Oprah: And he could not be embarrassed.
Sidney: He wouldn't have stood for it. So I got a call from Hedda Hopper [the famous Hollywood columnist]. She said, "I know Sam, and he's in a tough position. If you don't do his picture, he'll see to it that you never work in this town again."
Sidney: So I had a lot of thinking to do, and I agonized. And I couldn't come to a conclusion. Finally, Marty and I came up with the only thing I could do, because I wanted to do The Defiant Ones. I did one movie, Porgy and Bess, so I could do the other. It was painful, but it was useful. I learned some lessons, and if I had it to do again, I wouldn't do it any differently, because I had work to do.
Oprah: Oh my goodness, Sidney—if you hadn't done it, I wouldn't have been on that linoleum floor watching you get out of the limousine! And I might not be here today. So what did doing Porgy and Bess teach you?
Sidney: That it is difficult to be your own man in America. There is a fierce requirement to adjust to circumstances.
Oprah: Wasn't that just the nature of Hollywood at the time?
Sidney: It was difficult. [Blacks] were so new in Hollywood. There was almost no frame of reference for us except as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters.
Oprah: Maids and buffoons. And obviously, you weren't going to play any role that negated the character of blacks.
Sidney: Not only was I not going to do that, but I had in mind what was expected of me—not just what other blacks expected but what my mother and father expected. And what I expected of myself.
Oprah: And what was that expectation?
Sidney: To walk through my life as my own man. I'd seen my father. He was a poor man, and I watched him do astonishing things. After the tomato business failed [on Cat Island], he moved to Nassau with no money. He moved there with rheumatoid arthritis, and I saw him hang on to his dignity day by day. And it was hard, because there, if you had nothing, you got no respect. Yet he never lost his dignity. And in his lifetime, my father never earned as much money as I spend in a week.
Oprah: I read that shortly after you were born, you weren't expected to live because you were delivered so prematurely.
Sidney: I was expected to be dead within two, three days. I was born two months early, and everyone had given up on me. But my mother insisted on my life. She went throughout the black sections of Miami, where I was born, looking for help to save her child. She went to the church, and she went to the few people she knew. Absolutely heavyhearted, my mom passed a fortune-teller's stall, and she sat with this lady. She said, "I need you to tell me about my son." And the woman said, "Don't worry about your son. He will not be a sickly child. He will walk with kings. He will step on pillars of gold. And he will carry your name to many places."
We Hear You!