Tag Archives: kenya

Something of Value

Some Hollywood stories are so unbelievable …  they can only be true.

I was reminded of this recently because I’m currently writing a book on Griffith Park – the eight-square-mile wooded and chaparral-covered oasis that’s surrounded on all sides by L.A.’s urban sprawl.

Because of its proximity to Hollywood (the Hollywood sign is actually on park property), the park has appeared in thousands of films and television shows over the years.

While conducting research on some of these films, I’ve discovered some truly stunning coincidences.

Take, for example, the back story to the film Something of Value from 1957, which was partly shot in the park’s Bronson Canyon. This film co-starred Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier, as boyhood friends growing up in British colonial Kenya, who as adults get caught on opposite sides of the Mau Mau racial uprising in the 50s that tore their nation apart.

Two years earlier, Bahamian Poitier had his breakout performance in Blackboard Jungle, and would earn his first Academy Award nomination in 1958 for The Defiant Ones. Five years later he became the first African-American man to win the Oscar for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field. Over the next several years, he would star in, and occasionally direct, several more successful films, and would for a time serve as a Bahamian diplomat.

In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

But back to Kenya for a moment.

Our President’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was one of the millions of Kenyans who lived through the bloody Mau Mau uprising. Obama Sr.’s father Onyango had been jailed and tortured by the British during a previous independence movement, sustaining  injuries that affected him for the rest of his life.

In 1959 – as one of his country’s best and brightest – the President’s father was awarded a scholarship to study economics in America. He came to the University of Hawaii, becoming the first African national on campus.

He met and married President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, although he was still married to a woman in Kenya at the time. The marriage soon ended, but not before the August 4, 1961 birth of Barack Obama II in Honolulu. Just over 47 years later, he would become our nation’s first African-American President.

After a time in Harvard, the President’s father ended up back in Kenya, where accidents and alcoholism ended his life prematurely.

But did you know who helped fund the 1959 scholarship that brought Barack Obama Sr. to America in the first place?

Sidney Poitier.

(I would like to congratulate my stepdaughter Mariah, who will earn "something of value" tonight, when she is awarded her high school diploma!)