TO SIR, WITH LOVE. That title of his 1967 box office hit applies to the feelings millions of us have today as we wish Sidney Poitier a very happy 89th birthday. How often I've dreamed of having the opportunity to interview him. If I got only the privilege to meet him and shake his hand, I would do so with tears of joy streaming down my face. That's how significant his work has been and continues to be to me. I was born and raised in South Los Angeles when it was still called South Central. Some of my favorite memories of family time involve Sidney Poitier. I guess it's no surprise that whenever one of his new movies was out, we'd get into the Plymouth on a Friday night and head for the nearest drive-in movie theater so we could see movie star actor Sidney Poitier on the big screen. How proud we all felt to see him up there.
Sidney Poitier didn't just act. He became a film director. He directed two friends who were with him at Dr. King's March on Washington -- Harry Belafonte and actress Ruby Dee. She was Poitier's leading lady in the original 1959 Broadway cast of the landmark play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN. They recreated their roles in the 1961 film adaptation. Ruby Dee got her one Oscar nomination for a film released in 2007. It was American Gangster starring Denzel Washington. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Poitier directed the 1972 western, BUCK AND THE PREACHER. Poitier played a wagon master and Belafonte co-starred as a con man Bible thumper with some funky teeth. You need to see Ruby Dee in this movie. She's the wagon master's wife who wants to just leave and ride to Canada where black folks can live in peace. She should have been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Poitier's Buck and the Preacher.
I've long felt that In The Heat Of The Night should've brought Mr. Poitier his third Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He is absolutely outstanding as Detective Virgil Tibbs. Here's some other Oscar history: The night those Oscars were given out, the ceremony had been postponed for the first time ever. The ceremony and telecast were postponed two days because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
1949 was a good year for Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He won Oscars for directing and writing 1949's A Letter to Three Wives. 1950 was also a good year for him. Mankiewicz won two more Oscars -- this time for directing and writing All About Eve. His All About Eve also took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1950. Mankiewicz got another Oscar nomination for that year. He was nominated for writing 1950's NO WAY OUT, a groundbreaking racial drama starring Sidney Poitier as a hospital doctor. The doctor is conflicted because the job demands that he care for a racist wounded criminal (played by Richard Widmark). Movie audience of the 1930s and 40s had not been used to seeing a black actor as an doctor in an urban hospital with white fellow doctors. According to an interview Sidney Poitier gave to the Los Angeles Times last year, some Southern areas refused to show the film. Some. Not all.
It's February 20th, 2016. No Way Out airs at 8p Eastern tonight on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). See the screen legend early in his film career. Before he made Hollywood history with his Oscar win. Before he got a special lifetime achievement Oscar in 2002 -- the same year Denzel Washington and Halle Berry took home Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress.
Again...Happy Birthday to actor, director and social activist Sidney Poitier. Thank you, sir, for reflecting the best of us.