Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon

By Aram Goudsouzian | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
GHOSTS
(1978–2002)

“Everybody wants Sidney Poitier (and why not?),” announced the New York Post in December 1978. That month Poitier signed a four-year deal with Columbia Pictures to write, direct, and/or act in movies and television programs. After his successful comedy trilogy, he owned a reputation for low-budget, high-grossing movies. Now Hollywood’s trade newspapers relayed potential Verdon-Cedric projects: China Blues, an adventure film about three Americans in China in the 1920s; Midtown Ex perience, a suspense movie starring three women; Timbuktu, an NBC miniseries adaptation of Eartha Kitt’s Broadway show; The Cabral Story, a revisitation of a scrapped project set in Africa; Christmas Is Coming Uptown, a film musical set in Harlem; and an installment in Peter Sellers’s Pink Panther series.1

Poitier chose Prison Rodeo, a comedy starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder and later entitled Stir Crazy. For the first time, he directed without acting. Few scripts contained roles for middle-aged black leading men, and his talents did not suit character roles. Moreover, dividing between acting and directing impaired both responsibilities. Now he would concentrate on one task, and in a picture geared to the mainstream. “I can’t allow myself to be circumscribed as simply a black director,” Poitier said. “I have to reach beyond repeating myself and test my wherewithal against other American directors who function outside the special arena of black movies.”2

In March 1980, they started filming in Tucson at Arizona State Prison. “It’s bizarre,” said Wilder. While shooting a comedy, they were “working shoulder-to-shoulder alongside rapists, killers, you name it.” They all signed waivers indemnifying the prison in case of a riot or hostage situation. But the close quarters bred familiarity. Over 300 inmates signed on as extras. Between takes, Wilder played checkers and dominoes with them, and Pryor kept them laughing with impromptu routines.3

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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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