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.
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"?
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.