Sidney Poitier: The Actor Who Was A Real Life Hero

Sidney Poitier was deeply hurt when legendary actor Robert Mitchum looked down on him as he was of black origin. The talented actor from the Bahamas was moved to tears. But he was not lonely. The likes of Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Rod Steger and Omar Sharif openly declared to be by his side. The most vocal was Sophia Loren supporting Sidney Poitier.

The first among blacks to break the taboo that they could not rule Hollywood, Sidney became an icon in his lifetime. Acting in, To Sir With Love, Sidney Poitier introduced a refined underplay. He emoted well but never went overboard. Sidney Poitier’s eyes spitted fire when annoyed and could be equally effective in expressing emotions and affections. His style of running was very popular like Sean Connery’s walk and Omar Sharif’s silent looks.

No wonder in Paris Blues (with Paul Newman), in Heat of the Night (with Rod Steger) and in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Sidney stood out with stellar performances. Well-known director Stanley Krammer who directed Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiants had stated that the confidence the latter showed in his performance was the hallmark of a true actor. Even Paul Newman went on record saying that never did Sidney try to dominate any co-actor.

Sidney’s conversations with Sophia Loren were memories he treasured. Both agreed that to care for a secure life of his niece  as one has to undergo many hardships and failures. They never spoke too much about cinema though each was a true critic of the other. Sophia agreed Sidney had the guts to refuse inane films more than her. To both of them Paul Robson’s eternal number ‘Cherigold‘ was an all-time favorite.

The non-white actor believed that every white man all over the world should go by the principles of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck’s immortal character in To Kill A Mockingbird). More than his undeniable histrionics, Gregory Peck’s humanitarian and liberal outlook inspired Sidney. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and To Kill A Mockingbird were the literary inspirations of Sidney. He complimented author Harper Lee for her fathoming the tragedies of the black community in the USA in her immortal novel. In a congratulatory message to Gregory Peck after winning the Oscar for To Kill A Mockingbird, he said that the originality of Atticus Finch was also present in Gregory Peck, the human being.   

As the handyman in Lilies of the Field who helps German nuns to build a chapel in the desert, Sidney remained unforgettable. He won an Oscar for a performance which is considered a lesson in acting. Even in his later films, The Jackal and Free from Eden he set examples of high-class performances. Sidney was never vulgar on screen.

Working as the ambassador of Bahama to Japan and UNESCO, the actor proved that humanity was of prime importance to him. He fought against poverty and illiteracy during his childhood. So it was Sidney’s mission to eradicate poverty and illiteracy as much as he could. Queen Elizabeth II and President Barak Obama had also honored him for his noble activities.

The Bahamian-American actor paved the way for the likes of Denzel Washington, Hal Berry and Morgan Freeman to become later-generation international idols. Above all, he was a true do-gooder who cared for even an ordinary spot boy as much as he cared for costars.

Ranjan Das Gupta

is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

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