Juanita Moore, who broke barriers for African-American actors and was Oscar-nommed for 1959’s “Imitation of Life,” died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. Her step-grandson, actor Kirk Kahn, said she was 99.
Moore received a supporting actress nomination for Douglas Sirk’s “Imitation of Life,” playing the housekeeper whose daughter passes for white, in the racially themed film that was based on the Fannie Hurst novel. She was the fifth African-American to be Oscar-nommed.
Kahn said she was still running lines with him recently, and had planned to participate in a reading at the Saban Theater in a few weeks. “She didn’t candy-coat it for you,” he said. “She said, ‘If you’re no good, the play’s no good.'”
“She gave back to the community in so many ways,” he said. “Wherever we went she stopped and told black boys and girls they could do anything with their lives.”
Moore, who was a founding member of the Cambridge Players along with thesps such as Esther Rolle, was honored at the Black Theater Festival in North Carolina, her grandson said.
Born in Los Angeles, Moore was a chorus girl at the Cotton Club who started out as a film extra, then worked in theater at the Ebony Showcase Theater. She made her film debut in 1949’s “Pinky,” and often played a maid in 1950s films such as “The Girl Can’t Help It.” In the 1960s and ’70s, she played a nun in “The Singing Nun” and appeared in films including “Uptight,” “The Mack” and “Abby.” Though she didn’t work often through the 1980s, she began appearing onscreen again in later years on TV shows such as “E.R.” and “Judging Amy” and in films such as Disney’s “The Kid.”
In addition to her grandson, she is survived by two nephews.