Juanita Moore, Oscar-Nominated Actress for "Imitation of Life," Dies at 99

By Robert Simonson
02 Jan 2014

Juanita Moore
Juanita Moore

Juanita Moore, who made an impression as the long-suffering black friend of Lana Turner's famous actress character in the 1959 Douglas Sirk melodrama "Imitation of Life," died Jan. 1 at her home in Los Angeles. She was thought to be 99.

Ms. Moore was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award—a rare occurrence at the time for an African-American performer—for her work. The Sirk film was a glossy color remake of a 1934 film of the same name—based on a Fannie Hurst novel—about the trials of two women of different races as they try to raise their children as single mothers. It was derided as a soap opera at the time of its release, but has since been reassessed as one of Sirk's most auteurist achievements.

"They auditioned a lot of people before casting me in the part," she recalled, according to The Guardian. "Pearl Bailey was their first choice. But producer Ross Hunter really wanted me. I have been in a lot of pictures. However, most of them consisted of my opening doors for white people."

According to Ms. Moore, the Oscar nomination was a mixed blessing. In a 1967 Los Angeles Times interview, quoted in Variety, she said, "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."



Her films prior to "Imitation" included "Pinky," a drama about a young light-skinned black woman passing for white, in which she had a bit part; "The Girl Can't Help It"; "The Helen Morgan Story"; "Ransom"; and "Cabin in the Sky." She worked primarily on television from the 1960s on. Recent film roles included "The Kid" with Bruce Willis and "Two Moon Junction."

Born Oct. 19, 1922, in Los Angeles, Juanita Moore began her career as a showgirl at New York's famous Cotton Club. In the early '50s she appeared with Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase Theatre. She was also a member of the Cambridge Players, alongside performers including Esther Rolle.

She acted in Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun, at the Adelphi Theatre in London. On Broadway, she appeared in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner in 1965.