“Imitation Of Life” Actress, Juanita Moore, Dead At 99

January 2, 2014  |  

You might not have remembered Juanita Moore’s name but chances are you appreciated her work. Moore, 99, was the actress who played “Annie Johnson” in the Imitation of Life. You may remember Moore was Lana Turner’s friend and the mother to “Sarah Jane,” the girl who grew up and ultimately passed as white.

According to her grandson, Kirk Kelleykahn, Moore collapsed Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. Though accounts of her age have differed over the years, Kelleykahn says she was 99.

Born in Los Angeles, Moore first starting working in show business as a chorus girl in New York’s Cotton Club.

Her first film role came in 1949 for the movie “Pinky.” Like many black actresses of the day, Moore spoke about the frequent casting of black women as maids but she was optimistic. In a 1967 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Moore said that “real parts, not just in-and-out-jobs” were coming for black performers.

In the early ’50’s, she had a thriving career on stage beginning at Los Angeles’ Ebony Showcase Theatre and was also a member of the Cambridge players which honed performers like Esther Rolle and Helen Martin. Her grandson is currently CEO of the group.

For her role as Annie Johnson, Moore became the fifth black actor to be nominated for an Oscar. Though you might assume that the best supporting actor nod helped her career, Moore told the Times it actually had the reverse effect:

“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.”

After the film, she went back to Broadway and appeared in James Baldwin’s play “The Amen Corner” in 1965. And then she appeared in a London production of “Raisin in the Sun.”

In addition to Imitation of Life, Moore also starred in The Girl Can’t Help It, The Singing Nun, Paternity and The Kid. Her television roles include “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Adam-12,” “Judging Amy” and “ER.”

Moore was the widow of Charles Burris and is survived by her grandson and two nephews.

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