Imitation of Life(1959). Directed by Douglas Sirk. Cast: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Dan O'Herlihy, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda and Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson. Kohner and Moore received Academy Award nominations for their performances. Gospel music star Mahalia Jackson appears as a church choir soloist. The film is an adaptation of Fannie Hurst's novel of the same name. It is the second film adaptation of the novel. The first film was released in 1934.
Looking for her lost daughter Susie at Coney Island in a panic, Lora Meredith finds her playing with Sarah Jane, a light-skinned black girl and Sarah Jane's black mother, Annie Johnson. Photographer Steve Archer, is spending the day at the beach looking for the perfect picture, takes some photos of the two girls.
Unemployed Actress Lora, soon learns that Annie and Sarah Jane are homeless. She invites the two to stay the night in her apartment. Annie, offers to stay and keep house and look after Susie while Lora, looks for acting and modeling jobs.
One evening, Steve comes by with the photographs, he took at the beach of the girls and takes Lora out to lunch.
Later, Lora invents a lie that gets her into the office of agent Allen Loomis, but.. then he propositions her, telling her that a successful actress must be willing to sleep around, she angrily leaves.
Back home, humiliated, she sobs while Annie comforts her.
During a snow storm, Annie brings Sarah Jane's lunch to school, where she discovers that her daughter has been passing off as a white girl. When Sarah Jane runs from Annie, her heart broken mother says to Lora, "How do you explain to your child that she was born to be hurt?"
Soon afterward, Steve, proposes to Lora, but she turns him down, saying that even though she loves him, marriage would prevent her from her life long dream of being an actress. Just then, Loomis offers her a role over the phone, a new comedy written by David Edwards, but when Steve forbids her to visit Loomis, she breaks it off with him.
During her audition, Lora suggests that David rewrite a scene of his play.. he agrees.
After Lora, is cast in the play the papers report that "a new star is born" on Broadway. For the next ten years, Lora stars in one hit after another. David wants to marry her, but as she admits one day to Annie, she does not really love him. David, is not happy when she decides to appear in a drama, but her performance is an instant hit. Surprised, by a visit from Steve, Lora confesses she still loves him and they are reunited.
Susie, is looking forward to taking a trip with Steve and Lora, but.. is very disappointed when their plans are canceled when Lora accepts a important role in a Italian film.
Soon after, Sarah Jane tells Susie that she secretly has been seeing her white boyfriend and that she would rather die than be considered black. When her boyfriend finds out that Sarah Jane's mother is black, he beats her up.
While Lora is filming in Italy, Steve spends a lot of time with Susie and she falls in love with him. Sarah Jane, has moved to New York and has told her mother that she is working at the library, but Annie finds her singing and dancing in a seedy New York nightclub. Because of her mother, Sarah Jane fired and she again takes off.
Back home, Annie tells Lora, who has just returned from Europe, that she will no longer interfere in her daughter's life. Steve, now a company vice-president, learns that Sarah Jane is working as a chorus girl and a dying Annie, flies to California to say good-by to her daughter.
Sarah Jane, tells her "I'm somebody else, I'm white." Annie then introduces herself to Sarah Jane's friend as her former nanny and leaves, but not before Sarah Jane embraces her.
Back at home, Lora and Susie argue over Steve. When Susie accuses Lora of loving her career more than her, Lora offers to give up Steve, but Susie has decided to go away to college.
One day, Annie tells Lora, to make certain all her things are left to Sarah Jane and then, dies. Will Sarah Jane, arrive at her mother's funeral in time or continue on with her destructive life style?
This is a story, about two women from different backgrounds, letting go of their children and allowing them to live their own lives. This is one of my favorite old school actress Lana Turner and new comer Sandra Dee's performances. Susan Kohner's, performance is also amazing and she steals every scene she is in.
If you are into fashion, Lana Turner's wardrobe was beautiful in this film. Especially, the coral jumper worn by Lana, in a scene that takes place when she comes down the stairs, from her room to the bar, to talk with her daughter and her boyfriend. It's made of a coral raw silk with a satin ribbon down each pant leg tied in bow at the ankle. It also has buttons down the back which, give it an elegant look. The matching belt is also made of the same color silk. The only extra piece she has on is the beautiful turquoise necklace.
Lana Turner took a much smaller salary, than her usual $25,000 per week and worked for 50% of the film's profits, which earned her over $2 million (setting a record for an actress at the time).
Natalie Wood was considered for the part played by Susan Kohner.
Douglas Sirk's last Hollywood film before he retired back to his native Germany.
'Margaret O'Brien' originally considered for role of Sara Jane, that ultimately went to Susan Kohner.
The exterior shot of Lora Meredith's lavish ranch style house would later be used for the the exterior shots of the Hart's home in the TV show Hart to Hart.
Pearl Bailey was originally considered for the role of Annie Johnson.
Most of Kohner's film roles came during the late 1950s and early 1960s, including co-starring with Sal Mineo in both: Dino (1957) and The Gene Krupa Story (1959).
In 1959, she was cast as Sarah Jane, her most notable role, in the color remake of, Imitation of Life. Directed by Douglas Sirk. Starring Lana Turner which turned out to be a box office success. Kohner, won an Academy Award nomination and won the Golden Globe in the Best Supporting Actress categories.
Following her appearance in, Imitation of Life, Kohner performed in, All the Fine Young Cannibals, with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.
She later had guest performances on television including: Hong Kong, Going My Way and Temple Houston. She made her last film appearance in 1962, co-starring with Montgomery Clift in, Freud: The Secret Passion.
In 1964, Kohner married German novelist and fashion designer John Weitz, and retired from acting. Their children, Chris and Paul Weitz, directed films: American Pie and About a Boy. Chris Weitz, is best known for directing, New Moon in The Twilight Saga (film series).
On April 23, 2010, a new print of "Imitation of Life" was screened at the TCM Film Festival in Los Angeles, California. After the screening, Kohner appeared on stage along with her costar Juanita Moore for a question-and-answer session hosted by TCM's Robert Osborne. Kohner and Moore received standing ovations.