Sidney Poitier – An Actor and a Prince

When I heard that Sidney Poitier had died, like so many fans I was sad that such a talented actor will no longer be among us. I loved all his films, from Lillies in the Field, for which he won an Oscar, the first Black performer to do so in the best-actor category, to In the Heat of the Night, to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and, my favorite, To Sir with Love, which I have watched probably a thousand times.

But I had a more personal story that I focused on. Many years ago, Mr. Poitier lived in my apartment building in New York City. We didn’t share an elevator bank, so I didn’t see him a lot. Often I would be aware of his presence in the building when I would see one of his guests waiting in the lobby to be sent up to his apartment. (Paul Newman, on one occasion.)

On Halloween, I would take my children trick or treating around the building. One year, he opened the door – much to my surprise – and gave my son and daughter sugarless gum. (Of course he did!)

My mother frequently visited me and one year she was in the lobby when he walked in. I hadn’t told her he lived in the building, not because I was hiding something from her, but because it didn’t really seem that important. When she saw him, being a big fan, she quickly scurried after him into the elevator. Asking him for an autograph, she produced a tattered envelope which he graciously signed. When she came upstairs, I tried not to show her that I was upset. There’s a well known rule in New York, and particularly in apartment buildings, that celebrities are left alone. My mother, not living in the city, hadn’t gotten the memo.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that my mother was in the beginning stages of dementia. I thought it was a little out of character for her to be chasing someone famous. She barely remembered it years later. And I was grateful that Mr. Poitier had been so understanding, perhaps being aware, more than I was at the time, of her condition.

When I texted my children that he had died, my daughter said, “Grandma is tracking him down in heaven.” My son was even more specific: “She’s waiting for an autograph at the gates.”

If she is, I know he will be as gracious as he was so many years ago.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (526 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.