Emotional Sidney Poitier recalls how a kind Jewish waiter taught him to read as a boy

Emotional Sidney Poitier recalls how a kind Jewish waiter taught him to read as a boy

Sidney Poitier knew he had what it took to be an actor but he couldn't read. That's when a kind stranger jumped in to change his life.

Last week, the world lost another gem of an actor, Sidney Poitier. He was 94. Poitier was not only Hollywood's first Black movie star but also the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor. The actor, director, and civil rights icon was born in the Bahamas and he eventually moved to New York with a dream to become an actor. But there was one problem: Poitier could not read. 

The star knew there was no way he'd make it as an actor if he couldn't read. Thankfully, he found a kind waiter who took some time out to teach Poitier how to read. An emotional Poitier recalled this incident on CBS Sunday Morning to Lesley Stahl.


After arriving in New York, the late actor was washing dishes at a restaurant to get by. He would bring in newspapers during his shifts and a Jewish person once asked him about the news. Poitier replied he couldn't tell him as he couldn't read. I sit there, and I’m reading one of the papers. And there was a Jewish waiter sitting at the table, an elderly man, and he saw me there," recalled Poitier in the episode. 

"He got up, and he walked over, and he stood by the table that’s next to the kitchen, and he said, ‘Hi. What’s new in the papers?’ And I said to him, ‘I can’t tell you what’s new in the papers because I don’t read very well. I didn’t have very much of an education,'" he added. "He asked, 'Would you like me to read with you.' I said to him, 'Yes, if you'd like to,'" he said.

From then on, he would sit "every night" with the waiter who would teach him to read after his work shift was over. Poitier had to fight back tears as he recalled the kindness of the man who had almost nothing to gain from teaching him but still did it. "Every night after that he would come over and sit with me, and he would teach me what a comma is and why it exists, what periods are, what colons are, what dashes are," he explained.


"He would teach me that there are syllables and how to differentiate them in a single word and consequently, learn how to pronounce them. Every night," continued the emotional star. Poitier noted that this slowly changed the trajectory of his life, as a human being and as an actor. That being said, he had one regret in life. 

"One of my great regrets in life is that I went on to be a very successful actor, and one day I tried to find him, but it was too late, and I regret that I never had the opportunity to really thank him," he said during an episode of the podcast What It Takes. He also paid tribute to the kind Jewish man during interviews with Oprah, on 60 Minutes and even mentioned him during his award acceptance speeches.

Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot | CBS Sunday Morning

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