Imitation of Life (1959)

124-125 mins | Melodrama | April 1959

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HISTORY

The opening and closing cast credits vary in order. Actress Karen Dicker's name is misspelled as "Karin" in the onscreen credits. This picture, Douglas Sirk's last feature, was a remake of the 1934 Universal film of the same title directed by John M. Stahl and starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). According to a 19 Jul 1956 HR news item, producer Ross Hunter originally planned to make a musical version of the story starring Shirley Booth and Ethel Waters. In Apr 1957 and Jan 1958, "Rambling Reporter" items in HR stated that Deborah Kerr and Richard Egan were being considered for starring roles.
       HR noted that in the novel on which the film is based, and in the 1934 film adaptation, the character played by Lana Turner "combined her business acumen with a recipe for pancakes invented by a Negro woman and reaped a fortune. The characters lived together, loved one another and faced tragedy through their respective daughters. The plot formula would not have stood up in today's era of integration when a Negro who owned half a successful corporation could buy her own home in any area that pleased her." Of the change in plot, Var commented about the 1959 film, "While this device lends more scope, it also results in the over-done busy actress-neglected daughter conflict, and thus the secondary plot of a fair-skinned Negress passing as white becomes the film's primary force." A modern source reported that Sirk had read the novel before directing this film, but had not seen the 1934 film.
       Universal ... More Less

The opening and closing cast credits vary in order. Actress Karen Dicker's name is misspelled as "Karin" in the onscreen credits. This picture, Douglas Sirk's last feature, was a remake of the 1934 Universal film of the same title directed by John M. Stahl and starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). According to a 19 Jul 1956 HR news item, producer Ross Hunter originally planned to make a musical version of the story starring Shirley Booth and Ethel Waters. In Apr 1957 and Jan 1958, "Rambling Reporter" items in HR stated that Deborah Kerr and Richard Egan were being considered for starring roles.
       HR noted that in the novel on which the film is based, and in the 1934 film adaptation, the character played by Lana Turner "combined her business acumen with a recipe for pancakes invented by a Negro woman and reaped a fortune. The characters lived together, loved one another and faced tragedy through their respective daughters. The plot formula would not have stood up in today's era of integration when a Negro who owned half a successful corporation could buy her own home in any area that pleased her." Of the change in plot, Var commented about the 1959 film, "While this device lends more scope, it also results in the over-done busy actress-neglected daughter conflict, and thus the secondary plot of a fair-skinned Negress passing as white becomes the film's primary force." A modern source reported that Sirk had read the novel before directing this film, but had not seen the 1934 film.
       Universal borrowed costume designer Jean Louis from Columbia for the film. According to Aug 1958 HR news items, portions of the picture were shot at the Warner Bros. studio, the Methodist Church in Hollywood, CA, and at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Los Angeles. A 21 Aug 1958 HR article states that thirty members of the Donn Arden Revue appeared in the musical number shot at the Moulin Rouge nightclub.
       According to DV , Universal encountered some resistance to the promotion of the film and tailored its advertising campaign for the South, where, a studio representative said, "white southerners avoid films that are advertised as dealing with the race problem." On 2 Feb 1959, HR reprinted the following wire sent by LA Tribune editor Almena Lomac to numerous white publications: " Imitation of Life ...is a libel on the Negro race. It libels our children and the Negro mother [and] should be banned in the interest of national unity, harmony, peace, decency and inter-racial respect. The Tribune is refusing all advertising of it and will picket it in the Los Angeles area and call upon the N.A.A.C.P. to condemn, oppose and picket it, too." The outcome of this boycott is not known. Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner both received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and Kohner won a Golden Globe in the same category. According to a 3 Apr 1959 HR news item, Turner contracted for a five percent participation in the film's profits. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
9 Feb 1959.
---
Box Office
23 Feb 1959.
---
Daily Variety
3 Feb 59
p. 3.
Daily Variety
1 Apr 1959.
---
Film Daily
3 Feb 59
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
7 Feb 59
p. 24.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 1956.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 1957
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 1958
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jun 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Aug 58
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 1958
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Aug 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1958
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 58
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 1959
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 59
p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Apr 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 1959
p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Feb 59
p. 157.
New York Times
17 Apr 59
p. 21.
New York Times
18 Apr 59
p. 18.
New York Times
19 Apr 1959.
---
The Exhibitor
11 Feb 59
pp. 4558-59.
Variety
4 Feb 59
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Stills
Gaffer
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Gowns for Lana Turner
Miss Turner's jewels
Gowns
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Dial coach
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Imitation of Life by Fannie Hurst (New York, 1933).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Imitation of Life," music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, sung by Earl Grant
"Empty Arms," music by Arnold Hughes, lyrics by Frederick Herbert
"Trouble of the World," traditional, sung by Mahalia Jackson.
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1959
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Chicago, IL: 17 March 1959
Los Angeles opening: 20 March 1959
New York opening: 17 April 1959
Production Date:
5 August--early October 1958 at Warner Bros. Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Co.
Copyright Date:
24 June 1959
Copyright Number:
LP14526
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Eastman Color by Pathé
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
124-125
Length(in feet):
11,155
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19184
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After frantically searching for her lost daughter Susie at Coney Island, an attractive widow named Lora Meredith finds her playing with Sarah Jane, a light-skinned black girl. Lora then meets Sarah Jane's single black mother, Annie Johnson, and a white photographer named Steve Archer, who takes some photographs of the girls. Lora discovers that Annie and Sarah Jane have no place to go, and although she is poor herself, having come to New York in search of an acting career, she invites the two to stay the night in her small apartment. In exchange for her small room, Annie offers to keep house and look after Susie while Lora seeks acting and modeling jobs. One evening, Steve comes by with the photographs, and the next day, he takes Lora to lunch, obviously smitten with her. Later, Lora invents a lie that gets her into the office of Allen Loomis, a well-known theatrical agent, but when he tries to make love to her, arguing that a successful actress must be willing to satisfy such requests, she angrily leaves. Back home, she sobs in frustration while Annie attempts to comfort and encourage her. One cold day, Annie brings Sarah Jane's galoshes to school, where she discovers that her daughter has been trying to conceal her race from her classmates. When Sarah Jane runs from Annie, her distressed mother turns to Lora and asks, "How do you explain to your child that she was born to be hurt?" Soon afterward, Steve, who has just been hired to promote a brand of beer, proposes to Lora, but she turns him down, saying that even though she loves him, ... +


After frantically searching for her lost daughter Susie at Coney Island, an attractive widow named Lora Meredith finds her playing with Sarah Jane, a light-skinned black girl. Lora then meets Sarah Jane's single black mother, Annie Johnson, and a white photographer named Steve Archer, who takes some photographs of the girls. Lora discovers that Annie and Sarah Jane have no place to go, and although she is poor herself, having come to New York in search of an acting career, she invites the two to stay the night in her small apartment. In exchange for her small room, Annie offers to keep house and look after Susie while Lora seeks acting and modeling jobs. One evening, Steve comes by with the photographs, and the next day, he takes Lora to lunch, obviously smitten with her. Later, Lora invents a lie that gets her into the office of Allen Loomis, a well-known theatrical agent, but when he tries to make love to her, arguing that a successful actress must be willing to satisfy such requests, she angrily leaves. Back home, she sobs in frustration while Annie attempts to comfort and encourage her. One cold day, Annie brings Sarah Jane's galoshes to school, where she discovers that her daughter has been trying to conceal her race from her classmates. When Sarah Jane runs from Annie, her distressed mother turns to Lora and asks, "How do you explain to your child that she was born to be hurt?" Soon afterward, Steve, who has just been hired to promote a brand of beer, proposes to Lora, but she turns him down, saying that even though she loves him, marriage would prevent her from steadfastly pursuing a life in the theater. Just then, Loomis offers her a role in a new comedy by well-known writer David Edwards, but Steve forbids her to visit Loomis, prompting her to accuse him of settling for less in his own career. During her audition, Lora suggests that David rewrite portions of his play, and though angry at first, he soon realizes she is right. After Lora is cast and the play and its new leading actress are hugely successful, the papers report that "a new star is born" on Broadway. For the next ten years, Lora stars in one hit David Edwards play after another. The playwright wants to marry her, but as she admits one day to Annie, who still works for her, she does not really love him. Lora and David argue when she decides to appear in another writer's drama, but her performance is brilliant, and this play, too, becomes an instant hit. Surprised and overjoyed by a visit from Steve, Lora confesses she still loves him, and the two are reunited. Susie, who has suffered from her busy mother's lack of attention despite the material advantages Lora has provided her, looks forward to taking a trip with Steve and Lora, but the plans are canceled when Lora excitedly accepts a coveted role in an Italian film. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane tells Susie that she secretly has been seeing her white boyfriend, and that she would rather die than be considered black. When the young man learns that Sarah Jane's mother is black, however, he beats her. While Lora is filming in Italy, Steve looks after Susie, and the eager teenager soon falls in love with him. Sarah Jane, meanwhile, claims to have accepted a job in a New York library, but Annie finds her singing and dancing in a seedy New York nightclub. Her mother's appearance gets Sarah Jane fired, and she again runs from her, causing Annie to faint. Back home, Annie tells Lora, who has just returned from Europe, that she will no longer interfere in her daughter's life, adding that she does hope to help her wayward daughter somehow. Steve, now a company vice-president, learns that Sarah Jane is working as a chorus girl in Los Angeles, and Annie, convinced she is dying, flies to California for one last look at her daughter. Sarah Jane is furious, exclaiming, "I'm somebody else, I'm white." Annie then introduces herself to Sarah Jane's white friend as Sarah Jane's former nanny and leaves, but not before Sarah Jane tearfully embraces her. Meanwhile, Lora and Susie argue over Steve. When Susie accuses Lora of loving her career more than her, Lora offers to give Steve up, but Susie has decided to go away to college. The two mothers are now alone in the house. One day, Annie tells Lora to make certain all her possessions are left to Sarah Jane and then, after reassuring her old friend that she is "going to glory," dies. Lora breaks down, but sees to it that Annie has the elaborate funeral she had requested. As the long cortege moves slowly along the street, Sarah Jane pushes through the crowds, flings herself on her mother's coffin, and weeps hysterically. Lora and Susie gently lead her into the hearse, where they reassure her that she did not cause her mother's death. As Steve looks on, the three women join hands in a gesture of comfort and love. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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