|Genre: Classics, Drama|
Directed By: Douglas Sirk
Written By: Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott
In Theaters: 30 April 1959
On Disc/Streaming: 7 Jan. 2003
Runtime: 125 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Budget: $2 million
Box office: $6.4 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)
Lana Turner as Lora Meredith
Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson
John Gavin as Steve Archer
Sandra Dee as Susie, age 16
Susan Kohner as Sarah Jane, age 18 (singing voice dubbed by Jo Ann Greer)
Robert Alda as Allen Loomis
Dan O’Herlihy as David Edwards
Than Wyenn as Romano
Karin Dicker as Sarah Jane, age 8
Terry Burnham as Susie, age 6
Ann Robinson as Showgirl
Troy Donahue as Frankie
Sandra Gould as Annette
Jack Weston as Tom
Mahalia Jackson as choir soloist
“Imitation of Life” is a 1959 American romantic drama film directed by Douglas Sirk, produced by Ross Hunter and released by Universal International. It was Sirk’s final Hollywood film and dealt with issues of race, class and gender.
“Imitation of Life” is the second film adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel of the same name; the first, directed by John M. Stahl, was released in 1934. The film’s top-billed stars are Lana Turner and John Gavin, and the cast also features Sandra Dee, Dan O’Herlihy, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda and Juanita Moore.
Kohner and Moore received Academy Award nominations for their performances. Gospel music star Mahalia Jackson appears as a church choir soloist. In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected “Imitation of Life” for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” just like the original 1934 film.
In this remake, Lana Turner stars as a would-be actress who is raising her daughter on her own.
She chances to meet another single mother at the beach: African-American Juanita Moore.
Moore goes to work as Turner’s housekeeper, bringing her light-skinned daughter along.
As Turner’s stage career goes into high gear, Moore is saddled with the responsibility of raising both Turner’s daughter and her own.
Exposed to the advantages of the white world, Moore’s grown-up daughter (Susan Kohner) passes for white, causing her mother a great deal of heartache.
Meanwhile, Turner’s grown daughter (Sandra Dee), neglected by her mother, seeks comfort in the arms of handsome photographer John Gavin. When Moore dies, her daughter realizes how selfish she’s been; simultaneously, Turner awakens to the fact that she hasn’t been much of a mother for her own daughter, whose romance has gone down the tubes.
Lana Turner plays Lora Meredith.
Ross Hunter deserved an award for sheer tenacity in bringing Lana Turner out of the self-imposed jail she locked herself into after the Stompanato murder. When the producer began contacting her by phone, telegram, through her agent and friends, to make “Imitation of Life”, she was a wreck, afraid to leave the four walls of the little rented house that she was living in with a maid. Ross courted her with flowers, gifts and fruit baskets, until finally he was invited to come to the house and tell her about the project.
Ross won Lana over with a number of conditions that made “Imitation of Life” impossible to refuse. She would have approval of her co-star, Sirk as director and all the glamour Ross could muster. In lieue of about half her normal salary, she would get a 50% share of the profits in a deal negotiated by her agent, Paul Kohner. To Lana money signaled her importance in the business, so it meant a lot that the money she earned for this movie added up to more than any actress’s salary for a single film up to then.
Once the barrier came down, Lana was excited about “Imitation of Life.”Jean Louis piqued the passion for costume design, that had been in her since childhood. The entire movie was a showcase for his beautiful work.
In “Imitation Of Life” Miss Turner looked like a million. Universal and producer Ross Hunter gave her the full star treament for the film and she was bedecked in a dazzling wardrobe and more than a million dollars worth of jewelry.
Lana also adored Douglas Sirk. He was gentle and didn’t tell her eaxctly what to do. He would take her aside and ask questions that would influence her and then they would part and start filming. This method proved very effective.
Despite lukewarm reviews the film scored so heavily at the box office that it singlehandedly put the ailing Universal Pictures back into business. It was one of the company’s largest-grossing pictures of all time and it continued to make money on subsequent reissues. One who benefit greatly from its success was its star, Lana Turner. Just one year before Miss Turner’s life had been engulfed in tragedy and “Imitation of Life” marked an important career comeback for her.
This overwhelming sentimental hymn to mother love contains also an interesting exploration of race relations, given considerable depth and style through sirk’s polished direction.
“Imitation of Life” was the first of 3 highly lucrative Lana Turner-Ross Hunter collaborations.
You can watch the film here.
Lana Turner did a lot of movies. She really loved being a moviestar.
Here are the most important films in which she starred. Just click the links for more info, photos and videos.
20 April 1937: A Star Is Born
9 Oct. 1937: They Won’t Forget
24 Oct. 1937: The Great Garrick
1 Jan. 1938: The Adventures of Marco Polo
22 July 1938: Love Finds Andy Hardy
12 Aug. 1938: Rich Man, Poor Girl
9 Dec. 1938: Dramatic School
28 April 1939: Calling Dr. Kildare
18 Aug. 1939: These Glamour Girls
29 Sept. 1939: Dancing Co-Ed
19 April 1940: Two Girls on Broadway
19 July 1940: We Who Are Young
25 April 1941: Ziegfeld Girl
12 Aug. 1941: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
2 Oct. 1941: Honky Tonk
18 Febr. 1942: Johnny Eager
27 Aug. 1942: Somewhere I’ll Find You
1 April 1943: Slightly Dangerous
19 Aug. 1943: Du Barry Was A Lady
13 Nov. 1943: The Youngest Profession
23 Aug. 1944: Marriage Is a Private Affair
8 March 1945: Keep Your Powder Dry
1 Oct. 1945: Week-End At The Waldorf
2 May 1946: The Postman Always Rings Twice
5 Nov. 1947 : Green Dolphin Street
1 Nov. 1947: Cass Timberlane
29 April 1948: Homecoming
20 Oct. 1948: The Three Musketeers
1 Sept. 1950: A Life Of Her Own
2 March 1951: Mr. Imperium
5 Sept. 1952: The Merry Widow
25 Dec. 1952: The Bad And The Beautiful
25 Aug. 1953: Latin Lovers
1 May 1954: Flame And The Flesh
7 Sept. 1954: Betrayed
13 May 1955: The Prodigal
4 June 1955: Sea Chase
14 Dec. 1955: The Rains Of Ranchipur
12 Jan. 1956: Diane
13 Dec. 1957: Peyton Place
30 Jan. 1958: The Lady Takes A Flyer
2 May 1958: Another Time, Another Place
30 April 1959: Imitation Of Life
23 June 1960: Portrait In Black
19 July 1961: By Love Possessed
2 Nov. 1961: Bachelor In Paradise
25 Dec. 1962: Who’s Got The Action?
24 Febr. 1965: Love Has Many Faces
27 April 1966: Madame X
30 April 1969: The Big Cube
7 Nov. 1974: Persecution
27 Oct. 1976: Bittersweet Love
31 Oct. 1980: Witches Brew
21 May 1982: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Lana’s biography “Lana, the Lady, The Legend, The Truth“, “The Films Of Lana Turner” by Lou Valentino and “Lana Turner, The Memories, The Myths and The Movies” by Cheryl Crane.