The Dinner of a Lifetime
For a dinner of such magnitude, love truly was in every detail. Oprah called on master party planner Colin Cowie to pull out all the stops, starting with the lush, red velvet invitations hand-designed by premiere New York City designer Ellen Welden.
Colin also added six Swarovski crystal sconces and a dazzling chandelier, and Colin had top floral designers from Mark's Garden bring in 4,000 roses for the event!
Still, Colin was just getting started. He still had to create a dinner table that was an absolute feast for the eyes. Sterling silver chargers cradled the fine china. Love was even found in every detail of the sterling silver flatware from the House of Christofle. "This pattern is called 'Malmaison' from Napoleon's chateau in France," Colin says. "Fifty-two people work on this before it makes its way to the table."
The first course is a warm lobster and diver sea scallop salad with toasted hazelnuts, beets, goat cheese and blood-orange vinaigrette. The salad is served with a 2003 Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes Du Rhone Blanc.
Following the salad is a wild mushroom porcini risotto with roasted confit tomato and parmesan. The wine is a 2003 Felsina "Fontalloro" Sangiovese from Tuscany.
For the main course, Sidney and his guests would dine on pan roasted organic chicken with french black truffles and yellowfin potato puree, served with a 2004 Dumol Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.
Dinner guest Dawnn tells Sidney that she's loved him since she was 8 years old. As a young, single mother raising two boys 25 years ago, she says Sidney's life and works have taken on significant meaning in her life.
"I was 21 years old and … I saw your [first] autobiography in the bookstore, and I just snatched it. And every night after I put the kids to bed, I would just start reading your book and I just fell in love with you even more," Dawnn says. "Every time I wanted to make a point, if I wanted to stress education, I wanted to stress that they can do anything that they wanted to do, I would always tell them about you. Always. I've just always admired you."
Tiffany says she admires Sidney for his suggestion. "I loved the parts of the book where you had artistic control when no black actor was doing that, was revising scripts," Tiffany says.
"But was it artistic control, or was it just a decision that you had made?" Oprah asks.
"It was a decision I had made in the absence of artistic control," Sidney says. "I didn't have the power in those days—and I truly didn't—to say, 'Well, I won't do that unless you fix it.' I could only say, 'I won't do that as it stands.'"
Because of his age, Sidney says he had a strong sense of self when he arrived in Florida. The youngest of seven children, Sidney's hardworking parents taught by example the values of pride and integrity that always guided him. "My identity was formed. I knew largely who I was," he says. "So when Florida said to me, 'You are not who you think you are,' I said to Florida, 'I am not what you think I am.'"
After arriving in Miami, Sidney became a delivery boy for a drugstore, but the pharmacist didn't explain the "rules" that came with his job—or his skin color. Once, Sidney rang the front doorbell while delivering to a white woman. She snapped at him to "get around to the back door, where you belong." Sidney couldn't figure out why, so he left the package on the front step. When he arrived home, he found his family had been threatened by the Ku Klux Klan.
Being the 1940s, the pharmacist had assumed that Sidney would know, as a black boy making a delivery he was expected to go to the back of the house. "Thank God that pharmacist didn't tell you, didn't tell you to go to the back door," Brian says. "Your life may have turned out completely different if you had known."
It's a passage that guest Tommy has taken to heart. The father of four sons, ages 3 to 7, he constantly searched for the perfect parenting manual—until he read The Measure of a Man. "I only get one shot and I gotta do it right," Tommy says. "This is everything I've been looking for in a how-to manual on how to raise men—not boys—men."
He's already taught his sons about strength, dignity, character and a strong sense of self. "One of the main points that I've already shared with them is know who you are," Tommy says. "So when someone calls my oldest son, Oree, a name in school, 'Well, you know who you are, so that [name] does not mean you. Let it fall away like an autumn leaf because you know who you are.'"
Watch Sidney discuss the roles that fate and luck played in his life , and learn about his mother's fascinating encounter with a soothsayer.
The film particularly had an impact on dinner guest Betsy, who is married to an African-American man. "We just go about our lives, and if we run into anyone who looks askance or doesn't want to seat us, I just think, 'That just told me something about them,'" she says. "It never occurs to me or to my husband, John, to think, 'Oh, maybe there's something wrong with what we're doing.'"
What "things" is Sidney talking about? "Are you talking about boys?" Oprah laughs.
All joking aside, Sidney couldn't be prouder of his family. "My girls have grown up wonderfully well and are doing quite nicely," he says. "They have given me five grandchildren and a great-grandchild, and I'm happy with them as people, though, especially happy with them as people."
"We're so proud of you," they all say to Sidney. "We love you."
It's a gesture that moves Sidney to tears. "Isn't that something," he says.
"To me, that's the measure of a man," Tommy says. "When your children are talking like that. That's what I want."
Still, Sidney says he is always looking to improve himself as an outsider. "I am who I am, and whenever I am treated in a way that I feel is contrary to how I hold myself, I will defend myself by improving myself," he says. "The more I improve myself, the more of a man I become, the more of a humane person I become."
Looking back, Sidney says he never would have pursued acting if the director had not shown him the door. "I went back and I decided that I was going to become an actor to show him that he was wrong about me," he says.
Sidney went home, deciding to tackle his thick accent first. At night, Sidney listened to the radio and picked out different voices to emulate. One radio host stood out—Norman Brokenshire. "It was distinctly American but with a very British flavor," Sidney says. "Every word he spoke, every sentence he made, I would repeat it. By the end of six months, I was ready for an audition."
Education still weighs heavily on Sidney's mind. "That question bothers me a lot, the question of education. We are too rich a country to have inner city education what it is. It is each family, I believe, who has the responsibility to educate their children no matter what their own education is," Sidney says.
Dinner guest Philip volunteer teaches in the inner-city New York schools. "When I introduced the book to them, they said, 'Wow, I didn't know Sidney Poitier could barely read in the beginning,'" Philip says. "And that registered. They could connect with this because they could relate."
Watch all of Oprah's emotional toast to Sidney.
"I'd like to make a toast to the forces," she says. "Here's to you, who I have loved my entire life and even before I was born."
"Don't we all wish that we could be 80 and looking like this?" Oprah says.
What does it mean to Sidney to turn 80? "It makes me feel good that I have attended to some of my responsibilities over the years. I have my children, my wife and my friends, so it feels wonderful getting to be 80," he says.
But Sidney's not the only one who receives such a lovely gift. The dinner guests are presented with gifts on silver platters. Each receives a leather-bound, autographed copy of The Measure of a Man and the Montblanc pen that Sidney used to personally sign each person's copy.
The day she picked up the book, she ate Chinese food. After the meal, she says her fortune cookie read, "What you will discover is yourself."
"I thought that was really interesting, and I kept that fortune," she says to Sidney. "I kept reading the book, looking for things to tell my sons. And what I found was me and my dignity through you. I want to thank you for that because that is the gift I can pass to my boys."
Watch Oprah's interview with author Cormac McCarthy—his first time ever on television! Get everything you need to get the most out of reading The Road.