marian bailey

Juanita Moore, the Academy Award nominated actress best known for her role as the brokenhearted mother of a mixed daughter who wanted to pass as white in the 1959 film, “Imitation of Life,” died in Los Angeles on January 1, 2014 at the age of 99. A Los Angeles native, she was born there on October 19, 1914 (or 1922 - there are conflicting dates) and studied drama at Los Angeles City College before embarking on a singing career that took her to nightclubs in New York and Moulin Rouge in Paris. As a member of Ebony Showcase, a Los Angeles theater group, she had her first break as an actress in a controversial play at the time called “No Exit” wich was about three people who were presumed to be dead. Prior to becoming only the the fifth black performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, she appeared several films including “Pinky” in 1949 and “Affair in Trinidad” with Rita Hayworth in 1952. During a press tour for Imitation of Life in March 1959, Ms. Moore told Hazel Garland of the Pittsburgh Courier that she had to gain 18 pounds in order to appear more matronly for her role in the film. She said it took less than four wees to gain the weight, but more than two months to lose it. “To me, this is the break every actress dreams of getting. It is one in which I can run the gamut of emotions.” By 1967, she was far less enthusiastic in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated,” Moore said at the time. “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.” In this photo, Ms. Moore (seated at right) is shown on the set of “Imitation of Life” with the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who famously sang at the funeral of Ms. Moore’s character Annie Johnson at the end of the film, and Ross Hunter, the producer of the film who cast her in her most famous role. Mr. Hunter and director Douglas Sirk considered over 40 black actresses for the role, including Pearl Bailey and Marian Anderson. Mr. Hunter told interviewers in March 1959, “When we interviewed Miss Moore, we knew our search was over. Even if she hadn’t been an experienced performer, her sincerity, warmth, and natural qualities would have won the role.” Once married to Nyas Berry, of the famed tap dancing Berry Brothers, Ms. Moore was married for over 50 years to Charles Burris, who died in 2001. Photo: A Certain Cinema/Sérgio Leemann.