“Imitation of Life” was a Golden Globes and Laurel Awards winner from 1959 and 1960. The movie depicts a depression era tale of two women who begin living together. They are from varied backgrounds but each raising a young daughter alone.
Lana Turner plays the starring role as Lora Meredith an overly ambitious, aspiring actress. She has a young daughter played by first Terry Burnham as Susie at the age of six and later Sandra Dee at age sixteen. Lora meets Annie Johnson played by Juanita Moore. Annie has a daughter two years older than Susie. Annie’s daughter Sarah Jane, played by first Karin Dicker and then Susan Kohner, is of such fair complexion, she can pass for White. When they first meet, Lora mistakes Annie as Sarah Jane’s ‘Nannie.’
The two meet on the beach when the girls seem to have disappeared. They are really just playing and being mischievous. While searching for them, Annie makes a proposal to Lora which is first rejected. However, when Sarah Jane cries, Lora accepts and Annie and Sarah Jane become a part of the family.
Lora meets a young man on the beach who is also ambitious. John Gavin plays Steve Archer who quickly becomes romantically interested in Lora. He snaps a picture of the two girls covering a man in sand. Later, the picture is sold as the cover to a major magazine.
While Lora is continuing her quest to become an actress, Steve continues his quest to gain the love of Lora. Sarah Jane, a very confused young lady, begins at a very young age to reject her race and tries to pass for White. She rejects her mother and finally runs off to another city to become a dancer passing as White.
All along, Annie continues her attempts to keep Sarah Jane grounded; she is also being more of a mother to Susie than Lora as Lora becomes more focused on acting than parenting. Lora provides all the material needs for Susie while Annie provides all the love, support and guidance. Steve moves in and out of their lives during the movie as he waits for Lora to finally accept and return his love.
When they realize Annie is ill, she takes one final trip to see Sarah Jane. When she see her, she asks only that she promises if ever needing anything contact her. At that time, the viewer realizes Sarah Jane has always loved Annie, she is just very torn between being Black, looking White and wanting to have all the advantages denied her race knowing she can have them if no one knows she is Black.
When Annie leaves, Sara Jane doesn’t realize it is the last time she will see her mother alive. Annie returns home and seems to then give up on life. She prepares the arrangements for her funeral. While in bed, very ill, Annie provides the details of her final request.
Lora realizes what a very good woman Annie has been and how many lives she has touched. Annie asks Steve to make all the final arrangements giving him an envelope which outlines everything. She then states she is “very tired” and passes.
The next scene begins with the amazing voice of Mahalia Jackson singing “Trouble of This World” at the funeral. The funeral appears to be larger than those of major state and national dignitaries. When all is over, Sarah Jane runs to the casket as the processional is taking place. She cries, “Let me through, that’s my mother.” She then and only then acknowledges to the world an acceptance of Annie as her mother. As she places her head on the casket, she cries and tells her mother she is sorry. It is too late!
“Imitation of Life” won the Golden Laurel Award for 1959. Susan Kohner won Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress for her role as Sarah Jane in 1960. Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore were both nominated for the Oscar, Laurel and Golden Globe Awards.
Juanita Moore won 2nd Place Golden Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance.
Lana Turner ************** Lora Meredith
John Gavin ************* Steve Archer
Sandra Dee *************** Susie
Terry Burnham *************** Susie (Age 6)
Susan Kohner ************** Sarah Jane