grind

#TheUnknownHustle: Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier mobile
John D. Kisch/Getty Images

Social Mark Extra Background
September 4, 2018

Frederick O’Neal, one of the more intimidating founders of New York’s famous American Negro Theatre, was auditioning actors for its version of Philip Yordan’s 1944 play Anna Lucasta. Sidney Poitier wanted to break into the business—badly. He saw an ad in Harlem’s Amsterdam News that they were auditioning and showed up, despite having zero experience and an elementary reading level after having attended school for only one and a half years.

 

Asked to read one of the parts, the Bahamian-American stumbled through the script, reciting the lines in a thick West Indies accent. Losing patience, O’Neal "came up on the stage, furious, and grabbed me by the scruff of my pants and my collar and marched me toward the door,” Poitier told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. Just before he threw me out he said, 'Stop wasting people's time! Why don't you get yourself a job as a dishwasher.'"


Now, Poitier had a challenge. He was set on becoming an actor, if only to prove O’Neal wrong. In 1959, Poitier became the first African-American to win Best Actor at the Oscars for his role in The Defiant Ones.