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43 Interesting Facts about Sidney Poitier - First African-American To Win Oscar For Best Actor

Sidney Poitier is an actor, film director, author and diplomat, famous for his work in “To Sir, with Love;” “In the Heat of the Night;” and “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.” Here are 43 facts about the actor:

  1. He became the first African American to win Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Lilies of the Field” in 1964.
  2. He was born as Sidney Poitier on 20 February, 1927, in Miami when his parents were visiting the country to sell their products. He was born to Evelyn and Reginald James Poitier.
  3. He holds dual citizenship of The United States as well as of The Bahamas from the time of his birth. He was raised in Nassau, Bahamas where his father worked as a cab driver.
  4. He moved to New York at the age of 17 and worked as dishwasher. He was taught to read English newspaper by a Jewish waiter over several nights.
  5. He also joined US Army during the Korean War in 1950 where North Korea was supported by Soviet Union and China and South Korea was supported by The United States and the UN. Before the end of war he was promoted to the rank of an officer.
  6. Post Korean War he landed a job as an actor in American Negro Theater. He was still continuing the job of dishwasher until the acting opportunity.
  7. He married Juanita Hardy on 29 April 1950. They remained a happy couple for 15 years. He has four daughters with Hardy: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina.
  8. He remarried on 23 January, 1976, a former Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus. He has 2 daughters: Anika and Sydney Tamiia.
  9. He was also one of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney for 8 years from 1995 to 2003.
  10. He was first rejected by the audience due to his baritone voice and lack of acting skills during his time at American Negro Chicken Club.
  11. During his second attempt he was given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, earning his good reviews. He was so successful that he had to choose between lead roles in theater and a working for producer Darryl F Zanuck.
  12. He made his debut in movies with “No Way Out” in 1950 where his performance as a doctor was appreciated widely and earned him many more film offers.
  13. Before “No Way Out” in 1950, Poitier had made few short films with U.S Army Signal Corps. However, he was not credited at that time and they weren’t commercial films.
  14. He had lied to Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz about his age during the shoot of “No Way Out” in 1950. He was only 22 but claimed to be 27. He had previously lied about the age while joining the army to escape the cold.
  15. His biggest breakthrough was with the movie “Blackboard Jungle” in 1955 where he acted as one of the troubled students in the high school class. He was 28 at that time.
  16. Ironically twelve years later he acted as a teacher himself who tries to teach troubled students in the movie “To Sir with Love” in 1967.
  17. In the movie “The Defiant Ones” in 1958, the lead stars Tony Curtis and Poitier found it very exhausting physically to film all the scenes as they were chained together and asked to run through swamps, fields and woods and fought with bare fist.
  18. Poitier used a dummy during one shoot and Curtis used body double in a few water scenes in “The Defiant Ones”. Apart from that they performed their own stunts.
  19. Curtis remembered later that director Stanley Kramer showed favoritism towards Poitier on the sets of “The Defiant Ones”. He believed that it was due to the racism atmosphere at that time in 1958.
  20. Poitier went out of his own way to accept a much less salary for the movie “Lilies of the Field” in 1963. He was duly rewarded with the Best Actor Award at the Oscars for his efforts.
  21. Poitier is the earliest surviving actor to have won Best Actor Award at Oscars. Maximilian Schell who was the first one to win that award, died on 1 February 2014.
  22. Claudia McNeil was just a few years older than Poitier on the sets of “A Raising in the Sun” in 1961. She played his mother in the movie.
  23. He won Tony Award for Actor in Drama for his performance as Walter Lee Younger in the movie “A Raising in the Son”. He was part of the Broadway production by the same name alongside McNeil in 1959.
  24. Both Poitier and McNeil were having tense relationship on the sets of “A Raising in the Sun” because they believed that the film should be narrated from their character’s point of view. The dislike for each other started from the Broadway version of the Play where the play’s author supported McNeil’s point of view.
  25. “The Bedford Incident” in 1965 became the first movie in his career in which his character’s race was irrelevant to the plot of the movie.
  26. A kissing scene between Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman was cut from the movie “A Patch of Blue” due to the fact that in those times law was against race mixing in many states. Poitier was black and Hartman was white.
  27. In the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Poitier is just 13 and 7 years younger than the persons who play his father and mother respectively. This was his last movie with Spencer Tracy as the later died just 17 days after the completion of the film.
  28. Due to Tracy’s illness the crew performed to two shooting scripts, one with Tracy and one without him. Poitier preferred to act with empty chairs as he was intimidated by the legend.
  29. According to the market research done by Columbian Pictures, the sole reason behind the huge success of the movie “To Sir, with Love” in 1967 was the star cast Poitier.
  30. Poitier is entitled to be called as “Sir”, although it’s not an honorary award, he doesn’t use it. He was appointed as Knight Commander of the order of the British Empire in 1974.
  31. “In the Heat of the Night” in 1967 featuring Poitier in the lead was the first Hollywood film to have better lighting systems considering the dark skinned Poitier. Previously not much thought was given to lights, when it produced glare on dark skin actors.
  32. He had to sleep with his gun under the pillow when the outdoor shooting began in Tennessee for “In the Heat of the Night”. He had wanted to do all the filming in the north, because of the past near death experience on the hands of racist groups during a visit to Mississippi.
  33. With the success of “In The Heat of The Night”, he reprised the role of Virgil Tibbs in “They Call Me Mister Tibbs” in 1970 and “The Organization” in 1971. This became the first instance where a cop / detective movie series was made in color.
  34. He was also honored with Honorary Academy Award in 2001 for his contribution to American Film industry.
  35. In the #86 Academy Award in 2014, he was greeted with standing ovation when he appeared alongside actress Angelina Jolie to present the Best Director Award.
  36. He made his directorial debut with the movie “Buck and the Preacher” in 1972 in which he portrayed the character “Buck”. He was dissatisfied with the film’s point of view and took over the directing job from Joseph Sargent.
  37. “Stir Crazy” in 1980 became the first movie in which Poitier did not star in his own direction. This movie was his sixth directorial venture.
  38. “Stir Crazy” was also famous for being the highest grossing film for many years directed by an African American.
  39. Poitier wanted to shoot the prison scenes in a real working prison but had to settle with an abandoned Lincoln Jail in Los Angeles.
  40. He directed his first dance movie “Fast Forward” in 1985. It was nominated for the worst movie at Hastings Bad Cinema Society’s 8th Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.
  41. He introduced his daughter Pamela Poitier as X-Ray Nurse Satler in the movie “Ghost Dad” in 1990.
  42. Among the list of 25 Greatest Male Stars of Hollywood, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier at #22.
  43. He was honored with the highest civilian award in The United States, Presidential Medal of Freedom by the President Barack Obama on 12 August, 2009.

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