Oscar-Nominated Actress From Imitation of Life Juanita Moore Dies

Illustration for article titled Oscar-Nominated Actress From emImitation of Life/em Juanita Moore Dies

Juanita Moore, pioneering actress and Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee, died in her home on Wednesday at the age of 99.

Moore was best known for her role in Imitation of Life, in which she portrayed a housekeeper and single mother. Moore starred alongside Lana Turner in a film many consider to be a masterpiece and groundbreaking for its time:

Moore was only the fifth black performer to be nominated for an Oscar, receiving the nod for the glossy Douglas Sirk film that became a big hit and later gained a cult following. The 1959 tearjerker, based on a Fannie Hurst novel and a remake of a 1934 film, tells the story of a struggling white actress' rise to stardom, her friendship with a black woman and how they team up to raise their daughters as single mothers.


Moore got her start at New York's famous Cotton Club, working as a chorus girl dancer. She went to work at Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase theater, and eventually appeared in A Raisin in the Sun in London and on Broadway in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner.

As for her pivotal role as Annie Johnson in Imitation of Life, Moore acknowledged her performance in the film, with its racially-charged subject matter, was challenging:

"Annie was a good role for me," she said in a 2005 interview. "I have been in a lot of pictures. However most of them consisted of my opening doors for white people." She said she did a lot of crying while shooting the film, but director Douglas Sirk was patient with her.

"There were times I was so nervous the muscles were jumping in my face," she added. "I cried a lot in the making of this movie because it was real easy for me to cry. I had a lot to cry about. Conditions for black actors were unbelievable back then. Very few actors got the opportunity to hone their craft in the same way white actors did."

Moore also said the role which she was most famous for was "nothing like her," and was more like her sister, who she modeled the character after.

Moore talked about the difficulties of finding work after her Oscar nod:

"The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated," Moore 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. You wouldn't accept it. And I'm sure I would."


Later in life she appeared in Disney's The Kid, as well as television shows such as ER and Judging Amy. Moore's husband died in 2001; she is survived by her grandson Kirk Kelleykahn.

Image via Getty Images

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What she said about black actors not being able to honor their craft breaks my heart and pisses me off at the same time. All of those unbelevably well trained and talentd actors only ever playing maids and butlers. It saddens me that times still have not changed that much. I look at actors like Lupita N'yongo and Michael B. Jordan and i wonder (and fear) if they will be given the type of work in the future that their talent deserves. With all of the acclaim that they are recieving righ now, will they work regularly and be given good material afterwards. I am hopeful bit that hope is tinged with cynicism. I hope i am proven wrong.

On another note, this movie is the only movies that has ever made my mother and sister cry. I just love it and God bless Ms. Moore and her family. What a long and honorable life.