“Juanita Moore, a groundbreaking actress and an Academy Award nominee for her role as Lana Turner’s black friend in the classic weeper Imitation of Life, has died,” The Associated Press writes.
The wire service adds that “actor Kirk Kelleykahn, her grandson, said that Moore collapsed and died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99, according to Kelleykahn. Accounts of her age have differed over the years.”
The Los Angeles Times calls Moore “a pioneering African American actress.” She was “only the fifth African American ever to receive an Academy Award nomination, a rare honor in a racially divided era when actors of color seldom claimed rewarding roles.” Imitation of Life, the Times says, “is a subversive masterwork of socially conscious cinema that gained a cultish popularity in later years.”
“Like many actresses of her time, Moore was forced to play maids in racially-charged Hollywood. But her Oscar-nominated role in the 1959 remake of Imitation of Life made her a star. Moore played Annie Johnson, a maid with a black child who passed [for] white and eventually rejected her mother. The film’s handling of racial idenitity was controversial for the time and there have been talks of a remake for decades.”
Moore once lamented that being an Oscar nominee had a downside, the AP says:
” ‘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.’ ”
But she also realized that her portrayal of Annie in Imitation of Life broke a barrier. “Annie was a good role for me,” she said in a 2005 interview posted by Black Star News. “I [had] been in a lot of pictures. However, most of them consisted of my opening doors for white people.”
She also said then that: “I cried a lot in the making of [the] 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 black actors got the opportunity to hone their craft in the same way white actors did.”
As her profile at IMDB.com shows, Moore remained active into the 21st Century. She was a frequent guest on TV dramas, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dragnet and Mannix.