his starring turn as attorney Thurgood Marshall in the TV movie Separate But Equal (1991). Next, Poitier joined an all-star cast for the thriller Sneakers (1992), starred as a half-black, half-Cherokee gunslinger, Gypsy Smith, in the made-for-TV western film Children of the Dust (1995) and played teacher Mark Thackeray in To Sir, With Love II (1996, TV).
Poitier, who received the 1982 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille award, as well as the 1992 American Film Institute and the 1994 National Board of Review Lifetime Achievement awards, obtained rave reviews after portraying Nelson Mandela in the TV drama Mandela and De Klerk (1997). Subsequent to his part in David and Lisa (1998), the actor was applauded for his titular character of a strong, determined carpenter in The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999, TV) and won an Image for Best Actor.
Poitier, who took a crack at producing with the TV film Free of Eden (1999, also costarred with daughter Sydney Tamiia Poitier), played Henry Cobb in the television film The Last Brickmaker in America (2001). In appreciation for his revolutionary work in the cinematic industry, Sidney Poitier was handed a 2000 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and a 2002 Oscar Honorary Award.