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Poitier Evaluates Impact of Oscar

Apr. 14, 1964 - Sidney Poitier (pictured with Hedda Hopper and director Ralph Nelson), who last night became the first Negro to win an Oscar for best acting, thinks his victory may help break down some barriers for Negro actors.

“I like to think it will help someone,” he said today. “But I don’t believe my Oscar will be a sort of magic wand that will wipe away the restrictions on job opportunities for Negro actors.”

Despite the seriousness of his words, Mr. Poitier was still walking in an aura of joy that began last night at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, when his name was announced by Anne Bancroft for best film acting in “Lilies of the Field.”

“I guess I leaped six feet from my seat when my name was called. You can call that surprise if you want to,” he said with a relaxed chuckle.

The 40-year-old star observed that it was only nine years ago that, despite a solid list of acting credits, he was trying to maintain himself by running a little restaurant in Harlem while he looked for acting jobs.

“I closed that restaurant four or five minutes before the sheriff came to do the same job.” He laughed. “I just have no gift for the restaurant business. I was a colossal failure.”

Mr. Poitier realized that other good actors can have a bad spell even after they seem to be established. But it was impossible for him to ignore the fact that being a Negro was a serious handicap in acting.

“I was considered only for Negro roles. That sure had a lot to do with the scarcity of my jobs during those years. There were lots of nondescript parts that could have been played by any good actor, regardless of race or color. I don’t say it was all due to conscious prejudice. You might call it institutionalized omissions. These are among the wrongs that are part of the daily living. They are ingrained very deeply. I think there is a lessening of opposition to Negroes in good acting parts.”

Even now, Mr. Poitier said, he has to be realistic about his own future.

“I don’t think there will be a great race to my door with jobs I want. It will increase my economic potential in movies. Not immediately and not in great volume. But it will, in the long run.”

The actor has been invited to be congratulated by New York City Mayor Robert Wagner in City Hall next Monday at 11:45 a.m.

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