HELLO AMERICA—When I first met Juanita Moore an actress who has been a part of the motion picture industry since the early forties, we were both connected with the Ebony Theatre, the only house which produced plays people of color could participate. She was one of those who went out of her way to encourage young hopefuls to keep the faith; not only that she stressed the importance of knowing one’s craft, especially when it comes to motion pictures. Her professorial inclination is still quite active and well today.
MSJ: How did you feel as a young budding actress of color in Hollywood during the forties?
JM: Well, without question I felt like so many others that we were only seriously considered for roles which the public during that time might feel comfortable watching. And it was without a doubt sometimes very frustrating, especially when you felt that you could handle more involved characters in a film. Hollywood seemed to be obsessed with casting people of color in jungle films or those having to do with witchcraft or of course, musicals which had us moaning and screaming in a religious scene.
MSJ: That must have been depressing?
JM: Yes it was. This is why the establishing of Nick Stewart’s Ebony Theatre was vital to all of us who were serious about acting as a career. Nick was one of those guys who loved the theatre and his dream was to create a place where people of all ethnicities would have an opportunity to explore all types of plays by known playwrights or even those who had not been discovered. We did everything i.e., shaw, Ibson, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller… Oh, the list is so wonderfully long. As a result when we were asked to audition for certain roles we were ready and willing.
MSJ: Who did you admire as actors during those early years in the business?
JM: Oh, that’s easy! I loved Ethel Waters, Rex Ingram, Lillian Randolph, Louise Beavers, James Edwards. You’ve got to remember that these actors were more notable as stage actors. When they appeared on Broadway everybody went to see them, and they received tons of publicity in the black press. This is how we really got to know these people. And when they appeared in a film, we were the first in line.
MSJ: When you first was signed by Universal Studios for "Imitation of Life" which also starred Lana Turner how did you feel?
JM: I was so excited to the point I, at first, had a tough time memorizing my lines. After all, this was a dream role I never thought I would be considered for. When I was a very young girl, I saw the film with Louise Beavers and Claudette Colbert and I was deeply effected by the story to say the least. It was also a wonderful experience working with Lana who was very giving, considerate and kind. We became good friends right up to her passing.
MSJ: I remember when you were nominated as supporting actress by the Academy, you were speechless.
JM: Oh, you do remember! Yes I was in seventh heaven to be recognized like that for my work. There were several sleepless nights. I kept thinking what it might mean to future roles that would be offered. However, reality set in very quickly. Of course, producers were more aware of me and the roles were a little more important, but that was about it. I was offered more work in the theatre and in New York and England. I did Raisin in the Sun, Take a Giant Step and several other wonderful plays but that was about it. It bothered me at first, but I was still grateful that I had an opportunity to do something quite notable as an actress whether it was in film or theatre.
MSJ: Since you’ve been an important part of the film and theatre world for so many years, have your feelings about the decision to become an actress changed very much?
JM: Oh, no! I still look forward to hearing from my agent that I’m wanted for a role or even a commercial which I’ve done quite a few through the years. You know, once you’re an actor the bug will always be there. That’s who and what we are. I’m still, even at my age, a very lucky woman in so many ways.