Of course, I am aware of Sidney Poitier’s acting. But I had no understanding of his life story. I picked this up blind from the library.
Sidney Poitier grew up on Cat Island. A small island in the Caribbean, without electricity, running water, or cars. When he was 10, his family moved to Nassau where he first tried ice cream and first saw a movie (both recounted in the book.) He also got into trouble and was sent to live with his older brother in Miami when he was 15.
Again he got into trouble and at 16 moved to NYC and worked a series of dishwashing jobs, before a brief stint in the Army and more dishwashing jobs. He was functionally illiterate at this point. A waiter at one of the restaurants he was working at taught him after work over a series of weeks until his reading improved enough that he could work at it on his own.
Poitier saw a newspaper for an actor when he was looking for a new dishwashing job and figured that acting would be less work than dishwashing. He failed on his first audition, but later convinced an acting teacher to take him on. His tenacity and talent eventually led to stage acting jobs, which led to a few movie roles. At 24, he was in Cry Beloved Country. He was first nominated for an Academy Award in 1958 for Defiant Ones but did not win an Academy Award until 1964 with Lillies of the Field.
Once he left his parents at 15, he did not send them a letter or contact them again until 1950, when he was 23. He says he was ashamed for not making something of himself. So it was not until he finished his first movie and had a couple of weeks before his next that he went back to Nassau.
Poitier’s story is fascinating, and when he is in storytelling mode, the book is riveting. When he is in advice mode, the advice and book are mixed. I was interested in his perspective and how his movement from a childhood without electricity or any other modern amenities to a life of wealth and fame shaped how he understands the contemporary world. But there were lots of thoughts on all kinds of subjects as well, from science to religion to money to family obligation.
I must admit I was pretty bored the last 15 percent or so of the book. But I did enjoy the book overall, and at some point, I will pick up one of Portier’s memoirs and more directly hear his whole story. I listened to the audiobook, and his narration did add to the book. He was in his early 80s when he narrated, so there is both age and weight in the voice. He is not at the prime of his career, but you clearly can hear the talent. Life Beyond Measure was published almost exactly ten years ago, so his great-granddaughter, who is addressed in the book is about 12-13 now.