Oscar nominated actress, Juanita Moore, died at age 99.
The name “Juanita Moore” may not ring a bell to you, but the face most certainly will:
No matter your age or era, you know her face and the fact that she was “the mom” in “that movie.” That’s all you have to say-if you don’t remember her character’s name. You KNOW about the mom in that movie.
Moore is most recognized from “that-movie”: a the tearjerker [based on a Fannie Hurst novel and the remake of a 1934 film] called “Imitation of Life” (in 1959).
In the movie, she played an African American mother of a bi racial child (played by Mexican and Czech bi racial actress: Susan Kohner as “Sarah Jane”), who wanted so badly to deny, flee, and rid herself of any connection to her mother.
As the movie progresses and the daughter grows older, the mother spends a great deal of time in the movie worried about her daughter and tracking her down in dire need to see her-which is always met with unopened and unwelcoming arms, every time.
…except this one or two times (sorta)
Kohner’s character had ambitions of becoming a superstar-but felt that the only way she could succeed and make it was to pass as a white woman and deny her African American bloodline (and mother) who, by end movie (and all that she put her through); dies.
The death of the mother is the climactic part of the movie because the daughter didn’t realize she loved her and needed her until the very moment the casket was being driven off. The piercing voice of Mahalia Jackson was singing loudly-and every single detail of how she wanted to be buried was accomodated by Lana Turner’s character who sent her off in class and style.
Moore was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie which too, starred Turner (whose character was a struggling white actress and single parent raising her daughter with Moore’s character-raising hers).
During the movie, Turner’s character ends up becoming a successful actress and Moore’s character becomes her servant.
In 1967, Moore told the Los Angeles Times (about her nomination): “The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated. Casting directors think an Oscar nominee is suddenly in another category. They couldn’t possibly ask you to do one or two days’ work. You wouldn’t accept it. And I’m sure I would.”
Despite that, Moore did have an active career with a leading black-run theatre at Los Angeles’ Ebony Showcase Theatre in the early 1950’s where she acted alongside the likes of Helen Martin a Esther Rolle (who is best known for her role in the television sitcom called “Good Times”). All three ladies were members of the celebrated Cambridge Players Organization.
Additionally, in 1965, Moore appeared on Broadway in James Baldwin’s play called “The Amen Corner” and in London in the production of “Raisin in the Sun.”
Born in Los Angeles, Moore got her start in show business as a chorus girl at New York’s Cotton Club before joining the Ebony Showcase Theatre.
She loved the theater: “The creative arts put a person on another level,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s why we need to bring our youngsters into the theater.”
Her very first film role was as a nurse in the 1949 film “Pinky.”
As with other black actresses from that era in time; many of Moore’s early roles were as maids. She told the Los Angeles Times: “Real parts, not just in-and-out jobs,” were opening up for black performers.
Her most recent TV credits included “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” ”Adam-12,” ”Judging Amy” and “ER.”
Current President and CEO of the Cambridge Group, actor and grandson: Kirk Kelleykahn, said that Moore collapsed and died Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in her home in Los Angeles.
Juanita Moore was the widow of Charles Burris and is survived by her grandson and two nephews.
P.S. I know I laced you with lots of pics but hey, I think kinda-sorta wanted you to “see” the movie while you were reading 🙂
Eye Spied at Huffington Post via Associated Press (AP)
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