WTF Fun Fact 12927 – Sidney Poitier Was Once Homeless

When the legendary Sidney Poitier died in January of 2022, people who paid tribute to him remembered an interview from 1985 in which he told ABC News that he arrived in NYC with $3 to his name, worked as a dishwasher, and was homeless.

Working his way up

If you’re over 40, you probably immediately recognize the name Sidney Poitier, even if you never sat down and watched “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” If you’re lucky, you’ve seen him in movies such as “In the Heat of the Night” and more. Poitier was the first Black person to win an Academy Award for lead actor.

But his beginnings were far more humble. He arrived in New York City from his home in the Bahamas with dreams of being an actor but was quickly dismissed. According to his obituary in the LA Times (cited below):

“It was the most unlikely of beginnings. Newly arrived from the Bahamas with a thick West Indian accent, Sidney Poitier fumbled his lines so badly when he tried out for the American Negro Theatre in Harlem that he was advised he’d be better off getting a job as a dishwasher.

Humiliated but unbroken, Poitier bought a $13 radio and spent hours listening to the announcers, mimicking their pronunciation and the rhythms of their speech. When he returned to the theater, his audition was little better, but when another unknown actor, Harry Belafonte, pulled out of a performance, Poitier stepped into the limelight.”

Poitier’s time homeless on the streets of NYC

While his subsequent rise to stardom was the stuff dreams are made of, in 1985 he sat down with ABC News to describe those early days in New York working as a dishwasher. And with the dignity he seemed to exude so effortlessly, he dropped the bombshell that he once used to sleep in the public toilets on the streets of the city.

They cost a nickel to get into, so he’d put in his money, prop his feet up against the stall door, and sleep “uncomfortably” for the night until it was time to go back to work or auditions.

Poitier’s first film came out in 1950 and was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. In “No Way Out” he played an intern in a hospital prison ward in a film that explored racial prejudice.

At the time, Black actors had such minor roles as maids and janitors that they could be easily cut out of the films when they aired in the U.S. South.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Sidney Poitier, trailblazing star who helped break down Hollywood color barriers, dies at 94” — LA Times

WTF Fun Fact 12422 – Robin Williams’ Good Deed

It’s no secret that the late comedian Robin Williams’ had a good heart. But fewer people know the stories that gave him that reputation – stories like Lisa Jakub’s.

In 1993, she was a young actress playing Williams’ daughter in the comedy Mrs. Doubtfire. As most of us know, child actors often get tutored on set since they miss a lot of school days. But Jakub was still enrolled in her Toronto-area school at the time. That is until she hit the absence threshold.

I was upset and Robin asked me about it,” Jakub told months after Williams’ untimely death in 2014. “The next day he showed up at my trailer with a letter he’d written to the principal asking him to reconsider and let me come back to high school. In an industry where people are only in it for themselves, Robin was not like that. Robin had my back and that will always be precious to me.”

The letter read, in part:

“I have spent the past three months working on ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ with Lisa Jakub. I found Lisa to be a bright, inquisitive and an eager to learn young lady. She is charming and a delight. … I respectfully request that you reconsider your policy and allow Lisa the opportunity to work and attend school. She is an asset to any classroom.”

Unfortunately, the letter impressed the school but did not change their decision. In fact, they framed the letter and hung it on the wall in their main office but did not allow Jakub back in.

The letter went viral on Reddit in 2015 and Jakub herself updated fans. Her message read:

Hi there – just wanted to say thanks for sharing this, and maybe answer a few questions I’m seeing. I was being tutored on set for the required three hours a day and mailing back work to my school. However, my absence required that my teachers put together special work for me and my school wasn’t willing to do that. I had told them in advance that I would be away (I had been an actor since I was four, so this wasn’t really news) but during the long shoot it became too much of an issue for them. I don’t really blame them – it was very unusual, especially in the Canadian suburbs, in the early 90s. As for the legality of it all, I really don’t know. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be somewhere I wasn’t wanted – so we didn’t fight it. I ended up attending a private school after that, for a short time. They also struggled with accommodating my strange work schedule. I was told that wasn’t a good fit, either. So, I never graduated from high school. When I was in my twenties, after I left LA and retired from acting, I got my GED. When I was thirty-one, I graduated from the University of Virginia. I still live in VA, and I’m a writer now. (I tell this whole story in my book, if you’re interested – You Look Like That Girl ) So, it all turned out ok in the end! But of course the point of all of this is really that Robin was a spectacular individual, who took the time to fight for a kid going through a personal problem. And I’m just glad that people are hearing that story – because that’s who he truly was. That’s how I like to remember him.”

– WTF Fun Facts

Source: “‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ actress: Robin Williams was ‘spectacular’ when I needed help” — TODAY