Obituary: Juanita Moore / Oscar nominee for 'Imitation of Life'

Oct. 19, 1914 - Dec. 31, 2013

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Juanita Moore, who earned an Academy Award nomination in 1960 for the single major film role she ever landed, then fell through the cracks of a Hollywood system with little to offer a black actress besides small parts as maids and nannies, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 99.

Her death was confirmed by her grandson, Kirk Kelleykahn, an actor and dancer.

Ms. Moore received a best supporting actress nomination for her role in the 1959 film "Imitation of Life," in which she played opposite the late Lana Turner in a story about two single mothers, one black and one white. It was only the fifth time an African-American performer had been nominated for an Oscar.

The two women begin ostensibly as social equals living under the same roof, but their lives diverge along racial and class lines. Turner's character becomes a famous actress; Annie Johnson, played by Ms. Moore, becomes her housemaid.

The last film that the filmmaker Douglas Sirk directed in Hollywood, "Imitation of Life" was widely dismissed as campy melodrama at the time. Its treatment of the intense suffering caused by racial bias, including a subplot in which Annie's light-skinned daughter renounces her to live as a white person, was seen as unbelievable.

But the film has since been re-evaluated and given high marks by many film historians and critics for the subtlety of its social criticism and psychological insight.

Ms. Moore's performance, in particular, has earned her generations of new fans, said Foster Hirsch, a professor of film at Brooklyn College who has organized several academic conferences on "Imitation of Life."

But after she was nominated for an Oscar, Ms. Moore told The Los Angeles Times in 1967, the work seemed to dry up. "The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated," she said. "Casting directors think an Oscar nominee is suddenly in another category. They couldn't possibly ask you to do one or two days' work."

It would be a decade more before black actresses like Ms. Moore would be considered for major roles, Mr. Hirsch noted.

Ms. Moore was born in Greenwood, Miss., on Oct. 19, 1914, and raised in Los Angeles, the youngest of Harrison and Ella Moore's eight children.


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