Sidney Poitier

  1. 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.
  2. Woody Strode, Sergeant Rutledge, 1959.  “”The big studios wanted an actor like Sidney or Belafonte,” recalled Strode about  his  US Cavalry sergeant charged with rape and murder.  But director John Ford snarled:  They’re not tough enough to do what I want Sergeant Rutledge to be.  And Woody strode away with the movie…  “That was a classic. It had dignity. John Ford put classic words in my mouth… You never seen a Negro come off a mountain like John Wayne before. I had the greatest Glory Hallelujah ride across the Pecos River that any black man ever had on the screen. And I did it myself. I carried the whole black race across that river.” He made three more films for Ford – who called him his best friend – Two Rode Together, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and 7 Women during 1961-1965.
  3. 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 to play their scenes with The Other Fellow’s stand-in. A broomstick.
  4. 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.”
  5. Robert Hooks, Hurry Sundown, 1966.   The black character wasn’t on his knees this time – the reason he refused Porgy and Bess in 1958 – but Poitier still spurned the second offer from producer-director-orgre Otto Preminger. Some critics called it racist and tasteless, while the CCC favourite, Roger Ebert, nailed it. “Naive and dull.”
  6. Geoffrey Holder, Dr Dolittle, 1966.     Producer Arthur P Jacobs tried to persuade Poitier to play Prince Bumpo, by promising Broadway’s Gilbert Price would do his singing.  No thanks, said Sidney.  He’d been there before with Robert McFerrin   singing for him in Porgy and Bess, 1958. Plus:  “I’m an actor, not an entertainer.” Sammy Davis was Jacob’s next pit-stop – but his titular doctor, the racially abusive Rex Harrison, refused William Shakespeare X and given to Holder,  the Trinidad-born London dancer-choreographer-actor Holder from, in fgact,  Sidney and Sammy’s  Gershwin experience.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Dustin Hoffman, Straw Dogs, 1971.   A (bad) Sam Peckinpah Western set in  a Cornwall, almost entirely inhabited by (violent) village  idiots. In  the mix for the (milque-toast) hero were Nicholson, Beau Bridges, Elliott Gould (booked by Ingmar Bergman for The Touch), Stacy Keach, Sidney Poitier and Donald Sutherland. They probably all agreed with Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert’s later review: “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.”
  10. 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.

  11. James Earl Jones, The Man, 1972.     Well, who else would they think offorthe firstblack American President?
  12. 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.”
  13. Dustin Hoffman, Straw Dogs, 1971.      An idea before director Sam Peckinpah came on board.
  14. Robert Duvall, Falling Down, 1992.  “You’re angry because you got lied to? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven…?”  On his last day on the job, LAPD Sergeant Lester Prendergast  finds a guy, known only by his car number-plate, D-FENS, melting down, dangerously.  He’s Michael Douglas, in as Spartacusbuzz-cut, glasses and, finally, his very own Cuckoo’s Nest.  Duval won the cop from Poitier, Gene Hackman, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman and Jason Robards.
  15. 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.
  16. 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
  17. John Hurt, Contact, 1997.    As the mighty billionaire keen on making contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence.
  18. 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.”
  19. 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. 
  20. 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.
  21. Laurence Fishburne, Akeelah and the Bee, 2006.     Director Doug Atchison first wanted Poitier and then decided to go for a younger Dr Larabee.







 Birth year: 1927Death year: 2022Other name: Casting Calls:  21