Susan Kohner

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Susan Kohner
Image from trailer of the 1959 film, Imitation of Life
from trailer for Imitation of Life (1959)
Born Susanna Kohner
(1936-11-11) November 11, 1936 (age 78)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names Susan Weitz
Occupation Actress
Years active 1955–1964
Spouse(s) John Weitz (1964–2002) (his death)
Children 2

Susan Kohner (born November 11, 1936) is an American 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[1] and won a Golden Globe award. She played a light-complexioned black woman who "passed" for white as a young adult.[2]

After Kohner married menswear designer and writer John Weitz in 1964, she retired from acting to devote time to her family. Her two sons, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, have both become film directors, screenwriters and sometime actors.[3]

Early life[edit]

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.[4] Her mother is Roman Catholic, and her father was Czech Jewish.[5]


Most of Kohner's film roles came during the late 1950s and early 1960s, including co-starring with Sal Mineo in both Dino (1957) and The Gene Krupa Story (1959).

In her most notable role, Kohner played Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life, portraying an African-American 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.

Personal life[edit]

In 1964, Kohner married John Weitz, a German-born novelist and fashion designer.[6] 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, 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 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.



Year Film Role Notes
1955 To Hell and Back Maria
1956 The Last Wagon Jolie
1957 Trooper Hook Consuela
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
Year Title Role Notes
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 nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Category Film
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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schumach, Murray (23 February 1960). "Academy Names Oscar Finalists". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  2. ^ Horyn, Cathy (20 February 2000). "Legacy; Growing up Weitz". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Kelley, Tina (4 October 2002). "John Weitz, 79, Fashion Designer Turned Historian, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  4. ^ Yarrow, Andrew (19 March 1988). "Paul Kohner, Hollywood Agent And Film Producer, Is Dead at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ "Susan Kohner mentioned in the record of John H Weitz and Susan Kohner". FamilySearch. Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  7. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (15 April 1958). "Theatre: On Wickedness". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Zolotow, Sam (10 December 1957). "Sponsor Collars 'Man in Dog Suit'". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  9. ^ Wilson, Earl (6 January 1963). "Earl Wilson Reports: Susan Kohner Favors Elders". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  10. ^ "Vancouver Festival Books Nichols and Susan KohnerVancouve". The New York Times. 10 April 1963. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 

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