63 user 27 critic

Imitation of Life (1934)

Approved | | Drama, Romance | 26 November 1934 (USA)
A struggling widow and her daughter take in a black housekeeper and her fair-skinned daughter; the two women start a successful business, but face familial, identity, and racial issues along the way.


John M. Stahl


Fannie Hurst (novel), William Hurlbut (screenplay)

Watch Now

From $2.99 (SD) on Prime Video

Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 1 win. See more awards »


Learn more

More Like This 

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

An aspiring actress befriends a black widow, but trouble arises when the latter is rejected by her daughter, who tries to pass for white.

Director: Douglas Sirk
Stars: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee
Pinky (1949)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A light-skinned African American woman falls in love with a white doctor, though he is unaware of her true race.

Directors: Elia Kazan, John Ford
Stars: Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters
Men in White (1934)
Certificate: Passed Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

An idealistic doctor must make some hard choices between his dedication to the profession and his personal life.

Director: Richard Boleslawski
Stars: Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean Hersholt
Certificate: Passed Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

Romance and heartbreak walk hand-in-hand when Philip Chagal accidentally meets Helen Lawrence in a restaurant where she is a waitress. Unhappily married to a woman who suffers from mental ... See full summary »

Director: John M. Stahl
Stars: Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Barbara O'Neil
Now I'll Tell (1934)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

Golden is a two-bit gambler who has promised wife Virginia he'll quit when he makes $200,000. When he fixes a fight he gets mobster Mossiter mad, then loses his fortune to him. He pawns his... See full summary »

Director: Edwin J. Burke
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Helen Twelvetrees, Alice Faye
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

From Arnold Bennett's novel "Buried Alive". An artist returning from years abroad takes the identity of his dead valet to escape the attentions of the press.

Director: John M. Stahl
Stars: Monty Woolley, Gracie Fields, Laird Cregar
The Brat (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  

A society novelist brings a brash young chorus girl home in order to study her for inspiration for his new novel. His family is distraught, but soon her behavior has forever altered their ... See full summary »

Director: John Ford
Stars: Sally O'Neil, Alan Dinehart, Frank Albertson
Cleopatra (1934)
Certificate: Passed Biography | Drama | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

The man-hungry Queen of Egypt leads Julius Caesar and Mark Antony astray, amid scenes of DeMillean splendor.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Shades of Othello loom in this engrossing exploration of class, race, and murder set on an ocean liner. Young Dainah encounters an engineer on board who mistakes pleasantries for flirtation... See full summary »

Director: Jean Grémillon
Stars: Charles Vanel, Habib Benglia, Gaston Dubosc
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

An American, working for his oil company in China, disregards all but the company's interests. " The characters and the institution portrayed in the story are not actual but the product of ... See full summary »

Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Stars: Pat O'Brien, Josephine Hutchinson, Jean Muir
Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

A middle aged millionaire falls in love with a gorgeous, but stupid blonde gold digger, being guided by her ever-present shrewish friend.They marry but the man soon regrets his rash move ... See full summary »

Director: Alfred L. Werker
Stars: Adolphe Menjou, Minna Gombell, Arthur Pierson
Mirage de la vie (TV Movie 1983)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
Director: Daniel Schmid
Stars: Douglas Sirk, Hilde Jary


Complete credited cast:
Claudette Colbert ... Beatrice Pullman
Warren William ... Stephen Archer
Rochelle Hudson ... Jessie Pullman
Ned Sparks ... Elmer Smith
Louise Beavers ... Delilah Johnson
Fredi Washington ... Peola Johnson
Juanita Quigley ... Baby Jessie Pullman (as Baby Jane)
Alan Hale ... Martin the Furniture Man
Henry Armetta ... The Painter
Wyndham Standing ... Jarvis the Butler


Bea Pullman and her daughter Jessie have had a hard time making ends meet since Bea's husband died. Help comes in the form of Delilah Johnson, who agrees to work as Bea's housekeeper in exchange for a room for herself and her daughter Peola. Bea comes up with a plan to market Delilah's pancake recipe. The two soon become wealthy and as the years go on, their friendship deepens. Their relationships with their daughters, however, become strained. Ashamed of her mother, Peola seeks a new life by passing for white. Bea's love for her daughter is tested when she and Jessie fall for the same man. Written by <dbubbeo@cmp.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Brought Back to thrill you again! Fannie Hurst's stirring drama of a mother and a daughter in love with the same man. (re-release) See more »


Drama | Romance


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

26 November 1934 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Imitación de la vida See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The script didn't get Breen office approval until the film was two weeks into shooting. See more »


When baby Jessie falls into the bathtub going after her rubber ducky, there is an obvious edit between her falling in and the splash of water coming out of the tub. Note the shifting of the towel and the shadows from the light coming in through the window on the tile wall behind the tub. See more »


Jessie Pullman, Age 18: After all, what's the good of algebra and all that stuff to a girl?
See more »

Crazy Credits

End credits titled at the top "A great cast is worth repeating". See more »


Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.21 (2011) See more »


Home, Sweet Home
Music partly composed, and arranged by H.R. Bishop from a Sicilian air
Played by the band at the end of the party
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Imitation of Life
12 May 2016 | by oOoBarracudaSee all my reviews

The iconic Claudette Colbert was the shining star in John M. Stahl's 1934 film Imitation of Life, based on a book by Fannie Hurst of the same title. Colbert along with Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington, and Rochelle Hudson join together to expose the hardships of women who must enter the workforce in a time when women were only to maintain households. In addition to the struggle of a family who lost their patriarch, the audience also experiences through the film the multi- faceted race relations that consumed people of color in the 1930's. The two intertwined tales of personal struggle create a window into the world of the 30's social constructs to engage a whole new audience in their complexities.

Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) becomes a single mother to her daughter Jessie (Rochelle Hudson) after the death of her husband. Struggling to maintain both the household and her husband's business, Bea is blessed with an angel in the form of housekeeper Delilah Johnson. (Louise Beavers) Delilah comes to Bea's door with a proposition to work for the Pullman family for only room and board in exchange. Delilah is not alone, however, she also has a daughter Peola (Fredi Washington). Peola and Jessie are about the same age and Bea doesn't have the money to hire a much-needed housekeeper; the arrangement seems like a fit for all parties involved, so Bea agrees. The two women become fast friends and eventually spring an idea to market Ms. Delilah's pancake recipe. The idea takes off and the duo becomes incredibly wealthy. No matter how much wealth the two accumulate, Delilah requests that she and Peola remain living with Bea and Jessie. The girls grow together, as much as they can, in a world strained by racism. Jessie, being afforded many more opportunities especially in regards to education, flourishes into adulthood and takes off for college. Peola, however, becomes a victim of intolerance and constantly tows the line between her true self, and the self she assumes when she passes as a white woman. Peola becomes estranged from her mother, due to her deep resentment of Delilah's dark skin. Mother-daughter relationships are difficult enough to navigate, Imitation of Life goes to show that this is an age-old difficulty made no easier by also having to deal with death, racial tensions, and heartache along the way.

If you're an old film lover like me, this film will you why you are. There is nothing quite like that softly gleaming glow that a great black and white movie puts off. Claudet Colbert is a national treasure, and if you haven't seen her acting, you should--today. The real power behind this film is its distinct story line. Of course, no one denies the existence of the obvious racism that filled the earlier days of this country. This film takes a unique line of that struggle to focus on the problems that light-skinned black people often went through. Peola could pass for white because her father before her was light skinned. In passing as white, Peola also had to disown her mother. There is no greater pain for a single mother than to be abandoned by her daughter. In contrast, Jessie was afforded much more opportunities due to her skin color and was able to maintain a healthy relationship with her mother. This class distinction was beautifully, and painfully, illustrated in the image of Bea ascending up the stairs while Delilah descended down the stairs immediately following their discussion of college plans of their daughters. This scene depicted, in such a stark way, the level of divide between races at the time, which were present regardless of income. Delilah had amassed a fortune with Bea due to her pancake recipe yet was still treated as a second-class citizen with a daughter that resents her. Many films deal with race, but the added struggle of both the women being single mothers creates a film that will not be forgotten in Imitation of Life.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 63 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Stream Comedy Titles With Prime Video

Explore popular comedy titles available to stream with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed