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Sidney PoitierMan, Actor, Icon$

Aram Goudsouzian

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780807828434

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807875841_goudsouzian

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Survivors (1972–1978)

Survivors (1972–1978)

Chapter:
(p.337) Chapter 16 Survivors (1972–1978)
Source:
Sidney Poitier
Author(s):

Aram Goudsouzian

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/9780807875841_goudsouzian.21

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter details events in Sidney Poitier's life from 1972–1978. These include the decline of Poitier's career and his attempts to revive it when blaxploitation still reigned; his partnership with Harry Belafonte to produce the film Buck and the Preacher; the staging of Amiri Baraka's play Sidnee Poet Heroical, which caricatures Poitier and attacks his image and humanity; and his writing of the autobiography This Life.

Keywords:   Harry Belafonte, autobiography, This Life

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 black-themed 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 Treacher.2

The erstwhile rivals staged demonstrations of tact. Poitier insisted that Belafonte costar 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 apple-sauce,” 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 (p.338) script. Joseph Sargent directed. To cut costs, they filmed in Durango, Mexico.3

Upon arrival in February 1971, problems besieged the production. When Glickman hired whole families from El Paso, Texas, as extras for a black wagon train, both the Screen Extras Guild in the United States and the Actors Guild in Mexico complained. The Mexican actors also protested low pay, despite receiving scale wages (a French company had recently paid them more). Later, Poitier and some reporters faced disaster when a bus barreled toward their car halfway into a wide curve. When the bus passed them—by inches—it was up on two wheels.4

The greatest upheaval occurred when Poitier replaced Sargent as director. Poitier and Belafonte had envisioned a certain style, one invested with respect for the black heroes of the American West. After three days viewing the rushes, they believed that Sargent lacked that vision. According to costar Cameron Mitchell, “he was shooting the picture like a TV show,” a treatment unbefitting a historical epic. Belafonte insisted that Poitier direct, contending that if Columbia had to send a replacement, the production would be delayed and possibly canceled. Poitier concurred. They fired Sargent. The deposed director handled the situation with grace, shrugging it off as a case of artistic differences.5

Belafonte was more forthright: “If the nature of the subject wasn't such that it was working and dealing as deeply with the black psyche, it might not matter.” But the artistic differences had racial consequences, and Poitier and Belafonte refused another white interpretation of a black experience. Now, however, a first-time director faced a rapid shooting schedule, a cast with hundreds of extras, and a hodgepodge crew that spoke little English—in the middle of the Mexican desert.6

Poitier had long aspired to direct, and he had trained himself in lens sizes and camera angles. He had directed a few scenes of They Call Me Mister Tibbs!, but that brief exercise was scant preparation. Poitier primed his first scene, a long outdoor shot of him and Belafonte riding into a band of Indians; it involved many actors, a wide expanse, and an intricate choreography. After a few takes, Poitier's anxiety dissipated. The scene worked.7

Poitier and Belafonte still needed approval from Columbia. They told a studio executive that Poitier would keep on until a new director arrived. But no director wanted to replace Poitier halfway through a pet project, especially as rumors circulated through Hollywood that Poitier had engineered Sargent's dismissal. Instead, two studio representatives flew to Durango to supervise the production. “When that happened,” said Belafonte, detecting some racist paternalism, “we started to know the real (p.339) meaning of slavery.” Columbia had two choices: let Poitier continue directing, or shut down the picture. Poitier had shot a week of film by then. The executives gave him the green light.8

Poitier enjoyed directing. He liked the control. Planning camera angles perched from a crane, pacing around with his East African walking stick, he reigned over the set. The cast and crew respected his guidance, and he delighted when a scene clicked. He also appreciated the company of friends. Julie Belafonte played an Indian woman, Ruby Dee played Poitier's wife, and Ossie Davis visited. “It felt a little like old times,” recalled Dee. But in old times, the only other blacks were cafeteria workers and shoeshine boys. Now blacks controlled the production.9

The producers maintained their sibling-style jealousies. Belafonte reportedly chafed that Poitier left his birthday party while he sang with the mariachi band. Poitier allegedly fumed that Belafonte arrived late for the daily rushes. But after an article in Look detailed their animosities, the stars refuted the charges on television. Indeed, their fits of pique revealed nothing more than their historic rivalry and thin skins.10

Belafonte had long chafed as Poitier scooped up plum roles, even as he disagreed with Poitier's career choices. But now, Belafonte raged that everyone scrutinized Poitier's failures while ignoring those of white stars. “I refuse to be part of the parade of pain that is heaped upon him,” said Belafonte. “An awful lot is expected of that man, and for no reason except that he is black.” Of course, when Belafonte learned that he, and not Poitier, had made a list of celebrities with “studly appeal,” he yelped, “Hot damn! Wait till I send him a copy. He can't even say it's racial discrimination!”11

They finished Buck and the Preacher in forty-five days, after working six-day work weeks through broiling Mexican days, cold desert nights, sticky red dust, a common cold epidemic, and dwindling morale. Poitier worked seventeen-hour days and barely slept. In April 1971, Poitier went straight to San Francisco to film The Organization. At night he edited Buck and the Preacher. Completing both pictures exhausted him. He sustained himself with a diet of milk and protein, a self-imposed ban on tobacco and alcohol, and a daily intake of thirty-six vitamins. With disci-pline, political conscience, and a dose of ambition, Poitier directed his first film.12

Buck and the Preacher takes place on the heels of the Civil War, as freed slaves journey west to escape their former slaveowners. It chronicles an (p.340) important chapter in the African American story: these “Exodusters” defined their own freedom by rejecting the South's enduring racial codes, enforced by white violence. The film opens with a scroll dedicating the picture to “those men, women, and children who lie in graves as unmarked as their place in history.”13

But Buck and the Preacher is no in-depth social history. It recreates the familiar pattern of Hollywood heroes, except now the heroes are black. Poitier plays Buck, a noble guide for the wagon trains. He eludes bounty hunters, and he negotiates with Indians for safe passage. Belafonte plays the Preacher, a roguish minister with a six-shooter hidden in his Bible. He wavers between self-interest and social conscience. Predictably, Buck and the Preacher begin as rivals and end as allies.14

Deshay (Mitchell) leads an evil white posse that raids wagon trains and pursues Buck, the linchpin for the black migration. At first, the Preacher seems willing to report Buck's whereabouts for a $500 reward, but they soon become uneasy partners in shootouts, chases on horseback, and daring bank robberies. They kill most of the posse and steal back money for impoverished migrants.

The picture tweaks traditional Westerns not only by painting whites as outright villains, but also by presenting a black/Indian alliance. Indians aid the blacks' escape from the posse. Their chief adds his own pained account of white imperialism. Together, the black heroes and Indian guides save the wagon train from a final ambush. To many, Indians already embodied nobility; a recent intellectual fad romanticized the American Indian's tragic plight. Buck and the Preacher expanded upon that myth by linking minority cultures and portraying them as ethically superior to violent, exploitative white society.15

Most whites never before realized that blacks settled the West, allied with Indians, and admired their own cowboys. “I was watching western heroes with whom I could identify completely for the first time,” wrote Maurice Peterson in Essence. “Judging from the howling cheers, thunderous applause, and even the tears that were in some eyes, I know that the rest of the Black audience felt as gratified as I did.” The picture delivered a lesson in black history, and it forged black pride.16

Yet in terms of plot and character, Buck and the Preacher resembles bygone B-movies. “They ain't made Westerns like this for nigh onto thirty year,” ridiculed Judith Crist. The characters lack complexity: Buck is extraordinarily virtuous, Deshay impossibly evil, the Indians stereotypically noble. The wagon train, the bank robbery, and the shoot-'emups (p.341) fulfill Western clichés. Besides its racial reversal of heroes and villains, it is thoroughly conventional.17

The adherence to Hollywood formula included pairing two male stars as the lead characters—a strategy that, in an era of burgeoning feminism, earned Poitier and Belafonte some accusations of chauvinism. Ruby Dee does have one affecting scene where she pleads to leave for Canada. “It's like a poison soaked into the ground,” she says. “They're gonna give us nothing. Not no forty acres, and no mule. And not freedom, neither.” But this plot point never develops. Dee stays a background figure, a role unworthy of her prowess. The plot, as the title implies, centers on Buck and the Preacher.18

As Poitier's directorial debut, Buck and the Treacher was a mixed bag. The story provided excitement, the visuals of the landscape were impressive, and Belafonte won laughs. But Poitier employed an overabundance of close-ups, and he allowed his actors long, unnecessary pauses. The action sequences demanded tighter editing. Worst of all, Poitier the director restrained Poitier the actor. His stoic, upright hero is dull. Poitier later admitted that Sargent would have directed a more entertaining film. But he and Belafonte wanted “a certain substance, a certain nourishment, a certain component of self. We wanted black people to see the film and be proud of themselves, be proud of their history.” Whatever its other limitations, Buck and the Preacher accomplished that goal.19

Alas, with the blaxploitation craze still at its apex, their picture failed to capture the fancy of the black masses. Although Buck and the Preacher was the best of the recent “soul westerns”—The Legend of Nigger Charley, Soul Soldier, Cool Breeze—it lacked the slick production values of Hollywood blockbusters. The film grossed about six million dollars, three times its production cost. After printing, advertising, and distribution expenses, it roughly broke even.20

Poitier and Belafonte did use Buck and the Preacher for political ends. They donated receipts from an April 1972 premiere in Newark to the New Jersey delegation of the National Black Political Convention, an event climaxed by Jesse Jackson's rousing call for black unity against white politics. Later, Poitier and Belafonte narrated William Greaves's documentary about the convention, called Nationtime: Gary. Despite the celebrities, however, television networks refused to air the film. The public accepted ghetto hustlers on their movie screens, but it remained unnerved by genuine black frustration with the American political system.21

Since neither Brother John nor Buck and the Preacher turned a profit, (p.342) Columbia did not renew Poitier's production contract. He could still, however, make pictures through the First Artists Corporation. He merged E&R Productions into Verdon Cedric Productions, and he hired Melville Tucker to produce his First Artists ventures. Tucker had produced The Lost Man, and despite Tucker's conservative politics, they had become good friends. In 1971 First Artists offered 25 percent of its shares to the public, creating enough capital for the stars to launch their initial projects. Poitier and Tucker bought Lawrence Roman's black love story, A Warm December.22

Poitier wavered at again donning the three hats of actor, director, and producer, but ambition trumped exhaustion. While Tucker handled the business end, Poitier searched for a female lead in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and London. “I looked and looked and looked,” he said. “And I looked and looked and looked and looked and looked and looked.” He found a relative unknown: Esther Anderson, a tall, slim, gorgeous actress, born in Jamaica and trained in England.23

They filmed in London, where Poitier had bought a home. Through the summer of 1972, Poitier worked another arduous schedule, averaging eighty-hour weeks as he attended to company business, instructed the actors, learned his own role, consulted with the film editor, and supervised the costumes. He hired four designers to craft Anderson a sexy, elegant look. They shot all over London, from Trafalgar Square to Bond Street to Hyde Park to the British Museum. Poitier also refined his directing style; although extremely specific with instructions, he never shouted at his cast. Instead he arranged quiet, individual huddles. “I understand an actor's psyche,” he explained. For the word “psyche,” he might have substituted “ego.”24

A Warm December, as Poitier himself described, is “an old-fashioned love story,” with the twist of black protagonists. The story showcases two appealing personalities. Poitier's Matt Younger is a widower, a doctor devoted to serving the Washington, D.C., ghetto, a single father, a moto-cross racer, and a man of impeccable taste and copious charm. On holiday in London, he meets the stunning Catherine (Anderson), the niece of an ambassador from the fictional African country Torunda. Mystery surrounds her. Ominous men stalk her, and she periodically disappears. Younger is enchanted.25

In the first half, their romance blossoms. Sprinkled in are travelogue-style explorations of London's tourist attractions. In the second half, Catherine reveals that she has sickle cell anemia. Her “stalkers” are bodyguards from the Torundan embassy, and she “disappears” to receive (p.343) shots. Younger proposes marriage, and although Catherine loves both him and his daughter, she cannot let them endure another death. She leaves him with a Swahili phrase—translated, it means “Goodbye, my husband, thank you for a warm December.”

Upon release in April 1973, critics called the film “a black Love Story,” alluding to the schlock-packed 1970 tearjerker. They meant no compliment. Λ Warm December was “a cornball soap opera,” “a series of brilliantly edited 30-second cigarette commercials,” and “some impossibly typical, transcendentally awful issue of Reader's Digest.” Reviewers faulted the contrived plot, the overdone shots of London, and the one-dimensional characters. The discussions of black consciousness and sickle cell anemia seem out of place, part of a slick composite of stale conventions.26

A Warm December flopped. Poitier deserved the blame: he bought the script, guided the actors, starred in the story, and approved the final cut. But Poitier also won kudos, because he continued to achieve milestones. He contributed to public awareness of sickle-cell anemia, and he depicted an old-fashioned romance with black protagonists. Poitier and Anderson were genuine sex symbols. Both were graceful, charismatic, and virile, yet neither trafficked in the myths of exotic black carnality that endured in the blaxploitation films. True, A Warm December was a commercial and critical calamity, but as Judith Crist wrote, it presented black romantic heroes “who aren't pushing dope or pimping, who aren't out to kill whitey and who make us empathize and care. Isn't that what screen entertainment entails?”27

In 1973, the answer was unclear. Poitier had won some appreciation, if only for injecting blacks into old Hollywood formulas. But while Jim Brown and Ron O'Neal drew customers with violent action fantasies, Poitier reaped no profits. If his career were to survive, the trend had to run its course. It soon did.

Blaxploitation begat a backlash. By the end of 1972, a high-profile debate arose over the merits of films starring virile, violent black heroes. “Black Movie Boom: Good or Bad?” ran a New York Times headline. “The New Films: Culture or Con Game?” asked Ebony. “Black Movies: Renaissance or Ripoff?” screamed the cover of Newsweek.29

Numerous black leaders criticized the genre. “If black movies do not contribute to building constructive, healthy images of black people and to fairly recording the black experience, we shall have lost our money and (p.344) our souls,” claimed Junius Griffin, president of Hollywood's branch of the NAACP. Roy Innis of CORE echoed that films glorifying pimps and drug dealers “are subtle ways of promoting Black genocide in the Black community.” Both organizations lobbied studio executives and picketed theaters featuring derogatory black images.29

James Baldwin called the new movies “a desperate effort to fit black faces into a national fantasy.” Alvin Poussaint bemoaned that “violent, criminal, sexy savages” had become role models for ghetto children. Amiri Baraka indicted the films' individualist, capitalist ethic. Huey Newton suspected a conspiracy against actual black revolution. Others faulted the movies for treating black women as mere sexual objects.30

Some used the attention to promote black capitalism within the film industry. The Black Artists Alliance, a network of creative and technical personnel, formed to protest inequality within the entertainment world. Jesse Jackson met with performers and executives about fostering black control over the financing, production, and distribution of films for black audiences, and he threatened protests unless studios hired more black personnel. Blacks now composed 40 percent of the American movie audience; Jackson argued that blacks should be reaping some rewards. He also joined the chorus condemning film treatments of blacks as savage, super-macho stereotypes.31

Black Hollywood responded, defending its new lifeblood. Gordon Parks dismissed the racist assumption that black audiences could not distinguish fact from fantasy. Curtis Mayfield, who composed the score for Superfly, argued that the pictures portrayed actual ghetto life. Fred Williamson wondered why only black violence stoked fear, when white gangsters and cowboys were equally bloodthirsty. And Jim Brown asserted that the trend created jobs for black directors, writers, and actors. Although Hollywood was no racial utopia, the black film boom had blasted down doors once open only for Sidney Poitier.32

Nevertheless, by January 1974, Jet was declaring the genre “a thing of the past.” The pictures had poor production values, tired plots, and similar heroes. The criticism from prominent blacks tainted the argument that the boom represented progress. More important, Hollywood no longer needed these low-budget black-oriented pictures. As The Godfather (1972) and The Exorcist (1973) drew large black audiences, studios realized that they could capture the African American market while casting a wider net. The blaxploitation trend soon fizzled out.33

Thanks to his deals with Columbia and First Artists, Poitier had worked through the early 1970s. Without them, he surmised, “I might have found (p.345) myself twiddling my thumbs.” His sporadic acting offers were for second-rate scripts. Though he now had directing and producing credits, he possessed little stature. During a two-hour meeting in the summer of 1972 with First Artists executives, he weathered pleas to abandon his next production, a comedy called Uptown Saturday Night. Poitier stood firm. The argument was moot, since the corporation was contractually obligated to fund him. But Poitier realized that if he submitted another dud, his reputation would lie in tatters.34

Despite a budget of only two million dollars, Poitier assembled an all-star package of black entertainers. On vacation in Nassau, Bill Cosby asked for the costar role. Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor agreed over the telephone, script unseen. Harry Belafonte signed up. Each comedian could have made millions through live shows, but they accepted small salaries. “It's for Sidney,” explained Belafonte. Movie roles helped them, too, since they exposed the stars to wide audiences. Celebrities in hand, Poitier promised to entertain all ages and races. He trumpeted a “healthier exploration of black life” distinct from the “pimps, prostitutes, and dope pushers who represent only a minuscule portion of the black community.”35

Poitier assembled cast and crew at MGM studios in November 1973. Even more than his previous productions, the set illustrated Poitier's contribution to racial progress in Hollywood. The cast included the cavalcade of stars, a legion of black actors, and hundreds of black extras. More than one-fourth of the crew was black. The New York Amsterdam News estimated that over 1,300 blacks worked on some aspect of Uptown Saturday Night.36

Poitier presided over his kingdom, meeting with cinematographers, consulting with costume designers, rehearsing actors. He rarely rehearsed Bill Cosby, though; he just unleashed the man's comic energy. “Richard Pryor,” Poitier recalled, “was another question altogether.” The young, manic comedian—known for his profanity, ghetto-based humor, and brazen use of “nigger”—improvised hilarious scenes. After Poitier changed the camera angle, Pryor improvised different, even funnier scenes. Poitier managed this challenge, and they completed filming before Christmas.37

Uptown Saturday Night was light fare for the masses. The plot revolves around Steve Jackson (Poitier) and Wardell Franklin (Cosby), two working-class stiffs from Harlem who splurge one Saturday night at an upscale nightclub. Masked thieves rob the clientele, including Jackson and Franklin. The next day, Jackson learns that he won $50,000, but his lottery ticket is in his stolen wallet.

In their hunt for the ticket, Jackson and Franklin encounter a grandstanding (p.346) standing preacher (Flip Wilson), a paranoid private eye/con artist (Pryor), a two-faced congressman (Roscoe Lee Browne), and a troika of gangsters: Little Seymour (Harold Nicholas), Silky Slim (Calvin Lockhart), and Geechie Dan Buford (Belafonte). The heroes trick Silky Slim and Geechie Dan into bringing a suitcase of stolen goods—including the wallet—to a church picnic. After some shootouts, car chases, and leaps off a bridge, they frame the criminals and recoup the winning lottery ticket.

Throughout these madcap hijinks, the film seems comfortable in its black milieu, as characters speak in dialect (“homeboy”; “chump”; “your ass is grass”) and play the dozens (“You sooooooo ugly, 'til it's against the law in twenty states to marry you”). There are scenes with fried chicken and gospel music, smug integrationists and low-life gangsters. African American life informs much of the comedy. Before they enter the congress-man's office, for instance, Browne changes into a dashiki and reverses his picture of President Nixon to a portrait of Malcolm X. Removed from the racial sensitivities of the civil rights era, Uptown Saturday Night let blacks laugh at themselves.38

The film also features broad, physical jokes without racial connotations. Cosby plays a mugging, smirking, wisecracking cab driver. Belafonte sends up Marlon Brando's Godfather: puffy-faced and scratchy-throated, he snorts nasal spray, eats raw eggs, and dresses as a woman during an escape. Many appreciated this old-fashioned comic sensibility. Everyone in the picture seems to be having fun.39

With one exception: Poitier. As a nervous straight man for Cosby, he saps away his own noble aura. “Poitier's idea of comic acting is to bulge his eyes out, as if doing a Manton Moreland impression,” wrote Jay Cocks of Time. Although he always possessed a likable aura, Poitier never drew guffaws. He was not a natural comedian, and he appears tentative.40

Worse, his direction shows little comic timing. Poitier's sluggish pacing crippled the comedy. Poitier also maintained his propensity to overuse television-style close-ups. Finally, Richard Wesley's screenplay needed funnier gags. The actual jokes contributed less than the warm, loose energy supplied by the assemblage of black talent.41

Although a benign farce, Uptown Saturday Night got ensnared in racial politics. Following the premiere at the downtown Criterion Theatre in June 1974, buses took the celebrity-studded audience to a gala at Vincent's Place in Harlem. As guests filed in, a hostess handed each lady a red rose. The men received protest cards. “Jim Crow lives!” read the cards. “125th Street is still the back of the bus—moviewise that is.” Bobby Schiffman, manager of the Apollo Theatre, objected that the picture (p.347) would not play his uptown venue for weeks. A premiere and first-run showing at the Apollo would have injected money into Harlem.42

The next week, the “Harlem Salute Committee” picketed the Criterion, demanding that Poitier donate seed money for a black museum in Harlem. The ugly ploy soon faded from sight, but in early July, another brouhaha erupted. Cosby had recorded three promotional radio spots, including one that said: “Remember the good old days when you used to go to uptown to Harlem and have a good time—before it became very dangerous? Well, you can still go uptown without getting your head beat in, by going downtown to see Uptown Saturday Night. This way the people are all on the screen and won't jump off and clean your head out….” Painting Harlem as a den of vice, even if tongue-in-cheek, inflamed tensions from the downtown premiere. The theater chain that owned the Apollo lodged complaints with CORE, the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Federal Communications Commission. Schiffman cited a larger conspiracy against first-run premieres in Harlem. Despite Cosby's public apology, he and Poitier faced accusations of complicity in Harlem's economic woes.43

But marketing Uptown Saturday Night to interracial audiences proved astute. White patrons filled theaters during first-week runs in New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Warner Brothers, which had replaced National General as distributor for First Artists, booked typically white venues such as Sioux City, Billings, and Salt Lake City. Among recent black films, only Sounder and Lady Sings the Blues had attracted large white audiences. Uptown Saturday Night—a harmless frolic of African American humor, and a breath of fresh air from blaxploitation—was the first “crossover” comedy of the 1970s. It grossed over ten million dollars, boosting Poitier's fortune and reputation.44

His acting might have regressed, and his directing needed improvement. But Sidney Poitier was back.

It seemed especially cruel, then, that Poitier soon faced a final, all-out attack on his image and humanity. Amiri Baraka, founder of the Black Arts movement, wrote a play in 1969 entitled Sidnee Poet Heroical. He had difficulty getting it produced; it involved twenty-nine short scenes and combined drama, dance, music, and film. He also feared a lawsuit from Poitier. The Henry Street Settlement's New Federal Theater finally staged it in May 1975.45

Sidnee Poet Heroical caricatures Poitier. A young man named Sidnee (p.348) arrives on American shores with confidence, “cause I'm big and black and fast and strong as Westindian African with manicure and sporty pants and all up in there.” He meets a spoof on Belafonte named Lairee Elephont, who asks Sidnee if he would like to “grow up to be a famous nigger in the world and sleep with white women.” Sidnee patterns himself after Lairee, “the world's greatest nigger.”46

There are parodies of famous Poitier movies: Sidnee joins Tony Curtis at the hip, dances with adoring nuns, helps a blind girl who cries, “Nigger Helper, Nigger Helper, Big Sid, Help I'm blind I'm blind please come love me,” and performs a sexy dance for Katharine Hepburn before passing a quiz from Spencer Tracy. Moreover, Sidnee internalizes the cultural implications of his image. “We are good and perfect helping them,” he says. “Otherwise we barely exist.”

In the second act, Sidnee pays for his celebrity. His skin turns white and a giant Oscar statue taunts him. When a director wants him to play White Pongo, an educated white ape, Sidnee rebels. But when he tries to make films about “real black life,” reporters say that he is “preaching hatred.” Sidnee searches out his abandoned black lover, and he becomes an apostle of black nationalism.47

Sidnee Poet Heroical has all the subtlety of a punch in the face. Baraka paints the black celebrities with broad strokes and ugly colors. New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow praised this “corrosive indictment of an American dream.” But the punches are so below-the-belt that it seemed less a satire than a disparagement of Poitier. Baraka showed no appreciation for the complexity of the stars' positions. In 1969, when Baraka wrote the play, his points might have carried some weight. By 1975, after a generation of films rejecting the Poitier icon, Sidnee Poet Heroical was just mean.48

Even though the play had a short run at a small theater, it infuriated Poitier. Sidnee Poet Heroical not only maligned his films, but also portrayed him as a greedy simpleton. He remained sensitive to criticism that he forsook the black community. When Paul Winfield said in 1974 that Poitier “sold out by defining what's saleable,” Poitier stopped talking to him. He had given Winfield his break by hiring him for two films, and he felt betrayed. “It never occurred to me that Sidney could be hurt by anything I said,” mourned Winfield. “I'll always be sorry about that, because what I owe Sidney can't be measured.”49

Meanwhile, Poitier searched for vehicles that satisfied his recurring interest in Africa. He explored opportunities for film distribution through-out Africa, and he considered making Cabral, a First Artists production (p.349) filmed in Tanzania. Instead, he took a brief vacation from directing and producing for The Wilby Conspiracy, an old-fashioned movie with old friends. Martin Baum, his longtime agent who briefly ran ABC Films, had signed an independent production deal with United Artists. Baum hired Poitier and Michael Caine for the South African thriller. He also hired Ralph Nelson, Poitier's director from Lilies of the Field and Duel at Diablo.50

In March 1974 Poitier returned to the foothills of Mount Kenya, where eighteen years earlier he had made Something of Value. The nation had changed. In 1963 Kenya declared independence from Great Britain. Now Jomo Kenyatta was president, not an imprisoned political agitator. Poitier faced no racial segregation on this trip. He and Shimkus stayed in a huge bungalow at a luxury safari club. According to Caine, the locals viewed Poitier as “a god. Everywhere he went he was treated with awed respect.” His reputation stretched even to remote rural areas without movie screens. Poitier cherished the adoration, and he further prized his invitation to a reception with Kenyatta—at least until the reception. When they shook hands, Kenyatta politely asked Poitier what he did for a living.51

Returning to Africa compelled Poitier to mull his life and career, his triumphs and compromises, his celebrity and obligations. During a break in filming, Caine saw Poitier at the end of a long runway, silhouetted by Mount Kenya, lost in contemplation. “Feeling your roots, Sidney?” asked Caine. Poitier smiled, paused, and said, “They don't go through Gucci shoes, Michael.”52

Yet Poitier's African experiences informed his performance in The Wilby Conspiracy. He plays Shack Twala, the vice-chairman of South Africa's Black Congress. Shack is resentful of his second-class status, unbowed by confinement and torture, and possessed of a gallows sense of humor. Imprisoned for ten years on Robben Island, Shack wins freedom thanks to his lawyer Rina Nierkirk (Prunella Gee). Upon his release, however, constables arrest him for violating pass laws. When Nierkirk intercedes, they shove her. Then her boyfriend Jim Keogh (Caine) strikes the officers. Although indifferent to the apartheid state, Keogh must join Shack on the run.

The plot mimics The Defiant Ones·, two fugitives, divided by race, united by common purpose. Shack needs Keogh, because the police will harass a lone black traveler. Keogh needs Shack, because Shack can arrange escape to Botswana. Major Horn (Nicol Williamson) from the Bureau of State Security stalks them. The fugitives drive from Cape Town (p.350) to Johannesburg, pursuing not only freedom but also hidden diamonds. They withstand threats and double crosses, and they even elude the South African Air Force. In Botswana, Shack delivers the diamonds to Wilby, the outlaw chairman of the Black Congress. When Horn raids their rendezvous, Shack helps save Wilby. The once-apathetic Keogh kills Horn. “Now you understand,” says Shack.

Upon the release of The Wilby Conspiracy in late summer 1975, Poitier, Caine, and Williamson won kudos. Poitier broke little new ground, but he projected dignity with a wry sensibility. For instance, Shack tells Keogh about his electroshock torture: “I gave them all the names they already had, and one they didn't.” “Jesus,” exclaims Keogh. “That's the one,” replies Shack. Other moments created human connections between the heroes; most memorably, Keogh helps a handcuffed Shack urinate. But this snappy style undercut the drama. Like The Defiant Ones, the script reduces race relations to a personal interaction. “The Wilby Conspiracy plays like a 20 year old, well intentioned American film that tries to tell white people that black people are just as good as white people, as long as they look and act like Sidney Poitier,” wrote Gene Siskel. “In 1975, that attitude, even in a political thriller, doesn't wash.”53

The approach diluted any comment on apartheid, a point readily conceded by its creative team. Baum and Nelson avoided overt politics, instead emphasizing the message of common humanity. Screenwriters Rod Amateau and Harold Nebenzal insisted upon the unattainable: “an anti-apartheid point without politicizing it.” They noted its parallels to Hollywood westerns, especially Shane: “The guy comes into town, does his job, and moves on.” The audience identifies with Caine, not Poitier.54

This strategy deprived the black characters of political legitimacy. The strains of black resistance in South Africa, from Nelson Mandela's African National Congress to Steve Biko's Black Consciousness Movement, are melded into a vague, fictional “Black Congress.” Only Williamson's Major Horn expresses any ideology. He defends apartheid, because whites built “every town, every factory, every farm, mine, and Christian church,” and “no Zulu twenty years out of a tree” should usurp white control. Although Shack and Keogh defeat Horn, neither articulates an opposing viewpoint.55

South African exhibitors nevertheless banned the film. Movies about Africa rarely featured white villains, but Major Horn is utterly, undeniably evil. Moreover, Shack Twala never defers to white authorities or even Keogh. His Black Congress fights for revolution—a far cry from the passive acquiescence to the racial system in Cry, the Beloved Country. (p.351) Before widespread media attention to apartheid, and before the divestiture movement among American corporations, The Wilby Conspiracy addressed the repulsive nature of a racially segregated state.56

The picture also evinced the changes wrought by blaxploitation. Where once Hollywood sought to purge the screen of black sexuality, now the writers injected a superfluous romp between Poitier and Persis Khambatta, a former Miss India. The screen coupling sparked unfounded rumors of a real-life romance. By then, Poitier and Joanna Shimkus shared a child and a Nassau home.57

Also by then, the polite understanding between Sidney and Juanita Poitier had eroded. Sidney had paid alimony since their 1964 Mexican divorce, and for years the estranged pair avoided airing their dirty laundry. But in December 1972, Juanita claimed that he was violating their agreement; she termed his haphazard payments “humiliating.” Juanita took legal action, asking the New York State Supreme Court to order an accounting of his net earnings. During this time, she moved from Pleasantville to a 580-acre property in Stuyvesant, New York, where she ran the Blue Heaven Farm, a rehabilitation center for children ages eight to eighteen. In a gesture perhaps as personal as it was political, she also cochaired the New York State “Democrats for Nixon” campaign in 1972.58

As Poitier's estrangement from Juanita widened, his union with Shimkus tightened. In December 1973 they had their second child together. Despite an excited article in the New York Amsterdam News claiming that Poitier fathered his first son, named Sidney, he actually had his sixth daughter, named Sydney.59

The next year, they left Nassau. Poitier had grown disappointed with the Bahamas. After establishing independence in 1973, the nation suffered from the same dependence on tourism that existed under colonialism. Poitier also bemoaned the lack of Bahamian cultural life. Moving to Nassau had been a misguided stab at refuge from his problems. He called his exile “a fool's errand, a waste to all concerned.” At Joanna's behest, they moved to Beverly Hills.60

Upon their return, gossip columnists tittered with speculation about the couple. In 1974 Poitier allowed that they had discussed marriage, but he offered little else. Unfounded rumors circulated: one claimed that Poitier would marry after she bore a son, another that Shimkus had cold feet. In reality, Shimkus, despite her cosmopolitan sophistication, was traditional to the core. Before meeting Poitier, she had professed admiration for marriage, and she never shook the notion. She confronted Poitier after a doctor's appointment, when the receptionist seemed confused that (p.352) she and her children had different surnames. Luckily, he had overcome his long-term commitment issues. In July 1975, he secured a binding divorce from Juanita. On 23 January 1976, in his Beverly Hills mansion, surrounded by friends, with Harry Belafonte the best man and Julie Belafonte the matron of honor, Poitier slipped a wedding band over Shimkus's finger, and their life together received the sanction of the law.61

He was forty-nine years old. Behind him was a remarkable life and a fascinating career. He had an attractive, intelligent wife who understood his insecurities and peculiarities. His daughter Beverly now wanted peace, and together they repaired their relationship. The previous year, she bore his first grandchild. His next two daughters, Pamela and Sherri, sought acting careers with his uneasy blessing. Gina was in high school. And now he had two little girls, Anika and Sydney. He realized his luck, and he appreciated the contours of what he once called “a long journey.” He was too smart, too restless, and too ambitious to let that journey end.62

By middecade, Poitier was both a symbol of the past and an engine for the future. He achieved honors befitting his stature: hosting the 1976 NAACP Image Awards, gaining induction into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame at the Oakland Museum, getting named honorary knight commander of the Order of the British Empire for “his contribution to the performing arts through which he enhanced the image of the Bahamas.” Broadway producer Philip Rose related that almost every black actor who passed through his office paid homage to Poitier, both for the images that he presented and the barriers that he shattered.63

Poitier looked forward, seeking new avenues to control and diversify his career. Throughout 1975, he negotiated to direct films through the Mirisch Corporation. Though the pact never materialized, he was anticipating the future. That same year Poitier made his third First Artists picture. Like Uptown Saturday Night, this comedy costarred Bill Cosby and featured an all-star black cast. Poitier again directed and served as executive producer. Melville Tucker again produced; Richard Wesley again wrote the script. The title, appropriately, was Let's Do It Again.64

Principal photography began in Hollywood in March 1975, and location filming in Atlanta and New Orleans wrapped up by May. Through-out, cast and crew enjoyed a loose atmosphere. Poitier had obtained a larger budget, and he and Cosby relished each other's company. Poitier's brothers Cyril and Reginald had bit parts, and Beverly visited the set with her baby.65

(p.353) The public no longer depended on Poitier to symbolize the entire race. Let's Do It Again had no message besides that all Americans could enjoy black people's humor. “This movie will not win an Academy Award. This movie will not be remembered in ten or fifteen years,” said Jimmie Walker, the young comic making his motion picture debut. “It's a fun movie. And that's enough.”66

Poitier and Cosby play Clyde Williams and Billy Foster, two officers in an Atlanta lodge called “The Sons and Daughters of Shaka.” The lodge faces eviction, so they hatch a scheme. They travel to New Orleans and hypnotize a spaghetti-limbed coward named Bootney Farnsworth (Walker) into believing that he can knock out a boxing champion. They place huge wagers with the lodge's savings, and Farnsworth wins. But while saving their lodge, the heroes bilk rival gangsters Kansas City Mack (John Amos) and Biggie Smalls (Calvin Lockhart).

Six months later, they are back in New Orleans, caught between the two gangs. They concoct another ruse, this time hypnotizing both boxers. With the help of their wives (Lee Chamberlin and Denise Nicholas), they bet that both boxers, mesmerized into frenzies, will not last the first round. Their plan works. Williams and Foster then lure the criminals into a police station. Brandishing an envelope of evidence, they compel the gangsters to donate money to charity. The heroes win again.

When the film arrived in October 1975, the critics had ample grievances, among them a ridiculous story (hypnotized boxers, first-round double knockouts), tired plot devices (escapes out windows, leaps between buildings), and sloppy direction (poorly framed shots, repetition of plot points). None of them mattered. Let's Do It Again is both fun and funny, because the stars had free rein to flaunt their talents. Cosby is hilarious while bluffing his way through tight spots. Walker's goofy affability almost steals the picture. The movie shines with star power, including a score by Curtis Mayfield and cameos from George Foreman and Billy Eckstine. Let's Do It Again grossed over fifteen million dollars, an even greater success than Uptown Saturday Night.67

With this engaging farce, Poitier reigned over black Hollywood. He produced, directed, and starred in a triumphant response to blaxploitation. But he again shortchanged his own talent. In a New Yorker essay, Pauline Kael mourned his sacrifice. Poitier cannot shake his inherent reserve, dignity, or grace. He cannot play low comedy, even as the straight man. His stabs at humor mostly comprise silly facial expressions. In one scene, he actually gapes bug-eyed while munching on a chicken bone—a total contradiction of his historic image. “He can't even hold the screen,” (p.354) grieved Kael. “He loses the dynamism that made him a star. Sidney Poitier, who was able to bring new, angry dignity to black screen acting because of the angry dignity inside him, is violating his very essence as a gift to his people.”68

Poitier suggested that his critics go to black theaters, where audiences were “falling down in the aisles, enjoying themselves freely without any fear of a put down.” He would keep making films that satisfied black people. As the only black producer, and one of two black directors (along with Michael Schultz), he bore new responsibilities. A reporter asked if he was still trying to satisfy everyone, still “carrying the black man's burden.” “But those were white guys' pictures,” Poitier responded. “I was part of their statements for 20 years. Now these are mine and those of my constituency.” So he produced, directed, and starred in a third film with Cosby, called A Piece of the Action.69

Although he had fulfilled his three-picture commitment, Poitier made the movie under First Artists. The company was troubled. It had added Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as partners. Studios flooded the other stars with A-list scripts and upfront fees, so they devoted less energy to their risky, time-consuming First Artists ventures. Most First Artists pictures lost money. In 1975 the company hired Phil Feldman, and he diversified into film distribution, television and music production, and a sport shirt company. He also considered buying casinos. His strategy failed, and in 1978 Hoffman sued the company for contractual violations. By the end of the decade, First Artists made no movies—just sport shirts.70

Unlike his partners, Poitier received few and substandard offers, and he needed First Artists to satisfy his “constituency.” He touted his newest installment as an improvement upon the first two comedies, since it would combine rollicking entertainment with a social message. Before filming began in March 1977, he worked with screenwriter Charles Blackwell. He hired another all-star cast, including James Earl Jones and Denise Nicholas. He also hired his brother Cyril and daughter Sherri. From studio filming in Los Angeles, to location work on Chicago's North Clark Street, through editing and scoring, Poitier crafted a personal vision in A Piece of the Action.71

This time, Poitier and Cosby are not average Joes but suave criminals. Poitier is Manny Durrell, a high-stakes con artist who scams the Chicago drug dealer Bruno (Titos Vandis). Cosby is Dave Anderson, a safecracker who jumps from twelve-story windows. One day, a deep bass over the telephone reveals evidence of their guilt. The distinctive voice presents an (p.355) ultimatum: devote time and money to a black community center, or go to jail. Naturally, they “volunteer” for the center.

In an American ghetto twist on To Sir, with Love, Durrell tames rowdy teenagers in a job skills training program. Anderson works with employers to secure jobs. They also seek the identity behind the deep voice, and each has a personal subplot. Anderson romances the center's director Lila French (Nicholas), while Durrell endures a surprise visit from the devout family of his girlfriend Nikki (Tracy Reed). Durrell grudgingly admits that they will someday get married.

Finally they learn that retired detective Joshua Burke (Jones) framed them into volunteering for the community center, which was founded by his late wife. By then, Durrell has transformed the teenagers' attitudes, and Anderson has found them jobs. Alas, Bruno has kidnapped Nikki. In a final confrontation, Durrell shows Bruno evidence of the villain's under-world activities. Durrell thus earns Bruno's respect, ensures his own safety, and protects the South Side from a drug dealer. He returns to the community center in time for an ecstatic graduation ceremony. In another echo of To Sir, with Love, he and Anderson enlist for another stint.

Unlike the previous two Poitier/Cosby ventures, A Piece of the Action was less straight comedy than stew of comedy, action, and romance, seasoned with social conscience. When it arrived in October 1977, most critics looked past the absurd plot and smiled upon the warm-hearted amalgam of “corny and hip, cynical and sentimental, formulaic and funky.” Cosby's wooing of Nicholas was amusing, the teenagers supplied innocent charm, and Curtis Mayfield submitted another sensational score. Poitier's direction showed more discipline. As an actor, freed of comic duties, Poitier played the combination con man and educator with panache. The movie was no blockbuster hit, but it earned fine profits.72

A Fiece of the Action placed a capstone on an era in Poitier's life. In Manny Durrell, Poitier put his self-image on screen: an outsider who survives with pragmatism, a debonair character with a sense of social duty, an erstwhile bachelor who commits to one woman. Both Poitier and Durrell live in the penthouse, but each has lessons to teach the ghetto.73

One month after filming A Piece of the Action, Poitier spoke at a Los Angeles elementary school. He told the children that they bore a responsibility to improve the world. In the film, his character faces teenagers who never learned that code. “You wear your ignorance like a badge of honor and you call that being cool,” he lectures. He teaches basic courtesy, because courtesy earns respect. He conveys the value of an earned dollar. The class learns humility, self-esteem, sacrifice, history. They understand (p.356) the lessons of Reginald and Evelyn Poitier, the lessons that took Sidney from Cat Island to Nassau to Miami to Harlem to Hollywood, the lessons that forged a survivor. “You want to be a man? You want to be a woman?” he says. “Feed your family!”74

As he turned fifty and started a new family, Poitier often reflected on his past, especially upon visits to New York. Now he stayed at Quo Vadis and ate calves' liver for breakfast. He pulled up to the Stage Deli in a white stretch limousine to eat a sandwich called “The Sidney Poitier.” But New York also prompted memories of cold nights, empty stomachs, and washing dishes.75

He remembered his old heroes, especially Paul Robeson; he narrated a short, Oscar-winning 1979 film called Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. He also contemplated a movie about the black leaders who had shaped his world. In a seminar at the American Film Institute, on the ABC television program Like It Is, with Louie Robinson of Ebony, he discussed the economics of filmmaking. But the subject always turned to his path from poverty to celebrity: hopping Florida freight trains, sleeping in Harlem pay toilets, stumbling through his American Negro Theater audition, panicking during his Broadway debut, traveling to Hollywood and South Africa and Mississippi.76

For years, Joanna had been urging him to put the stories to paper. He was spurred to action after a dinner party in 1977, when the writer Alex Haley turned to him and said, “You know, of course, you're going to have to write a book.” Poitier's career shone light on Hollywood's treatment of race from the post-World War II era through the rise and fall of Black Power. Poitier also wanted others—especially his children—to separate the man from the movie star. “Even those close to me,” he later said, “tend to relate to the image of me projected in my films.” So he wrote an autobiography.77

Following A Piece of the Action, Poitier disappeared from the public eye for over a year. He first learned the form by cleaning out a book-store's biography, autobiography, and bestseller sections. He then wrote a twenty-page proposal and secured a venerable publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. Too proud to use a ghostwriter, he penned the manuscript himself. It proved more difficult than anticipated. Although an avid reader, Poitier was accustomed to oration and physical expression. So he dictated into a tape recorder and molded the results onto paper, a technique that captured (p.357) his unique mix of the formal and colloquial. He entitled the book This Life.78

In one revealing passage, he recalled himself as a nine-year-old boy, overhearing adults bragging about sexual conquests: “The unmistakable conclusion is that ‘pleasure’ is derived from this kind of involvement, and such deliciousness falling on tender ears creates anticipation. You say, ‘Gee, I'd like some of that.’ … You become so drunk with the fantasy image of yourself exploring the naked body of a young girl that your heart begins to pound in your head and your blood races as you think what it must be like to look at an exposed vagina. You ain't ever really seen one of them exposed—right there staring back at you.” Cerebral yet colorful, stilted yet slangy, macho yet modest, his language revealed the contradictions of his personal path and complicated celebrity.79

No less than his films, This Life nudged racial preconceptions while presenting an attractive hero. Poitier professed his virility, but he also painted the young Sidney as a sweet, dogged pursuer of true love. He addressed his affair with Diahann Carroll, but the Sidney Poitier of This Life is a man torn between two women, not the manipulative egomaniac of Carroll's 1986 autobiography. He discussed his admiration for Paul Robeson and Canada Lee, but he downplayed just how radical most Americans considered his early professional circles. He also acknowledged the shortcomings of his screen image, but he concentrated on his personal experiences. Few pages addressed the difficult period when he drew such ferocious criticism.80

Nevertheless, This Life contains more honesty, introspection, and intelligence than the typical self-serving celebrity memoir. Knopf published it in 1980. On the strength of good reviews and the buying habits of adoring middle-aged women, the book sold well. It also marked a transition in Poitier's public image. His autobiography signaled that he be-longed to history. He had left a legacy, and he could still shape it.81

Notes:

(1) . Poitier, This Life, 322–23.

(2) . Hollywood Reporter, 9 December 1970; Variety, 9 December 1970; New York Morning-Telegraph, 6 July 1959; Rhines, Black Film/White Money, 149–50;Washington Post, 6 May 1972.

(3) . Poitier, This Life, 323–26; George Goodman, “Durango: Poitier Meets Belafonte,” Look, 24 August 1971, 59–60.

(4) . Variety, 24 February 1971, 9 March 1971; undated article from Look entitled “Behind the Scenes,” “Buck and the Preacher” File, MHL.

(5) . Variety, 17 February 1971, 19 February 1971, 9 March 1971; Goodman, “Durango: Poitier Meets Belafonte,” 62; Poitier, This Life, 326–27.

(6) . Variety, 9 March 1971; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 11 July 1971; “Buck and the Preacher” Production Notes, MHL.

(7) . “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” Production Notes, CBFSC; Poitier, “Dialogue on Film,” American Film, September 1976, 34.

(8) . Poitier, This Life, 328–29; Goodman, “Durango: Poitier Meets Belafonte,” 62; Washington Post, 15 March 1972.

(9) . Los Angeles Times, 27 June 1971; Davis and Dee, With Ossie and Ruby, 354–55; “Buck and the Preacher” Production Notes, MHL.

(10) . New York Daily News, 26 March 1972; Boxoffice, 15 May 1972; Goodman, “Durango: Poitier Meets Belafonte,” 60; Keyser and Ruszkowski, Cinema of Sidney Poitier, 1501; Washington Post, 15 March 1972.

(11) . Hollywood Citizen-News, 30 July 1970; New York Times, 2 July 1972; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 28 May 1972.

(12) . Variety, 28 April 1971; Louie Robinson, “The Expanding World of Sidney Poitier,” Ebony, November 1971, 106.

(13) . See Painter, Exodusters.

(14) . See Ray, Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema.

(15) . Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation, 628–33.

(16) . Boxoffice, 15 May 1972; Commonweal, 26 May 1972; New York Times, 10 September 1972; Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1972; Essence, August 1972. See also Yearwood, Black Film as a Signifying Practice, 87–88.

(17) . New York, 1 May 1972; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 4 May 1972; New York Times, 7 May 1972; Newsweek, 15 May 1972; Playboy, June 1972; Films and Filming, June 1972.

(18) . New York Times, 13 August 1972; “Proceedings of a Symposium on Black Images in Films,” 56–57.

(19) . Variety, 19 April 1972; Washington Post, 5 May 1972; Saturday Review, 3 June 1972; Hollywood Reporter, 20 April 1972; Boston Globe, 15 May 1972; Poitier, This Life, 329–30.

(20) . New York Times, 29 April 1972; Time, 29 May 1972; Life, 9 June 1972; Noble, “Entertainment, Politics, and the Movie Business,” 18.

(21) . Woodard, Nation within a Nation, 202–3; Charles Musser and Adam Knee, “William Greaves, Documentary Film-making, and the African-American Experience,” in Cinemas of the Black Diaspora, ed. Martin, 400–401.

(22) . Sidney Poitier, telephone interview with the author, 15 February 2002; Poitier, This Life, 331; Keyser and Ruszkowski, Cinema of Sidney Poitier, 157.

(23) . Robinson, “Expanding World of Sidney Poitier,” 106; New York Daily News, 26 March 1972; “Warm Decem-ber” Production Notes, CBFSC.

(24) . Variety, 19 July 1972; Box 7, Black Films Collection, SCRBC; Press Release from National General Pictures titled “The Style-Setting Look of ‘A Warm December’,” CBFSC; “Warm December” Production Notes, CBFSC.

(25) . Chicago Tribune, 28 May 1973.

(26) . New York Daily News, 8 June 1973; Films and Filming, July 1973; New York Times, 24 May 1973; Real Paper, 30 May 1973; Los Angeles Times, 23 May 1973; Washington Post, 26 May 1973; Cue, 26 May 1973; Women's Wear Daily, 24 May 1973; Playboy, June 1973; Time, 4 June 1973; Variety, 18 April 1973; Christian Science Monitor, 25 May 1973.

(27) . Jet, 3 May 1973; Hollywood Reporter, 16 April 1973; Chicago Tribune, 26 May 1973; World, 10 April 1973; New York, 28 May 1973. See also Wailoo, Dying in the City of Blues, 182; New York Times, 6 October 1974.

(28) . New York Times, 17 December 1972; B. J. Mason, “The New Films: Culture or Con Game?,” Ebony, December 1972, 60–68; Charles Michener, “Black Movies: Renaissance or Ripoff?,” News-week, 23 October 1972, 72–81.

(29) . New York Times, 17 December 1972; Jet, 14 September 1972. See also New Yorker, 2 December 1972.

(30) . New York Times, 18 July 1972, 17 December 1972; Alvin Poussaint, “Cheap Thrills That Degrade Blacks,” Psychology Today, February 1974, 22–32, 98; Michener, “Black Movies,” 77; Mason, “New Films,” 64. See also Leab, From Sambo to Superspade, 2581; Stephens, “Black Women in Film,” 168.

(31) . Michael Mattox, “The Day Black Movie Stars Got Militant,” in Black Films and Film-makers, ed. Patterson, 190–95; (p.440) Hollywood Reporter, 18 September 1972; Mason, “New Films,” 62.

(32) . Michener, “Black Movies,” 77–78; Jet, 12 October 1972; New York Times, 17 December 1972; Hollywood Reporter, 6 June 1972.

(33) . Jet, 17 January 1974; Guerrero, Framing Blackness, 69–111.

(34) . Poitier, This Life, 343–44; Variety, 10 September 1972.

(35) . Poitier, “Dialogue on Film,” 47; Variety, 5 December 1973; Box 7, Black Films Collection, SCRBC; Jet, 25 July 1974; New York Amsterdam News, 22 December 1973; Chicago Tribune, 30 June 1974; New York Daily News, 7 July 1974.

(36) . “Uptown Saturday Night” Production Notes, CBFSC; New York Amsterdam News, 11 May 1974.

(37) . Poitier, “Dialogue on Film,” 42–43; George, Blackface, 40; Variety, 21 December 1973.

(38) . New Yorker, 17 June 1974; New York Post, 17 June 1974; Players, January 1975.

(39) . New York Daily News, 17 June 1974; Los Angeles Times, 21 June 1974; Chicago Tribune, 24 June 1974; Village Voice, 27 June 1974.

(40) . Time, 1 July 1974.

(41) . Variety, 12 June 1974; Hollywood Reporter, 12 June 1974; Cue, 17 June 1974; New York, 24 June 1974; Films and Filming, August 1975.

(42) . New York Amsterdam News, 25 May 1974, 22 June 1974, 13 July 1974.

(43) . New York Amsterdam News, 22 June 1974, 13 July 1974; New York Times, 11 July 1974, 16 July 1974.

(44) . Jet, 25 July 1974; Variety, 16 July 1974, 17 July 1974, 30 July 1974; Hollywood Reporter, 16 July 1974; Boxoffice, 22 July 1974; Warner Brothers Rambling Reporter, August 1974; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 4 August 1974; Noble, “Entertainment, Politics, and the Movie Business,” 18.

(45) . New York Times, 13 March 1973, 21 May 1975. See also New York Times, 5 January 1968, 24 December 1968, 16 November 1969, 23 November 1969, 30 November 1969, 16 December 1969; Baraka, Autobiography of Leroi Jones.

(46) . Baraka, Sidnee Poet Heroical.

(47) . Ibid.

(48) . New York Times, 21 May 1975; Watts, Amiri Baraka, 286–89.

(49) . Reilly, Conversations with Amiri Baraka, 215; Brown, Actors Talk, 209.

(50) . Boston Globe, 4 August 1974; Variety, 28 August 1968, 29 August 1973, 5 December 1973; Boxoffice, 10 September 1973; Driscoll, Wilby Conspiracy; “Wilby Conspiracy” Production Notes, NYPLPA.

(51) . Variety, 13 March 1974; Nelson, Kenya, 54–60; Caine, What's It All About?, 315–16.

(52) . Caine, What's It All About?, 318–19.

(53) . Films and Filming, April 1975; Variety, 25 June 1975; Hollywood Reporter, 24 June 1975; Los Angeles Times, 30 July 1975; New York Times, 4 September 1975; New York Post, 4 September 1975; New York Daily News, 4 September 1975; Cue, 13 September 1975; Time, 6 October 1975; Essence, November 1975; Chicago Tribune, 23 June 1975.

(54) . “Wilby Conspiracy” Production Notes, NYPLPA; Davis, In Darkest Hollywood, 75–79.

(55) . Wall Street Journal, 4 August 1975; New Yorker, 15 September 1975; New Republic, 20 September 1975. See also Fredrickson, Black Liberation, 238–52, 265–76, 298–313.

(56) . Davis, In Darkest Hollywood, 76–80; Massie, Loosing the Bonds, 262–332.

(57) . New York Daily News, 6 April 1975.

(58) . New York Amsterdam News, 9 December 1972; Hollywood Reporter, 21 December 1972; Sepia, March 1973; New York Times, 21 September 1972.

(59) . New York Amsterdam News, 15 December 1973.

(60) . Craton and Saunders, Islanders in the Stream, 2:349–62; Hughes, Race and Politics in the Bahamas, 179–206; Poitier, This Life, 317–19; Sidney Poitier, telephone interview with the author, 16 August 2000.

(61) . New York Daily News, 7 July 1974, 23 February 1975; New York Daily Mail, 3 July 1974; Poitier, This Life, 351, 360–61; Marill, Films of Sidney Poitier, 38; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 23 January 1976; Los Angeles Times, 24 January 1976.

(62) . Black Stars, September 1978; New York Daily News, 21 September 1976, 27 March 1977; Los Angeles Times, 28 August 1978.

(63) . Los Angeles Times, 24 June 1974, 3 March 1975, 16 December 1976; Rose, You Can't Do That on Broadway!, 225–26.

(64) . Los Angeles Times, 20 September 1975; Boxoffice, 22 September 1975; Louie Robinson, “Have Blacks Really Made It in Hollywood?,” Ebony, June 1975, 33–42.

(65) . “Let's Do It Again” Production Notes, CBFSC; New York Amsterdam News, 14 May 1975; Variety, 9 April 1975, 7 May 1975; Boxoffice, 26 May 1975; New York Daily News, 1 June 1975.

(66) . Smith, Cosby, 142; Boston Globe, 1 November 1975.

(67) . Hollywood Reporter, 6 October 1975; Variety, 8 October 1975; New York Times, 13 October 1975; New York Post, 13 October 1975; Cue, 18 October 1975; Time, 27 October 1975; Films and Filming, September 1976; Noble, “Entertainment, Politics, and the Movie Business,” 18.

(68) . New Yorker, 3 November 1975.

(69) . Washington Post, 29 February 1976; White Plains Reporter Dispatch, 27 October 1977.

(70) . New York Times, 23 February 1978, 29 October 1979, 23 December 1979; “Harold Lloyd Master Seminar,” available on-line from <http://www.afionline.org/haroldlloyd/poitier/script.9.htm>, 14 February 2000.

(71) . “Piece of the Action” Pressbook, Box 7, Black Films Collection, SCRBC; New York Daily News, 7 October 1977; New York Post, 8 October 1977; Christian Science Monitor, 10 November 1977; “Piece of the Action” Production Notes, CBFSC; Time, 21 March 1977; Boxoffice, 26 June 1976, 25 April 1977, 23 May 1977; Chicago Tribune, 11 May 1977.

(72) . Variety, 5 October 1977; Hollywood Reporter, 7 October 1977; Los Angeles Times, 7 October 1977; New York Times, 8 October 1977; New York Post, 8 October 1977; Washington Post, 14 October 1977; Village Voice, 17 October 1977; Newsweek, 31 October 1977; Time, 14 November 1977; After Dark, December 1977; Playboy, January 1978.

(73) . Los Angeles Times, 2 February 2000.

(74) . Los Angeles Times, 14 June 1975.

(75) . New York Post, 12 June 1974, 10 October 1975; Daily Breeze, 11 August 1980; “Sidney Poitier Talks about His Early Poverty in New York City,” interview with Tom Brokaw, audio tape of NBC-TV broadcast, 23 June 1980, Michigan State University Voice Library.

(76) . Washington Post, 16 April 1973, 29 February 1976; Poitier, “Dialogue on Film”; Noble, “Entertainment, Politics, and the Movie Business”; Louie Robinson, “Sidney Poitier Tells How to Stay on Top in Hollywood,” Ebony, November 1977, 53–54.

(77) . Los Angeles Times, 30 October 1977; Boston Globe, 4 January 1978; People, 4 August 1980.

(78) . Los Angeles Times, 30 October 1977; Michael J. Bandler, “Poitier: His Thoughts Fly Back,” American Way, July 1980, 54–58; Washington Post, 6 July 1980.

(79) . Quotation from Poitier, This Life, 11.

(80) . See Los Angeles Times, 28 August 1980; (p.442) Carroll, Diahann; New York Post, 8 May 1986.

(81) . New Republic, 10 May 1980; Washington Post, 25 May 1980, 6 July 1980; Los Angeles Times, 1 June 1980, 8 February 1981; New York Times, 2 June 1980; New Yorker, 2 June 1980; Ebony, June 1980; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 6 July 1980; Chicago Tribune, 27 July 1980; New York Times Book Review, 17 August 1980. A portion of This Life is excerpted in American Film, April 1980.