Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon

By Aram Goudsouzian | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
PATCHES
(1927–1943)

Sidney Poitier would stand tall, six feet and two inches. He would have broad shoulders, long legs, and perfect posture—almost a regal bearing. He would exude grace in every movement, emotion in every expression, conviction in every word. If only one quality could define him, it would be this energy, this vigor—this life. But in Miami, Florida, on 20 February 1927, he was born small and sickly. A premature baby of seven months, he weighed less than three pounds, and he seemed closer to death than life.

Reginald Poitier accepted that fate. The gaunt farmer had come to Miami to sell tomatoes, not bear a son. The Miami Produce Exchange offered the best prices for his goods, which he harvested and packed on his native Cat Island in the Bahamas. He arrived expecting to unload his crates, haggle with some merchants, and return home. The newborn delayed matters. He had endured similar ordeals before—previous children had died in infancy, by stillbirth or disease. It was fairly common on isolated Cat Island. Reginald found an undertaker and purchased a tiny casket, no bigger than a shoebox.

His wife, Evelyn, resisted this surrender. She, too, remembered her own lost offspring. But she resented Reginald’s stoic realism. She had been only thirteen when she married the twenty-eight-year-old Reginald. Seven children and a lifetime of farming later, this dark, thin woman had hardened. Shy and inarticulate, she could barely communicate her frustration. Desperate for some reassurance, she paid a visit to a soothsayer.1

Evelyn had never been to a fortune teller, but she was willing to suspend disbelief. She sat before a wizened old clairvoyant with gray, braided hair and a string of beads tumbling over a loose dress. Soggy tea leaves congealed in a cup, portending the infant’s fate. The room was silent. Finally the soothsayer’s face trembled and twitched. A raw rumbling emerged from deep in her throat. “Don’t worry about your son,” she

-7-

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Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Poverty and Progress 5
  • Chapter 1 - Patches (1927–1943) 7
  • Chapter 2 - Great Migrations (1943–1945) 25
  • Chapter 3 - Stages (1945–1949) 43
  • Part II - Race Man 61
  • Chapter 4 - Message Movies (1949–1952) 63
  • Chapter 5 - Black Lists (1951–1954) 84
  • Chapter 6 - Threats (1955–1957) 103
  • Chapter 7 - Noble Savages (1956–1957) 123
  • Part III - Black Man's Burden 143
  • Chapter 8 - Decisions (1957–1959) 145
  • Chapter 9 - Burdens (1959–1961) 167
  • Chapter 10 - Blues (1960–1962) 189
  • Chapter 11 - Long Journeys (1963–1964) 208
  • Part IV - Alone in the Penthouse 229
  • Chapter 12 - Crossroads (1965–1966) 231
  • Chapter 13 - Useful Negroes (1966–1967) 253
  • Chapter 14 - Last Hurrahs (1967–1968) 277
  • Part V - Through Playing God 313
  • Chapter 15 - Exiles (1967–1971) 315
  • Chapter 16 - Survivors (1972–1978) 337
  • Chapter 17 - Ghosts (1978–2002) 358
  • Appendix : Performances by Sidney Poitier 381
  • Notes 397
  • Bibliography 447
  • Index 467
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