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Goodbye Juanita & Martha

It feels like Oscar's upcoming "In Memorium" segment this year is going to be extra exhaustingly sad. One of the tiny reasons among many larger ones that I wish they hadn't moved the Honorary Oscar to another event is that the eldest artists of the cinema shouldn't only be viewed through the prism of final goodbyes, you know? This past week we lost two more actresses, both of whom might feel right at home when they hear heavenly choirs.

Juanita Moore and Lana Turner and their screen daughters in "Imitation of Life"

When I think of Juanita Moore (1922-2014) and her classic Oscar-nominated performance in the Douglas Sirk melodrama Imitation of Life (1959), I nearly always think of a scene she isn't even in! My mind always rushes to her character's own funeral. 

Is there a sung funereal performance more moving than Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World"?

Trouble of the World_Mahalia Jackson by mael100

It's enough to make you weep as hard as Lora (Lana Turner) when she loses her dear friend Annie (Juanita Moore). I was such a wet-faced mess the first time I saw this movie. See, here's the thing. I think of the funeral first because Juanita's performance and plight as a mother continually rejected by her lighter-skinned daughter (who wants to pass as white) is so moving that it earns this unforgettable Mahalia Jackson send-off.

The Hungarian born operetta superstar Martha Eggerth (1912-2013) passed away just after Christmas at 101 years of age... she kept performing even into her late nineties! Though she was a much bigger star in European cinemas of the 30s, two Judy Garland pictures in the 40s made a big (brief) deal of her: For Me and My Gal (1942) is fun and quite famous, largely for being Gene Kelly's debut, but I'd argue that the more obscure Presenting Lily Mars (1943) is even better. I thought about just posting a still here but no photo will do her justice, despite her loveliness, since it was all about the voice. Here's a clip of her singing Voices of Spring. You can read a lot more about her here.


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Reader Comments (10)

Juanita's performance in Imitation of Life is so beautifully calibrated. A lesser actress would have made her into a doormat that you just pitied but she made her into a flesh and blood woman of almost supernatural goodness and sympathy. I'm not a crier at films but it is a moving experience and I've watched this with plenty of people that have been reduced to puddles by the end and her performance is a huge piece of that.

I agree about Presenting Lily Mars being better that For Me and My Gal. Gal is fine until about the 3/4 mark then it becomes buried under bathetic sentimentality. Judy is great in both but Lily is a better showcase for Martha Eggerth.

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

is susan kohner available to turn up for the end of the in memorium segment?

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

I've cried puddles over this movie every time I have seen it!!!

Both Moore and Kohner should have shared Oscars... I forget who won that tear!

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I don't want to sound too morbid, but I think you're fantastic writing this sort of pieces.

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

If you don't cry by the end of Sirk's Imitation of Life, you are made of stone.

I'd love to have a gospel singer do "Trouble of the World" for this year's Oscar In Memoriam, but I'm not sure if it would really be appropriate - and it wouldn't match Mahalia Jackson's anyway. But having Susan Kohner running in screaming about her mother - great as it would be - would probably wreck me.

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Here's one of my favorite pieces of Marta Eggerth footage - from Franz Lehar's "Wo die Lerche singt", an operetta princess fills the great outdoors with melody:

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKen

"Imitation of Life" is one of the great masterpieces of classic Hollywood.

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Isn't Susan Kohner the mother of the Weitz Brothers? I think she is around and "available" though no doubt retired at this point.

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I get verklempt just thinking of the funeral scene in Imitation of Life. Moore should've won. Her and Kohner run circles around Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank.

January 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

It's so sad because I literally just started watching Imitation of Life for the first time the other night! I couldn't finish because I was a bit bored...but what you're all saying makes me want to! And it's not completely that I wasn't fully intrigued, but when I saw her daughter is clearly not black at all (as in the actress that plays her), I couldn't take it seriously. I know it was the 50s and they're really trying if they even took on this sort of subject matter, but geez. It took me out of it completely. But as I said, I want to finish it now. Either way, RIP Juanita Moore.

January 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

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