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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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Threats (1955–1957)

Threats (1955–1957)

(p.103) Chapter 6 Threats (1955–1957)
Sidney Poitier

Aram Goudsouzian

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter details events in Sidney Poitier's life from 1955–1957. These include the success and controversy generated by Poitier's film The Blackboard Jungle, and his roles in the films Goodbye, My Lady and Edge of the City. The Blackboard Jungle and Edge of the City made Poitier one of Hollywood's few established representatives for black Americans. Professionally and personally, that position opened new possibilities, new responsibilities, and new tensions.

Keywords:   Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier, black Americans

Holding court in a dingy trade school bathroom, he presides over a band of incorrigibles. A cigarette dangles from his mouth. A white T-shirt, its sleeves rolled up to expose his sinewy muscles, offsets his smooth mahogany skin. He moves with an almost feline grace, and he exudes a self-assured calm. Only his eyes reveal an inner fire. He is Gregory Miller, Poitier's character in Blackboard Jungle. In his first scene, he dominates the screen. Like “Rock Around the Clock,” the Bill Haley beat that rolls with the film's credits, he embodies a generation of Americans less bound by behavioral, sexual, or racial convention. He is, in a word, cool.

When an authority figure confronts him, Miller rebels. The teacher Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) finds the boys smoking. Most scatter, but Miller just drops his cigarette slowly, nonchalantly, with an exaggerated parting of his fingertips. The teacher orders him to leave. “Can't a guy wash his hands, Chief?” he says. Dadier threatens to take him to the principal. “You holdin' all the cards, Chief,” he shrugs. When Dadier commands Miller to stop calling him “Chief,” the student smirks. “Sure, Chief. That's what I been doin' the whole time. Okay for us to drift now, Chief?”

Gregory Miller possesses none of the polished virtue of Dr. Luther Brooks, none of the earnest humility of Reverend Msimangu, none even of the integrationist credentials of Corporal Andrew Robertson or Inman Jackson. Nor does he recreate previous black stereotypes. He resembles the emergent hero of 1950s American youth culture: silky, sullen, sexually charged.

Marlon Brando created the icon in stage and screen versions of A Streetcar Named Desire. His rippled muscles, tight pants, animal rage, and emotional inarticulateness gave masculinity a sensuous, almost feminine edge. He recreated the image in On the Waterfront and The Wild One, and his popularity spawned a generation of kindred Method actors, (p.104) from Paul Newman to Montgomery Clift to James Dean. In an age when social critics bemoaned the Babbittry of American life, this new culture hero threatened middle-class propriety.1

Poitier's character was the black version of this culture hero, lending him an extra element of subversion—a hint of a new racial order within the teenage rebellion. One year earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that racially segregated schools were “inherently unequal.” That ruling, though slowly implemented in the South, prefaced a new era in American race relations. Meanwhile, the Great Migration continued. Poorer, less educated blacks arrived in northern cities just as the demand for unskilled labor slackened. The middle class flocked to the suburbs. The rising black numbers, along with persistent white neglect, overwhelmed public housing and schools.2

In both the South and the North, then, white America confronted race in a new context. And as the Brown decision illuminated, youths constituted the frontier of racial change. Was the cool menace of Gregory Miller a harbinger of future black defiance?

That threat was too powerful, and it strayed too far from Hollywood mores. In those first frames, Poitier's character neither reinforced conservative stereotypes nor resembled the virtuous characters of his earlier films. If Blackboard Jungle were to please the masses, the danger posed by Miller had to dissolve. The picture thus recreates the pattern from Poitier's earlier films: Miller helps the white hero, proves himself decent, avoids trampling on racial sensibilities, and illustrates the success of American democracy.

The transformation of Miller from cultural threat to loyal citizen up-held Cold War democratic principles. But Poitier had tapped into a physical, sexual energy that personified the nation's rifts. Blackboard Jungle provoked the anxieties of parents, teachers, and politicians; it fueled national and international controversies, and it catapulted Poitier's career.

The United States, by the mid-1950s, had surpassed the expectations of the previous decade. The nation led the free world, enjoyed unparalleled prosperity, and boasted abundant suburbs of nuclear families, picket fences, and new cars. Yet despite this affluence—because of it?—Americans seemed nagged by anxiety. Joe McCarthy and HUAC were only the most obvious examples of cultural paranoia. Senator Estes Kefauver led congressional investigations into organized crime in 1950 and 1951. A 1951 cheating scandal at the United States Military Academy disillusioned (p.105) even ardent patriots. Water fluoridation, comic books, point shaving in college basketball, and the conduct of Korean War POWs all prompted ordinary Americans to fear conspiracies and corrupted morals.3

Between 1954 and 1956, a new fear captured the spotlight: juvenile delinquency. Radio and television specials, books, newsreels, magazine articles, newspaper editorials, and civic and church groups bemoaned the antisocial tendencies of America's teenagers. Many blamed the mass media; alienated young heroes populated Blackboard Jungle, The Wild One, Rebel Without a Cause, about sixty B-grade films, teen-oriented television programs, and comic books. The fear did not represent actual increases in juvenile crime so much as the transformations of the postwar era. Middle-class adults worried that decaying cities, a generation unweathered by the Great Depression, and burgeoning consumerism had created a layer of Americans without moral decency.4

As the paranoia over wayward teenagers intensified, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) advanced the release date of Blackboard Jungle to March 1955. The studio's publicity agents compiled evidence of a juvenile crime wave, touting newspaper headlines of violent crimes perpetrated by youths. They excerpted editorials that analyzed the hysteria over hoodlumism. They quoted J. Edgar Hoover and President Eisenhower. Black-board Jungle, they suggested, merely portrayed actual conditions.5

The publicity targeted parents and educators, but the film's natural audience was teenagers. In the 1950s, young people had unprecedented amounts of spending money. They demanded products that reflected their sensibilities: tight clothes and slicked hair, hip slang and brooding cool, fast cars and fast music. Rock and roll bore the stamp of legitimacy. Still in its fledgling state, the music melted boundaries between pop, country and western, and rhythm and blues. Its pounding rhythms and suggestive lyrics challenged sexual and racial barriers. On their transistor radios and in their cars, white teenagers heard Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino, and they joined blacks at concerts (“Salt and pepper all mixed together,” as Domino described). Rock and roll's growing popularity reflected teenagers' consumer power.6

Writer and director Richard Brooks captured this sensibility with Blackboard Jungle. On the set, he repeatedly played “Rock Around the Clock” between takes. He also featured the song in the opening credits, letting it play for over a minute, through two verses and a guitar solo, before cutting to the opening scene of first-year teacher Dadier approaching North Manual High School. The music reflects the school, a motley collection of Irish, Italian, black, Hispanic, and Asian boys from the (p.106) economic margin. Brooks creates a leering, disconcerting aura by suggesting sexual confusion: boys swing each other around to “Rock Around the Clock,” and one boy wolf-whistles at Dadier.7

The students exhibit defiance, with Miller and Artie West (Vic Morrow) the ringleaders. After one day, Dadier has dodged a baseball thrown at his head, quieted a rowdy chant of “Daddio” mocking his name, and thwarted the attempted rape of an attractive teacher. A few days later, a gang ambushes Dadier and his colleague Joshua Edwards (Richard Kiley) in a dark alley.

Dadier forges on. He tries to ally with Miller, whose intelligence surpasses his peers. Miller instead supplies disruptive comments. “How'd you like to bring your mother to school?” threatens Dadier. “How'd you like to bring yours?” cracks back Miller. Dadier's status only deteriorates during a lecture on tolerance: a student reports that he used racial slurs, and the principal mistakenly admonishes the teacher. Then Edwards quits after the students destroy his collection of swing records—a telling musical parallel to the unruly younger generation, which prefers rock and roll. “You're in my classroom now,” sneers Artie West at Dadier, “and boy, what I could teach you.”

Dadier suspects Miller of wrongdoing, but it is Miller who saves Dadier. He leads a group of black students in rehearsal for the Christmas pageant that Dadier directs. He inspires an interesting discussion during Dadier's first classroom triumph. He also explains his intentions to drop out of school and become a mechanic, because race limits his opportunities and makes formal education irrelevant.

Miller again saves Dadier after Artie West pulls a knife in class. As teacher and pupil dance through a final showdown, Miller stops West's sidekick from sneaking up behind the teacher. Dadier disarms West, the class restrains the villain's sidekick, and Miller approves Dadier's decision to turn in the miscreants. In the final scene, Dadier and Miller walk out the school's front door, Miller's white T-shirt replaced by an overcoat, and they both agree to return the next year. They have bridged the classroom gulf.

By the final frame, Gregory Miller resembles previous Poitier characters, displaying loyalty to a white mentor and emblematizing a polyracial American democracy. He is the moral counterweight to Artie West. By choosing education over crime, he has presumably embarked down a virtuous path toward middle-class stability. The scent of danger, the element of the picaresque from Poitier's early scenes, melts into a spirit of interracial, intergenerational cooperation. Miller's race and cool style exemplified (p.107) the threat of juvenile delinquency. His actions defused that same threat.

The critics recognized Poitier's excellent performance. As one wrote, “Much of the suspense of the production comes from Poitier's subtle and sound characterization. He is thoroughly anti-social, but not yet criminal. Just wavering on the brink.” Trade journals, New York newspapers, and national magazines all praised his acting talents. They also anticipated a box office hit. The graphic violence, the vivid characters, the facile ending to a complicated social issue, the pounding soundtrack—all promoted a visceral emotional reaction. “Even those who are repelled by it will go to see it,” predicted the Hollywood Reporter.8

The forecast proved true. At a preview in Encino, California, 260 of the 273 viewers liked Blackboard Jungle. By early April the film had broken house records throughout the country. Even theater owners who despised the film (an Elk Rapids, Michigan, exhibitor complained that “pictures like this spread the disease of the big city”) showed it to great gain. By September, Blackboard Jungle had grossed four million dollars. As one trade weekly stated, “Any ‘showman’ foolish enough to reject it unquestionably deserves the dunce's cap.”9

Teenagers, drawn to the hip styles, slang, and music, led the rush through the turnstiles. Blackboard Jungle reflected Hollywood's new awareness of this youth market, an audience that received additional attention with the rise of the drive-in theater. If any film could distract teenagers from groping each other, it was Blackboard Jungle. At the beginning and end of the film, youths jumped out of their cars and danced to “Rock Around the Clock.”10

Haley's song became the top-selling record of 1955. The song, like the movie, frightened adults. A Boston exhibitor refused to turn on the sound to Blackboard Jungle until the second reel; he feared an accident as young patrons poured into the aisles to dance. Even at august Princeton University, the music threatened social order. One warm spring day, students pointed their hi-fi sets outside dormitory windows and blared “Rock Around the Clock.” A crowd of 1,000 students paraded down a main thoroughfare, blocked traffic, turned on a fire hydrant, and set off an alarm. Although no injuries or damage occurred, the faculty committee suspended four students.11

Shocking violence, young villains, black insolence, interracial homo-sociality, and rock and roll: anxious middle-class Americans wondered if Blackboard Jungle portrayed the truth. “Are there any schools where pupils are so completely arrogant and out-of-hand, so collectively devoted (p.108) to disorder, as are the hoodlums in this film?” asked the New York Times. Teachers and administrators responded, some maintaining that the film highlighted a social ill, others arguing that it presented a “telescopic distortion” of urban school conditions.12

Blackboard Jungle prompted similar hand-wringing throughout the mass media. On television's Claire Matin Show, the host discussed the film for five consecutive days with twenty different mothers. Radio programs devoted similar attention. Some assumed that Blackboard Jungle authentically portrayed urban high schools. The New York Daily News praised “the honest, slam-bang lowdown on the junior punks and electric chair candidates who have been permitted to make shambles of some U.S. high and vocational schools.” Other publications condemned the notion that Ford's “superman turned pedagogue” could reverse the social and economic forces that drive teenagers to delinquency.13

Mostly, Americans craved reassurance that the hoodlums of Black-board Jungle would not infect their own lives. Art Buchwald wrote a humorous column about packing a gun before speaking to high school students (“We waited for one of them to call us ‘Daddio.’ If they did we would shoot them with our .45.”), only to find them curious, intelligent, and polite. Life promoted the film but claimed it exaggerated the truth. The magazine featured a photo spread of studious youth that supposedly represented most American teenagers.14

Underlying this anxiety lay lingering fears of Communism. “Is it any wonder that the communist countries keep winning over millions of people?” asked one shocked viewer of Blackboard Jungle. “They advertise and exaggerate their virtues; we advertise and exaggerate our faults.” A critic worried what would happen if the film “ever fell into Communist hands.” William H. Mooring of Catholic Tidings argued that if movie producers exposed Blackboard Jungle and its ilk to foreign audiences, whose propaganda networks banned criticism of their own countries, then the American government should restrict the export of films that portrayed social problems.15

Domestically, censorship of Blackboard Jungle had already begun, led by the Memphis film board and its eighty-eight-year-old chairman, Lloyd Binford. “When the picture first started I thought we were going to have to pass a picture showing Negro and white students together,” Binford said. But the board ultimately banned the movie because Artie West and his sidekick never reform. “It's the vilest picture I've seen in 26 years as a censor,” proclaimed Binford. The mayor, however, rescinded the ban and classified the film “for adults only,” prompting outrage from conservatives (p.109) and relief from embarrassed liberals. Binford must have smiled when, a month later, a gang of teenage girls burned a cattle barn at a Memphis fairgrounds. Although no fires are set in the film, the ringleader claimed that she hatched the plan after watching Blackboard Jungle.16

Atlanta censor Christine Smith Gilliam also banned the “immoral, obscene, licentious” film. MGM parent company Loew's legally challenged the ban, and a federal court lifted it; in his decision, Judge Boyd Sloan raised doubts about the constitutionality of censorship. Gilliam seethed that only “college students, radio and newspaper people and librarians” agitated for free speech against the will of the majority.17

The hubbub over Blackboard Jungle spread beyond conservative southern film censors. Police in Schenectady blamed it for inspiring a teenage gang to rumble with their Albany counterparts. A censor board in Milwaukee held a contentious four-hour meeting before cutting four scenes. The Board of Selectmen in Winthrop, Massachusetts, removed the film from the local theater in response to demands from parents and clergy. The school board in Minneapolis resolved that MGM “failed in its responsibility to the American public.” A Parent-Teacher organization in Farmville, Virginia, claimed that Blackboard Jungle inspired “new ideas of unbridled misconduct, rebellion against authority and unconcealed immorality.”18

Organizations acting in the name of public virtue added their wrath. The Legion of Decency gave Blackboard Jungle the unfavorable “B” rating, based on “morally objectionable elements” that “negate any constructive conclusion.” The Institute for Public Opinion, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the Girl Scouts of America, the American Association of University Women, and the Daughters of the American Revolution all denounced the film. The National Education Association resolved that the picture glorified scofflaws and perpetuated stereotypes about trade schools.19

Blackboard Jungle had exposed a national anxiety over youth culture. Estes Kefauver tapped into this vein—and mined political gold. The Tennessee senator had earned his reputation in 1951 leading televised hearings on organized crime. In 1954, he assumed chairmanship of the Sub-committee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency. Drumming up publicity for a presidential run, he thundered against teenage crime as “a symptom of the weakness in our whole moral and social fabric.” He led hearings on the role of the mass media, including the comic book and television industries. In July 1955, the Kefauver Committee came to Hollywood.20

Although one of many films investigated by the committee, Black-board (p.110) Jungle assumed a centrality in the proceedings. The senators spot-lighted it during the hearings, concluding that “many of the type of delinquents portrayed in this picture will derive satisfaction, support, and sanction from having society sit up and take notice of them.” Producer Dore Schary defended Blackboard Jungle and other youth films for their basis in reality. The committee never established a direct link between popular culture and youth violence, but they did provoke popular fears and keep Kefauver's name in the headlines.21

But even the Senate hearings paled in comparison to the dispute sparked by the American ambassador to Italy, Clare Boothe Luce. In late August 1955, Luce demanded that the upcoming Venice Film Festival withdraw Blackboard Jungle because it was “too violent” and “derogatory” to America. She threatened to skip the festival and create “the greatest scandal in motion picture history.” The festival substituted Interrupted Melody, an innocuous biopic of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence. Within days, Loew's International filed a protest with the State Department condemning “such unwarranted personal censorship at the hands of our diplomatic representatives.”22

As the State Department investigated the objection, the media spot-lighted Luce's action. Variety revisited the debate over whether Hollywood should distribute films abroad that showed America's “seamy side.” Readers of the New York Times, meanwhile, divided on a Bosley Crow-ther column critical of Luce. Some applauded the film as a confirmation of American democracy, but the producer Arthur Hornblow argued that Luce performed a valuable service. “The smell of anti-Americanism and communism in Italy is no joke,” he warned. Another reader reminded just how much Blackboard Jungle threatened many Americans: “It is a shame that it has not been banned in every city in our country.”23

The State Department cleared Luce of accusations of censorship, concluding that she merely stated a preference to avoid Blackboard Jungle. Loew's countered that Luce's intimidation of Film Festival officials constituted a form of censorship. Whether censorship or not, it paid well. The spring's controversies, the summer's Kefauver hearings, and the autumn's Luce affair generated continuous publicity for Blackboard Jungle, and it won enormous profits.24

Blackboard Jungle became an international phenomenon. Capitalizing on the Venice fuss, MGM sent it to the Cannes Film Festival. The Edinburgh Film Festival gave it a “Diploma of Merit.” A Chilean magazine named it best film of the year. Both the German and Finnish governments (p.111) offered tax incentives to exhibit the picture. In Sweden, Belgium, Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the film earned top returns.25

Yet Blackboard Jungle also stirred international fears that American popular culture could steer their own youths astray. Egypt and Uruguay admitted the film only after lengthy appeals by Loew's. Israel banned minors from the film, and India banned the picture outright. After MGM refused to allow Japanese censors to cut the film, Japan's national association of exhibitors called the refusal “a holdover of the occupation system” and threatened to ban all American films. The two sides compromised by restricting minors from the picture.26

By May 1957, Blackboard Jungle had grossed over eight million dollars, an exceptional return for a low-budget production. Millions of moviegoers had seen Poitier's turn as Gregory Miller. Poitier achieved this notoriety just as the blacklist began waning, as Brown vs. Board of Education focused attention on racial integration, and as the old comic stereotypes continued to fade away. The door for black dramatic actors had opened a crack, and Blackboard Jungle positioned Poitier to slip through it.

Blackboard Jungle did not, however, gain Poitier an instant fortune. For all the film's national and international success, the actor earned only $3,000. With some of that money, he moved his family into a two-bedroom apartment on 146th Street and Riverside Drive. Ribs in the Ruff was earning a modest profit, so Poitier and John Newton invested the remaining capital in an additional three restaurants. Two failed immediately, but a third, The Encore, in Queens, cleared expenses and even paid out a small weekly draw.27

Poitier earned additional income with his first spoken-word album, called Poetry of the Negro, produced by his friend Philip Rose. Rose ran the rhythm and blues label Glory Records, and he cultivated friendships with struggling black artists on the cultural left in the early 1950s. He and his wife, Doris Belack, often socialized with the Poitiers. For the album, Poitier read poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, M. Carl Holman, and Armand Lanusse. Lorraine Hansberry, a young critic and play-wright, wrote the liner notes. As expected, the album won kind reviews but sold few copies.28

Before the release of Blackboard Jungle, Poitier's career remained in (p.112) doubt. MGM signed Vic Morrow to a long-term contract but rejected Poitier. In the newly decentralized Hollywood of the 1950s, studios could not afford exclusive rights on many actors, and Poitier may have been something of a political risk, since he had refused to sign the loyalty oath. For a while, he suffered from ulcers. He attributed the condition to his gnawing insecurities: “a worry bug about my future, my family's future, the future of my race.”29

But MGM's decision to sign only Morrow benefited Poitier. Had the studio made an offer, he reflected, “the temptation would have been to accept. That's guaranteed salary, you know?” In the MGM stable, he might have acquiesced to routine supporting roles or languished without work. As an independent actor, he could accept projects that furthered his objectives and presented positive images of blacks. Moreover, after the Paramount decision, the studios were losing power to independent producers, directors, and agents, who could deliver talent and negotiate their own deals.30

So Poitier needed a good agent, and he found one in Martin Baum—or rather, Baum found him. Casting for a film called Phenix City Story, the agent requested that Poitier audition to play a janitor who witnesses a brutal crime at an Alabama casino. Organized criminals intimidate and threaten the janitor into silence. After Poitier read the script, he turned it down, even though the role paid $5,000. “There was nothing derogatory in it,” he later explained. “I just didn't feel I should be playing parts like that.”31

Poitier believed that the janitor lacked a certain dignity, and the movie illuminated nothing about the human condition. Over three decades later he advised Denzel Washington, then a struggling young actor: “Son, your first three or four films will dictate how you are viewed your entire career. Choose wisely, follow your gut and wait it out if you can.” Poitier spoke from the experience of his initial lean years and subsequent success. His rejection of Pbenix City Story, despite two young children and an anemic bank account, illustrated that he envisioned a future as an actor of social significance. He was actively participating in the construction of his image.32

Baum failed to understand Poitier's decision at the time, but a few months later—after the release of Blackboard Jungle— Baum called him into his Fifth Avenue office. He admired Poitier's values and wanted to represent him. Poitier accepted, and they began a lifelong, mutually prof-itable partnership.33

That journey began modestly, with Poitier's second television credit. In (p.113) June 1955 he acted in The Fascinating Stranger, an episode of live drama for ABC's Pond's Theater. An adaptation of a 1923 Booth Tarkington story, The Fascinating Stranger starred Larry Gates as the charming rogue Alfred Tuttle. Poitier played Clifford Hill, a genial man who sells a valuable ring for a pittance. Poitier also appeared on Merv Griffin's Sunday morning religious series Look Up and Live.34

Then Batjac, a production company run by John Wayne, secured Poitier for William Wellman's adaptation of the James Street novel Goodbye, My Lady. Lauren Bacall had recommended him after watching Blackboard Jungle. In a reverse of tradition, Wellman scheduled studio filming before going on location. That plan allowed more time to train the Basenji dog featured in the film.35

Location shooting in Georgia was grueling. Crew and cast of Goodbye, My Lady trudged through swamps and peanut fields, roasting under the August sun. A prop man had to kill a six-foot-long rattlesnake just as it neared the actors. Out of these surroundings Wellman crafted a simple, charming story of a boy and his dog. An orphan named Skeeter (Brandon DeWilde) lives with his Uncle Jesse (Walter Brennan) in a rural Mississippi cabin. Skeeter finds an African Basenji, a rare hunting dog that sheds tears but does not bark. He bonds with the dog, which has remarkable hunting instincts. As the dog, named Lady, becomes a local legend, the town storekeeper discovers an advertisement for a lost Basenji in a hunting magazine. He tells Uncle Jesse, who with folksy wisdom lets Skeeter decide the proper course. Despite his love for the dog, Skeeter returns Lady to its rightful owner.36

Goodbye, My Lady could have descended into mawkishness. To Well-man's credit, that never happens. On the strength of its family appeal and evocative message, the Daughters of the American Revolution deemed it the best children's picture of 1956. But trade newspapers realized its commercial limitations. For every reason that Blackboard Jungle thrived, Goodbye, My Lady failed: no villains, no violence, no edgy allure, no problems with censor boards. Most major publications did not even review it. Wellman called it “a financial fiasco.”37

At least Poitier's scorecard of virtuous, integrationist characters earned another tally. He plays Gates, a chicken farmer and friend of Skeeter. In three brief scenes, Gates paints the black southern farmer in dramatically different shades than those of the typical Hollywood treatment. He speaks with authority, but he is sensitive to the boy's predicament. Before anybody else, he understands the Basenji's value and Skeeter's dilemma. He knows about the advertisement but does not tell Skeeter. “I never saw (p.114) anybody aching so hard,” he empathizes. Uncle Jesse and Skeeter even need Gates's help to send a telegram. Poitier's farmer possesses more intelligence and dignity than anyone else in the film.38

Goodbye, My Lady allowed Poitier to resolve debts accumulated by his overextended restaurants. Cleared of immediate financial burdens, he and Newton discussed their future. While Newton had been pouring his energies into the business, Poitier envisioned a full-time acting career. Newton therefore proposed that they split up. The suggestion surprised Poitier, but he accepted the proposal, perhaps too quickly: Newton would take The Encore in Queens and Poitier Ribs in the Ruff in Harlem.39

Alone at the helm, Poitier floundered. He lacked Newton's managerial expertise and cut his staff to a single waitress. One Tuesday, while the waitress had her day off, Poitier cooked the chicken and ribs, made the cole slaw, washed the dishes, scrubbed the counters, and opened the restaurant in mid-afternoon. By 9:00, he had sold one sandwich and one order of ribs. He shut off the gas and electricity, took the $ 1.50 in the cash register, and hung up his apron. He gave his supplies to a neighboring restaurant. Ribs in the Ruff was no more.40

Poitier could accept the demise of his safety net, because his acting career was blooming. After watching Blackboard Jungle, writer Robert Alan Aurthur started designing a television play around Poitier. Aurthur based it on an actual black stevedore that he once knew. In August 1955, he pitched his story outline to executives at NBC's Philco Television Play-bouse.41

Producer Gordon Duff liked the idea but foresaw problems casting Poitier. No television drama had ever featured a black protagonist—networks, advertising agencies, and corporate sponsors feared alienating southern viewers with race-themed dramas. (In 1954, for instance, CBS's Westinghouse Studio One series bought Thunder on Sycamore Street, a play about a black family moving into a white neighborhood. The studio substituted an ex-convict for the black family.) Duff suggested that Aurthur write the script without specifying a black character. After NBC approved the project, they could cast Poitier.42

Aurthur titled the script A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, always keeping Poitier in mind. For the first time, the actor negotiated from a position of strength—even if he still lacked the material trappings of stardom. Before negotiations with producer David Susskind, Poitier picked up Baum in his (p.115) car. Like many agents, Baum cultivated an image of wealth and confidence. He wore tailored suits with fine leather shoes and silk ties. So he recoiled when Poitier pulled up in a battered Packard. After a few blocks the jalopy broke down. Actor and agent pushed it to the curb and walked to Susskind's office. Baum then secured Poitier a $1,000 salary, the top rate for an actor on Philco Television Playhouse. “If only Susskind could have seen us ten minutes earlier,” Baum laughed.43

A Man Is Ten Feet Tall aired on 2 October 1955, at the tail end of television's “Golden Age,” when live drama showcased the talents of writers and actors. In the early 1950s, television networks could not afford to purchase and adapt popular novels; they instead bought original scripts from such writers as Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, and Rod Serling. These writers turned the limitations of live drama to their advantage: they wrote scripts with tight narratives, indoor settings, and psychological rather than physical conflicts.44

By the 1955–56 season, the three networks produced sixteen live anthology series. As viewers tuned in, corporations exerted pressure upon their programs. Philco executives constantly jousted with producer Fred Coe over scripts and casts. An anti-Communist watchdog group, Aware, Inc., stoked this anxiety. “If you watch television,” testified leader Vincent Hartnett before HUAC in 1956, “there is scene after scene in which the police shoot the wrong teenager, or the court convicts the wrong person or the honest official abroad is suspected of supporting the Communists. We're being brainwashed.”45

Television's blacklist was even more haphazard than Hollywood's. CBS directors requested approval for actors by calling a company telephone extension. An anonymous voice answered yes or no. “You never knew why or how,” recalled director John Frankenheimer, “and you'd try to get at the bottom of it, and you couldn't.” Some actors could work at NBC but not CBS, and vice versa. Perhaps because Poitier had already appeared in a major film, Philco executives approved Poitier for A Man Is Ten Feet Tall.46

The NBC legal department proved more problematic. The studio lawyers asked Poitier why he signed various civil rights and fair housing petitions; then they grilled him on his friendships with Paul Robeson and Canada Lee. They demanded that he sign a loyalty oath. They also made Poitier discuss his indenture to Zoltan Korda in South Africa. Humiliated and resentful, Poitier left the room sobbing and refused to do the show. Aurthur kept telephoning until Poitier accepted the call, and then he spent (p.116) an hour cajoling his star. Eventually he negotiated a compromise that precluded Poitier from signing the oath. The actor ducked yet another threat.47

Rehearsals, at NBC studios in Rockefeller Plaza, lasted ten days. They began with actors Poitier, Don Murray, Martin Balsam, and Hilda Simms reading the script around a table. Aurthur attended these dry runs. When director Robert Mulligan found the dialogue deficient, Aurthur modified the script. Then the actors rehearsed in earnest, with Mulligan fine-tuning the sequence of camera angles and set changes. As the live performance approached, the cast grew tense. Technical failure or an acting blunder could doom the program—a particular fear for Poitier, who still suffered from stage fright. In fact, during one live televised scene, Poitier forgot a line. He panicked for a few seconds. Luckily, the silence resembled a dramatic pause, not an embarrassing blooper.48

A Man Is Ten Feet Tall opens with Murray's Axel North, a tortured man with no self-confidence and a mysterious past. He telephones his girlfriend but does not talk. He works as a stevedore under the gruff, corrupt Charlie Malik (Balsam), but he befriends another supervisor, Poitier's Tommy Tyler. Tyler is unfailingly ebullient. “You gotta laugh!” he says. “You gotta laugh at it or stomp on it!” He buys Axel a slice of pie, gives him his old baling hook, and arranges for Axel to work in his group, agitating an old conflict with Malik. He urges Axel to realize his own worth: “Look, there are the men, and then there are the lower forms, you know? A guy's gotta make a choice. You go with the men and you're ten feet tall. You go with the lower forms and you're down in the slime.”

Tyler invites Axel into his blissful home, where he teases his pretty wife (Simms), bangs on bongo drums, and dances to jazz. He reveals his dreams of becoming a musician, doctor, or lawyer. When Axel confesses that he is AWOL from the Army, Tyler insists that they are still friends. When Malik challenges Axel, Tyler sacrifices for his friend. “It's me he wants,” Tyler insists. A long fight with baling hooks ends with Malik killing Tyler. A police investigation reveals nothing: the dockworkers, including Axel, adhere to a code of silence. But after self-reflection, Axel adopts Tyler's faith in humanity. He tells his girlfriend that he loves her, and he beats up Malik before turning him into the police. “You're crazy, you'll go to jail,” screams Malik. No, says Axel. “You can't hurt a man who's ten feet tall.”49

The liberal message and graphic style surprised television audiences. Mulligan remembered so many laudatory calls that the NBC switchboard shut down. That night in Harlem, a crowd congratulated Poitier as he (p.117) walked down the street. Poitier called Aurthur from a drugstore telephone booth. “I'm talking to the guy who wrote it,” he announced to the crowd. “Tell him what you think.” A roar came through the telephone line. In November the program captured Sylvania's annual award for best dramatic show on television. Poitier was particularly good, and he won Syl-vania's prize for best male acting performance. The drama also won the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.50

But racial conservatives found it jarring: a major television program had featured a black actor in a lead role, supervising a white friend and challenging a white villain. Many viewers also thought that the caf-é-au-lait Simms was white. Some of the telephone calls flooding the NBC switchboard protested the casting decision, and the studio received over 200 letters in that vein. Southern editorialists condemned the writer, cast, and Philco. “Programs such as this,” cautioned one Mississippi newspaper, “are part of the brain-washing scheme to prepare southern minds to accept the monster of integration and intermarriage.”51

Two weeks after the drama aired, MGM announced plans to finance and distribute films for a company headed by Aurthur, David Susskind, and Alfred Levy. The first project was A Man Is Ten Feet Tall. After the success of the teleplay and film Marty, writers, directors, and producers were migrating from New York to Hollywood. The talent exodus helped the film industry, but it enfeebled television. Programs such as Philco Play-house lost their best assets. With the innovation of videotape in 1956, live television drama became unnecessary. The last Philco Playhouse aired in February 1956, and the demise of similar programs soon followed. Television's “Golden Age” was over.52

As Aurthur adapted the script, Susskind replaced most of the cast, signing John Cassavetes to play Axel North, Jack Warden to play Charlie Malik, and Ruby Dee to play Tyler's wife. Only Poitier reprised his role, signing in December 1955 for $15,000. For the first time in his life, he received billing as a costar. Although the fee was Poitier's largest, it was small by Hollywood standards. The racial theme ensured a limited market in the South, so MGM budgeted only $500,000. Susskind shot on location in New York with low-priced talent. All the actors, with the exception of Poitier, worked primarily in television.53

Susskind's director also came cheap. He hired Martin Ritt for only $10,000. In the early 1950s the television actor and director had “helped Communist-controlled unions put on propaganda shows,” according to (p.118) Counterattack. Blacklisted, Ritt earned a living by acting in bit parts, teaching at the Actors Studio, and betting on horses. He flew to Hollywood to meet with MGM president Spyros Skouras, who urged him to clear his name before HUAC. The director refused. “Suddenly,” Ritt recalled, “for no reason that I could discern, he said, ‘Okay, you're a good boy. You come to Hollywood and make pictures for Twentieth Century-Fox.’” Perhaps Skouras could not decline the bargain price. In any case, the incident reflected the diminishing power of the Hollywood blacklist.54 With cast and director secured, Susskind arranged to begin filming in late March. Location shooting in Central Park, on St. Nicholas Terrace, and all through Harlem posed hurdles that required patience, ingenuity, and a sense of humor. Susskind had trouble procuring a railyard with locations for both interior and exterior scenes; he convinced a railroad executive to allow filming at his yard while the man's wife was in labor. On location, turret trucks and tractor trailers sometimes rolled into shots unannounced. Other times, the squeals of freight trains drowned out dialogue. When an April snowstorm threatened to delay exterior shooting, Susskind paid early-morning passersby to shovel the railyard.55

The lightest moment involved a real-life hot dog vendor, hired to play himself on screen. The vendor haggled with the film crew before signing the necessary waiver forms. They began filming the scene, which called for a character to complain about his hot dog. With cameras rolling, the vendor howled in protest. The crew mollified him with ten dollars.56

The most exciting moment came during the baling hook fight. The New York Central had refused to allow the fight in their Manhattan yard, so Susskind arranged an alternate location in Queens. Just before filming, with a doctor on standby in case of an errant swipe, the actual railyard workers climbed onto the cage that surrounded the actors. Poitier and Warden thrust and parried through their choreography, and when the long scene ended, the laborers gasped. An awed hush followed, at least until Ritt called for another take.57

In adapting the drama, Susskind claimed that they “tore up the TV script and began again,” and Aurthur insisted that he spent three and a half months writing a new script. But the film version—retitled Edge of the City at the last moment—maintained the basic plot, characters, and dialogue of the original. The modifications mostly fleshed out Axel North: his father blames him for his brother's death, and he has since cowered before authority figures. Additionally, Axel makes silent calls to his mother, not his girlfriend. That change increased his psychological peculiarity, and it allowed for a Hollywood-style romance with a sweet (p.119) schoolteacher played by Kathleen Maguire. Edge of the City thus adhered to the televised play, but added a dab of Hollywood polish.58

Aurthur also expanded on the rivalry between Tyler and Malik. Malik takes a percentage of Axel's salary until Tyler adopts Axel into his group, and he resents black supervisors on the dock. He prompts their baling hook duel with the goad, “Tyler, you're the blackest ape I ever saw.” But Tyler does not change. The charm, wisdom, and goodness of Poitier's character remain intact.

MGM executives, presumably uneasy with the racial theme, delayed the film's release. But a New York City screening earned raves—almost every viewer included “terrific” or “excellent” in his or her appraisal. An early review from Variety hailed the “courageous, thought-provoking and exciting film.” Representatives from the NAACP, Urban League, American Jewish Committee, and Interfaith Council later lauded the message of racial brotherhood.59

When the film arrived in early 1957, critics marveled at its presentation of the friendship between Tommy Tyler and Axel North. Hollywood historically portrayed interracial friendships only when whites occupied positions of authority. Edge of the City was different. “Surprisingly enough in a Hollywood movie,” remarked Time, “the Negro is not only the white man's boss, but becomes his best friend, and is at all times his superior, possessing greater intelligence, courage, understanding, warmth, and general adaptability.” Neither man acknowledges race as a barrier to friendship. Variety called the film, without exaggeration, “a milestone in the history of screen in its presentation of an American Negro.”60

Poitier's magnificent performance helped make the interracial relationship plausible. Critics rained praise upon him. “Sidney Poitier, the Negro of the piece, does a magnificent job.” “Sidney Poitier, as his Negro friend, turns in the most distinguished of his many first-rate characterizations.” “With this performance Poitier matures into an actor of stature.” “Here is an actor who deserves major leading roles.” His reputation soared.61

Cassavetes earned plaudits, too. His scarred, inarticulate hero resembled Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, another film examining corruption on the docks. Cassavetes further suggests an ambiguous sexual identity. Axel calls his mother without saying a word, allows his eye contact with Charlie Malik to linger, avoids conversations with attractive women, and establishes an unusually close relationship with Tommy Tyler. (These innuendoes unnerved the Production Code Administration. Although it approved the script, it urged “extremely careful handling to avoid planting the suspicion that he may be a homosexual.”)62

(p.120) By contrast, Poitier never implies any threat. He speaks in “bop” slang, walks with a chipper strut, and delights in jokes and dancing. But his body language and marital status do not suggest the sensuousness of Axel North or his own Gregory Miller. Tommy Tyler exudes optimism. “Man, don't you know that you gotta have faith?” he asks Axel. He carries this faith to the end, fighting Malik only to protect Axel's life. Even after capturing his rival's baling hook, Tyler pleads for peace. But Malik stabs Tyler in the back. Axel rushes in and cradles his dying friend, rubbing his face against Tyler's head and whimpering, “It was my fight all along.” The white man learns from the black man's death, achieving manhood and self-esteem and love. The black man reaches the height of Christian sacrifice.63

Christian sacrifice was the order of the day. Between December 1955 and December 1956—soon after A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, a month before Edge of the City— the black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, staged a bus boycott protesting segregated seating. The city's black leaders understood the power of symbol. In April 1955, the police had arrested an unwed pregnant teenager for refusing to vacate her seat to a white woman. In October, after a similar violation, the police arrested a child living in a dilapidated shack with her alcoholic father. Neither case resulted in a boycott. The protest began after the arrest of Rosa Parks—a soft-spoken woman with rimless spectacles, an NAACP secretary and part-time seam-stress, an emblem of middle-class dignity.64

Even more than Parks, however, Montgomery's public face was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The twenty-six-year-old preacher led the boy-cott only because he had avoided the rivalries that plagued the city's older ministers. After one night, however, King had displayed his oratorical powers. As he raised the multitudes to a fever pitch, he fused American democracy and Christian righteousness: “If we are wrong—the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong—then God Almighty is wrong! If we are wrong—Jesus of Nazareth was merely a Utopian dreamer and never came down to earth! If we are wrong—justice is a lie.”

For 381 days Montgomery's blacks walked and organized carpools, enduring frequent stops and harassment from unsympathetic policemen. Angry whites bombed the homes of black leaders, including King. Police arrested King for driving thirty miles per hour, five over the speed limit. Ten thousand whites lauded segregation at a Montgomery Coliseum rally organized by White Citizens Councils. King still preached passive resistance: “We must meet hate with love.”65

(p.121) By February 1956, newspapers worldwide featured the boycott on their front pages. Reporters described white violence and black sacrifice. King was a hero—“Alabama's Modern Moses,” according to Jet. After the Supreme Court upheld an Alabama state court decision against segregation on buses, King's stature rose even further. A long, sympathetic profile appeared in Time. Clare Booth Luce, scourge of Italian communists and Blackboard Jungle, wrote to King that “no man has ever waged the battle for equality under our law in a more lawful and Christian way than you have.”66

The Montgomery boycott unleashed a tide of attention to racial equality, and Edge of the City rode the crest of this wave. Robert Alan Aurthur recognized that he exaggerated his characters, but he defended it based on Montgomery: “In these times, when excesses of the most distasteful kind are being repeated on our front pages each day, a little idealization on the other side might be excusable.” Tommy Tyler was the ultimate victim-hero, an icon of moral purity fighting a white supremacist, a vehicle designed to elicit white sympathy.67

With Edge of the City, black critics drew connections between entertainment and politics. “Dixieland won't like it,” warned Evelyn Cunningham of the Pittsburgh Courier. “There's so much integration in this picture, it almost scares you.” Hollywood films had profound implications: “The picture makes you realize more forcefully than ever before how conditioned we all have become to Negroes staying in their place.”68

As Martin Luther King gained a national profile through the Montgomery bus boycott, Sidney Poitier solidified his public image in Edge of the City. The Chicago Defender predicted a special Oscar for the black actor, celebrating that “just as Hollywood has grown up and ceased limiting Negro actors to burlesque and strictly menial roles, so Negro fans themselves are not barred from winning because of race or color.” Poitier had become a standard-bearer for black participation in the American democratic tradition, and the actor endorsed his character's vigor, charm, and benevolence as universal human virtues that “made his color invisible.”69

Poitier, like Jackie Robinson, had become an archetype of racial integration. John D. Silvera, chairman of the Coordinating Council for Negro Performers, lobbied for more black roles in 1956 on the basis of Poitier's success: “He has proven in the field of movies and the occasional TV roles given him that he can compete with the white actors.” MGM wedded Tommy Tyler to Sidney Poitier. One article in the promotional literature for Edge of the City noted the “uplift philosophy” of the black protagonist; another article detailed Poitier's rise from poverty in a story head-lined (p.122) “Optimistic Uplift Outlook Has Paid Off for Ex-Busboy Sidney Poitier.” The actor's image matched the values of the era's progressive racial politics: faith, hard work, nonviolence, sacrifice.70

Dorothy Masters of the New York Daily News carried this connection between actor and character to even greater heights. During her original review of Edge of the City, she named Poitier an early favorite for best actor of the year. She considered his “innate perceptivity” the foundation of his success. One week later, after interviewing Poitier, she claimed to fully understand his power: “Sidney had only to be himself.” Like Tommy Tyler, Poitier possessed compelling warmth—he was “a philosopher who has arrived at an excellent adjustment to the world.”71

She also wrote that “Sidney would, if he elected to change careers, make a fine minister of the gospel.” This final observation spoke potently to how the doctrine and demeanor of Martin Luther King had shaped the contours of the actor's image. After Blackboard Jungle and Edge of the City, Poitier had become one of Hollywood's few established representatives for black Americans. Professionally and personally, that position opened new possibilities, new responsibilities, and new tensions.72


(1) . Brustein, “America's New Culture Hero”; Manso, Brando, 219–381.

(2) . See Wilkinson, From Brown to Bakke, 11–57; Patterson, Brown v. Board of Education, 1–117; Lemann, Promised Land, 59–107.

(3) . Warren Susman with Edward Griffin, “Did Success Spoil the United States? Dual Representations in Postwar America,” in Recasting America, ed. May, 19–37.

(4) . Gilbert, Cycle of Outrage, 63–66.

(5) . Variety, 26 January 1955; Los Angeles Times, 6 March 1955; “Blackboard Jungle” Pressbook, MHL.

(6) . Bertrand, Race, Rock, and Elvis, 41–92; George Lipsitz, “Land of a Thousand Dances: Youth, Minorities, and the Rise of Rock and Roll,” in Recasting America, ed. May, 267–84; Aquila, That Old Time Rock & Roll, 3–8; Steussy, Rock and Roll, 31–34; Szatmary, Time to Rock, 22–25.

(7) . Kantor, Blacker, and Kramer, Directors at Work, 35–36. See also Biskind, Seeing Is Believing, 202–17.

(8) . Hollywood Reporter, 28 February 1955; Variety, 28 February 1955; Saturday Review, 2 April 1955; Time, 21 March 1955; New York Post, 21 March 1955; New York World Telegram, 21 March 1955.

(9) . Cripps, Making Movies Black, 287; Los Angeles Times, 9 April 1955; Catholic Tidings, 9 September 1955; Variety, 31 September 1955; Kinematograph Weekly, 22 September 1955.

(10) . Gilbert, Cycle of Outrage, 175.

(11) . Variety, 22 June 1955; Stuessy, Rock and Roll, 33–34; Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 13 January 1983; New York Times, 21 May 1955.

(12) . New York Times, 27 March 1955, 3 April 1955.

(13) . Independent Film Journal, 16 April 1955; Variety, 23 March 1955, 29 March 1955; New York Daily News, 28 March 1955; Nation, 2 April 1955; New Republic, 11 April 1955. See also New Yorker, 26 March 1955; Los Angeles Examiner, 12 May 1955; New York Daily Mirror, 21 March 1955; Los Angeles Times, 12 May 1955; Christian Science Monitor, 1 March 1956.

(14) . Los Angeles Times, 9 March 1956; Life, 28 March 1955.

(15) . Los Angeles Citizen-News, 14 June 1955; Los Angeles Times, 6 March 1955; Catholic Tidings, 9 September 1955.

(16) . Variety, 30 March 1955, 13 April 1955; Boxoffice, 2 April 1955; Motion Picture Daily, 13 April 1955, 17 May 1955.

(17) . New York Times, 13 April 1955, 4 June 1955; Variety, 8 June 1955, 29 June 1955, 13 July 1955; Showmen's Trade Review, 9 July 1955; Hollywood Citizen-News, 6 July 1955.

(18) . Variety, 18 May 1955, 19 May 1955, 20 May 1955, 25 May 1955, 1 June 1955, 1 September 1955.

(19) . “Blackboard Jungle” PCA Files, MHL; Variety, 18 March 1955, 20 April 1955, 21 April 1955, 13 July 1955; Hollywood Reporter, 21 March 1955.

(20) . Gorman, Kefauver, 196–98.

(21) . United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Motion Pictures and Juvenile Delinquency, 1955, 2–4, 8–19, 46–47, 52–54, 61–71.

(22) . New York Times, 27 August 1955; Variety, 26 August 1955, 29 August 1955, 31 August 1955, 1 September 1955; Hollywood Reporter, 26 August 1955, 30 August 1955; Hollywood Citizen-News, 27 August 1955, 1 September 1955.

(23) . Variety, 20 April 1955, 31 August 1955; New York Times, 4 September 1955, 11 September 1955.

(24) . Los Angeles Mirror-News, 2 September 1955; Los Angeles Examiner, 4 September 1955; Motion Picture Herald, 10 September 1955; Motion Picture Daily, 22 September 1955, 30 September 1955; Variety, 30 September 1955, 5 October 1955; Independent Film Journal, 16 April 1955; Variety, 21 March 1955, 1 September 1955.

(25) . Robert M. W. Vogel Oral History, MHL; Hollywood Reporter, 23 November 1955, 22 January 1956; Variety, 9 September 1955, 1 November 1955, 9 November 1955, 23 November 1955, 30 November 1955, 2 December 1955.

(26) . Hollywood Reporter, 20 October 1955; Variety, 10 November 1955; Hollywood Citizen-News, 8 September 1955, 9 September 1955; Motion Picture Daily, 18 January 1956.

(27) . Hollywood Reporter, 31 May 1957; Poitier, This Life, 171–72; New York Mirror, 28 March 1955.

(28) . Rose, You Can't Do That on Broadway!, 45–55; Poetry of the Negro (Glory Records, 1955), 33 ∞/rpm; undated article from Cashbox, Box 17, David Suss-kind Papers, WSHS.

(29) . Newsweek, 13 May 1957.

(30) . Poitier, Measure of a Man, 94; Brownstein, Power and the Glitter, 182–83.

(31) . Poitier, This Life, 172–73; New York Post, 2 April 1959; Variety, 20 July 1955.

(32) . Allison Samuels, “Will It Be Denzel's Day?,” Newsweek, 25 February 2002, 57.

(33) . Poitier, This Life, 173.

(34) . Parrish and Terrace, Complete Actors' Television Credits, 1:390; Tarkington, Fascinating Stranger, 1–56; Sidney Poitier, telephone interview with the author, 22 December 2000; Marill, Films of Sidney Poitier, 223.

(35) . Street, Goodbye, My Lady; Poitier, This Life, 173–174; Folders #174A and #2442B, WBC.

(36) . Variety, 17 June 1955; Wellman, Short Time for Insanity, 97; Folders #174A and #2951, WBC.

(37) . Hollywood Reporter, 4 April 1956; Variety, 4 April 1956; Folders #2951 (p.410) and #174A, WBC; Catholic World, May 1956; Commonweal, 25 May 1956; Wellman, Short Time for Insanity, 97.

(38) . See Dworkin, “New Negro on Screen,” October 1960, 41.

(39) . Poitier, This Life, 174; Sidney Poitier, telephone interview with the author, 22 December 2000.

(40) . Poitier, This Life, 174–75.

(41) . Robert Alan Aurthur, “All Original, All Live,” TV Guide, 17 March 1973, 6.

(42) . Museum of Television and Radio Seminar Series, “The Dynamics of Live Television: A Conversation with Three Prominent Directors,” MTR; Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 163–65.

(43) . Aurthur, “All Original, All Live,” 7; New York Post, 2 April 1959.

(44) . Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 154–67.

(45) . Kisseloff, Box, 230; Los Angeles Times, 13 July 1956.

(46) . “Dynamics of Live Television,” MTR.

(47) . Aurthur, “All Original, All Live,” 8–10; Poitier, This Life, 176–78.

(48) . Kindem, Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film Directors, 54–56, 133; Poitier, This Life, 178.

(49) . Live television recording of “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall,” MTR. For script, see Folder 1, “Edge of the City” File, MGM Collection, CTL.

(50) . “Dynamics of Live Television,” MTR; Aurthur, “All Original, All Live,” 10; Box 17, Susskind Papers, WSHS; MGM Press Release, 30 November 1955, “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall” file, NYPLPA.

(51) . Aurthur, “All Original, All Live,” 10; New York Herald-Tribune, 30 October 1962; Jet, 24 November 1955.

(52) . Hollywood Reporter, 12 October 1955; Barnouw, Tube of Plenty, 166; Kisseloff, Box, 230; Gianakos, Television Drama Series Programming.

(53) . Box 17, Susskind Papers; Variety, 7 December 1955; Urbana (Ill.) Courier, 19 April 1956.

(54) . Counterattack, 26 September 1952, 19 May 1953; Jackson, Picking Up the Tab, 26–37; McGilligan and Buhle, Tender Comrades, 561–62.

(55) . New York Times, 15 April 1956; Box 17, Susskind Papers, WSHS.

(56) . New York Times, 15 April 1956.

(57) . Box 17, Susskind Papers, WSHS; Columbus (Ind.) Republican, 10 March 1956.

(58) . Urbana (Ill.) Courier, 19 April 1956; Folder 1, “Edge of the City” File, MGM Collection, CTL; Gow, Hollywood in the Fifties, 97.

(59) . Miller, Films of Martin Ritt, 22; Boxes 17 and 27, Susskind Papers, WSHS; Variety, 2 January 1957.

(60) . Time, 14 January 1957; Variety, 2 January 1957. See also New York Times, 20 January 1957, 30 January 1957, 3 February 1957; New York Post, 30 January 1957; Cue, 2 February 1957.

(61) . New Yorker, 9 February 1957; Variety, 2 January 1957; New York Herald-Tribune, 30 January 1957; New York Times, 3 February 1957; Box 17, Susskind Papers, WSHS.

(62) . New York Herald-Tribune, 30 January 1957; New Yorker, 9 February 1957; Newsweek, 7 January 1957; Saturday Review, 12 January 1957; Wood, America in the Movies, 133; “Edge of the City” PCA Files, MHS.

(63) . See Johnson, “Beige, Brown, or Black,” 39; Godfrey, “Tall When They're Small,” 43; Dworkin, “New Negro on Screen,” October 1960, 39; Burke, “Presentation of the American Negro in Hollywood Films,” 250–58.

(64) . Branch, Parting the Waters, 120–30; Marisa Chappell, Jenny Hutchinson, and Brian Ward, “‘Dress modestly, neatly … as if you were going to church’: Respectability, Class and Gender in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Early Civil Rights Movement,” in Gender in the Civil Rights Movement, ed. Ling and Monteith, 69–100.

(65) . Branch, Parting the Waters, 136–68.

(66) . Ibid., 167–205. See also Morris, (p.411) Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, 1–173.

(67) . Box 17, Susskind Papers, WSHS. See also Williams, Playing the Race Card, 10–44, 218.

(68) . Pittsburgh Courier, quoted in Buchanan, “Study of the Writers of the Negro Press,” 113. See also a review of Edge of the City by a young black woman in Daily Worker, 14 February 1957.

(69) . Chicago Defender, 16 March 1957; Gow, Hollywood in the Fifties, 97.

(70) . Chicago Defender, 15 September 1956; Pittsburgh Courier, 20 October 1956; “Edge of the City” Pressbook, Box 6, Black Films Collection, SCRBC.

(71) . New York Daily News, 30 January 1957, 6 February 1957.

(72) . New York Daily News, 6 February 1957.