Sidney Poitier, Who Paved the Way for Black Actors in Film, Dies at 94

I must admit to having been embarrassingly ignorant about the life of Sidey Poitier. Of course I saw several of his movies in which he was always a striking and compelling presence. I remember “To Sir With Love” the best. 

But I had no idea about his younger life and struggles, until his passing and the pouring forth of tributes like this one to his fortitude and dogged pursuit of his dreams to be an actor. At least from a career standpoint, he epitomized the “Law of Cause & Effect” in the most positive terms. No matter of how bleak it looked for him professionally, he persisted and became a breakthrough icon and example for many to follow.

I still don’t know much about the rest of life for him other than he had six daughters from two marriages, which likely meant a great many challenges and rewards. We know that one area of success does not necessarily mean the same for the rest of life. Rather each aspect is measured according to its own set of criteria. 

In Sidney’s case, he at least gets very high marks as the actor he dreamed of becoming and an example to inspire countless others to doggedly pursue their dreams. Thank you for that Sidney! 

Sidney Poitier, Who Paved the Way for Black Actors in Film, Dies at 94

The first Black performer to win the Academy Award for best actor, for “Lilies of the Field,” he once said he felt “as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made.”

Sidney Poitier’s Academy Award for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field” made him the first Black performer to win in the best-actor category. He rose to prominence when the civil rights movement was beginning to make headway in the United States.
Credit…Sam Falk/The New York Times

Sidney Poitier, whose portrayal of resolute heroes in films like “To Sir With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” established him as Hollywood’s first Black matinee idol and helped open the door for Black actors in the film industry, died on Thursday night at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas, where Mr. Poitier grew up. No cause was given.

Mr. Poitier, whose Academy Award for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field” made him the first Black performer to win in the best-actor category, rose to prominence when the civil rights movement was beginning to make headway in the United States. His roles tended to reflect the peaceful integrationist goals of the struggle.

Although often simmering with repressed anger, his characters responded to injustice with quiet determination. They met hatred with reason and forgiveness, sending a reassuring message to white audiences and exposing Mr. Poitier to attack as an Uncle Tom when the civil rights movement took a more militant turn in the late 1960s.

Mr. Poitier with, from left, Katharine Houghton, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967). He played a doctor whose race tests the liberal principles of his prospective in-laws.

Credit…Columbia Pictures

“It’s a choice, a clear choice,” Mr. Poitier said of his film parts in a 1967 interview. “If the fabric of the society were different, I would scream to high heaven to play villains and to deal with different images of Negro life that would be more dimensional. But I’ll be damned if I do that at this stage of the game.”

At the time, Mr. Poitier was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood and a top box-office draw, ranked fifth among male actors in Box Office magazine’s poll of theater owners and critics; he was behind only Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and John Wayne. Yet racial squeamishness would not allow Hollywood to cast him as a romantic lead, despite his good looks.

“To think of the American Negro male in romantic social-sexual circumstances is difficult, you know,” he told an interviewer. “And the reasons why are legion and too many to go into.”

Mr. Poitier often found himself in limiting, saintly roles that nevertheless represented an important advance on the demeaning parts offered by Hollywood in the past. In “No Way Out” (1950), his first substantial film role, he played a doctor persecuted by a racist patient, and in “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1952), based on the Alan Paton novel about racism in South Africa, he appeared as a young priest. His character in “Blackboard Jungle” (1955), a troubled student at a tough New York City public school, sees the light and eventually sides with Glenn Ford, the teacher who tries to reach him.

In “The Defiant Ones” (1958), a racial fable that established him as a star and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor, he was a prisoner on the run, handcuffed to a fellow convict (and virulent racist) played by Tony Curtis. The best-actor award came in 1964 for his performance in the low-budget “Lilies of the Field,” as an itinerant handyman helping a group of German nuns build a church in the Southwestern desert.

Mr. Poitier and Lilia Skala in “Lilies of the Field” (1963), for which Mr. Poitier won an Oscar. 

Credit…United Artists

In 1967 Mr. Poitier appeared in three of Hollywood’s top-grossing films, elevating him to the peak of his popularity. “In the Heat of Night” placed him opposite Rod Steiger, as an indolent, bigoted sheriff, with whom Virgil Tibbs, the Philadelphia detective played by Mr. Poitier, must work on a murder investigation in Mississippi. (In an indelible line, the detective insists on the sheriff’s respect when he declares, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”) In “To Sir, With Love” he was a concerned teacher in a tough London high school, and in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a taboo-breaking film about an interracial couple, he played a doctor whose race tests the liberal principles of his prospective in-laws, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Throughout his career, a heavy weight of racial significance bore down on Mr. Poitier and the characters he played. “I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” he once wrote.

Mr. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, but he was born on Feb. 20, 1927, in Miami, where his parents traveled regularly to sell their tomato crop. The youngest of nine children, he wore clothes made from flour sacks and never saw a car, looked in a mirror or tasted ice cream until his father, Reginald, moved the family from Cat Island to Nassau in 1937 after Florida banned the import of Bahamian tomatoes.

When he was 12, Mr. Poitier quit school and became a water boy for a crew of pick-and-shovel laborers. He also began getting into mischief, and his parents, worried that he was becoming a juvenile delinquent, sent him to Miami when he was 14 to live with a married brother, Cyril.


Mr. Poitier played a Philadelphia detective and Rod Steiger played a bigoted Mississippi sheriff in “In the Heat of Night,” one of three hit films in which Mr. Poitier appeared in 1967.
Credit…Mirisch/United Artists, The Kobal Collection

Mr. Poitier had known nothing of segregation growing up on Cat Island, so the rules governing American Black people in the South came as a shock. “It was all over the place like barbed wire,” he later said of American racism. “And I kept running into it and lacerating myself.”

In less than a year he fled Miami for New York, arriving with $3 and change in his pocket. He took jobs washing dishes and working as a ditch digger, waterfront laborer and delivery man in the garment district. Life was grim. During a race riot in Harlem, he was shot in the leg. He saved his nickels so that on cold nights he could sleep in pay toilets.

In late 1943 Mr. Poitier lied about his age and enlisted in the Army, becoming an orderly with the 1267th Medical Detachment at a veterans hospital on Long Island. Feigning a mental disorder, he obtained a discharge in 1945 and returned to New York, where he read in The Amsterdam News that the American Negro Theater was looking for actors.

His first audition was a flop. With only a few years of schooling, he read haltingly, in a heavy West Indian accent. Frederick O’Neal, a founder of the theater, showed him the door and advised him to get a job as a dishwasher.

Undeterred, Mr. Poitier bought a radio and practiced speaking English as he heard it from a variety of staff announcers. A kindly fellow worker at the restaurant where he washed dishes helped him with his reading. Mr. Poitier finally won a place in the theater’s acting school, but only after he volunteered to work as a janitor without pay.

His lucky break came when another actor at the theater, Harry Belafonte, did not show up for a rehearsal attended by a Broadway producer. Mr. Poitier took the stage instead and was given a part in an all-Black production of “Lysistrata” in 1946. Although panned by the critics, it led to a job with the road production of “Anna Lucasta.”

“No Way Out” was followed by a sprinkling of film and television roles, but Mr. Poitier still bounced between acting jobs and menial work.

In 1951 he married Juanita Marie Hardy, a dancer and model, whom he divorced in 1965. They had four daughters, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina. In 1976 he married Joanna Shimkus, his co-star in “The Lost Man” (1969), a film about a gang of Black militants plotting to rob a factory. They had two daughters, Anika and Sydney.

Ms. Shimkus survives him. His daughter Gina Patrice Poitier Gouraige died in 2018. Complete information about his survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Poitier with Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones” (1958), which established him as a star and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Credit…United Artists

After breakout movies like “Blackboard Jungle” and “The Defiant Ones,” Mr. Poitier’s fate was tied to Hollywood, his purpose to expand the boundaries of racial tolerance. “The explanation for my career was that I was instrumental for those few filmmakers who had a social conscience,” he later wrote.

In “The Defiant Ones” and “In the Heat of the Night,” racial politics coincided with meaty roles. Just as often, however, Mr. Poitier found himself playing virtuous messengers of racial harmony in mawkish films like “A Patch of Blue” (1965) or taking race-neutral roles in less than memorable films, like a newspaper reporter in the Cold War naval drama “The Bedford Incident” (1965), Simon of Cyrene in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965) or the former cavalry sergeant in “Duel at Diablo” (1966).

“The Defiant Ones” remained one of Mr. Poitier’s favorite films, but to get the part he had to cross swords with Samuel Goldwyn, who was assembling a cast for “Porgy and Bess.” After Mr. Belafonte turned down the role of Porgy as demeaning, Mr. Goldwyn set his sights on Mr. Poitier, who also regarded the musical as an insult to Black people. As Mr. Poitier told it in his lively, unusually frank first memoir, “This Life” (1980), Mr. Goldwyn pulled strings to ensure that unless Mr. Poitier played Porgy, the director Stanley Kramer would not hire him for “The Defiant Ones.”

Mr. Poitier, seething, bowed to the inevitable. “I didn’t enjoy doing it, and I have not yet completely forgiven myself,” he told The New York Times in 1967.

The critics who would later accuse him of bowing and scraping before the white establishment seemed to dismiss Mr. Poitier’s longstanding, outspoken advocacy for racial justice and the civil rights movement, most visibly as part of a Hollywood contingent that took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Early in his career, his association with left-wing causes and his friendship with the radical singer and actor Paul Robeson made him a politically risky proposition for film and television producers.

His style, however, remained low-key and nonconfrontational. “As for my part in all this,” he wrote, “all I can say is that there’s a place for people who are angry and defiant, and sometimes they serve a purpose, but that’s never been my role.”

Mr. Poitier with Claudia McNeil in the 1959 Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Reviewing his performance, Brooks Atkinson of The Times wrote, “Mr. Poitier is a remarkable actor with enormous power that is always under control.”
Credit…Leo Friedman

In 1959 Mr. Poitier made a triumphant return to Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” winning ecstatic reviews. “Mr. Poitier is a remarkable actor with enormous power that is always under control,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times. “Cast as the restless son, he vividly communicates the tumult of a high-strung young man. He is as eloquent when he has nothing to say as when he has a pungent line to speak. He can convey devious processes of thought as graphically as he can clown and dance.” Mr. Poitier repeated the role in the 1961 film version of the play.

With the rise of Black filmmakers like Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Poitier, now in his 40s, turned to directing and producing. He had proposed the idea for the romantic comedy “For Love of Ivy” (1968), in which he starred with Abbey Lincoln. After joining with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand in 1969 to form a production company called First Artists, he directed the western “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), in which he acted opposite Mr. Belafonte, and a series of comedies, notably “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974) and “Let’s Do It Again” (1975), in which Mr. Poitier and Bill Cosby teamed up to play a pair of scheming ne’er-do-wells, and “Stir Crazy” (1980), with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

The critics thought little of Mr. Poitier’s directing talents, but enthusiastic audiences, Black and white, made all three films box-office hits. Neither audiences nor critics found much to like in subsequent directorial efforts, like the comedy “Hanky Panky” (1982), with Mr. Wilder and Gilda Radner, or “Ghost Dad” (1990), with Mr. Cosby as a dead father who refuses to leave his three children alone.

President Barack Obama presented Mr. Poitier with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Credit…Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In his later years, Mr. Poitier turned in solid performances in forgettable action films and thrillers like “Shoot to Kill” (1988), “Little Nikita” (1988) and “Sneakers” (1992). It was television that provided him with two of his grandest roles.

In 1991 he appeared in the lead role in the ABC drama “Separate but Equal,” a dramatization of the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1997 he delivered a widely praised performance as Nelson Mandela in “Mandela and de Klerk,” a television movie focusing on the final years of Mr. Mandela’s imprisonment by the white-minority government in South Africa, with Michael Caine in the role of President F.W. de Klerk.

“Sidney Poitier and Nelson Mandela merge with astonishing ease, like a double-exposure photograph in which one image is laid over the other with perfect symmetry,” Caryn James wrote in a review in The New York Times.

In 2002, Mr. Poitier was given an honorary Oscar for his career’s work in motion picture. (At that same Oscar ceremony, Denzel Washington became the first Black actor since Mr. Poitier to win the best-actor award, for “Training Day.”) He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. And in 2009, President Barack Obama, citing his “relentless devotion to breaking down barriers,” awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. Poitier was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974.

Mr. Poitier’s memoir “This Life” was followed by a second, “The Measure of a Man,” in 2000. Subtitled “A Spiritual Autobiography,” it included Mr. Poitier’s thoughts on life, love, acting and racial politics. It generated a sequel, “Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” (2008).

Despite his role in changing American perceptions of race and opening the door to a new generation of Black actors, Mr. Poitier remained modest about his career. “History will pinpoint me as merely a minor element in an ongoing major event, a small if necessary energy,” he wrote. “But I am nonetheless gratified at having been chosen.”

Kirkus Reviews, the gold-standard for independent & accurate reviews, has this to say about

What Goes Around Comes Around:

A stable, positive, non preachy, objective voice makes the book stand apart from others in the genre. A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.

~ Kirkus Reviews

“The author gives readers not just points or principles to ponder, but real human experiences that demonstrate them!
Kirkus Reviews
Buy What Goes Around at Amazon

“I’ve read a number of books that focus on sharing a similar message, including “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Answer” by John Assaraf & Murray Smith, “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill, and I must say that I find Rob’s to be my favorite. – Sheryl Woodhouse, founder of Livelihood Matters LLC

Sidney Poitier, Who Paved the Way for Black Actors in Film, Dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, Who Paved the Way for Black Actors in Film, Dies at 94

So, Chapter Two of the Jeffrey Epstein saga comes almost to a close. Almost, because we won’t know the final ending until we hear the sentencing, which is likely to be a doozie!

Sure, there will be an appeal and there have been shockers in the past, think R. Kelly in 2008. But this is not likely to be one of those.

So Ghislaine, was it worth it? The ride you had with your buddy Jeff, that is? Did the two of you simply mock the concept of Karma, Cause & Effect, What Goes Around Comes Around, different ways to say the same thing? Did you just buy his line that you were  “Teflon Twins” and they’d never get you. What?

Please tell us, explain so there’s some way to think something good and worthwhile about at least you, cause its sure hard to find in this wreckage!

Colombo Family Crime Boss and 12 Others Are Arrested, Prosecutors Say

An indictment unsealed on Tuesday accuses the organization of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort a labor union.

Credit…Jesse Ward


For two decades, the leadership of the Colombo crime family extorted a Queens labor union, federal prosecutors said — an effort that continued unabated even as members of the mob clan cycled through prison, the family’s notorious longtime boss died, and as federal law enforcement closed in.

Over time, what began as a Colombo captain’s shakedown of a union leader, complete with expletive-laced threats of violence, expanded into a cottage industry, prosecutors said, as the Colombo organization assumed control of contracting and union business, with side operations in phony construction certificates, marijuana trafficking and loan-sharking.

On Tuesday, 11 reputed members and associates of the Colombo crime family, including the mob clan’s entire leadership, were charged in a labor racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

All but two of the men were arrested Tuesday morning across New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. Another was surrendered to the authorities on Tuesday; another defendant, identified as the family consigliere, remained at large, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the Colombo family of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort an unnamed labor union that represented construction workers, using threats of violence to secure payments and arrange contracts that would benefit the crime family.

The charges are an ambitious effort by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take down one of the city’s five Mafia families. In addition to the union extortion scheme, which is the heart of the racketeering charge, the indictment charges several misdeeds often associated with the mob, including drug trafficking, money laundering, loan-sharking and falsifying federal labor safety paperwork.

Detention hearings for the defendants in Brooklyn federal court continued into the evening Tuesday, as they entered not-guilty pleas to the charges; prosecutors had asked the court to keep 10 of the defendants in custody.

“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself,” Michael J. Driscoll, F.B.I. assistant director-in-charge, said in a statement. “The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well.”

Around 2001, prosecutors said, Vincent Ricciardo — a reported captain in the family, also known as “Vinny Unions” — began to demand a portion of a senior labor union official’s salary. When Mr. Ricciardo was convicted and imprisoned on federal racketeering charges in the mid-2000s, prosecutors said, his cousin continued to collect those payments.

Starting in late 2019, prosecutors said, the senior leadership of the Colombo family became directly involved in the shakedown, which extended to broader efforts to siphon money from the union: for example, manipulating the selection of union health fund vendors to contract with entities connected to the family, and diverting more than $10,000 each month from the fund to the family.

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Andrew Russo, 87, who prosecutors describe as the family boss, is accused of taking part in those efforts, as well as a money-laundering scheme to send the proceeds of the union extortion through intermediaries to Colombo associates. He was among nine defendants charged with racketeering.

Mr. Russo appeared in court virtually from the hospital Tuesday; he is set to be detained upon his release, pending a future bail hearing.

The family’s infamous longtime boss, Carmine J. Persico, died in federal custody in North Carolina in March 2019.

Federal law enforcement learned of the extortion scheme about a year ago, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday; investigators gathered thousands of hours of wiretapped calls and conversations recorded by a confidential witness, wrote the prosecutors, who also described law-enforcement surveillance of meetings among the accused conspirators.

The authorities said they repeatedly captured Mr. Ricciardo and his associates threatening to kill the union official. “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids,” Mr. Ricciardo was recorded saying in June.

On another occasion cited by prosecutors in the memo seeking his detention, Mr. Ricciardo directed the union official to hire a consultant selected by the Colombo family, saying: “It’s my union and that’s it.” Prosecutors said his activities were overseen by a Colombo soldier and the consigliere who remains at large.

Much of the activity outlined in the indictment took place while the defendants were either in prison or on supervised release for prior federal mob-related convictions. Theodore Persico Jr., described as a family captain and soldier, was released from federal prison in 2020 and, despite a directive not to associate with members of organized crime, “directed much of the labor racketeering scheme,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Persico, 58, is set to inherit the role of boss after Mr. Russo, prosecutors wrote.

Several of the defendants were named in what prosecutors described as a fraudulent safety training scheme, in which they falsified state and federal paperwork that is required for construction workers to show they have completed safety training courses.

One of the defendants, John Ragano — whom prosecutors say is a soldier in the Bonanno crime family — is accused of setting up phony occupational safety training schools in New York, which prosecutors said were “mills” that provided fraudulent safety training certificates to hundreds of people.

In October 2020, prosecutors said, an undercover law enforcement officer visited one of the schools in Ozone Park, Queens, and received, from Mr. Ricciardo’s cousin, a blank test form and an answer sheet; weeks later, the agent returned to pick up his federal safety card and paid $500.

The purported schools were also used for meetings with members of La Cosa Nostra — the group of crime families commonly known as the Mafia — and to store illegal drugs and fireworks, according to the indictment.

Mr. Ragano wasn’t charged on the racketeering count, although prosecutors also sought his detention pending trial. In addition to the racketeering count, several defendants, including Mr. Ricciardo and his cousin, were charged with extortion, conspiracy, fraud and conspiracy to make false statements.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.


An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people identified in an indictment as members of the Colombo crime family. It is 11, not more than a dozen.