OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Classic Hollywood film actresses first deaths of 2014

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-01-08T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Classic Hollywood film actresses first deaths of 2014By Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Juanita Moore, best described as a groundbreaking actress and also an Academy Award nominee for her role as Lana Turner's black friend in the classic 1959 drama "Imitation of Life" died at age 99 on Jan. 1.

Actor Kirk Kelleykahn, her grandson, told the Associated Press that Moore collapsed and died at her home in Los Angeles.

Moore was only the fifth black performer to be nominated for an Oscar, receiving the nod for the glossy Douglas Sirk film that became a big hit and today, has a cult following. Based on a Fannie Hurst novel and a remake of a 1934 film, "Imitation of Life" is the story of a struggling white actress, played by Turner and her rise to stardom, with her friendship with a black woman as a vital plot point. Much of the film is devoted to how they team up to raise their daughters as single mothers.

It brought supporting actress nominations for both Moore and Susan Kohner, who played Moore's daughter, the young adult who wants to attempt to pass as a white woman. (Kohner is now 77 and her own background is Czech and Mexican.) By the end of the film, Turner's character is a star and her friend is now her servant, much to the disdain of her the daughter of Moore's character.

"The Oscar prestige was fine, but I worked more before I was nominated," Moore told the Los Angeles Times in 1967.

"Casting directors think an Oscar nominee is suddenly in another category. They couldn't possibly ask you to do one or two days' work. You wouldn't accept it. And I'm sure I would."

She also was a member of the celebrated Cambridge Players, with other performers including Esther Rolle and Helen Martin.

She appeared on Broadway in 1965 in James Baldwin's play "The Amen Corner" and in London in a production of "Raisin in the Sun."

Among Moore's other films were "The Girl Can't Help It," ''The Singing Nun," ''Paternity" and "The Kid." Her TV credits include "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," ''Adam-12," ''Judging Amy" and "ER."

Final few

Alicia Rhett, who had been one of the oldest surviving cast member of the classic film "Gone With the Wind," died Friday at age 98, in her longtime hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Rhett was doing local theater productions when she was spotted for a role in the 1939 classic "Gone With the Wind."

She was cast asĀ  plantation owner Ashley Wilkes' sister India Wilkes, who gossips and stirs up trouble for Scarlet O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, after Scarlet makes the first of her three husbands, the young man intended as Rhett's character's would-be husband.

While the runaway success and continued notoriety of "Gone With the Wind" made Rhett recognizable nationwide, she did not pursue the limelight. Instead of heading to Hollywood, she went back to Charleston living a relatively quiet life.

Following Rhett's death, the only surviving cast members of the film are the 97-year-old Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, Mary Anderson, 93, who had a minor role as Maybelle Merriwether in the Atlanta dance war charity auction scene, and Mickey Kuhn, 81, who played Ashley and Melanie's son Beau Wilkes.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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