My word, what are the odds?
Ms Moore is likely best known for her role as Annie, in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel Imitation of Life, playing a black single mother challenged with raising a daughter struggling with her mixed-race identity, who opts to pass for white because of its societal privileges, and who comes to resent her mother’s black identity.
It is the second film adaptation of the novel. The first film was released in 1934.
Sirk’s version co-starred Lana Turner as a white widow also faced with challenges in trying to raise her own daughter.
Moore received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in that film – the 5th African American to be nominated for an Oscar in any category at the time, and the 3rd in the Supporting Actress category.
A star of both stage and screen, and a former Cotton Club chorus girl, Moore began her career as a film extra, and honed her skills as an actress in local stage productions at the Ebony Showcase Theater.
In 1949, she made her feature film acting debut in Elia Kazan’s Pinky, playing a nurse, in an uncredited role. Interestingly enough, that film centered on a light-skinned African American nursing student, played by Jeanne Crain, passing for white. The film was released to both critical acclaim and controversy.
Like many black actresses during that era, the majority of the on-screen roles available to her were mostly stereotypical as domestics, until what would be her breakthrough casting as Annie Johnson, the hard-working housekeeper to actress Lora Meredith in Sirk’s 1959 version of Imitation of Life.
Following Imitation Of Life, during the 1960s, she would appear on-screen in films like Tammy, Tell Me True (1961), Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963), and the The Singing Nun (1966), as she saw her casting fortunes expand somewhat, taking on matriarchal roles in movies like Uptight (1968), The Mack (1973) and Abby (1974).
Her on-screen appearances tapered off in the 1980s, but saw something of a revival years later, when she was cast to play a grandmother in Disney’s The Kid (2000), which led to her landing guest roles on popular TV shows like ER and Judging Amy.
Juanita Moore, born October 19, 1914, died today at her home in Los Angeles at 99 years old.
Her grandson Kirk Kahn said today that, most recently, before her death, she was rehearsing to participate in a reading at the Saban Theater, set to take place in a few weeks.
“She didn’t candy-coat it for you… she said, ‘if you’re no good, the play’s no good. She gave back to the community in so many ways… Wherever we went she stopped and told black boys and girls they could do anything with their lives,” Kahn said to Variety.
In addition to her grandson, she is survived by two nephews.
May her soul rest in peace.