Speaker Where did you come from?

Speaker Well, I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1943, and I'm from Canada and Nova Scotia.

Speaker I mean, I was there recently. Jason Alexander has a home there. It's very sparse.

Speaker It's beautiful. I have not lived there. I lived until I was about three and a half. And when I had a ruptured appendix and then my mother sent for me, I live with my grandmother from the time I was born until I was about three and a half in Nova Scotia and Halifax. How come? Well, my father didn't really want children. My mother had me nine months and one day after they were married. And so she left me with my grandmother. And when I got very sick, I almost died. And she felt, I guess, very guilty maybe, I don't know. But she sent for me. And that's when I started living in Montreal, Canada.

Speaker So you didn't spend any time with your mother before you were three?

Speaker No, before I was four, actually. I mean, she may have visited me. I don't really know. But I know that I was it was my grandmother who kind of brought me up and nurtured me and so on.

Speaker And so was your primary connection and your primary love and independence of your grandmother?

Speaker Definitely. So my questions will be, oh, my primary. Yes, love. And whatever I think I am today is because of my grandmother, because I believe that those, you know, first years of the formative years and, you know, I don't have a bonding with my real mother in that sense. You know, I like her and I love her because she's my mother. But I don't have that connection. I think that you get when you are a baby and you bond with your mother in those little formative years, I believe from one to from babyhood to about four, five, six is the most are the most important years. That's my mom and your father. My father was an orphan. And so he was sort of very selfish, I guess, about my mother's love and so on. So that's why he didn't want children and but he came to accept me eventually. What did he do? He was a sailor in the Navy. And then he when he was in Montreal, that's where they met in Halifax. My mother was one of sixteen children and she was the baby and she was only 18 when she had me. She was a baby once you have me. So she really didn't know any better, you know, in those days.

Speaker And they moved to Montreal and then he worked for a department store called Eatons of Canada.

Speaker And he eventually became kind of the manager of the shipping and packing and all that stuff of Eatons of Canada in Montreal.

Speaker So it was it was the the mother of your mother who had 16 children who raised raised myself and many other of the children of our children.

Speaker We were about, I would say six, you know, because she had some children who couldn't take care of their children as well.

Speaker And so she raised all of us, those formidable women. She was an amazing woman, an amazing woman.

Speaker And so when you stayed with your with your mother, just take this hair a little bit. This one.

Speaker That's right. That's good. Yeah. Also, I'm picking up a lot of sound from the bracelets. Oh, I don't want do they claim.

Speaker Oh can we. I can't take them off because they're my good luck. I know all of them. I won't move. I'll be careful.

Speaker I don't want to come out because I'll be good I promise. Be just.

Speaker So so then you were raised with other children because it was some of her other 16 children, some of her other 16 children left their children with her.

Speaker And I was one of them. You know, I had lots of cousins that lived with me. They were older. I was the baby. So and I was very young.

Speaker I mean, I remember vaguely, you know, some of them and I remember vaguely my time with my grandmother.

Speaker I mean, I know I loved her dearly and it was kind of a nice existence. And then I went to Montreal to meet my parents basically when I was four and I took the train by myself. They put you on the train. Do I would have had births in those days. And I remember going, I didn't want to go because I loved my grandmother so much. And I thought, I don't want to go see these people, you know? I mean and I remember I had a little outfit that my mother had sent me was a skirt and some little sweater and a little plaid skirt and sweater and socks and new shoes. And I remember hiding one of the socks under the mattress of this birth so that I arrived with one sock on, one sock off because I wasn't happy about being there. But eventually I got to like them and loved them. So. So you had a very young mother, very young. She's you know, I'm fifty five. I say, oh, I had a very young mother. She is now I think to seventy three and I'm going to be fifty five. So you know she was more like a sister you know. And that's I think how she thought of herself too as I grew up, you know. But she was very loving and very caring and she had to work for a living. So I was one of those latchkey kids at five. I had the key in the house and I kind of took care of myself from the time I was five, you know, six. What did she do? She worked also Eddington's of Canada, which is a department store like Bloomingdale's or and she worked in the cosmetic department. My mother was very attractive, very pretty. And she sold Helena Rubinstein and she was the manager of that department.

Speaker And and school, school, I went to school, you know, local schools, we moved quite a bit and I went to Catholic schools and my high school, I went to a sort of a convent school with nuns and that's it.

Speaker So there were no boys. There were no men in your in your any of your schooling?

Speaker No, always. No, there was I went to all girls schools basically. Yeah. So I never really had contact with young men until later in life when I was in high school. You know, we go to dances and so on. But no, I never went to mixed schools, you know, boys and girls. What do they call I forgot coed schools. Yeah.

Speaker And so when you became 15, 16, did you date did you.

Speaker Yes, because obviously in the neighborhood there were when I was 15 or 16 in the neighborhood, there were boys and, you know, I dated, but I didn't really you know, we went out in groups. We'd go to the local skating rink and skate and beat the boys and or you go to these dances at the boys club or the Y or, you know, Boy Scout dances, too. And that's I never really dated until I went to Paris.

Speaker And that was, you know, when I was about nine, 18 and a half, 19. How did that happen?

Speaker Well, when I graduated from high school, I worked from the time I was about 13. I also worked in Canada, in the sales department and men's sweaters on weekends and after school, whenever I could have holidays, school holidays and for extra money because I only made two fifty an hour, two dollars and fifty cents an hour. And for extra money, the photographer, the in-house photographer, Wheaton's would come down. He saw me and asked me if I would do those ads. You know, where you see the color of their coat. I hope I didn't interrupt the microphone and sorry. And so I would do those little ads for him in the paper and get extra money. And he was French and his best friend was a photographer in Paris. And he came to visit him one day and he saw some pictures of myself and he said, oh, is that oh, she's a young girl. She works downstairs and so on, so forth. And he asked me if I wanted to go to Paris to do the collections and which is like June, July and then in January, they do all the Kataria collections in Paris and for magazines and so forth. And so I thought, oh, dear, you know, and I went home and I asked my mother and I said, Of course not. I mean, how do you think this man is probably some strange person? You know, you can't. No, of course not. You know, so anyway, he presented proper credentials, I guess. And my mother allowed me to go with my best friend, who she trusted implicitly. Her name was Genie. We were going to three weeks and I was going to make a lot of money for three weeks was more than I made probably in five years working at eight. And so I went for three weeks when I was about eighteen and a half. But I had gone to Paris before that. After I graduated high school, I went on a trip. I forgot about that on the S.S. France, the first trip, and from New York to Lahav and Grosvenor, Fer's was doing the trip and he happened to be a friend and he invited myself and my best friend, who was also kind of tall and thin. We were both tall and thin in those days. And to model the photos, we had to live like down in steerage, but we could go in first class. And Arnold Scalzi, who was from Montreal and he was a designer, he designed all the dresses and we would go up into first class. We were like seventeen and walk around and, you know, hang out in first class and model these furs and dresses and stuff. And then that was my first trip to Paris and I loved it. So this was the second time it happened. I went back to Canada and that's how it happened. I went to Paris and I stayed instead of three weeks. I stayed seven years and my friend went back after three weeks and I stayed. It's complicated and I sort of messed it up there.

Speaker But it's a place now that's extraordinary.

Speaker So staying there seven years, who did you model for?

Speaker Well, I started out and I did, you know, worked for the only photography in those in those days, you know, you either did photography or you did a runway that was not. Like it is today, and I did photography, I work for Elle magazine for Vogue, and I worked for all the, you know, David Bailey, Brian Duffy, Donovan, all these amazing French photographers, Jim and. Jean-Luc Godard saw a picture of me one day and asked me, and I think it was in Elle magazine and he asked me to do a film. He was doing an experimental film. And it was five different directors who were going to do sixteen millimeter blown up to 35 and it was 11.

Speaker So after six or.

Speaker Let me people say, why don't you just say, yes, start telling me about good.

Speaker OK, good. I'm not sure if it's five or six of that six directors. Doesn't matter. Six. Six, I think. Yeah. Yeah. So Ghadar saw a picture of me and I think it was L and he asked me to do this movie called Paris Scene by six different directors and French. It was called paratrooper and it was a story of a room. No, that's another movie. It was six different directors who showed Paris the way they observed it I guess. And mine was a sketch by Jean-Luc Godard, and it was about a young girl who has two boyfriends. I think I couldn't speak French at the time, so I sort of memorized my lines and they told me what I had to feel and it was kind of interesting. So I'm not sure I haven't seen the movie, but I know it was about a girl who sort of had a boyfriend and then have another boyfriend or something. I'm not sure I saw I have no idea what it was about. Oh, good. Because I have no idea what it's about either. But it was my first movie and someone saw it, a director called Overall. And he then invited me to be in his film, which was called Tullamore, which is the novel by Stendahl. And it was also a sort of a thing about five or six women. I didn't see this film either. I never really see any of the films I do. So it's like hard I and I kind of only read my part. So it was about a a dentist who was Michel Piccoli and he had three or four women and I was one of the women. I went to his office to have my teeth fixed at the time and I had a cavity or something and he makes a play for me. And I end up, I don't know, I think sleeping with him, but no clothes off. And also Martinelli was in it and I don't remember who else, but that was my second film and I continued to model at the same time and I was doing very well. And who are you seeing? What gentleman we like that interested in you that. Well, at that time I was engaged to a young Frenchman.

Speaker His name was Krischan Kanun and his parents owned a pharmacy, Kanun and Pustule Volda, which are a little mint candies that are famous in France, Felda. And so he was a very nice, very wealthy young man. And his parents were fabulous. And they took a liking to me. They felt I was like a little bird who'd been, you know, thrown out of the nest. So they sort of picked me up and scooped me up and took me home. And I used to stay with them, with his parents, and they lived on Avenue Forche. And I think that's where basically I started to like doing interiors and things and just accumulating beautiful things because they had a wonderful apartment and duplex on Avenue Foshan. They had a huge collection of impressionist paintings and.

Speaker And I would also sit there and just sort of appreciate all these beautiful works of art, and they had a, you know, lovely little tchotchkes and wonderful silks and tassels and trims and stuff. And so I think that's why I sort of. I think that's where I sort of picked up my liking for pretty little things, basically, so he was my first boyfriend and I was engaged to be married to him. Actually, we got engaged and but I never we never got married because I started working as an actress than I did a movie with Amanda Long and Love until I called Liz about Julia. I think it was called The Last Adventure in America, and it was very nice. And I have just one thing led to another. And then I made a film in Sardinia with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton called Boom. And the producer of that film was a man called John Heyman. And so for some reason, we took a liking to each other and that was the end of that thing. I say French and I had an English fiancee. And so I lived in London for a while and made a few more movies. I did The Virgin and the Gypsy with Franco Nero. And I think the director was Christopher Miles or Sarah Miles's brother.

Speaker Hmm.

Speaker And then I was offered this movie with Sidney Poitier while I lived in London. And I was under contract, actually, sort of contract, I guess, to Universal, because they never really, you know, followed up on it. And I was very happy about that. They had this picture that Sidney was going to do and he wanted Catherine Ross, who had just done The Graduate, and or this wonderful actress that her name just went out of my head. Oh, God. Well, it's all right. Anyway, they wanted to use up this contract that they had with me. So they had proposed myself. And I had just happened to be on the cover of Vogue in America that at that time and the director's wife, unbeknownst about all of this other stuff, I saw the coverage of it. Oh, look at this girl. You know, she looks kind of interesting. And they opened it up and they saw that I was in a film in New York playing in New York at the time called Zita Zita, which was a film that the director of the movie that I did in France with L.A. alone, Lenovo, his wife was a wonderful writer and she wrote this film for me and it's called On Seeta. And so it was kind of like. A terrific showcase for me because it was like just wonderful and it was playing in New York. So they saw it, so they went to see it and then they said, you know, they found out I could speak English because this was all in French and they thought that it was an English person, actually, English speaking person. And they said it to go see the film when they went to see the film. And for some reason, I mean, he thought the film was pretty good and I was pretty good, but he just didn't want me for this film. But he wanted to other actresses that were friends of hers. And so he compromised. The director wanted me, I he got me and Sidney got the two other actresses. And that's how I got to do the film with Sidney. And that was the end of my English film. And then I said, it's an American film.

Speaker So I guess at what point during the picture was it that you felt you fell in love had?

Speaker Well, I think we became friends first. You know, I had never when I was asked to do this movie with Sydney, I had never seen any of Sydney's films. And a patch of Blue was playing in London.

Speaker And I happened to be in Paris at the time. And so I went to London. And what looked at the film, I thought, oh, you know, it's so interesting is such an amazing young man. And then I went to Los Angeles and I met him because I had to do makeup and costumes. That's another thing. I never wore makeup in a film. I just never liked the feeling of it. And so I went there and they put all this makeup on me and I just felt like I wanted to, you know, wipe it off, which I did. And but I had to meet him for the first time. And I thought and he could just came in and he could do this.

Speaker So I. I forgot what I said. You met him? I met him for the first time. We met for the first time and my film, Zita was still playing. It was what they called a sleeper. And so he had the Variety magazine or Hollywood Reporter or something. And he said, oh, look at this. You're, you know, doing pretty good. And we had lunch and I thought it was really nice, you know, very sweet. And he and I went back to Paris because I lived in Paris and London kind of back and forth. And he said he was going to Paris that summer. And I said, well, when you go to Paris, you know, because we were not going to make the movie until September. So I said, well, when you get to Paris, give me a call and maybe, you know, I'll show you the city. And so he called me and we I showed him and we went to the loo and I took him to dinner and we did things like that. And he invited me one day and he said, come to lunch. And I went to the hotel. He was staying at the hotel a lot from when I got there. However, he opened the door and he was like and he used to wear these like not pajamas but like pajama coats or something, you know, like Long said, oh, God, you know what is. So this is lunch, you know? And I thought. So I went in and we had lunch. He had already just eating breakfast. So he didn't have lunch.

Speaker And he sat there and watched me eat lunch. This was before we went to the Louvre and then, you know, was nice. We talked and so on. And then I was leaving. And as I'm leaving and I was very thin in those days. I mean, I weighed like one hundred and twenty two pounds at the most and I'm like five eight and assembly. And I worked on big thing, believe me.

Speaker And when I'm leaving he says, oh boy. He said, somebody told you you got childbearing hips. I thought, oh, that's the worst thing anybody could say to me. I was like, that's the part of me I hated the most. So that, oh I don't like that. So anyway, we spent three days where I showed him around and was very nice and he went back to America and then I went back to my life. And in September I went to Philadelphia and we started filming the movie The Lost Man. And we became, you know, we'd have dinner and we'd talk. And it was interesting. And I think we just became friends. And then all of a sudden it just sort of happened. I believe it was destiny because I had no intention.

Speaker I was engaged to be married to John Heyman again. And he was not interested. And he'd just come out of a relationship with Diahann Carroll and had had a marriage and that he was out of an Wanita. And I don't think he was really interested in getting into another relationship, but it just sort of evolved into that. And especially, you know, I had no intention. I mean, not that I even think of color, because when I I'm shocked sometimes when we're walking together and we pass a mirror and it's like, you know, I forget, you know, it's like. So still. Yeah, still. I never, ever think of it. And I never really did that either, you know.

Speaker But I don't think I think for him it was more of an issue, you know, but I guess we're just destined to be it's been 30 years, you know, so and and to things that he said.

Speaker One, you just saw Sydney as a man and not as a black man.

Speaker No, I just saw him as I mean, when I got to know him, I mean, when I saw the movie, yes, he was a black man. But I mean, I have you know, I grew up in Canada and I never really had any kind of prejudice. I've never dated I mean, I just never thought of it. You know, it's unlike unlike America. I mean, I just never had those feelings and I never had it. I've never had them. And we've never had a problem, actually. And it could be that we need a very quiet life. It could be that it's just the way it is, I don't really know. But I never really did see him as a black man. I mean, I know he is black, but I just saw him as a man and he was just a wonderful person, an amazing human being, you know?

Speaker I don't know.

Speaker And and what was his issue about you being white?

Speaker Well, I don't know, really, that he had an issue, but I don't think that he intended to ever fall in love with a white person, you know, I mean, he's I don't think he'd ever really gone with one seriously. And, you know, he had four beautiful children and an ex-wife, Juanita, who's a wonderful woman. And I just, you know, I might have he might have been a little uncomfortable. We never really got into that, though.

Speaker I mean, we never, ever no one ever made an issue of it in the press. And I mean, we did things that people do now and they make such a big deal about it. We had children before we were married. You know, I was a black white thing.

Speaker I was like, but no one ever bothered us. I wonder why.

Speaker I think it's because of Sidney. I think because he's so there's something about him.

Speaker He has this aura, you know, that kind of almost touchable kind of you don't want to mess with him, you know, but I think is very special. And I think people kind of feel that or sense it or something. I don't know.

Speaker But it never was an issue for some reason, which you would think it would have been, you know, so there was never an incident where where you were viewed as an interracial couple were anything.

Speaker Not that I know of unless it went on behind our backs, you know, but I never had that. No, repeat that for me. There was never really an issue about our being an interracial couple unless, you know, behind our backs, things were said and done, but I was totally unaware of it. And what attracted you to Sydney? Um, the thing that attracted me to him the most, I think, is his integrity and his honesty and his well, it's that's the same thing that his just his loyalty to his family. He's just an amazing human being. He's just a good, good, good person. He's also gorgeous. And he's cute, too. Yes. And he was especially gorgeous then. He still is to now, but he was very, very attractive then. It's wonderful. How many films did you make after that?

Speaker I made I think I made eleven films altogether. I made it to Benjamin, one which was marriage of a young stockbroker. And that was the last film that I made. And that was when I was like about twenty six. I guess my career was very short lived. Why? Well, I started out making the French films and then when I met Sidney and I knew he didn't really know it, obviously because it took him eight years and two children to marry me. But I knew that this was the man of my life, you know, that this was going to be my partner in life. And so and I knew that you really can't have, I believe, for myself and for him to egos, you know, in that same kind of space. And his was definitely a bigger career than mine. So I decided what I wanted most anyway was a relationship of family. And that was more important than a career. So I gave it up.

Speaker I realise now why family is so important.

Speaker Yes, I wanted to have the family that I never had. I wanted to be the mother to my children that, you know, I never had. And I was always there for my children. I never worked. My mother always worked. And, you know, I was home when they came home from school. I took them to school every morning. I took them to their classes and they saw that I was probably overbearing, but.

Speaker I loved every minute of it, and I think I was a pretty good mother. I hope. I understand.

Speaker I see that. So so at what point did you get married and how did it happen?

Speaker Well, our children were two and a half and four and I, you know, never called myself Mrs. Poitier. I was always John Shimkus and I would have my kids. And they obviously don't quite look like me, at least color wise. So I would take them to the doctor and do so. And I was fine. Everything was fine. And one day the pediatrician had a new nurse, the pediatrician that my children had been going to all along. And I got there. And normally it wasn't a problem. They'd just go zipping in and we'd do what we had to do. And so I get there and it's a new girl. And she asked and I said, I have Aneka and Sidney Poitier for the check up and oh, well, who are you? The nanny? And I said, no, I'm the mother. Oh, Mrs. Poitier. And I said, no, I'm Joanna Shimkus. And she just gave me a little bit of a hard time. And I thought, you know, and I went home and it was like, I am tired of this. I'm not going to do this anymore. It's, you know, so it sort of was a little, you know, straw that broke the camel's back. So that's how it happened. So I had a little few words with say that we never really have arguments. Basically, he gets very quiet and then I get very quiet. And then a couple of days later, we are talking again. For some reason, I don't know. But this time, you know, I kind of express my feelings.

Speaker And so two days or three days later, he said he's on the phone with Harry Belafonte. And he said to me, what day would you like Thursday or or Tuesday or Thursday? And I said, For what? I mean, said to get married. And I said, you know, so I said Thursday, you know, and I didn't believe it. But so my mother had been staying. She didn't live in California at the time. And she was there with my stepfather staying with us, his house at our house. And I didn't tell her because I thought, well, it's not really going to happen. And I didn't I called up some friends and I said, you know, maybe we're getting married. You want to come over, we'll have dinner anyway, you know, but we might be getting married. So come anyway. So we had our closest friends and it was in our house. And I went on the day that it was happening, I told my mother just to take the girls out and buy them a new dress because we're going to have a party. I didn't really tell her we were getting married and that day I did all my own cleaning and I put the flowers in the trees and I, you know, went out and bought this outfit at Holly's half. It was the least expensive one. I thought, well, you know, I'm not going to put a lot of money into this just in case.

Speaker And four o'clock came and everybody came and the minister came. At least I think it was him. Might want an actor, I'm not sure. But we did have a marriage license, so we had our wedding, which was beautiful. And our kids, two girls were the little flower girls. And so Harry and Julie were he was the best man and she was the matron of honor, I guess. And so we had Aneka in Sydney and ask themselves and the minister and all of our friends were in our living room and it's like maybe thirty people. And the minister was saying all these things. And my little Sydney, she was two and a half at the time. Her baret kind of came undone in her hair and she's like pulling on her daddy's coat. I'm talking to you.

Speaker No, I'm saying these words to the minister about love and worshiping and all that stuff. And she's pulling on her daddy's coat and he's like listening. And it's not paying attention. She's Daddy, what are you doing? Because he wouldn't, you know, acknowledge her. And everybody started to laugh. So it was kind of an interesting ceremony. They laughed and they cried. And we got married on that day and it was wonderful. And you became my Shimkus. Yes, I am now. Joanna Shimkus Porter. Yes.

Speaker The great, great and charming story.

Speaker You began your life together living in the Bahamas.

Speaker Oh. Was there any element of culture shock? Well, we began when I first met Sydney.

Speaker We lived in New York. And then he decided the.

Speaker We lived in New York and Sydney was building a house when I met him in the Bahamas. It was like kind of his dream house and it was in the process of being built in the first year that we were together. And then when it was finished, he decided he wanted to live there for a while. So we lived there for a couple of years and he started to write his book there and it took some time off. This was at the point where he was like, Major, you know, he just died in the heat of the night and all those. He was like, No one at the box office, I think, or something like that. Or one of those, you know, People magazine's sexiest star of the year or whatever it was that at the time. And he decided to take some time off. And why we had just well, actually, this is just after we moved there, after we had Aneka, our first Aneka, our first child. And I don't know, he just wanted to take some time off and spend some time with myself. And I think and I think he'd done a lot of work and he you know, he was into the civil rights. And there's a lot of pressure and a lot of stuff on him. And I guess he just needed time to relax. And that's where he relaxed was in the Bahamas. So we moved there and he didn't work. He wrote for a long, you know, quite a few years and he'd take trips back and forth to New York or to Los Angeles. And I stayed in the Bahamas mostly. I wasn't that crazy about it. I must say. You know, it was very there's only so much swimming and, you know, palm trees. And it's like California. You have to get out of there every now and then. So but I had a baby, I'd had Aneka. And so, you know, I enjoyed it a little bit, but I had to get out of it now and then. It's a wonderful place. Did you connect with his family? Yes. Well, I've I connected with his children and his ex, his first wife, Juanita. And we have a wonderful relationship. And his other his family, his brothers and sisters. I'm quite close to him. I don't see them as much as I see it's children, you know, and Juanita. But I'm very fond of them and I think they're fond of me. Yeah. Oh, yes, they do know you. So I think we have a good relationship.

Speaker So. So it was a hard adjustment for you?

Speaker It was difficult because I lived in Paris. I mean, if I could, I'd still be living in Paris.

Speaker Paris, as you know, I love Paris so much. I mean, to me, that's the most beautiful city in the world. And I'm very European in my feelings and my you know, I just like Europe. I like that lifestyle. It's much easier. And much more people take time to enjoy and to relax. And, you know, America's very kind of hard edged and it's very stressful to me. Very insanities. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker It's an insanity going on.

Speaker Oh, um, Sedney said that during those years in the Bahamas, he was seeking some kind of refuge from the rest of the world refuge.

Speaker It was just a different time in his life. I think it was, but he'd been through a lot, you know, he'd been through a lot all through the 60s. This was like in 1969, I think 60, 70, maybe 1970.

Speaker Actually, we live there now. Probably the house was finished and about 70. And I think we started living there just after 71, 72, basically, and he'd been through quite a bit. And what I mean, just life in general, you know, work wise, he had worked a lot. He'd been through his divorce. He'd been through Diane, Diane Carroll. He had a relationship with her for nine years.

Speaker And it was, you know, painful, I'm sure, to have, you know, terminated that relationship and, you know, the civil rights, all of that. He was very involved in that.

Speaker So.

Speaker I guess he just needed time out and this was the place for it, you know, certainly, definitely the place for it, I felt very much that that the Bahamas was his home. Oh, it is. I think that eventually he will want to definitely kind of retire there, you know, at least have a place when he goes to the other cat island or even, you know, someplace in the Bahamas. I think he loves the water. You know, that water, especially because the beaches there are the most beautiful. You know, we've been to many places in the Caribbean and in the world. And basically those are the most beautiful beaches. And he loves that. Not that it goes in the water that much. He just likes looking at it, you know?

Speaker What do you think? What do you think draws him there? What do you think Cat Island and Nassau means to what you think is so Bahamian about him?

Speaker Well, I think that I think that black Americans are quite different from island.

Speaker You know, people, they're very different. They were brought up differently. They have a sense of themselves that, you know, most young black people don't have in America. And I think it just it's just amazing because, you know, I don't like to make comparisons, but it definitely, definitely is. So Caribbean blacks are just more they have more self esteem. They have more. I just don't know. I can't explain it. It's just they're just different. They're totally different and they are less hostile. They're less they just have a better sense of themselves, basically. And their upbringing is different, too, because they are brought up to respect. And it's like the old fashioned values, you know, that we don't find too much anymore here.

Speaker And I think it's the parental thing. You know, the parents are there and they're taking care of the child. They don't have to work. They don't have to be out there, you know, fighting to support their kids.

Speaker They're kind of there for them more than the young parents here can be for their children, unfortunately.

Speaker And yes, the whole parental well being on the other side. Oh, I keep doing that.

Speaker And the whole taking care of of their children and the other side's children.

Speaker I mean, the inside. The outside.

Speaker Yeah, they do. And they're, you know, they love children. They take care of their children and they I mean, not that American families don't love their children, you know, want to do the same thing, but they just can't they don't have the possibility of doing it some of the time. You know, it's very sad. But in the Bahamas, everything's easier. It's like you don't have to have a television. You don't have to have certain clothing.

Speaker I mean, you're not kind of caught up in that label thing, you know?

Speaker Yeah, no, I it was a very revelatory to me that's more organic. It's you know, it's just it's just natural. It's a natural way of doing things. I think I also felt that one of the reasons why Sydney was the first black star leading man, first black leading man was because he had a a a free he had he had self-esteem from the island and he didn't have bad feelings about himself or of his feelings about himself were were good.

Speaker And so he didn't transmit any resentment or great anger under me, but he also had great joy.

Speaker Well, I find for some reason that even in America, black people sort of enjoy themselves more than white people. They have more joy in their lives, even, you know, in the most awful circumstances, they find time or are able to sort of see another side of things, too. You know, they they just seem to enjoy and laugh and and kind of congregate into groups and be together and enjoy each other more.

Speaker For some, you know, I don't know why it's I guess I don't know. But I know that in the Bahamas that all young people, their their self esteem is terrific because the parents do care and they do not that the other parents don't care. But it's just I don't know, it's very different. I, I don't know how to explain it basically. But I do see a difference what you are.

Speaker But but, you know, when people say, why do you think Sidney Poitier was the only black leading man?

Speaker Well, I think he's very special. I mean, Sidney is he is different from any white or black person I've ever met. Basically, he sort of dances to his own tune. You know, he's he has no boundaries.

Speaker I mean, he's not he's not white. He's not black. He's not Asian. He's you know, he's he's just Sidney. And he kind of goes from one group to the other and he's one of them, you know, it's like nobody really puts a label on him. Nobody ever you know, he's comfortable and wherever. Is in any circumstance, in any culture, you know, he's very special.

Speaker I don't know, I guess his mother, you know, when he was born, apparently, you know, he was premature. I guess he told you that. I mean, weighed very little and they had built his little coffin and so on. And his mother had gone to see the soothsayer. They said clairvoyant. And she said that he was going to walk among kings.

Speaker Did he tell you that? Yeah. And it's true.

Speaker You know, he has his his kind of eyes. I saw him and I see Oprah, like, in the same kind of context. You know, she is that way, too. You know, there's something special. There's something very special about them. And I'm very lucky to be a part of his life. Do you feel lucky? I do. I mean, well, I'm just very lucky that I have my life, I think is the most extraordinary human being that I've ever met. And I've met, you know, quite a few very interesting and amazing people. And I just find him to be a wonderful man. And I respect him and I love him. And I'm just glad that it worked out this way. So you've never been bored? No, I have not been bored. Ever know even to this day, after 30 years, he still intimidates me. It's like sometimes I.

Speaker Oh, God. But no, I've never been bored.

Speaker So what is what is the secret? What is the the recipe for the long happy onboard marriage?

Speaker Well, I take very good care of him. He stays with me because I am a nurturer and he gets breakfast in bed every morning for 30 years and I'm talking like major breakfast. It's not like it takes two minutes. It takes me like an hour. So he has the special oatmeal. He has to have a fruit salad. And, you know, he's so I take it and I cook for him. I never cooked for anybody in my life until I met Sidney. And I think what it is, is that he'd never really had that in his life. He'd always had.

Speaker Well, of course, no wanting to cook for him. She was wonderful. She's a wonderful cook and a wonderful woman and very nurturing. But I guess he wasn't ready for it at that time. He was probably too young and they had all these children that were coming and he had a career. They had to be, you know, looking out for and going after and he had to support that family. So he didn't really appreciate at the time what she was probably doing for him. But then I came along and it was like already there, you know, and so I was able to do things. And I wanted to do that because, I mean, it wasn't you know, I think I'm a very liberated woman, but it was my choice to give up a career and to take care of him and to take care of him the way that I thought that he needed taking care of. And obviously, he liked it because I'm still here. So but I do cook for him and I take care of him and I try to make his life as easy, you know, like a warm bath and get in there and, you know, soak and soak it out. You feel a little better.

Speaker So am I. There should be one of you in every home for all of us. Well, I don't know, but I enjoy it. What what do you think that came out of for you? I mean, out of your background?

Speaker Well, I just think that this is my family, you know, Sydney and my two girls and his four girls and even one. I have a great relationship with his first wife, Juanita. They're my family. And I you know, that's always what I always wanted, a family that is together and close and, you know, so this is what I've got. That's what I wanted. I got it. And that's what you give.

Speaker I try, um.

Speaker What?

Speaker People people know actors through their performances, but they don't have a sense of who they are. They know the characters that they play, but they don't have a sense of who they are and what their interests are in their private lives. What would you say it is that people don't know about Sidney?

Speaker I don't really know, because I think that Sydney, what you see is what you get, you know, even in his performances, I look at him sometimes and I think, oh, it's not such a great actress. You know, I see him do that all the time. It's like I don't see him as acting.

Speaker It's just sort of being and, you know, he's very straightforward and very honest. And I think that's how he comes through on all of his performances and very sensitive. I don't think there's much of a difference between the actor and certainly the man.

Speaker You know, basically Witchfinder, they have an enormous intellectual curiosity that.

Speaker Oh, well, that yes. Well, that comes through in his performance. Oh, he has an enormous intellectual curiosity. But I think that comes through in his performances, too. You know, he's right. He's really actually a phenomenon because he didn't have an education. I mean, he had two years. I mean, I think first and second grade. And then he is totally self taught.

Speaker I mean, he reads five newspapers a day. He has this amazing appetite for learning just about everything possible. You know, I mean, he amazes me. He's just curious about everything.

Speaker And he's so smart and so articulate. And so he's I'm just blessed.

Speaker Very lucky, because what is he doing with me? I keep wondering, you know. Yeah, he's just he's pretty terrific.

Speaker Is terrific. Special.

Speaker Um, how have to fairly shy and private people dealt with such being involved in such a public life.

Speaker Well, we, um, he does what he has to do.

Speaker And basically, you know, if we have to go anywhere to a premiere or anything like that, I usually just sort of slip over onto the side and wait for him to get through the line of photographers. And, you know, I really don't like that I'm worse than he is, but he's pretty bad, actually. He doesn't like it either.

Speaker But we've managed and we you know, we don't really do this kind of thing that we're doing now. But you're so special and wonderful. We're doing it for you. And, you know, we don't he doesn't really give interviews unless he has to. He doesn't appear on talk shows. You know, Oprah, he just did a film for Oprah and she wanted him on her show. And he can't even do that. And I mean, you know, if he's going to do one of those shows, it's definitely her show he should do. But he's just not able to, you know, put himself out there like that is very private.

Speaker And I guess that's why our relationship has sort of been untouched by the press all these years, you know?

Speaker What what gives him joy and what makes him angry?

Speaker What gives him joy? Well, he has a lot of joy in his life. His children get to enjoy his family. Just many things, you know, but what gets them strife is me. And if I spend too much money or if I you know, we have differences about the children, I'm much more lenient than he is. He's much more. Well, he's right, actually, because I'm a I'm a sort of a wimp. I'm a little pushover where my kids are concerned.

Speaker And his his children, all of the children are concerned. They usually call me and tell me what their problems or needs are. And then I kind of, you know, buffer it and go to him. So even when he will call me, if she needs something, she'll call me first. And I go to Sydney.

Speaker But he's he's a joyful person. He's a good person. He sees only, you know, the glass is half full. It's never half empty. He's always sees the good side of life and he's appreciative of everything that he's achieved. And he never forgets it, you know, and he always kind of reminds us all to be thankful for, you know, little things that are important in life. It's not, you know, these things that you acquire. It's just your inner self, your health. All that stuff is a very spiritual man. Sydney spiritual, not just spiritual in every sense. He's you know, he's he's not into material things.

Speaker I mean, he could live I'm the one who sort of likes to have all this stuff around me.

Speaker He's happy living in a space with, you know, minimal, you know, stuff. He just is very inward and very centered and focused. You know, I need all this. There's accoutrements with his religious in his own way. You know, he's not a practice, he doesn't go to church. I know he was brought up a Catholic and but he doesn't, you know, go to church. But he is spiritual and religious and he believes in a God, you know, and an afterlife. And I guess I believe he believes in that to discuss that. What he believes in an afterlife. I mean, there must be something. I mean, you go through this life. There has to be something, you know, to beyond this.

Speaker I mean, we've we acquire all this knowledge and all this so-called knowledge. And it's a waste, you know, to just let it go.

Speaker Once we die, it has to be something better onwards and out there somewhere and.

Speaker How do you feel about having to actress for my daughters?

Speaker Well, I would rather have had an architect or a lawyer or even maybe not a lawyer now, but, you know, with my daughter. Oh, we have two wonderful daughters who are actresses, both of them.

Speaker They're both wonderful actresses. They you know, I they went to college.

Speaker They graduated college. They're the first two of Sydney's children to graduate college. And I think basically they did it for him because I think they would rather have gone on and started their careers earlier. But they both graduated one from NYU and one from Sarah Lawrence, and they are now both actresses. We would have preferred that they were teachers, architects, you know, maybe even a lawyer, but not really.

Speaker But they're actresses and there's not much you can do. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. So why would you prefer that they didn't enter into this very difficult profession? You know, it's sort of your self-esteem kind of gets beaten all the time. You know, it's not easy.

Speaker When I was an actress, it was easy because I never even had to go and read was when I lived in Europe. They didn't do it. They looked at you. They liked you. OK, you've got the part here. You're competing with so many other actresses and they look at you like you're a piece of meat and they, you know, they don't even see you, you know, and it's very difficult.

Speaker And that's not an easy life. And I don't really wish it for them, but it's the way it is. So I hope that they make a living, that they can be happy and that that's all that I can wish for.

Speaker There is a whole new element of Sydney now in terms of his writing and in terms of his duties as an ambassador to talk about this whole new element in his life.

Speaker Well, I don't really see it.

Speaker I mean, it's a whole new element, but it doesn't really change anything because he is just the way he is. And he is that way as an ambassador. He's that way as a writer. I mean, he's Sydney, you know, it's just Sydney. Sydney does all of these things. He's always done these things. He's always, you know, he's kind of been an ambassador anyway in life, you know, just for his people, you know. So he's just has just this very easy attitude about whatever he's doing. And it seems to come very easily to him. You know, for me, it's more difficult for him. It's easy way. Well, he's when he's writing, he writes. He's very intense. And whatever he does and when he's writing, he writes, he's on his computer day and night. And he you know, I have to kind of I don't get any sleep because I wake up every three hours to check on him to see if he's, you know, going to get to bed, get some sleep, get some rest. You can't do this, you know, but he is intense. He just sits there and he writes and writes, and that's the way he is. And as an ambassador, he's just always, you know, he comes very easily to him because he is so clever and so smart and so articulate. He's it's just easy for him. And he's a wonderful asset to the bombers. You know, when he goes to Japan, they love him not only because he's the ambassador, but he's Sidney Poitier, the actor. In fact, when he had to present his credentials to the emperor, you know, all there were other ambassadors who were doing the same thing. But they they had like four minutes, five minutes. He was there for like twenty minutes and they took photographs and he didn't realise they were photographing him because obviously they have like maybe two way mirrors. I'm not sure how they do it, but there were no cameras, nothing. And he received these photographs and so on. And it sort of set a new precedent because now all the new all the ambassadors were presenting their credentials. All want to be photographed. So they have to do it now because they did have Sydney. So he started something negative.

Speaker But he's you know, it's it's difficult, you know, because he works all the time. You know, he's always working. He's either writing or he's doing something for the Bahamas or he's doing a movie. And but it's OK because I'm working, too. So we meet each other at the end of the day and we discuss it and or in the middle of the night. That's a good time when everything's quiet. So little know.

Speaker Tell us about your work, what what what is it that you're doing and when did you start doing it?

Speaker Well, I'm doing interior design and I started doing it when my children went away to college, because up until that point, I was just a mother or a mother. I'm not sure because I was with my children all the time. And then when they left, it was kind of emptiness and menopause at the same time. So it was like, you know, and I thought, I have to do something. And a friend of mine had been asking me to do a house for her for a few years. And I kept saying no because my kids were getting ready to go to college and I had to do all that motherly college stuff. And so finally she waited. And when my both of my girls were at school, I did this house for it was my first house and it was huge. It was like twenty five thousand square foot house on nine acres. And I did everything with those. Everything in it was it was a project. It was a major project. So she was very happy with it. And some other people saw it and one project led to another. So I've done about four or five houses, big houses, and I did a New York apartment as well on Fifth Avenue for another friend, mostly friends.

Speaker I've worked for friends only so far.

Speaker And do you love it? Well, I love beautiful things and I love to shop. And it doesn't matter if it's for me or for somebody else. As long as I'm finding something wonderful, I'm happy to let somebody else have it as long as I am sort of participating in it. I enjoy making their environments beautiful and comfortable and then if they're happy with it, I'm happy about it. How did she first did she see your home first? She saw our home in L.A. and which we have subsequently sold. We now have this apartment and apartment in L.A. now, too. And she loved my house and I did her house. And it's very it's a big space, but it's my thing is making things cozy, comfortable and warm and like they've sort of lived there for years and sort of had great aunts and uncles or left them things. You know, I like that sort of instant inheritance sort of feeling.

Speaker Yeah, yeah.

Speaker I oh, I want to go back to something that I that I skipped. When you were doing Last Man with Sidney, what was it like to work with what is he like as an actor.

Speaker He's very generous as an actor. You know, unfortunately I was never a trained actress. So whatever he tried to kill me didn't really work, because when I when they said action, I would just sort of do something. I never knew what I was doing. I sort of like blanked out. The words will come out and I had no idea what I did or continuity wise, I couldn't. You know, we do it for you. But he was wonderful and very I was very nervous. It was my first American film. And it's totally different from working in Europe. In Europe, you're working like in a group, like a family. You know, you can hold a light. You can, you know, do the decor if you want to. You know, it's not the same here. And so it was like kind of overwhelming. And he was very calming and generous and good. And he's a he's a wonderful director, too. So, you know, if I did something that was kind of stupid, he'd sort of say, you know, little I try and take it down, but I never remember what I did. So it doesn't really matter.

Speaker The years that he was directing, what is the favorite film of his that he directed of his that of my favorite film of his.

Speaker And I think it was rather John.

Speaker You know, I think it was by the John, it was just a very kind of wonderful film. I mean, there's a lot of them I also like to warm to of that is directing for oh, he's just a very good director.

Speaker He's very considerate of the actors, very considerate. He would never, ever put an actor down in front of anybody or tell the actor that they were doing something wrong or, you know, if he wanted to do something, he'd take them off and whisper very quietly to them. In fact, I got a little jealous every now and then because there were some cute little actresses who kept whispering on their ear. I thought, I wonder what he's saying, but I never go on the set basically either way, because I would if my husband was a lawyer or a doctor, I wouldn't go and sit and watch him work, you know? So I just feel this is his job. And, you know, you have a special relationship with the people you work with. And I didn't want to interfere with it. And I didn't also want to sort of interpret it in any other way than, you know, because you get kind of little feelings and things. Anyway, he's just a wonderful director. He's very nurturing to his actors and very considerate. Considerate. Even when he interviews actors for jobs, he's not like some of them working towards the. He makes everyone feel like they are the most wonderful. They are the best actors in the whole wide world. And he just wishes that he could put them in. But there aren't enough parts, you know, so.

Speaker So you don't hang around the set because you get jealous?

Speaker Well, I used to when I was very young, you get jealous, but I've been after 30 years, you don't get jealous anymore. It's like but it's not necessary to get jealous. It's just that, you know, when you're working, you have a certain camaraderie with your other actors, you know, friends of the crew and so on. And coming in there myself as an outsider, I might not understand it, you know, I mean, I might feel a little rejected or a little a little jealous, maybe so.

Speaker But, you know, I've been there and done that and I wouldn't want him hanging around watching me, you know? So I think that I've just never gone on the set. And I find it boring anyway, you know?

Speaker So, you know, yeah, I forget to say it out loud.

Speaker Ask as Joanne Sidney talked about, hoping that he would know. Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Speaker They're talking about acting because I don't act anymore.

Speaker You don't know. I don't feel so wonderful. Well, it was a time for it. There was a season. Yeah. But you're still so beautiful and so wonderful. It's our loss. Thank you. But I guess in talking about that, he said that he he hoped that he'd know when it was time for him to step down. What what do you think of that is even a sentiment?

Speaker Well, I think he's right.

Speaker I think that there is a time he's right about I think it's right for him to feel that there is a time when you should step down. You know, he's done he's had such an amazing, wonderful career. He still looks to me, you know, like a young man sometimes when he's not smiling. I call him my grumpy old man because he looks pretty old. But when he smiles, I mean, to me, he still looks like he's in his thirties. You know, he's got that wonderful smile and he's just a beautiful man.

Speaker But there is a time when you should, you know, step down, let the others take over for you. And I think that I think he still is, in my opinion, a few good years. But in his opinion, I think he'd like to sort of just sort of go with the writing now and whatever he decides to do, it's, of course, his decision and certainly for it. But I still think he looks pretty.

Speaker What else is there that you would like to say, what other thing is there in you that you wanted to say about?

Speaker I don't really know about Sydney, but I'm.

Speaker Did he talk to you about his prostate when he had cancer? Yes, I did.

Speaker I did talk about that. He didn't talk about that on film yet, but we were going to be getting to that. Oh, you are. So talk about it now and and and then if he wants to keep it in and if he doesn't want to take it up so well, that time when Sidney had prostate cancer, he's thank God for free and clear.

Speaker It's going to be six years now. So but that to me was the most horrendous. And actually I really shouldn't talk about the symptoms. You you want to cry, but if you cry, you cry. Well, I don't like to cry too much. I always cry and I cry at the drop of a hat. So I'm a pushover for the tears. But it was to me my life was going to sort of, you know, come to an end when I heard it, that I was like very strong, I was very strong.

Speaker And it was like the hardest period of my life because it was like a month where we didn't tell anybody because we weren't quite sure, you know, what was going to happen and so on. And he had to do some more tests and stuff. So for like a month, I couldn't I didn't talk to the children, his children, our children together, anyone. And it was like such a I'll never forget that period. But the best part about it is the fact that he came through it fine. But it also made us both, I think, realize that life is very short and the most important thing is your health. And I think that after that happened, we sort of both changed a little bit. You know, Sidney is very he's a very controlling man. I mean, he likes to keep everything under control and so on. He became less that way, much more open and much more kind of giving emotionally. Basically, it's sort of lightened him up a bit. You know, and myself, on the other hand, made me realize that, you know, there is nothing more important than your relationship and your family. I mean, I knew that before, but there were always like little things like, you know, what you did and how much you know, how many friends you had and all that stuff. But this was the most important thing to me. But that that's basically what it is. And it was like, I don't know what I'm saying anymore. I've forgotten. But it was just a terrible time. But we came through it and he's gone.

Speaker But it did help us all, you know, and well, Sidney spoke to me privately about the fact that Rodney know dearest Roddy, I know had had the same thing at the same time and that they used to meet for lunch.

Speaker Right. And and discuss what was happening.

Speaker It's a scary thing, but I think. Right. I don't know whether Roddy did the same thing when Sidney had his you know, there were choices you could do. You could do a hormonal treatment. You could do a radiation thing where you just get rid of the prostate and you know that that's the that was the best way to go. And that's what he chose to do, which was what I would want him to do, too. But I think Roddy went another route. And so I think that's why it's sort of it wasn't that, you know, the best way to go. And I guess that's why I don't know. But maybe that's why it sort of went to other areas in his body.

Speaker All right, thank you, very important.

Speaker Well, you're only going to use little bits and pieces anyway, so his control over his control, over his emotions and in so many of his performances, what you see is control of rage. Where does that come from? The control, the rage around the control.

Speaker Well, you know.

Speaker He's had a lot of stuff in his life, you know, all through his life. I mean, he's 70, he's going to be 72 years old, and he grew up, you know, at a time when America was and he was in America when America was America and that whole racial thing.

Speaker And I mean, he kept, I'm sure, a lot of that in. But he was able to control it.

Speaker I don't know. He's just a very controlled person. You know, he is that way with his friends. I mean, he's not. He doesn't sort of let it all hang out, he gets it in bits and, you know, bits and pieces. I don't know how to explain. It's just Sydney. You know, Sydney is just the way he is.

Speaker He likes to be able to see that everything is organized and that his children are doing exactly what they're, you know, should be doing at that point. Or, you know, probably he'd like to control what I'm saying right now.

Speaker Hopefully he'll do that.

Speaker Oh, I don't know. I can't really say you should ask him that question or I will because I think he'll answer it much better. Yeah, I will.

Speaker Uh.

Speaker Something is said that makes you want something else.

Speaker The children, when you said he's the more the disciplinarian and you're the patsy. In what way? I mean, does this come from his being raised of all the things that you have to do as a child?

Speaker Well, I think that Sydney feels that struggle is sort of the most important character builder that you can possibly ever have, you know, for.

Speaker And he's probably right. I mean, I struggled all through my life and here I am. And he struggled through his. And yet I think parents, when they have children and they've struggled, they sort of want to do more and not let them go through what they went through. And it may be wrong, you know, but then I feel, God, you know, I went through it and it wasn't so great. Why can't I just sort of make it a little easier for my girls, you know? But I guess I you know, I guess I could be a little more tough and he could be a little less tough. You know, his punishment, I mean, didn't really fit the crime. If, you know, they came home late or went to an X-ray at night, X rated R rated movie when they were 12 or be three months, you know, I'd give them maybe a week, you know, of, you know, but you called it not detention.

Speaker But I you know, I've got grounding. Yeah.

Speaker But he was very, you know, kind of he was the disciplinarian, tough daddy, but, you know, a loving daddy, but tough, you know, but, you know, we have great children. All of us children are wonderful. He's got four girls with one idea that was fabulous. And he and I are two together. They're amazing. They're good, they're kind. They're, you know, just wonderful, caring.

Speaker Well, of showing your caring. Yeah, it is. But they adore him. They worship and adore him. Yes, they do. They definitely do worship and adore him. So he's got seven women.

Speaker Well, including me. I mean, worshipping idols.

Speaker He does. Yeah. Yeah. And all those other ones out there in the world too. Because wherever we go, I'm telling you, women just come up to Sydney and, you know, they want to touch him. They want to kiss him. They you know, they're so sweet and he enjoys it all. Yeah. Yeah. Including me. Well, he definitely enjoys you.

Joanna Schimkus Poitier
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-9882j68r6t, cpb-aacip-504-2j6833nf06, cpb-aacip-504-nz80k2743g
"Joanna Schimkus Poitier, Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 06 Oct. 1998,
(1998, October 06). Joanna Schimkus Poitier, Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Joanna Schimkus Poitier, Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). October 06, 1998. Accessed January 20, 2022


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