Imitation of Life (1959)
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In April of 1958, Lana Turner's teenage daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed Lana's mobster lover, Johnny Stompanato to death. Although the killing was ruled justifiable homicide because Cheryl was defending her mother, the scandal rocked Hollywood, and many people thought Lana's film career was over. Enter Ross Hunter, producer of lavish women's pictures for Universal, who had breathed new life into the careers of aging stars like Jane Wyman and Barbara Stanwyck. Hunter offered Turner the starring role in a remake of Imitation of Life (1959).
Fannie Hurst's novel, Imitation of Life (1933), was the story of two single mothers, one white and one black, who join forces and become successful businesswomen. But both women suffer heartbreak caused by their daughters. (The idea for the book was born when Hurst traveled with black author Zora Neale Hurston and encountered racism, although the story was not remotely based on either of their lives.) Thanks to its provocative themes, the novel was a huge success. It was made into a film in 1934, starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, directed by John Stahl. Ross Hunter wanted to update the story, making the leading character an actress instead of a businesswoman, but keeping the race issue and the conflicts between mothers and daughters.
For Lana Turner, that hit a little too close to home, and she hesitated. But she was deeply in debt, and she needed to work. Hunter offered a first-class production, with Jean Louis gowns and Laykin et Cie jewels, the leading women's director, Douglas Sirk, and a chance to make a lot of money, if Lana would work for a small salary plus half the net profits. Turner agreed, and the film succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Lana Turner was back on top, and a rich woman as well. Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscars for their searing portrayals of the African-American mother and daughter. Imitation of Life became Universal's biggest moneymaker to date, and a 1995 poll by the New York Daily News still ranked it as one of the top-ten all-time favorite films.
Director: Douglas Sirk
Producer: Ross Hunter
Screenplay: Eleanore Griffin, Allan Scott, based on the novel by Fannie Hurst
Editor: Milton Carruth
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Richard H. Riedel
Music: Frank Skinner
Principal Cast: Lana Turner (Lora Meredith), John Gavin (Steve Archer), Sandra Dee (Susie, age 16), Juanita Moore (Annie Johnson), Susan Kohner (Sara Jane, age 18), Dan O'Herlihy (David Edwards), Robert Alda (Allen Loomis).
C-125m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
By Margarita Landazuri