- James Edwards, The Phenix City Story, 1955. Although making ends meet as a $35 a week dishwasher inNew York, Poitierrefused his first movie - father of a child slain by Phenix gangsters.“It wasn’tracist,” he admitted, “justdidn’tmeetcertain other expectations. I’ll never do a part that didn’t distinguish me from dishwashing which I’d done most of my life." Three months later, agent Marty Baum rang him up. “Anybody as crazy as you are, I want to represent.”And he did - through 29 years, 38 motion pictures two plays and an Oscar.
- Frank Sinatra, The Devil At 4 O’Clock, 1960. A Screen Actors Guild strike had Columbia postponingSpencer Tracy’s fourth priest and ruined the volcanic drama. By the time, production rolled the following year, Poitier had gone (he’d be back, of course, for Tracy’s final film, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, 1967) andwas replaced by the thin singer who adored Tracy and treated him like a turd, too busy drumming up presidential votes for JFK. Tracy had toplay theurscenes with The Other Fellow’s stand-in.A broomstick.
- Ivan Dixon, Nothing Like A Man, 1963. Poitier rejected Duff Anderson - allowing Dixonto winsomeof his finestreviews. “A spectacular depiction of a strong, principled individual,” said the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson. “An early portrait of black pride, presented long before showing pride in being black was accepted.”
- Evaristo Marques, Queimada!/Burn, Italy, 1970. United Artists wanted him as the peasant leader to oppose Marlon Brando’s English gent fermenting revolts to break Portugal’s sugar trade monopoly. Gillo Pontecorvo (director of The Battle of Algiers, 1966) felt Sidney's face was too “civilised” and used an amateur fromColombia.
- George Segal, The Owl and the Pussycat, 1970. Barbra Streisand wanted Sidney, her partner in First Artists. Still too early, went Hollywood thinking - if you can call it thinking - for a black man to be involved with a white stripper-cum-hooker.Or even, vice-versa.
- Dustin Hoffman, Straw Dogs, 1971. Also int he mix…Beau Bridges, Stacy Keach and Jack Nicholson. Maybe they all agreed with Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert: “The most offensive thing about the movie is its hypocrisy; it is totally committed to the pornography of violence, but lays on the moral outrage with a shovel.”
- Yaphet Kotto, Across 110th Street. 1971. Well, he’d already been a po-lice-man. And this one was not as good as In The Heat of the Night cop, so Poitier easily passed on producer Anthony Quinn’s invite. Harlem said his other ideas - Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr, John Wayne, etc – were too Hollywood, not street enough. Quinn switched invites to Kotto, Antonio Fargas and took over the top cop, himself, in the blacks v Mafia thriller, bloody enough for Scorsese or Tarantino.
- James Earl Jones, The Man, 1972. Well, who else would they think offorthe firstblack American President?
- David Carradine, Grey Lady Down, 1977. Producer Walter Mirischbacked away from Sidney, noted Charlton Heston in his diary, February 5, 1976. “I’m not clear why, save the cost of having us both.”
- Dustin Hoffman, Straw Dogs, 1971. An idea before director Sam Peckinpah came on board.
- Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption, 1993. Freeman collected a third Oscar nomination when Sidney didn’t feel that being the convict Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding was providing a good example. Also up for Stephen King’s Red: Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, Robert Redford. Eastwood, Newman and Redford had already done jail time in Escape From Alcatraz, 1978, Cool Hand Luke, 1967, and Brubaker, 1979, respectively. Clint and Newman won. Redford lost.
- Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption, 1994. Freeman collected a third Oscar nomination when Sidney didn’t feel that being a convict was providing a good example.
- Laurence Fishburne, Higher Learning, 1994. Black director John Singleton wanted Sidney.No?OK then, Sam Jackson.No, said his backers, go back tothe father inyour 1991 debut, Boyz inthe Hood...
- John Hurt, Contact, 1997. As the mighty billionaire keen on making contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence.
- Dennis Quaid, Switchback, 1997. Arkansas auteur Jeb Stuart first planned his film - as Going West in America - in the 80s with three different actors: Poitier, Kevin Bacon andRobert Duvall. Apparently, they all agreed with Roger Ebert’s eventual criticism: “not a good movie, but it does an admirable job of distracting us from how bad it is.”
- Martin Sheen, The West Wing, TV, 1999-2006. Hardly surprising that creator Aaron Sorkin first thought of Poitier for his US President. “Those talks didn’t get far,” Sorkin recalled. Poitier’s fee was too high for the planned four appearances per season. Next in line for POTUS: Alan Alda, John Cullum, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards. Then producer John Wells remembered Sheen had played JFK (and RFK) and would be the perfect Josiah Bartlett (named after a signatory of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence). In fact, he ruled from his first entrance and was quickly written (front and centre) into all 154 episodes.
- Jeffrey Wright, Lady inthe Water, 2005. Director M Night Shyamalan's tale was not enough to tempt Poitier back on-screen. It started as a bedtime story for histwo daughters. Shoulda stayed there.
- Laurence Fishburne, Akeelah and the Bee, 2006. Director Doug Atchison first wanted Poitier and then decided to go for a younger Dr Larabee.