'Imitation of Life' Movie: Lana Turner Classic Mother Love Tearjerker

Imitation of Life movie
Imitation of Life movie Juanita Moore Lana Turner
Imitation of Life movie: Lana Turner, Karen Dicker, Juanita Moore, and Terry Burnham.

Douglas Sirk's classic melodrama Imitation of Life, starring Lana Turner, will have its 50th anniversary celebrated with a screening of a recently struck print at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Friday, Aug. 21, at 7:30 p.m.

Hosted by film critic Stephen Farber, the Imitation of Life screening will feature an onstage discussion with Oscar-nominated (supporting) actresses Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore, conducted by Kohner's sons, filmmakers Paul and Chris Weitz. The print, which is part of the Academy Film Archive collection, was made from the Universal Pictures restoration.

Sandra Dee, Lana Turner in Imitation of Life
Imitation of Life movie: Sandra Dee and Lana Turner.

Douglas Sirk's reputation has gained some belated recognition in the last two or three decades, thanks at least in part to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Sirk-inspired 1970s films. Though Sirk's efforts have been dismissed as “women's pictures,” i.e., with little (if any) social or artistic value, for women and their issues are inherently less important than men and their issues, Douglas Sirk's Weepies actually have more guts and glory than the vast majority of John Ford's Westerns, while Sirk's women are more resilient than just about every male toughie found in a Howard Hawks flick.

My favorite among Sirk's films is All That Heaven Allows, in which widow Jane Wyman breaks with social conventions to have an affair with gardener Rock Hudson, but Imitation of Life is right up there as one of Sirk's most accomplished – and most financially successful – productions.

In this blindingly bright color remake of John M. Stahl's more sedate 1934 version starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, white Lana Turner plays an ambitious actress and black Juanita Moore is (superb as) her housekeeper, both of whom are at odds with their willful daughters, Sandra Dee (instead of original choice Natalie Wood) and Susan Kohner, respectively.

John Gavin Lana Turner Imitation of Life

Dee likes mom's man (John Gavin, above, with Turner) – the film was released the year after Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane, killed her mother's abusive lover, Johnny Stompanato, with a kitchen knife – while Kohner is a light-skinned “black” girl who, while trying to pass for white, turns her back on her doting mother.

At the film's pipe-bursting finale, you may laugh or you may cry (I did both), but I dare you to remain impassive at the on-screen goings-on.

Also in the Imitation of Life movie cast: Dan O'Herlihy, Robert Alda, Troy Donahue, Karen Dicker, Terry Burnham, and Mahalia Jackson. Adapted by Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott, from Fannie Hurst's popular tearjerker. The appropriately gaudy cinematography comes courtesy of Russell Metty. Produced – inevitably – by Ross Hunter.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. All seating is unreserved. For more information, call (310) 247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.

Imitation of Life movie images: Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library.

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2 Comments to 'Imitation of Life' Movie: Lana Turner Classic Mother Love Tearjerker

  1. ROMINETTO

    LANA TURNER 'S JUST A GREAT STAR!!!! AND ONE OF THE MOST GLAMOUROUS STARS (ALONG WITH LINDA DARNELL, SUSAN HAYWARD, DEBORAH KERR, MERLE OBERON, LIZ TAYLOR AND A FEW OTHERS) IN HOLLYWOOD. AND 'IMITATION OF LIFE' IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES.

  2. delores alexander

    where is karen dickers is she still alive she is a beautifurl woman reminds me of myself at younger age altho i am not white lookiing. she still reminds me of of myself years ago. i am now 57 1/2 is she still alive just want to know.