It was my senior year in high school, in the toxic waste site also known as Hancock, Minnesota (1978 pop. 815). We were asked to do senior profiles for the yearbook, and one of the questions asked was “Who is your favorite movie actor?” It being 1978, you can imagine the variety of answers. Someone said Woody Allen, as I recall, others chose John Travolta or Sylvester Stallone, and I’m fairly sure somebody said Raquel Welch.
I picked Sidney Poitier, partly to flummox my classmates (most of whom had never seen a black person live before; I was always doing things like that), but also because he really was a favorite of mine. The Defiant Ones, A Patch of Blue, To Sir With Love – I’d seen them all at one time or another, on the Saturday late show or the weekday matinees I used to watch during the summer. In the Heat of the Night was perhaps my favorite; frankly, I still don’t see how Rod Steiger, good as he was, got an Oscar for that movie rather than the non-nominated Poitier.
What I always liked about Sidney Poitier was his class, his dignity, his ability to rise above the situation. Michael Moriarty likes it too, in his interesting and quite insightful column Friday for Big Hollywood. As John Nolte notes in one of the comments, though Poitier in real life may be a lefty, when he’s on the screen class trumps everything. The man has it, and so it was a real pleasure to read in Moriarty’s piece that he not only has it on-screen, but off-screen as well.