Poitier's No Way Out Debut

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No Way Out was actually based on the experiences of Lesser Samuels’ son-in-law who, along with his colleagues, faced discrimination while working as doctors. 20th Century Fox paid $87 thousand for the rights to Samuels' short story, which was published in January 1949.

Studio head Darryl Zanuck advised on changes to the plot, which included focusing on Sidney Poitier's character. Zanuck wrote, “[The black doctor] does not seek admittance to white man’s society. All he asks for is civility, not condescension, in the work he has chosen… He has an inner dignity of his own.”

1. It was Poitier’s big break.

No Way Out was twenty-two year old Sidney Poitier’s first credited film role. However, he initially turned it down – not because he didn’t want it but because he was already committed to a play. Director Joseph Mankiewicz suggested that he consult his agent and then get back to him. Poitier said, “Little did I know at the time, but now I was dealing with Hollywood, and what Hollywood wants, Hollywood gets.” Sidney would later credit Mankiewicz for his big break. To prep for the role, Poitier observed interns in the emergency room at the Los Angeles hospital.

2. Widmark didn’t want the part.

Richard Widmark didn’t want to play the part because he was personally offended by the character. However, Darryl Zanuck convinced him that the movie was important, and Widmark relented. However, when acting, he couldn’t help but think what Poitier was feeling. He said, “The cameras would start rolling, and then I’d see his eyes flash, and I knew something more than acting was going on between us.” While he may have felt that (and apologized profusely for it), Sidney Poitier understood the nature of the film and never held it against his co-star. In fact, he always remembered that Widmark was the first one in Hollywood to invite him over for dinner. They remained friends even after the production ended.

3. The film was banned in some areas.

Due to the subject matter of the film, it was banned in some Southern theaters. It was also banned in Chicago, and the police commissioner wrote to director Joseph Mankiewicz telling him that it would “cause unrest and civil disorder.” Mankiewicz wrote back saying, “I’m glad Chicago has a police commissioner who is keeping the city free of disorder” – a snide remark given Chicago’s trouble with the notorious gangster at the time, Al Capone.