The 50th anniversary screening of Douglas Sirk’s 1959 weepie blockbuster Imitation of Life, starring Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, John Gavin, Troy Donahue, Dan O’Herlihy, Robert Alda, Mahalia Jackson, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominees Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner, was presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday, August 21, 2009, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The event was hosted by film critic Stephen Farber. (Photo: Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner at the Academy’s screening of Imitation of Life 1959. Scroll down to check out more photos from the event.)
Susan Kohner’s film family
In Imitation of Life, white Susan Kohner plays black Juanita Moore’s daughter (hey, that’s Hollywood). In real life, however, Kohner doesn’t have a black mom. Her mother is Lupita Tovar, 98, known as "Mexico’s Sweetheart" back in the early 1930s and the star of the Spanish-language version of Dracula. Her father was producer Paul Kohner, among whose credits was the Margaret Sullavan movie Next Time We Love and German actor-director Luis Trenker’s Depression Era drama The Prodigal Son. Paul Kohner was also a powerful Hollywood agent, among whose clients was Lana Turner.
Susan Kohner, who retired from films after marrying fashion designer John Weitz in 1964, also happens to be the mother of screenwriter-directors Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz; the latter was also present at the Academy’s Imitation of Life presentation. Among the Weitz brothers’ film credits are American Pie, About a Boy, In Good Company (Paul Weitz only), and The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Golden Compass (Chris Weitz only).
‘Imitation of Life’ 1934
Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers were featured in the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, based on Fannie Hurst’s novel. Directed by John M. Stahl, the Best Picture Academy Award-nominated film also featured Fredi Washington (an actual part-black actress) as Beavers’ daughter, in addition to Warren William and Rochelle Hudson.
Stephen Farber, Paul Weitz, Juanita Moore, and Susan Kohner Imitation of Life 1959 screening photos: Matt Petit / © Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.