When Poitier fell from Hollywood’s heights, he responded with a retreat to the Bahamas and a string of mediocre movies. Now he climbed back. That journey began when blaxploitation still reigned, when his future was still uncertain, and when he and his best friend still refused to acknowledge each other’s existence.
Since their spat before Martin Luther King’s funeral in April 1968, Poitier and Harry Belafonte had completely avoided contact. Mutual friends had to avoid inviting them to the same functions. In time, their animosity drained away. “But we were two proud West Indians,” explained Poitier, and “stubborn pride is a quality West Indians tend to husband beyond any reasonable usefulness.” For over two years, neither offered the peace pipe.1
Then, late in 1970, Belafonte called Poitier. He opened with a joke, and they chatted, never acknowledging their squabble. Belafonte revealed his purpose: Drake Walker, an intern on his 1970 film The Angel Levine, had written a script about blacks in the Old West. Over a decade earlier, Belafonte and Poitier had planned a similar project, but in 1959 a blackthemed picture was a rarity. Now Hollywood recognized the black audience. Moreover, Poitier had a production contract. Poitier agreed to make the picture, called Buck and the Preacher.2
The erstwhile rivals staged demonstrations of tact. Poitier insisted that Belafonte co-star and co-produce; Belafonte modestly declined equal billing. At a dinner meeting, they traded compliments, with Poitier raving about Belafonte’s popularity. “Yeah, Sidney, I guess you’re just applesauce,” cracked Belafonte. They laughed at their own diplomacy and planned the picture. Under Poitier’s existing contract, Columbia Pictures distributed the joint effort between E&R Productions and Belafonte Enterprises. The two executive producers hired Poitier’s team from Brother John: Joel Glickman produced, and Ernest Kinoy fleshed out Walker’s