Imitation of Life is a 1959 American film directed by Douglas Sirk, produced by Ross Hunter and released by Universal Pictures, starring Lana Turner and John Gavin. It was Sirk's final Hollywood film. The cast also features 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.
In 1947, Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), a struggling white widow with aspirations of becoming a famous Broadway actress, loses track of her young daughter Susie at the beach (portrayed as a child by Terry Burnham), and requests the help of a stranger named Steve Archer (John Gavin) to help her find the girl. Susie is found and looked after by Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), a black divorcee with a daughter, Sarah Jane (portrayed as a child by Karin Dicker), who is about Susie's age and, unlike her mother, is so light-skinned that she can pass for white, which she does with fierce zeal and fervor. In return for her kindness, Lora takes Annie in temporarily. Despite the fact that Lora cannot afford a nanny, Annie persuades Lora to let her stay and take care of Susie, so that Lora can pursue an acting career.
With struggles along the way, Meredith becomes a successful star of stage comedies, with Alan Loomis (Robert Alda) as her agent and David Edwards (Dan O'Herlihy) as her chief playwright. Although Lora had begun a romantic relationship with Steve Archer, the stranger she met at the beach, their courtship falls apart because he rejects her ambition to be a star. Lora's tight focus on her career also prevents her from spending time with her daughter, who sees more of Annie than she does her own mother. Annie and Sarah Jane have their own struggles, as the light-skinned Sarah Jane is in a constant state of turmoil over her identity and steadfastly wants to pass for white. Sarah Jane's anger at being black translates into animosity towards her long-suffering mother.
Eleven years later, in 1958, Lora is a highly regarded Broadway star living in a luxurious home in New York. Annie continues to live with her, serving all at once as nanny, housekeeper, confidant and best friend. After rejecting David's latest script (and his marriage proposal), Lora takes a role in a dramatic play. At the show's after-party, she meets Steve, whom she hasn't seen in a decade. The two slowly begin rekindling their relationship, and Steve is reintroduced to Annie and the now-teenaged Susie (Sandra Dee) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner). When Lora is signed to star in an Italian motion picture, she leaves Steve to watch after Susie, and the teenager develops an unrequited crush on her mother's boyfriend.
Annie is bedridden upon her return to New York, and Lora and Susie look after her. The issue of Susie's crush on Steve becomes a serious issue when Susie learns that Steve and Lora are to be married, and Lora learns from Annie of Susie's crush on her fiancé. After a confrontation with her mother, Susie decides to go away to school in Denver, Colorado to forget about Steve. Not long after Susie leaves, however, the now gravely ill Annie passes away, presumably "of a broken heart".Adolescence has not stopped Sarah Jane from attempting to pass for white: she begins dating a white boy (Troy Donohue), who severely beats her after learning that her mother is black. Some time later, Sarah Jane passes for white in order to get a job performing at a seedy nightclub, and lies to Annie and tells her she is working at the library. When Annie learns the truth and appears to claim her daughter. Sarah Jane is fired and her subsequent dismissal of her mother's care begins taking a physical and mental toll on Annie. Lora returns from her trip to Italy to find that Sarah Jane has run away from home, and has Steve hire a detective to find her. The detective locates Sarah Jane in California, living as a white woman under an assumed name and working as a chorus girl. Annie, becoming weaker and more depressed by the day, flies out to California to see her daughter one last time and say goodbye.
Per her last wishes, Annie is given a lavish funeral in a large church, complete with a gospel choir (and a solo by gospel star Mahalia Jackson) and a parade-like procession with a horse-drawn hearse. Just before the procession begins, however, a remorseful Sarah Jane tears through the crowd of mourners and throws herself upon her mother's casket, begging forgiveness. Lora takes Sarah Jane to their limousine to join her, Susie, and Steve as the procession slowly travels through the city.
- 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Seville
- 1956 Cadillac Series 62
- 1957 Chrysler 300 C
- 1958 Chrysler New Yorker Town and Country
- 1948 Hudson Super
- 1956 Imperial Crown Imperial
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