Poitier's Dramatic, Trailblazing Career

Article excerpt

SIDNEY POITIER

Sunday's

Keynote Speaker

2:30 p.m.

HR professionals feeling daunted by work challenges may find inspiration from Sunday's SHRM conference general session speaker, Sidney Poitier.

The legendary actor is set to tell the dramatic story of his life. The son of poor tomato farmers in the Bahamas, Poitier moved to New York as a teenager with $3 in his pocket, according to a biography by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which gave Poitier a lifetime achievement honor in 1995.

After failing an audition for the American Negro Theatre, Poitier tried again six months later and eventually landed work with the company. His first film, No Way Out in 1950, launched a screen career in which Poitier regularly challenged racial barriers. Among his noteworthy movies are Lilies of the Fields, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. He earned the 1963 Academy Award for best actor for his role in Lilies of the Fields, in which he plays a handyman who helps a group of German nuns build a church.

"For 20 years, beginning in the early '50s, he was the top and virtually sole African-American film star-the first black actor to become a hero to both black and white audiences," the Kennedy Center biography states. "... Sidney Poitier's characters are men of control, men who tame volcanic rage with reason and intellect. Men who know that there are bridges to build, doors to open."

Poitier also embarked on a career as a director. In 1980, he directed Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy-that year's biggest financial success in film.

In 1991, Poitier returned to television for the first time in 35 years to portray Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the miniseries Separate but Equal. …