Thursday, January 2, 2014

Godspeed Juanita Moore

Juanita Moore, the extremely talented actress who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her part in Imitation of Life (1959), died yesterday. Her step-grandson Kirk Kahn said she was 99 years old.

Juanita Moore was born on 19 October 1914 in Los Angeles, California. She began her career as a chorus girl at the Cotton Club in New York City before acting on stage. She made her film debut in an uncredited part as a dancer in Star Spangled Rhythm in 1942. She went on to appear in uncredited roles in Cabin in the Sky (1943) and Pinky (1949). In the Fifties she performed at the  Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles. She appeared in uncredited roles in Tarzan's Peril (1951), No Questions Asked (1951), Skirts Ahoy! (1952), and Lydia Bailey (1952) before receiving her first screen credit in Affair in Trinidad (1952).

In the Fifties Miss Moore appeared in such films as The Royal African Rifles (1953), Witness to Murder (1954) , Women's Prison (1955), Ransom! (1956), The Girl Can't Help It (1956), Band of Angels (1957), The Helen Morgan Story (1957), and The Green-Eyed Blonde (1957). In 1959 she appeared in Imitation of Life, playing Annie, Johnson, the housekeeper and best friend of Lana Turner's character Lora Meredith. She made her television debut in an episode of Ramar of the Jungle in 1953. She guest starred on the shows Soldiers of Fortune, and The DuPont Show with June Allyson.

In the Sixties she appeared in the films Tammy Tell Me True (1961), Walk on the Wild Side (1962), A Child Is Waiting (1963), Papa's Delicate Condition (1963), The Singing Nun (1966), Rosie! (1967), Uptight (1968), and Angelitos negros (1970). In 1965 she appeared on Broadway in The Amen Corner. She made guest appearances on such television shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Cain's Hundred, Wagon Train, Ben Casey, Mr. Novak, The Farmer's Daughter, Slattery's People, Gentle Ben, and Mannix. 

In the Seventies Juanita Moore appeared in such films as Skin Game (1971), The Mack (1973), Fox Style (1973), Thomasine & Bushrod (1974), The Zebra Killer (1974), Abby (1974), Fugitive Lovers (1975), and Deliver Us from Evil (1977). She appeared frequently on television, appearing in such shows as Ironside, Adam-12, Marcus Welby M.D., and The Richard Pryor Show. From the Eighties into the Naughts she appeared in the films Paternity (1981), And They're Off (1982), Two Moon Junction (1988), and The Kid (2000). She guest starred on Insight, ER, and Judging Amy.

Juanita Moore is best known for her role in Imitation of Life, and it was indeed an incredible part for which Miss Moore would become only the fourth African American woman to receive an Oscar nomination. That having been said, Miss Moore gave many great performances throughout her career.  What is more, not all of them were on film. I remember the Ironside episode "Accident" in which Miss Moore plays a woman whom Chief Ironside's assistant Mark accidentally struck with a car. She was wonderful in the part of a woman who may not be all she seems. She was equally impressive in a two part episode of Adam-12 in which she played a police commissioner--this at a time when many African American women of her age were still playing maids, nurses, and mothers.

Of course, I suspect most of us think of Miss Moore as a movie star, and she had the ability to shine in any film no matter how small the role. As Sister Mary in The Singing Nun she was eighth billed and yet she gave one of the strongest performances in the film, no mean feat given it starred such heavyweights as Ricardo Montalban, Greer Garson, and Agnes Moorehead. Even in only a few minutes Juanita Moore could give a better performance than many actors could in an hour. This was certainly the case with one of her early roles In Witness to Murder (1954) she leaves an impression as a mental patient. Juanita Moore was an incredible actress who was so capable of so much more than the many maids and mothers she played over the years.

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