Susanna "Susan" Kohner (born November 11, 1936) is an American former actress who worked in film and television. She is best known for her role as Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life (1959), for which she was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe award. She played a light-skinned black woman who "passed" for white as a child and young adult.
Kohner in Imitation of Life (1959)
November 11, 1936
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Other names||Susan Weitz|
(m. 1964; died 2002)
After Kohner married menswear designer and writer John Weitz in 1964, she retired from acting to devote time to her family. Her two sons, Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz, have both become film directors and producers, screenwriters, and occasional actors.
Kohner was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Lupita Tovar, a Mexican-born actress who had a career in Hollywood, and Paul Kohner, a film producer who was born in Bohemia, Austria-Hungary. Her mother was Roman Catholic, and of both Mexican and Irish descent, and her father was Jewish.
In her most notable role, Kohner played Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life, portraying a light-skinned black woman who "passes" as white. The 1959 film was a remake of a 1934 version of a book of the same name. The expensive, glossy Ross Hunter production, directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lana Turner, was a box office smash. In addition, Kohner was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in the film, and won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress and one as Best New Actress.
Following her role in Imitation of Life, Kohner appeared in All the Fine Young Cannibals opposite Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. She later had guest roles on various television series, including Hong Kong, Going My Way, and Temple Houston. She made her last film appearance in 1962, co-starring with Montgomery Clift in Freud: The Secret Passion. She retired from acting in 1964.
In 1964, Kohner married John Weitz, a German-born novelist and fashion designer. She retired from acting to devote time to her family. They had two sons together, Chris and Paul Weitz, who both became film directors and producers in Hollywood, together producing films such as American Pie (1999) and About a Boy (2002). Chris Weitz is also known for directing New Moon (2009), part of The Twilight Saga.
On April 23, 2010, a new print of Imitation of Life (1959) was screened at the TCM Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, to which Kohner and co-star Juanita Moore were invited. After the screening, the two women appeared on stage for a question-and-answer session hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne. Kohner and Moore received standing ovations.
- 1958: Love Me Little by John G. Fuller at Helen Hayes Theatre. Role: Emily Whittaker. Broadway debut.
- 1962: Pullman Car Hiawatha by Thornton Wilder at Circle in the Square Theatre. Role: Harriet Milbury.
- 1963: Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw at Vancouver Theater Festival. With Mike Nichols.
|1955||To Hell and Back||Maria|
|1956||The Last Wagon||Jolie|
|Dino||Shirley||Alternative title: Killer Dino|
|1959||Imitation of Life||Sarah Jane, age 18||Also: Performer: "Empty Arms"|
|The Big Fisherman||Princess Fara|
|The Gene Krupa Story||Ethel Maguire||Alternative title: Drum Crazy|
|1960||All the Fine Young Cannibals||Catherine McDowall|
|1961||By Love Possessed||Helen Detweiler|
|1962||Freud: The Secret Passion||Martha Freud||Alternative title: Freud|
|1956||The Alcoa Hour||Joanna||1 episode|
|Four Star Playhouse||Anita||1 episode|
|Cavalcade of American||1 episode: "A Bed of Roses"|
|Climax!||2 episodes: "Child of the Wind/Throw Away the Cane," segment "Child of the Wind"; "Ten Minutes to Curfew"|
|1956–1957||Schlitz Playhouse of Stars||Angela O'Neill; Lynn Howell||2 episodes: "Date for Tomorrow" as Angela O'Neill; "Dual Control" as Lynn Howell|
|1957||Matinee Theatre||Joanna Marshall||2 episodes: " - "Letter to a Stranger"; "Laugh a Little Tear"|
|Wagon Train||Mokai||1 episode: "The Charles Avery Story"|
|Suspicion||Gina||1 episode: "The Flight"|
|1958||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Therese||1 episode: "The Return of the Hero"|
|1960||Playhouse 90||Rachel Heller||1 episode: "In the Presence of Mine Enemies"|
|1961||The DuPont Show with June Allyson||Clare Anderson||1 episode: "The Guilty Heart"|
|Hong Kong||Elena||1 episode: "The Innocent Exile"|
|1961–1963||Route 66||Katy Webster; Midge Pierrepont||2 episodes: "The Quick and the Dead" as Katy Webster; "But What Do You Do in March" as Midge Pierrepont|
|1962||Checkmate||Vicki Angelo||1 episode: "Down the Gardenia Path"|
|The Dick Powell Show||Miriam Marks||1 episode: "Tomorrow, the Man"|
|1963||The Doctors and the Nurses||Terry Collins||1 episode: "Root of Violence"|
|Going My Way||Elaine Brady||1 episode: "One Small Unhappy Family"|
|Temple Houston||Ellena Romolo||1 episode: "Toll the Bell Slowly"|
|1964||Rawhide||Abbie Bartlett||1 episode: "Incident at Ten Trees"|
|Channing||Rena||1 episode: "A Bang and a Whimper"|
Awards and nominationsEdit
|1959||Academy Award||Nominated||Best Supporting Actress||Imitation of Life|
|1959||Golden Globe Award||Won||Most Promising Newcomer - Female|
|1959||Best Supporting Actress||Imitation of Life|
|1962||Nominated||Best Supporting Actress||Freud: The Secret Passion|
|1958||Laurel Awards||Nominated||Top New Female Personality|
|1959||2nd Place||Top Female New Personality|
- Schumach, Murray (23 February 1960). "Academy Names Oscar Finalists" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
- Horyn, Cathy (20 February 2000). "Legacy; Growing up Weitz". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- Kelley, Tina (4 October 2002). "John Weitz, 79, Fashion Designer Turned Historian, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- Yarrow, Andrew (19 March 1988). "Paul Kohner, Hollywood Agent And Film Producer, Is Dead at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Pfefferman, Naomi (13 March 2003). "About Two Boys: Late fashion designer John Weitz inspires his Academy Award-nominated sons, Paul and Chris". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Pfefferman, Naomi (June 1, 2011). "An Immigrant Struggles for a 'Better Life' for His Son". Jewish Journal. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Florido, Adrian (November 15, 2016). "Mexican Film Actress Lupita Tovar Dies At 106". National Public Radio. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Lyttelton, Oliver (April 17, 2012). "5 Things You May Not Know About Douglas Sirk's 'Imitation Of Life'". IndieWire. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- "Susan Kohner mentioned in the record of John H Weitz and Susan Kohner". FamilySearch. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- Atkinson, Brooks (15 April 1958). "Theatre: On Wickedness" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
- Zolotow, Sam (10 December 1957). "Sponsor Collars 'Man in Dog Suit'" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
- Wilson, Earl (6 January 1963). "Earl Wilson Reports: Susan Kohner Favors Elders". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
- "Vancouver Festival Books Nichols and Susan KohnerVancouve" (PDF). The New York Times. 10 April 1963. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
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