Synopses & Reviews
Few movies inspire the devotion of Douglas Sirks 1959 drama “Imitation of Life”—an irresistible story of two single mothers raising daughters together and also commentary on ambition, sex, and racial identity.
Born to be Hurt is the first in-depth “biography” of “Imitation of Life.” Lana Turner, on the brink of personal and professional ruin after her mobster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato was stabbed by her daughter, starred as glamorous actress Lora Meredith. Juanita Moore played the greatest role up to that time for an African-American actress: Loras loyal maid and dearest friend. And Americas cutie pie, Sandra Dee, and powerful newcomer Susan Kohner played the daughters, one sunny and blonde and popular, the other tortured and black-passing-for-white.
Staggs traces the movies arc from Fannie Hursts novel through the writing and casting to the filming, the promotion, and the reception it received. In Born to be Hurt, he combines vast research, extensive interviews with surviving cast members, and superb storytelling to create a rich, revelatory work about one of the twentieth centurys most iconic movies.
"Douglas Sirk's film Imitation of Life sparks another beguiling celebration of Old Hollywood for Staggs, author of All About 'All About Eve.' Staggs sections the 1959 melodrama's subplots into a campy 'blonde side' (Lana Turner and Sandra Dee as a Broadway star and her daughter, battling over a man), and a tragic 'dark side' (Juanita Miller and Susan Kohner as a black maid and the light-skinned daughter who repudiates her). Refracting themes of racial anxiety, confused identity and the mutual wounds parents and children inflict through Sirk's subtly ironic direction, the movie, Staggs writes, is 'a florid valentine with a death's-head where Cupid ought to be.' Staggs's luxuriously digressive account ranges far beyond the featured attraction. Drawing on chatty interviews with those who worked on or in the film, he profiles studio executives, stars and makeup men alike, assesses their oeuvre and gossips about their scandals, and takes extraneous potshots at everything from modern-day starlets ('nasal-voiced and rather dim overall') to the Catholic Church ('a monolithic theocracy verging on fascism'). Staggs is an often incisive critic, but one who leaves himself raptly open to the emotional impact of movies; he shows readers how compelling Hollywood's imitation of life can be." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“If you believe there is such a thing as politics in movie tastes, Born to Be Hurt is the book for you. Sam Staggss inside story of the entire ‘Imitation of Life phenomenon is funny, obsessive and quite revealing and, like any good fanatic, he takes sides.”—John Waters
“Sam Staggs is one of our liveliest and most likable pop-culture historians. His chronicle of ‘Imitation of Life, one of the iconic movies of the late 1950s, is beautifully researched and told in his own singular, engaging voice. Thanks to this book, I finally understand the peculiar hold that this movie has had on me for all these years.” -- Brian Kellow, author of Ethel Merman: A Life and The Bennetts: An Acting Family
“[A]nother beguiling celebration of Old Hollywood for Staggs…Staggs's luxuriously digressive account ranges far beyond the featured attraction…he shows readers how compelling Hollywood's imitation of life can be.”—Publishers Weekly "Scrupulously scholarly, yet always droll."--Huffington Post
"There's something compelling about this approach to film history."--Los Angeles Times "A passionate and witty behind-the-scenes expose."--Turner Classic Movies, www.tcm.com
“A bona fide film archaeologist.”—Chicago Tribune
In a passionate and witty behind-the-scenes expose, the author of All About "All About Eve" takes on the classic 1959 Douglas Sirk film starring Lana Turner
Few films inspire the devotion of Imitation of Life, one of the most popular films of the '50s--a split personality drama that's both an irresistible women's picture and a dark commentary on ambition, motherhood, racial identity, and hope lost and found.
Born to be Hurt is the first in-depth account of director Sirks masterpiece. Lana Turner, on the brink of personal and professional ruin starred as Lora Meredith. African-American actress Juanita Moore played her servant and dearest friend, and Sandra Dee and Susan Kohner their respective daughters, caught up in the heartbreak of the black-passing-for-white daughter in the 1950s. Both Moore and Kohner were Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress.
The author combines vast research, extensive interviews with surviving cast members, and superb storytelling into a masterpiece of film writing. Entertaining, saucy, and incisive, this is irresistible reading for every film fan.
About the Author
Sam Staggs is the author of four film books, including Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard and When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. He has written for a variety of publications, including Vanity Fair and Architectural Digest. He lives in Dallas, Texas.