From Publishers Weekly
Poitier has been revered as the first black superstar and criticized for his saintly, sexless and sentimentalized screen image. In this intriguing biography, Goudsouzian, a Hamilton College history professor, thoughtfully depicts the actor's efforts to handle both praise and damnation. Poitier's is a rags-to-riches story: working as a butcher's assistant and construction worker, he learned to speak properly by listening to radio news reporters. Goudsouzian astutely notes that Poitier's dynamic performance in Joseph Mankiewicz's No Way Out was compromised by studio insistence that his mannerisms never suggest the "slightest animal urge." The true, full-blooded Poitier burst forth in 1955's The Blackboard Jungle, and he won a 1963 Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field. But details of Poitier's triumphs never soften the book's hard-hitting, political tone. One memorable passage tells of Poitier's efforts to secure a hotel room in 1956 in Nairobi. He was turned away until the hotel manager discovered Poitier's Something of Value salary was $30,000 and commented, "anyone who makes thirty thousand dollars for three months work is not black." Goudsouzian covers Poiter's romances with model/dancer Juanita Hardy, actress/singers Diahann Carroll and Eartha Kitt and actress Joanna Shimkus. Goudsouzian understands the dynamics behind Poitier's pictures, and carefully analyzes Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, A Patch of Blue and To Sir, with Love. Intense anecdotes highlighting Poitier's temper, occasional womanizing and insecurities keep him from appearing as a distant icon. The story loses steam in its final passages, but ends on a high note when Poitier admits, "I set out to prove to myself that I was capable of moving a mountain."
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*Starred Review* Lots of celebrity bios are cranked out every year, but few are written with the serious scholarly intent of Goudsouzian's study of actor, director, and role model Poitier. Borrowing a page from many great literary biographers of the past half century (Deirdre Bair, Peter Ackroyd, Michael Holroyd), Goudsouzian chronicles Poitier's time and places him within it. Poitier's career alone makes fascinating reading. The son of a poor farmer eking out a living on Cat Island in the Bahamas, Poitier survived to thrive first in theater and then the movies, rising from early roles with the Harlem-based American Negro Theatre and in films like Blackboard Jungle
to become one of the best known African American actors. But this book is no hagiography. Goudsouzian recounts the controversies Poitier became enmeshed in, from Clare Luce Booth's attempts to remove Blackboard Jungle
from the Venice Film Festival because it reflected poorly on America to boycotts of Poitier's films in the South to backlash against him in the late 1960s and early 1970s as radical black leaders accused him of playing to the status quo by portraying characters who--dignified, stoical, but sexless--were least threatening to the dominant white culture. Goudsouzian's willingness to consider all aspects of Poitier's life and image accounts for why this biography reads like a well-written, highly addictive novel. Jack HelbigCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved