*Groundbreaking actress Juanita Moore, an Academy Award nominee for her role as Lana Turner’s black friend in the classic film “Imitation of Life,” has died, reports the Associated Press.
Actor Kirk Kelleykahn, her grandson, said that Moore collapsed and died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99, according to Kelleykahn.
Moore was only the fifth black performer to be nominated for an Oscar, receiving the nod for the Douglas Sirk-directed 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.
It brought supporting actress nominations for both Moore and Susan Kohner, who played Moore’s daughter as a young adult attempting to pass as a white woman. Kohner’s own background is Czech and Mexican. By the end, Turner’s character is a star and her friend is essentially a servant. The death of Moore’s character sets up the sentimental ending.
“The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “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.”
Born in Los Angeles, Moore started her career as a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club, and made her film debut in 1949 with a bit-part in “Pinky,” which – like Imitation of Life – examined the experience of a black woman “passing for white” in the mid-20th-century. Other notable appearances included roles in “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “The Singing Nun.” Her last feature was as a grandma in the Disney film “The Kid” in 2000.
Moore also had an active stage career, starting at Los Angeles’ Ebony Showcase Theatre in the early 1950s, a leading black-run theater. She also was a member of the celebrated Cambridge Players, with other performers including Esther Rolle and Helen Martin. Her grandson is currently president and CEO of the Cambridge group.
She appeared on Broadway in 1965 in James Baldwin’s play “The Amen Corner” and in London in a production of “Raisin in the Sun.”
“The creative arts put a person on another level,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s why we need to bring our youngsters into the theater.”
Among Moore’s other films were “The Girl Can’t Help It,” ”The Singing Nun,” ”Paternity” and “The Kid.” Her TV credits include “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” ”Adam-12,” ”Judging Amy” and “ER.”
Moore is survived by her husband, Charles Burris, her grandson and two nephews.