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Sidney Poitier: Receives Charlie Chaplin Award


Sidney Poitier - Getty Images

At last night’s Film Society of Lincoln Center gala, numerous celebrities were on hand to celebrate Sidney Poitier, the 38th annual Charlie Chaplin award recipient. Poitier was the first black person to win an Oscar for best actor, for his role in the 1963 movie “Lilies of the Field.”

Poitier garnered leading roles in films at a time when black actors were usually relegated to submissive or demeaning parts. During the presentation, presenter Quentin Tarantino recounted the time he asked Poitier why he had never starred in “colored films” — or movies that were created primarily for a black audience. Poitier responded that his first role was “a doctor… in a 20th Century Fox film… directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, so there was simply no need.”

Among Poitier’s film credits are “No Way Out,” “A Patch of Blue,” “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the latter three of which were all released in a single year (1967).

Clips from those films were threaded throughout the evening’s speeches (given by Bill Cosby, Dan Aykroyd, James Earl Jones, Harry Belafonte, and Morgan Freeman, among others). The audience burst out laughing and started cheering when Poitier delivered the line: “She feels that all of our children will be presidents of the United States and they’ll all have colorful administrations.” (Obama and Poitier should team up more often).

Aykroyd and Sir Ben Kingsley offered their tribute in the form of a photographic comparison to other leading actors. Poitier, they concluded, was the best-looking man in Hollywood, even next to Cool Hand Luke. “No one can do prison panache like Sidney!” Aykroyd said.

Chris Tucker, Freeman and Jones all thanked Poitier for the advice he had dispensed over the years, while Mary Louise Parker, who worked with him in 1999 on a made-for-TV-film “The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn,” said he “engenders a compassion for his characters” the audience can share.

Perhaps the funniest speech of the night was delivered by Poitier’s daughter Sydney, who told the audience that “my dad’s a really big geek. He has you fooled with his movie star glamor. But if a Sports Illustrated model walked by, he’d barely notice. If Carl Sagan walked in, we got a party!”

At the end of the presentation, Poitier ascended the stage to accept his award and told the audience: “I’m thinking you’re thinking ‘he’s taller than I thought he was. Older, too. I wonder how much he weighs. He’s probably wearing a corset.”

Source: Wall Street Journal                                                                                                                                                                                        Author: Julie Steinberg