Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon

By Aram Goudsouzian | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
BURDENS
(1959–1961)

When Poitier returned home from California, his wife was making breakfast. There and then, in the kitchen, before the children awoke, he told her that he loved Diahann Carroll. Juanita was shocked. Her world was crumbling. Her father had recently died, and now her husband loved another woman. She blamed Carroll. Sidney insisted that he deserved the blame, and she sobbed. As the children stirred, Juanita reined in her tears, and they postponed their discussion until that night.1

They resolved nothing that morning, nothing that night, and very little in the days ahead. Poitier was torn. He loved Carroll, and he agonized at the gulf between him and Juanita. “Why couldn’t she develop a meaningful interest in my work so I could have someone with whom I could intelligently discuss all my never-ending problems?” he reflected, with a touch of self-indulgence. Yet guilt gnawed at him. He remembered his own father’s lesson that “the measure of a man is how well he provides his children.” Poitier equated parental responsibility with manhood, and he feared that he was forsaking his family.2

He carried this luggage into his next job, the lead role of Walter Lee Younger in the Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun. As he returned to the stage, his turmoil molded his interpretation. He identified with Walter Lee, who struggled with economic barriers, self-respect, and his father’s legacy. Actor and character both sought to fulfill themselves through their larger duties. That quest left Poitier torn between his family and Carroll. It influenced his public image as his celebrity soared. And it drove the conflict that shaped a Broadway phenomenon.

Lorraine Hansberry was an odd mixture of bourgeois and radical. Her father, a wealthy Chicago executive, sent her to segregated public schools. When she was eight, they moved to an all-white neighborhood, and her

-167-

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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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