- 1927 – Sidney Poitier, Bahamian-American actor, director, and diplomat (d. 2022)
- 1936 – Larry Hovis, American actor and singer (d. 2003)
Sidney Poitier KBE (20 February 1927 to 06 January 2022) was a Bahamian and American actor, film director, and diplomat. In 1964, he was the first black actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He received two competitive Golden Globe Awards, a competitive British Academy of Film and Television Arts award (BAFTA), and a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Poitier was one of the last major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.
Poitier’s family lived in the Bahamas, then still a Crown colony, but he was born unexpectedly in Miami, Florida, while they were visiting, which automatically granted him US citizenship. He grew up in the Bahamas, but moved to Miami at age 15, and to New York City when he was 16. He joined the American Negro Theatre, landing his breakthrough film role as a high school student in the film Blackboard Jungle (1955). In 1958, Poitier starred with Tony Curtis as chained-together escaped convicts in The Defiant Ones, which received nine Academy Award nominations; both actors received nominations for Best Actor, with Poitier’s being the first for a Black actor. They both also had Best Actor nominations for the BAFTAs, with Poitier winning. Additionally Poitier won the Silver Bear for Best Actor for his performance in the film. In 1964, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field (1963), playing an itinerant handyman helping a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel.
Poitier also received acclaim for Porgy and Bess (1959), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and A Patch of Blue (1965), because of his strong roles as epic African American male characters. He continued to break ground in three successful 1967 films which dealt with issues of race and race relations: To Sir, with Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night, the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture for that year. He received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for his performance in the last film, and in a poll the next year he was voted the US’s top box-office star. Beginning in the 1970s, Poitier also directed various comedy films, including Stir Crazy (1980), starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, among other films. After nearly a decade away from acting, he returned to television and film starring in Shoot to Kill (1988) and Sneakers (1992).
Poitier was granted a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. In 1982, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1995, he received the Kennedy Center Honor. From 1997 to 2007, he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 1999, he ranked 22nd among male actors on the “100 Years…100 Stars” list by the American Film Institute and received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In 2002, he was given an Honorary Academy Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being”. In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States, by President Barack Obama. In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film.
During World War II, in November 1943, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Northport, New York, and was trained to work with psychiatric patients. Poitier became upset with how the hospital treated its patients and feigned mental illness to obtain a discharge. Poitier confessed to a psychiatrist that he was faking his condition, but the doctor was sympathetic and granted his discharge under Section VIII of Army regulation 615-360 in December 1944.
After leaving the Army, he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a role in an American Negro Theatre production, the same company he failed his first audition with.
Larry Hovis (20 February 1936 to 09 September 2003) was an American singer and actor best known for the 1960s television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.
In 1964, he was discovered by Andy Griffith’s manager and was hired to appear on the TV series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., where he played “Pvt. Larry Gotschalk”.
In 1965, when another actor backed out of the television show Hogan’s Heroes, Hovis was cast as “Sgt. Andrew Carter”, a POW in a German prison camp who was an expert on explosives. In the pilot episode, Carter was a lieutenant, and was only going to appear in that one episode. For the series, the character became Sgt. Carter, replacing a character played by Leonid Kinskey in the pilot (Kinskey decided after the pilot that he did not want to stay with a show that had actors pretending to be Nazis). In the series, Carter was of Sioux ancestry. A few sources say that Hovis was partly of Yakama Indian ancestry, but no documentation supports his membership within the Yakama Nation. Later, in an episode of the comedy Alice, Hovis played an American Indian police detective who arrests a fake American Indian conman.