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Imitation of Life (1959) Poster

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This film, which focuses on the relationship struggles of mothers and daughters, was Lana Turner's first since a very public scandal involving Turner and her daughter Cheryl Crane. The previous year, the fourteen year old Crane had fatally stabbed Turner's boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. Stompanato, part of Mickey Cohen's infamous gang, had been beating Turner, and the court ruled that Crane's actions were justifiable homicide. Nonetheless, the killing and subsequent scandal created a rift between Turner and her daughter, and seriously threatened to end Turner's film career. However, Turner channeled the pain from her experience into this film. It proved financially and critically successful, and served as a comeback vehicle for the actress.
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The funeral scene hit a little too close to home for Lana Turner. As Mahalia Jackson started singing, she lost control and fled to her trailer in tears. When no arguments could convince her to return to the church and shoot the scene, her makeup woman slapped her in the face, breaking her out of her hysterics. She then returned to the set and completed the scene perfectly.
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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).
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As Sarah Jane (played by Susan Kohner) dances by herself in her room, you will see a picture of Bobby Darin, who later married her co-star, Sandra Dee.
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Although she has the second largest role in the film, Juanita Moore was billed seventh, behind actors with much smaller roles. As some form of compensation, her on-screen billing reads "presenting Juanita Moore as Annie Johnson," but that credit didn't make it into the film's advertising.
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Douglas Sirk worked gently with his actors. Rather than dictating the way a scene should be played, he would take each actor aside, suggest what he wanted and asked how he or she felt about it.
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This became Universal's top-grossing film up to that time, and Lana Turner's most successful film ever. Her deal for half the profits kept her financially comfortable for the rest of her life, particularly after fifth husband Fred May invested much of the money in real estate.
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Universal encountered some resistance to the promotion of the film and tailored its advertising campaign for the South. A studio representative was quoted as saying, "White southerners avoid films that are advertised as dealing with the race problem." On February 2, 1959, Hollywood Reporter reprinted the following wire sent by LA Tribune editor Almena Lomac to numerous white publications: "Imitation of Life...is a libel on the Negro race. It libels our children and the Negro mother [and] should be banned in the interest of national unity, harmony, peace, decency and inter-racial respect. The Tribune is refusing all advertising of it and will picket it in the Los Angeles area and call upon the N.A.A.C.P. to condemn, oppose and picket it, too." The outcome of this boycott is not known.
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Douglas Sirk's last Hollywood film before he retired back to his native Germany.
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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 (1979).
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Natalie Wood was considered for the part played by Susan Kohner.
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Ross Hunter insisted on maintaining a lavish production, despite a tight budget. He always used real flowers on the sets, and the jewelry was the real thing, too, supplied by Laykin et Cie. It was appraised at $1 million.
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Because of the heavy public interest in Lana Turner's first film after the Johnny Stompanato scandal, producer Ross Hunter threw the set open to the press on the first day of shooting. They even staged a press conference with the stipulation that Turner would not answer any questions about the case.
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Pearl Bailey was originally considered for the role of Annie Johnson.
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In New York, the film premiered at the Roxy, the same theatre at which Imitation of Life (1934) had opened.
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Ross Hunter had a reputation for pampering his female stars. During filming, he sent flowers and gifts to Lana Turner's dressing room regularly. She also had a limousine and driver at her disposal. As well as a music system installed in her dressing room. Hunter even hired someone to operate it for her.
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Douglas Sirk had read the Fannie Hurst novel before directing the film, but had not seen Imitation of Life (1934). The earlier film sticks much closer to the plot of the novel than this remake.
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The graduation scene was shot at Town & Country School, one of the schools which Lana Turner's real-life daughter, Cheryl Crane, had attended.
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Universal borrowed costume designer Jean Louis from Columbia for the film.
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Margaret O'Brien was originally considered for role of Sara Jane, that ultimately went to Susan Kohner.
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After Loretta Young's success with Because of You (1952), Universal approached her about starring in this film, but Miss Young decided to sign with NBC, so the project was shelved for the moment.
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Karin Dicker's name is misspelled as "Karen" in the onscreen credits.
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Ross Hunter originally planned to make a musical version of the story starring Shirley Booth and Ethel Waters.
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Deborah Kerr and Richard Egan were considered for starring roles.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Features the only Oscar nominated performances of Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore.
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