In Celebration of Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead in her technicolor glory in "The Story of Three Loves" (1953)Last Saturday, December 6th, marked the 108th anniversary of the birth of Agnes Moorehead.

While I enjoyed the sight of Moorehead‘s acerbic, self-centered country club divorcée as she preened and passed judgment last night during TCM’s broadcast of David O. Selznick’s powerfully bathetic Since You Went Away (1945), it struck me for the hundredth time that the presence of Agnes Moorehead in many classic (and not so classic) films was often what gave a movie a spine. Her characters, whether false or true, invariably made a vivid impression and deserve to be spotlighted around her birthday.

In the last week, TCM has given us a chance to see this actress pulling out many of the stops in some of those exceptional roles, with airings earlier this month of Citizen Kane (1941), with her five minute, finely etched debut performance on film as Charles Foster Kane’s mother, and in what author Charles Tranberg calls “a mangled masterpiece”, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), which gave the character actress her great role as the eternally frustrated Fanny Minafer. Not to be forgotten is her cranky hypochondriac in Pollyanna (1960), which Suzidoll celebrated here last week. In a rare broadcast just yesterday, the actress appeared as an elegant former prima ballerina (seen in technicolor glory on the left) trying to protect Moira Shearer in The Story of Three Loves (1953). The distinctive actress proved her versatility throughout her career. She arranged her aquiline features accordingly to convey a believable briskness, sometimes comforting, sometimes disapproving. She most often appeared as a pragmatic presence in many films that have etched themselves on our collective memory.

As the formidable Endora in "Bewitched"For many readers, Agnes Moorehead‘s formidable list of credits on stage, screen, radio and television may be overshadowed by that perennial sixties sitcom that they grew up on, Bewitched (1964-1972). Handed a comic variation on a stock figure of the ultimate vexatious mother-in-law, Ms. Moorehead brought her witchy “Endora” to vivid life, a feat that led to her being nominated six times for an Emmy. She often stole the show, which continues in repeats to this day, intriguing a new generation. Professionally, this may have been a by-product of a formidable talent that found expression on screen primarily in secondary character roles. Agnes Moorehead was fortunately, a part of that period of film history in which familiar character actors were a draw for moviegoers along with the stars. Moorehead‘s presence in a movie promised something tartly entertaining and usually quite insightful.

Nominated four times for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and twice a winner of a Golden Globe, the actress could shift her characterizations easily from vinegary disapproval to warmly compassionate to richly detailed portraits of good and evil women. Living her life as privately as possible despite her very public profession, those who enjoy her performances find her an intriguing, still mysterious figure to this day, almost 35 years after her death. The biography of Agnes Moorehead by Charles TranbergTo celebrate this actress’ life and work, Charles Tranberg, the author of I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead (BearManor Media) has generously agreed to share some thoughts on this actress. As regular readers of this blog may recall, Charles also brought his expertise to the Movie Morlocks site back in August, helping us celebrate the centennial of Fred MacMurray . Below is the interview that I conducted with him about Ms. Moorehead‘s life and career:

Moira: Agnes Moorehead was born in 1900, and after childhood forays into the world of regional ballet and opera, as well as theater, she would eventually graduate from Muskingum College in Ohio. After that she spent several years in Wisconsin teaching prior to pursuing her acting career in NYC.  Charles, one of the aspects of your book that I appreciated was your reluctance to speculate too much on the details of Agnes Moorehead‘s life while chronicling her career. What drew you to her as a subject for a biography?

Charles Tranberg: What drew me to Aggie as a subject at first, to be honest, was the wealth of material I found at the Wisconsin State Historical Society which held some 159 boxes of material. That was very exciting. The other is that there had never been truly a full-length book biography of her before. I also admired her as an actress. Not only because I grew up enjoying her as Endora on “Bewitched” but because I was also a fan of old time radio and Aggie was a true star in that field. I also enjoyed many of her films especially her justly acclaimed performance as Aunt Fanny in “The Magnificent Ambersons.” So for all of these reasons I thought she would be a great subject for a book which she certainly was.

Moira: Why do you think that the daughter of a Presbyterian minister took such an interest in theater?
Charles Tranberg:The daughter of the Presbyterian minister was drawn to the theater in part, I believe, because she saw the theatricality of her father, Rev. John Moorehead, in his fire and brimstone sermons. She once said that there was a great deal in common between the pulpit and the theater. Her father had a very distinctive voice–a very dramatic voice and in addition to his sermons which were riveting to her and the congregations he served, he also read Shakespeare to his children. I get the feeling that her father may have been a frustrated actor at heart as well as a clergyman.

Moira: What was her relationship with her family like?
An early photographic portrait of Agnes MooreheadCharles Tranberg: She had a good relationship with her parents. Her father, while very theatrical as a pastor, wasn’t so much at home around his family, but Aggie admired him very much. I think she saw him, through-out her life, as the best man she ever knew and perhaps her marriages didn’t last because neither of her husbands quite measure up to her dad. She adored her mother as well, and Molly, who incidentally lived until 1990 dying at 106!, was very flamboyant. I think in many ways Aggie took after her mother as an outgoing, vivacious type of person.

Moira: How do you think that Agnes Moorehead‘s religious background affected her life and her career?
Charles Tranberg: I think her religious background influenced her life profoundly. Her spirituality wasn’t a gimmick or publicity stunt with her, she truly was a devoted Christian. She would read to her staff at her home on Sunday’s from the bible. She left much of her estate to religious institutions. Yet while she was a fundamentalist in her upbringing she was also a contradiction from a lot of the fundamentalism we see today. She worked in an industry that is populated by many very creative gay people and she befriended many of them. She liked parties and a good time. She worked on a TV show where she portrayed a witch. The interesting thing about Aggie is that she was such a contradiction. She also had a very good understanding of publicity and knew that if she was to be successful she couldn’t be a stick in the mud. But everything she did she did with class.

Moira: What were the years like before she was able to become an actress?

Agnes Moorehead, striving for theatrical glory in the 1930s in New York CityCharles Tranberg: She did a great deal of acting while in school and as a girl in St. Louis, MO, she was part of the Municipal Ballet. But she did get a formal education, [graduating from Muskingum College in Ohio with a B.A.], but her dream was to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. That took money and she couldn’t get that kind of money from her pastor father. So she went to work as a school teacher in Wisconsin–and spent some five years in a small, rural community called Soldiers Grove. She was very well liked and a very effective teacher. She taught many courses but specialized in speech, debate and dramatics. Her students won several championships statewide in debate. She enjoyed being a teacher, but she wanted to be an actress even more. When she had enough money to go to New York she did and she auditioned for the AADA in the summer of 1926 and was accepted.

Moira: Given the fact that Aggie graduated from AADA just as the Great Depression hit Broadway, despite her talent and eagerness to test her mettle on stage, jobs were terribly hard to come by. As you quote her in your biography, the actress looked back on that period as a time when she had “gone there (New York City) with the goal of every young actor: to make my way in the theater. To make my money last, I ate almost nothing: hot water for breakfast, a roll for lunch, rice for dinner. It was hungry work, making the rounds of casting agents, mile after mile on the unyielding sidewalk, and I used to wonder fervently just how God was going to provide manna in this man-made wilderness.” As the actress confessed, she subsisted on coins purloined from pay telephones for food, (which she said was repaid later) until manna came in the meager form of bit parts and understudy work on Broadway until she landed a radio contract with NBC. Charles, did you think that Ms. Moorehead was particularly happy with the way that her career evolved in this and later years?

Charles Tranberg: Was Aggie happy with how her career evolved? I think eventually, yes. Though I think she would have loved to be a leading actress and I think she wanted to be a star of the stage early on. That is what her training in New York geared her towards. But she didn’t really have much success in the early 30′s on stage in New York. It was because of that that she eventually went into radio and with her great voice and ability to do many different dialects she was able to carve out a hugely successful career on radio. She had many starring roles on radio–starring roles that by and large she rarely got on television and in the movies. She had a great reputation and became one of the great character stars of her time. But, finally with “Bewitched” she got a taste of stardom. Endora did that for her–and while she continued to complain about television, and the long hours involved, I think she loved what “Bewitched” did for her career. It made her a truly recognizable name to a new generation of fans and gave her a fame that exceeded anything she knew before.

Moira: In doing your extensive research for this book, did you come across any material or interview anyone whose knowledge or opinion of the actress surprised you?

Charles Tranberg: The most surprising interview and one of the most rewarding was with Aggie’s theatrical manager, Paul Gregory, [who produced one of her biggest hits on stage, in several productions of George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell, which began touring in the early 1950s. I expected given the warmth of the correspondence I read in Aggie's files between the two that he would be most effusive in his praise for her. He was, as far as her artistry, but he really gave me a three-dimensional portrait of Aggie--the person. He felt that as a person she could be shallow and two-faced and that she was "on" for 23 out of every 24 hours of a day--that she never let her guard down. He recalled for me that she and Patricia Medina, Joe Cotten's wife, who was working with them in a play, were discussing the agony of child birth. Aggie was saying that she had given birth to Sean, the boy she raised, and yet everybody knew she didn't--but that didn't stop her from saying that she had. Yet he also knew that she could take criticism from him that she wouldn't accept from others. He could tell her, "that's a load of Sh**" and she would take it. He also respected her as a hard worker and an actress of great depth. And the one-hour out of the twenty-four that she wasn't on--she was as wonderful and nice as could be.

Moira: How did she feel about radio, which, almost from the day she graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, helped to give her income and became a medium in which she was truly a star?

Agnes Moorehead, a star of radio in the 1930 and 1940sCharles Tranberg: [Though] she initially wanted to be a great stage actress and when stage roles dried up she turned to radio and almost from the first became very successful in that medium. It certainly helped her income because it was nothing for an actress of her range to do several radio shows per week. The man who she owes much of her early success on radio to is a pioneer of that medium named Himan Brown, who I interviewed for my book when he was around 92–I believe he is still alive. His memories were quite strong and when she came in for her audition for a show called “The Gumps” a sitcom based on a comic strip, he didn’t have her read a script he just spoke with her one on one and he understood that she was right for playing “Ma Gump”. They remained friends for the remainder of Aggie‘s life and over the years worked several more times on different radio shows right up to early 1974–just three months before her death–she did his “CBS Mystery Theater”. He was very impressed by her dedication as an artist.

Moira: How did Moorehead become a part of the Mercury Theatre On the Air in 1938? Did Aggie want to make the transition to movie work when Orson Welles offered her the role of Charles Foster Kane’s mother?

Charles Tranberg: She had actually recalled years later meeting a very precocious Orson Welles as a boy at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. When she began working with Orson something kept nagging at her–where have I seen him before. Welles was very young still–only in his early twenties and then when thumbing through LIFE magazine she saw a picture of Orson as a child and knew then that was the boy she had once met years before at the Waldorf-Astoria. Himan Brown told me how Aggie and Orson had met later on. Aggie was doing “The Gumps” in New York and the program which was on just before “The Gumps” was this young man with a wonderful voice reciting poetry–it was Orson Welles! Orson would watch “The Gumps” and was fascinated by Aggie. He later said many times that he considered her the best actor he had ever worked with. But he knew that when he launched the mercury theater that he wanted her to be part of it–and she was–the most prominent female member of the Mercury players. It only made sense that when Welles went to Hollywood and made “Citizen Kane” that he would find a part for Aggie. He did as Kane’s mother. It was a small part of only five minutes in length but it was one of the most memorable sequences in the picture and anguished performance as a mother giving up her son because she realized that she and his father couldn’t give him the kind of life he deserved is one of the best in the film.

Working with Orson WellesMoira: You can see a beautifully played scene from early in Citizen Kane with Moorehead, George Colouris, Harry Shannon, and Buddy Swan as Charles Foster Kane as a boy playing with his sled in the distance here. Note the way that this clip highlights cinematographer Gregg Toland‘s deep focus camera work, underlining the separation of the boy from his determined mother and the interior of his home and the crisp way that Moorehead controls her own conflicting emotions.

Moira: Many of the veterans of Welles‘ productions expressed mixed emotions about the experience, even when they admired the man’s protean artistry. How did Agnes Moorehead feel about him and his subsequent career?

Charles Tranberg: Aggie felt that Orson Welles was the most brilliant man talent alive. AgnesMoorehead in "The Magnificent Ambersons" She loved working with him. It was a mutual admiration society. She felt that Hollywood treated him very shabbily. She felt that they didn’t understand his genius. Welles had wanted to use her on other occasions which never panned out. He wanted her to be the dogged investigator going after a Nazi in “The Stranger“, but the studio didn’t back him and the role went to Eddie Robinson. Welles later wanted her to play Lady Macbeth opposite his Macbeth but other commitments kept this from happening. It’s a shame they never worked together again, after the mid-forties, except for radio, though Welles for years wanted to do an update of “The Magnificent Ambersons” but after Aggie died, there was no way he would pursue it–nobody but Aggie could ever play Aunt Fanny.

Moira: I agree. I find her character of Fanny Minaher to be among the most tragic of her career. So often, because she played characters who pushed the plot along or who existed to offer a contrast to the usually virtuous central characters, Aggie was given little chance to embellish her character’s inner life, (though the viewer sensed more about her). In The Magnificent Ambersons, and particularly in the scene in the boiler room when her character comes unravelled, she is unforgettable and real in the pitiless depiction of Fanny’s plight. Since she worked with some of the same people in such challenging radio plays and films over a period of years, I wonder if she was close to any of her fellow Mercury players such as Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, and Everett Sloane?Moorehead with her friend and co-star, Joseph Cotten in "The Magnificent Ambersons"

Charles Tranberg: Yes, Aggie was very close to Joe Cotten. They did many films together over the years and later toured in a play called “Prescription: Murder” which introduced a character named Lt. Columbo (who was played by Thomas Mitchell in the play). There was affection between them as well as with Joe’s wife Pat Medina. Cotten later said that Aggie was “the hardest working lady in our profession” which she certainly was.

Moira: In reading some of the comments by Aggie‘s colleagues about her working methods in building a character, they seem to indicate that she was quite meticulous and specific about her detailed characterizations though she was, as Welles pointed out in an interview once, very willing to accept direction. I’ve noticed that in films such as The Stratton Story, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and Johnny Belinda, when she plays sympathetic farm women, she is constantly working to do something very specific in a scene, tightening the jars on some fruit that have just been canned, knitting, baking bread, or fingering the scarf that Belinda has come home with after her visit with the doctor. She often does this in such a way that she is also making a non-verbal commentary on the action, and telling more about her character than the words of the script indicates about her concerns, attitudes and the action.

In a different way, when playing a refined woman of the upper classes, she most often stands regally erect, and her characters seem to be defined by their clothes as much as their attitudes as she was in Since You Went Away and as the Countess in Mrs. Parkington. Do you know if Agnes Moorehead generally created her characters from the outside in, finding actions for each character or did she “wing it” based on the way each was written?

Charles Tranberg: From what I can tell from the scripts of many of the films you mention which are among her papers she did or with the assistance of the director invent little bits of business to add to her performances–such as those you noted.  She has notes on almost every page of every script of every scene she participated in emphasizing that or how she was going to say this and giving her little bits of business or beats between lines so that she was constantly doing something as part of the characterization.  I think you are quite right when playing women who toiled for a living as opposed to one of her more regal characterizations that she often did show those characters working with their hands in some way as a demonstration of the life, and often a hard life, that they led.  Aggie studied her scripts and characterizations very intensely and so my feeling is that she certainly didn’t wing it but came up with a characterization that fit the character.
Moira: Why was the film of Sorry, Wrong Number given to another actress and how did this affect Agnes Moorehead‘s attitude toward Hollywood?
Agnes Moorehead performing the exhausting "Sorry, Wrong Number" on the radioCharles Tranberg: Sorry, Wrong Number” was a terrible blow to Aggie because she made the part so much hers with repeated airings on radio. It was one of the most acclaimed performances of radios golden age and she did, terribly, want to play it in the film. But Hal Wallis, the producer, didn’t think she had a box office name enough to do the film, so he gave it to Barbara Stanwyck. As it turned out Stanwyck‘s performance was compared in several reviews to Aggie‘s and not always to Stanwyck‘s advantage even though she received an Oscar nomination for it. Wallis had offered Aggie a supporting role in the film version as a bone to throw her, but Aggie, I think wisely, turned it down. If it affected her attitude towards Hollywood it was probably that she was always destined to be a supporting player rather than the star. I think she finally came to some terms with that and from that point forward she began working much more often on the stage beginning with the acclaimed production of “Don Juan in Hell” and later into a very well received one-woman show–as well as other productions.

Moira: Do you think that Agnes preferred radio over film?

Charles Tranberg: I think she probably enjoyed the fact that she was a star name on radio as compared to film, Radio days for Aggiebut I do think she enjoyed both mediums. I think she liked the challenges offered by all the mediums she worked on. The stage because it’s proximity in front of an audience. Radio because she had to create a complex characterization without being seen and could use her voice in many different ways. Film because it offered her the opportunity to visualize a characterization. Television because of its intimacy.

Moira: In establishing herself in Hollywood, did she want to become a member of one of the studio’s “stock company” of character actors, or did she prefer her independence?

Charles Tranberg: The only real stock company she was part of in the movies was Welles‘ Mercury players during the forties. She was under contract, of course, later on to MGM and Warner Brothers and of course worked with many of those studios contract players, but never really in picture after picture like John Ford and his stock company of players did.The ensemble she enjoyed with, among others, director Douglas Sirk, She did work with several major actors several times, including Greer Garson in Mrs. Parkington (1944) and Scandal at Scourie (1953), among others, and Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955) as well. Wyman later told me she was always “pleased when Aggie was cast in one of my pictures.” The major actors she worked with recognized her talent and wanted her to be in their pictures.

Moira: Which director, (other than Welles), do you think that she enjoyed working with the most during her career?

Charles Tranberg: Other than Welles the director she had the highest regard for was Henry Hathaway who she felt was a no bull kind of director. [Hathaway directed Moorehead as the manipulative mother in Fourteen Hours (1951), which is on TCM on 3/1/09, and in the recently restored epic, How the West Was Won (1963)]. Many actors hated working with him because he was so rough on them, but she enjoyed Hathaway and he liked her a great deal. Hathaway knew he didn’t have to bark at Aggie to get a performance out of her and that she was always ready and prepared whenever she was needed. He respected that. She also liked Jean Negulesco a great deal–and they became good personal friends as well [Negulesco drew beautifully wrought performances from her and her co-stars in Johnny Belinda (1947)]. On the stage she had great affection and regard for Charles Agnes with Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton and Sir Cedric Hardwicke in London while touring in Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" in the 1950sLaughton who directed her (and acted with her) on Don Juan in Hell.

Moira: Did Ms. Moorehead have “clout”, since, as you point out, like Thelma Ritter and Charles Bickford, she did not fade into the background of a scene in a movie, but was a recognizable talent?

Charles Tranberg: Yes, she had the clout as a recognizable character actress who was known by name, unlike many character people. She was highly regarded and well-paid. She had the clout when doing one movie at RKO to have a director replaced when the director was abusive towards her. She called Dore Schary, who was running the studio at the time, and pretty much told him it’s either him or me. [The director in question was Sidney Lanfield, a former gag writer, who turned out efficient comic entertainment and one good drama, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).Aggie making her way through the world, this time aboard the Queen Mary More characteristic work for the brash Lanfield was a Bob Hope movie such as  The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). After refusing to endure this director's verbal abuse, such as being asked "Don't you ever think before saying a line, hatchet face?" during this Western movie, another director supervised Ms. Moorehead's scenes for the remainder of the film].

Moira: Which actors did she admire and why?

Charles Tranberg: Among actors she admired and she once answered this very question–were Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Greer Garson, Jane Wyman, Helen Hayes, Robert Montgomery, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. She had a high regard for actors who knew their craft and came prepared and ready to go. She didn’t care for somebody like Marlon Brando who she considered part of “the mumbling school” and somebody who had to feel his way into a scene. In fact, she didn’t particularly care for the actors studio.

Moira: Do you think that she enjoyed the professional camaraderie of a great ensemble piece such as Johnny Belinda (1948) or did she long to be the central figure of a dramatic piece?

As the peevish but caring Scottish aunt in "Johnny Belinda"Charles Tranberg: No, she enjoyed being part of that ensemble with “Johnny Belinda.” Jane Wyman told me how much between scenes all the actors, on location, bonded and they played games and got to know each other. That was the first of five films with Wyman and it was an enduring friendship as well as professional relationship. That said, I’m sure she would have loved to have had a major film built around her as the lead. I think most supporting or character people feel that way at times.

Moira: What do you consider her most interesting film roles in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s?
As the compassionate warden struggling to help Eleanor Parker in "Caged" (1950)Charles Tranberg: Her greatest film role of all-time, I believe, is Aunt Fanny in “The Magnificent Ambersons.” She brought such longing and poignancy to the role of the suppressed spinster. Kenneth Tynan, the famous British critic considered her performance in that film as one of the screens all-time great ones. Besides that her other superb forties roles (in my opinion) are her mother in “Citizen Kane“; the murderess with a heart of steel in “Dark Passage“; The baroness in “Mrs. Parkington“; The Wisconsin farm wife in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” and her gruff on the outside–butter on the inside Aggie from “Johnny Belinda.”
In the fifties as the stage began to take more of her time her films kind of declined but she, herself was always good. Among the better ones include her progressive warden in “Caged“; A delightful Parthy Hawks in “Show Boat“; and finally, a lead role in a good popcorn mystery opposite Vincent Price called “The Bat.” She also had huge hits with “Magnificent Obsession” and “All that Heaven Allows” (both with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson). In the sixties she was at her best, though a few critics thought she bit too much of the scenery, in “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte” but she steals every scene she’s in.

Holding forth on stage in "Don Juan in Hell"

Moira: Given the sometimes grueling demands of touring, what satisfaction do you think that Agnes derived from her work in Don Juan in Hell?
Charles Tranberg: Aggie got great satisfaction working with the caliber of actors she did as she did in “Don Juan in Hell.” She respected and enjoyed Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton and Sir Cedric Hardwicke and she took great satisfaction in playing Dona Anna–a part where she ages from a girl of 17 to a wizardly old woman of 77 and she doesn’t wear any make-up, it was all done by voice inflection. The success of “Don Juan” made her concentrate more and more on the theater and unfortunately the quality of roles in films, which was high and diverse during the forties, were not as much from 1951 onward as she would fit in a quick film in between stage performances. But she was now being acclaimed for her stage work and that made up for it.

nder that makeup it is Agnes Moorehead playing a 105 year old woman in "The Lost Moment" when she was about 47 years old.

Moira: One of the more intriguing “failures” of Ms. Moorehead‘s career might be The Lost Moment (1947) which, under actor Martin Gabel’s direction, is given a noirish treatment with co-stars Susan Hayward and Robert Cummings overshadowed by Aggie‘s remarkable performance as a 105 year old woman! This film cannot be deemed a true artistic or box office triumph, but having seen it once, it is very haunting with good performances especially Moorehead‘s “Juliana Borderau”. This obscure movie is well worth seeking out. Do you think that the effort that Aggie put into this role made it more of a disappointment to her?
Charles Tranberg: Yes, I do think it was a big disappointment since she worked so hard on that film–enduring hours of her time each morning to get in that make-up and then hours taking it off.  She lost twenty pounds doing that film because it was so hot under all of that make up.  "The Lost Moment"(1947)But she did have big hopes for it.  She had a great role and the preview audiences liked her characterization and I think she thought she would be nominated for an Oscar for it, but audiences didn’t take to it.  I, for one, don’t think that Bob Cummings was a sufficient enough leading dramatic actor for his part–he is perfectly fine at light comedy, but I think this film was beyond him. He wasn’t a romantic lead enough to get female fans hearts aflutter and that’s one of the reasons why it didn’t do well at the box office.

Moira: The private life of Ms. Moorehead has often been the subject of a remarkably heated discussion of her sexuality, her two marriages to Jack Lee and Robert Gist, her temperament and her adoption of a son at the age of 50 when her first marriage was disintegrating. Could you possibly address any of these topics?Agnes Moorehead with her first husband, Jack Lee, in the 1940s

Charles Tranberg: Her private life was indeed quite private–she maintained a tight lid and only gave the columnists what she wanted them to know. She met her first husband, Jack Lee at the AADA, and they were in the same class, (Mr. Lee can be seen at right with Ms. Moorehead in the 1940s). Many people expected Jack to be a star. He was considered very good at the AADA and upon graduation he didn have some early success on the New York stage, but soon her career began to eclipse his and while he continued to act over the years, he never went nearly as far as she did and this probably was a major reason as to why he began drinking at times quite heavily. He also began being abusive towards her. But she wasn’t easy to live with either.

As her star rose she would have her servants answer the phone at their home, “Miss Moorehead’s residence” and that certainly didn’t’ do much for his already fragile ego. Their divorce did make headlines in the early fifties and by that time she was already dating Robert Gist, who was much younger, and who she met at MGM on the film “The Stratton Story.” [Mr. Gist can be seen below holding the baby in a scene from The Stratton Story with James Stewart, June Allyson and Ms. Moorehead as Stratton's mother]. She later got him a job as a travel manager on “Don Juan in Hell.” When that show went to England in 1951, he traveled with Aggie. They were quite an item, even though her divorce from Lee wasn’t quite final. But many people feel that Gist used Aggie to try and get ahead. As it is they separated only about a year after they married. She tried to keep a tight rein on him and he resented it. Near the end of her marriage to Jack Lee, they made plans to adopt a child, but they didn’t really follow through. Sean was never actually adopted, she was a guardian for him because at that time a single woman couldn’t adopt a child. Agnes Moorehead in "The Stratton Story" with James Stewart, June Allyson and future husband Robert Gist (holding the baby) I think with Sean she gave him everything he needed except a continual presence in his life. But she was a single woman doing her best to provide for him the only way she knew how and that was as an actress. It necessitated that she travel widely for stage and movie roles and as a consequence Sean was left in boarding schools and with relatives. As a result Sean became quite independent in his ways and became a handful later on for Aggie. As for her sexuality, many people have speculated that she was gay or at least bi-sexual.

The glamorous character lead as one of the best dressed women in Hollywood in 1945
In my book, I don’t totally deny this being the case, but everybody, including the very outspoken Mr. Gregory, flatly denied it and I have to wonder why more than 30 years after her death if she were gay why people who should know would still deny if it were true? there is no reason, certainly not now–in this day and age. It certainly wouldn’t diminish her in any way.
Moira: One of the incidents in Aggie‘s life that is repeatedly mentioned in connection with her death, as well as several others in the cast and crew, were the circumstances surrounding the production of The Conqueror (1956), with John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendáriz, Aggie and director Dick Powell all suffering from some form of cancer after working near the sites of several nuclear weapons’ tests in the American Southwest. The ill-fated production, "The Conqueror" (1956)Did you find any conclusive evidence while writing this book linking this–frankly–excreble movie, to the health of these principals and crew?
Charles: Well, it can’t be denied that many people connected with that film did die from cancer: Aggie, Wayne, Hayward, Powell and many others who worked on it, but then many people didn’t either. So it’s not conclusive. But certainly there was radioactivity in the sand on location and in the sand that they hauled back to the studio and so it certainly can’t be discarded. Agnes herself felt it had something to do with why she got cancer.
Moira: A friend of mine on line, Mr. Larry Russell, who was a resident of the same neighborhood as Aggie when he was a youngster, reports that he met Miss Moorehead on the set of Show Boat (1951).

As Larry explains, Moorehead “told me that she lived down the road from us and invited me for tea the next Sunday afternoon. I went and she was very gracious. She thought, over the years, that I was a very polite and well mannered child, (as I was!).” On reflection, Larry thought that Agnes may have found his company particularly enjoyable since she was the guardian of a child described by Larry as “troubled.”

“My dog Rusty, a huge red Irish setter, got out the next year and was found digging up AM’s prize garden and although she took it well, I helped her then and over the years in her garden(s) and we had a nice rapport. [AM] often asked me about my school work and helped me understand geometry with coloured tiles, etc. She always spoke ‘up’ in her language (she loved the dictionary & thesaurus) and never spoke ‘down’ to me. She was once a teacher and prized knowledge. It was she who told me that every day should bring a new fact or “cognizance” (as she put it) to your brain or you might as well be dead.”

Larry mentioned that the actress also observed that “[w]hen you’ve stopped learning, you might as well be dead!!” While AM  acknowledged good naturedly that “[n]o one is perfect. When you’ve attained perfection, then there’s nothing left for you but death!!” Larry also reported that “Agnes had a great sense of humour.”

Larry also reported to me that AM‘s “work ethic was top notch in Hollywood and elsewhere. I’m sure she never held up production schedules or cost the studios an extra dime in lost time.  I never heard a bad word about her and she was well liked in the industry.”

Moira: Moorehead’s career changed along with the film, and radio industries. As movie work became scarcer and less interesting roles were offered to AM, she pursued the stage when possible, but also performed in some outstanding television programs, among them a classic, nearly silent episode of The Twilight Zone , and, in 1964, a now classic situation comedy in which Aggie‘s high style and hauteur helped to make her an icon to the next generation.  Since you outline her ambivalence toward television work, why do you think she stuck with the role on Bewitched?

Charles Tranberg: She thought that television was a great “treadmill” of long hours and hard work but the satisfaction she got out of Endora on “Bewitched” was great. She really became a star name with that iconic role and it’s still the role most associated with her today. She may have bitched and moaned but she never really contemplated leaving “Bewitched.” She added her own little touches to the role, in fact, had a hand in naming the character–from the biblical ‘witch of Endor.’ She loved it when she was recognized and that she had a new generation of fans. With co-stars Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York in "Bewitched"Without “Bewitched” her career would not have sustained the way it did–and I think she knew that.

Moira: Thanks very much for sharing your observations with us, Charles. Even though I feel as though we’ve just begun to scratch the surface in examining the artistry of Agnes Moorehead, I’m sure that your book and your enthusiasm for this lady’s unique career have piqued the interest of many of our readers.

  • Please click here to see more about Charles Tranberg‘s books, including his newest release, The Thin Man: Murder Over Cocktails (BearManor Media).
  • Please click here to see a list of Agnes Moorehead‘s upcoming films on TCM.
  • While nothing can match seeing the Orson Welles film of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, the website found here is an excellent jumping off point for anyone interested in the background of this film’s history.
  • Please visit this link at the Internet Archive to access many of the radio, early television and public domain films featuring Agnes Moorehead. There is also a link there to the recording of her work with Laughton, Boyer & Hardwicke in Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell”.
  • Please click here to see Ms. Moorehead‘s wordless tour de force in The Twilight Zone episode of “The Invaders”(1961).
  • Agnes Moorehead playing cat and mouse with Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage (1947) is a very enjoyable character, full of cat-like fire. The film noir starts below. Enjoy:
  • [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQr2X_5InuU]

62 Responses In Celebration of Agnes Moorehead
Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : December 11, 2008 8:25 am

A terrific interview. Thanks so much for this great post.

Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : December 11, 2008 8:25 am

A terrific interview. Thanks so much for this great post.

Posted By Medusa : December 11, 2008 2:09 pm

Great interview! I just happened to watch Moorehead the other day in “All That Heaven Allows”. Always a welcome presence onscreen, and because of her pop culture status she’ll be remembered long after many of her contemporaries are unhappily forgotten. Can’t beat having a hit — now cult — TV series to keep the legacy going!

Lovely post, Moira and Charles!

Posted By Medusa : December 11, 2008 2:09 pm

Great interview! I just happened to watch Moorehead the other day in “All That Heaven Allows”. Always a welcome presence onscreen, and because of her pop culture status she’ll be remembered long after many of her contemporaries are unhappily forgotten. Can’t beat having a hit — now cult — TV series to keep the legacy going!

Lovely post, Moira and Charles!

Posted By Pat : December 11, 2008 6:46 pm

Excellent interview. As a “Bewitched” fan,it makes me even more fond of Agnes Moorehead. I plan on buying a copy of Mr.Tranberg’s book. So sad that many actors/actresses today lack Ms.Moorehead’s class,style,and finesse.

Posted By Pat : December 11, 2008 6:46 pm

Excellent interview. As a “Bewitched” fan,it makes me even more fond of Agnes Moorehead. I plan on buying a copy of Mr.Tranberg’s book. So sad that many actors/actresses today lack Ms.Moorehead’s class,style,and finesse.

Posted By Professional Tourist : December 12, 2008 12:30 am

This is a beautiful article, a lovely tribute to Agnes on the occasion of her birthday, both in terms of the text and the images used. A few points of fact regarding Agnes that I’d like to review, just to have the record straight:

– Agnes and her younger sister Margaret were born in Massachusetts. Their family moved back to Ohio when Agnes was 3 years old.

– It seems that Agnes’ father, Reverend John Moorehead, though highly charismatic in the pulpit, was not the fire-and-brimstone type of preacher. According to Mr. Larry Russell, a longtime neighbor of Agnes in Bevery Hills: “Aggie was a very religious woman (her father was a devout preacher) but always thought religion should be kept close to the heart. She and her father were not a ‘hellfire and brimstone’ type.”

– As a juvenile in St. Louis Agnes was a member of the Municipal Opera, where she danced ballet and sang in the chorus.

– Agnes’ early years in radio, although providing her with good income, tended to be rather frustrating for her as she tried to break free of the type-casting that was keeping her in light comedy and harridan-type roles. It was really the young Orson Welles’ insightful assessment of her gifts that helped her to break out into dramatic performances.

Posted By Professional Tourist : December 12, 2008 12:30 am

This is a beautiful article, a lovely tribute to Agnes on the occasion of her birthday, both in terms of the text and the images used. A few points of fact regarding Agnes that I’d like to review, just to have the record straight:

– Agnes and her younger sister Margaret were born in Massachusetts. Their family moved back to Ohio when Agnes was 3 years old.

– It seems that Agnes’ father, Reverend John Moorehead, though highly charismatic in the pulpit, was not the fire-and-brimstone type of preacher. According to Mr. Larry Russell, a longtime neighbor of Agnes in Bevery Hills: “Aggie was a very religious woman (her father was a devout preacher) but always thought religion should be kept close to the heart. She and her father were not a ‘hellfire and brimstone’ type.”

– As a juvenile in St. Louis Agnes was a member of the Municipal Opera, where she danced ballet and sang in the chorus.

– Agnes’ early years in radio, although providing her with good income, tended to be rather frustrating for her as she tried to break free of the type-casting that was keeping her in light comedy and harridan-type roles. It was really the young Orson Welles’ insightful assessment of her gifts that helped her to break out into dramatic performances.

Posted By Charles Tranberg : December 12, 2008 10:15 am

Thank you Professional Tourist for your corrections:
You are correct Agnes was born in Clinton, MA (which is chronicalized in my book) and I was mistaken in the interview as saying she was part of the St. Louis Municipal Ballet–when it was the Opera (again that is how it is presented in the book), I misspoke or mistyped on that. There is some debate about whether Rev. Moorehead was the fire and brimstone type or not. I spoke with several of Mollie’s acquaintances in Reedsburg (where she returned to live out her life in 1938, dying in 1990), and they told me that she said he was a “fundamentalist of the fire and brimstone variety” while at the pulpit but a quiet man away from the pulpit, but I also highly respect your source, Larry Russell, who I also interviewed for the book. As far as Agnes’ early career on radio, certainly she felt frustrated at some of the roles she played, but even before Orson Welles became a big factor in her career (you are quite right he was very insightful of her gifts), she did play a variety of parts including several on “The March of Time” including Eleanor Roosevelt and other historical women in addition to the comic roles she played (and would continue to play on radio, including on “The Mayor of the Town.” But your point is well taken that Welles offered her more complex roles thru his Mercury Theater and Campbell Soup program (especially her performance, imo, in their production of “Dracula”). My book, I think, has a pretty good selection of her radio performances from almost the beginning to the end–though it is by no means a full listing of her radio credits–given how many shows she worked on.

Thanks, too, to everybody else for your kind comments.
Chuck Tranberg

Posted By Charles Tranberg : December 12, 2008 10:15 am

Thank you Professional Tourist for your corrections:
You are correct Agnes was born in Clinton, MA (which is chronicalized in my book) and I was mistaken in the interview as saying she was part of the St. Louis Municipal Ballet–when it was the Opera (again that is how it is presented in the book), I misspoke or mistyped on that. There is some debate about whether Rev. Moorehead was the fire and brimstone type or not. I spoke with several of Mollie’s acquaintances in Reedsburg (where she returned to live out her life in 1938, dying in 1990), and they told me that she said he was a “fundamentalist of the fire and brimstone variety” while at the pulpit but a quiet man away from the pulpit, but I also highly respect your source, Larry Russell, who I also interviewed for the book. As far as Agnes’ early career on radio, certainly she felt frustrated at some of the roles she played, but even before Orson Welles became a big factor in her career (you are quite right he was very insightful of her gifts), she did play a variety of parts including several on “The March of Time” including Eleanor Roosevelt and other historical women in addition to the comic roles she played (and would continue to play on radio, including on “The Mayor of the Town.” But your point is well taken that Welles offered her more complex roles thru his Mercury Theater and Campbell Soup program (especially her performance, imo, in their production of “Dracula”). My book, I think, has a pretty good selection of her radio performances from almost the beginning to the end–though it is by no means a full listing of her radio credits–given how many shows she worked on.

Thanks, too, to everybody else for your kind comments.
Chuck Tranberg

Posted By moirafinnie : December 12, 2008 10:59 am

Thanks to all of you for your comments and especially for your clarifications, (particularly Charles Tranberg & Professional Tourist), which have been noted in the text.

Describing Agnes Moorehead‘s good fortune in finding the coins in the slot of the pay telephone as “purloined” was not meant to imply that AM was a thief, especially since, as the lady herself reported, she repaid the “manna” from heaven. When I read the article from Guideposts magazine while researching this article, I had the impression that the actress used the incident as a facetious illustration of her early experiences and her belief that she was being cared for by God. I was trying to convey her own belief in this presence and her amusement in looking back on an incident in which this guidance expressed itself in an unlikely and unconventional way. This story seems to convey her basic faith, her often bemused attitude toward life’s vissicitudes, and the lady’s real humanity.

Please see the main body of this blog for more observations directly from Mr.Larry Russell, who very kindly sent me his remarks regarding his relationship with his neighbor and friend, Agnes Moorehead.

Posted By moirafinnie : December 12, 2008 10:59 am

Thanks to all of you for your comments and especially for your clarifications, (particularly Charles Tranberg & Professional Tourist), which have been noted in the text.

Describing Agnes Moorehead‘s good fortune in finding the coins in the slot of the pay telephone as “purloined” was not meant to imply that AM was a thief, especially since, as the lady herself reported, she repaid the “manna” from heaven. When I read the article from Guideposts magazine while researching this article, I had the impression that the actress used the incident as a facetious illustration of her early experiences and her belief that she was being cared for by God. I was trying to convey her own belief in this presence and her amusement in looking back on an incident in which this guidance expressed itself in an unlikely and unconventional way. This story seems to convey her basic faith, her often bemused attitude toward life’s vissicitudes, and the lady’s real humanity.

Please see the main body of this blog for more observations directly from Mr.Larry Russell, who very kindly sent me his remarks regarding his relationship with his neighbor and friend, Agnes Moorehead.

Posted By Charles Tranberg : December 12, 2008 12:25 pm

As always Larry adds great insight to Aggie’s character and work ethic. Thanks for adding his comments to this tribute to a great lady.

Posted By Charles Tranberg : December 12, 2008 12:25 pm

As always Larry adds great insight to Aggie’s character and work ethic. Thanks for adding his comments to this tribute to a great lady.

Posted By Suzi Doll : December 12, 2008 3:48 pm

A wonderful interview — everything relevant to Moorehead’s career was covered. Loved the details about her and Orson Welles.

About The Conqueror: While there is no way to PROVE a link between the cancer rate and the film’s Nevada location, I read that the cancer rates were highest among those actors and crew members who were around the dirt the longest, not only on location but when they brought it back to the studio. That would make sense of the fact that while many people got cancer, many didn’t.Of course, all of these people smoked, too, so that can’t be discounted.

Posted By Suzi Doll : December 12, 2008 3:48 pm

A wonderful interview — everything relevant to Moorehead’s career was covered. Loved the details about her and Orson Welles.

About The Conqueror: While there is no way to PROVE a link between the cancer rate and the film’s Nevada location, I read that the cancer rates were highest among those actors and crew members who were around the dirt the longest, not only on location but when they brought it back to the studio. That would make sense of the fact that while many people got cancer, many didn’t.Of course, all of these people smoked, too, so that can’t be discounted.

Posted By Alan K. Rode : December 13, 2008 11:33 pm

Chuck: Great book on Agnes. I bought when it came out and recommend it unreservedly.

Moira: great interview!!

Alan

Posted By Alan K. Rode : December 13, 2008 11:33 pm

Chuck: Great book on Agnes. I bought when it came out and recommend it unreservedly.

Moira: great interview!!

Alan

Posted By ian griev : December 14, 2008 1:20 pm

Great interview – I enjoyed it very much. I was surprised to find Agnes Moorehead had an extensive history in radio broadcast as well and found http://otrcat.com/agnesmooreheadcollection-p-1019.html which may be worth a listen.

Posted By ian griev : December 14, 2008 1:20 pm

Great interview – I enjoyed it very much. I was surprised to find Agnes Moorehead had an extensive history in radio broadcast as well and found http://otrcat.com/agnesmooreheadcollection-p-1019.html which may be worth a listen.

Posted By Mr.Sardonicus : December 16, 2008 3:29 pm

Well… this aphenominal account of agnes’s life on film & one of the best morlock profiles to date… among Agnes’s best performances not mentioned was the one woman show she attacked w/ fervor …in the twilight zone episode ‘the invaders’ in which she portrayed a pioneer woman confronted by tiny astronauts who attempted without success to disrupt her solitary existance in a primative surrounding… as a young actor she made a very profound impression on me… & the Rifleman episode she was in proved he to be a very versitile actress in contrast to her other screen performances… again… great article & hats off to Mr.Tranburg as well.

Posted By Mr.Sardonicus : December 16, 2008 3:29 pm

Well… this aphenominal account of agnes’s life on film & one of the best morlock profiles to date… among Agnes’s best performances not mentioned was the one woman show she attacked w/ fervor …in the twilight zone episode ‘the invaders’ in which she portrayed a pioneer woman confronted by tiny astronauts who attempted without success to disrupt her solitary existance in a primative surrounding… as a young actor she made a very profound impression on me… & the Rifleman episode she was in proved he to be a very versitile actress in contrast to her other screen performances… again… great article & hats off to Mr.Tranburg as well.

Posted By moirafinnie : December 16, 2008 5:41 pm

I’m really glad that you enjoyed the article, Mr. Sardonicus.

The nearly silent The Twilight Zone episode called “The Invaders” is mentioned in the article and a link to the episode online was also included near the conclusion of the blog piece above. I hope that you enjoy it if you haven’t seen it lately. It is quite brilliant.

I’m glad that you mentioned Agnes Moorehead‘s well done performance on The Rifleman as the lady bounty hunter out to bag a wanted man for an unusual reason. According to those who worked with her on that episode of the Western series, she was a quiet, reserved individual whose concentration on the creation of her character was remarkably focused and professional.

Posted By moirafinnie : December 16, 2008 5:41 pm

I’m really glad that you enjoyed the article, Mr. Sardonicus.

The nearly silent The Twilight Zone episode called “The Invaders” is mentioned in the article and a link to the episode online was also included near the conclusion of the blog piece above. I hope that you enjoy it if you haven’t seen it lately. It is quite brilliant.

I’m glad that you mentioned Agnes Moorehead‘s well done performance on The Rifleman as the lady bounty hunter out to bag a wanted man for an unusual reason. According to those who worked with her on that episode of the Western series, she was a quiet, reserved individual whose concentration on the creation of her character was remarkably focused and professional.

Posted By christy : February 10, 2009 7:01 pm

Moira, this was an absolutely marvelous article. Again, so much I didn’t know, and you illuminated a great presence in film, theater, radio, and television. Thank you for sharing so much of your expertise!

Posted By christy : February 10, 2009 7:01 pm

Moira, this was an absolutely marvelous article. Again, so much I didn’t know, and you illuminated a great presence in film, theater, radio, and television. Thank you for sharing so much of your expertise!

Posted By Anisha : February 25, 2009 8:20 am

What sort of accent did Agnes Moorehead (Endora) have on Bewitched?..thanks..by..Anisha

Posted By Anisha : February 25, 2009 8:20 am

What sort of accent did Agnes Moorehead (Endora) have on Bewitched?..thanks..by..Anisha

Posted By moirafinnie : February 25, 2009 11:24 am

“What sort of accent did Agnes Moorehead (Endora) have on Bewitched?..thanks..by..Anisha”

Her accent sounds to me like her own imperious one, I suspect. While Agnes Moorehead could adopt a credible Midwestern, New England, English, French and Scottish accent, Endora seems to me to belong to the actress’ imaginative repertoire of grande dame voices. You might find more detailed info about the creation of her character on that show at
Bewitched @ Harpies Bizarre

Posted By moirafinnie : February 25, 2009 11:24 am

“What sort of accent did Agnes Moorehead (Endora) have on Bewitched?..thanks..by..Anisha”

Her accent sounds to me like her own imperious one, I suspect. While Agnes Moorehead could adopt a credible Midwestern, New England, English, French and Scottish accent, Endora seems to me to belong to the actress’ imaginative repertoire of grande dame voices. You might find more detailed info about the creation of her character on that show at
Bewitched @ Harpies Bizarre

Posted By paying guest in andheri east : March 9, 2009 1:09 am

I have never noticed. She was in 173 out of 254 episodes and was in the very last episode that aired in 1972. In all there were 7 seasons. I have never heard that Agnes Moorehead and Elizabeth Montgomery hated each other. Actually if that’s true I find that somewhat disappointing because they were both so good in their respective roles and worked together for the better part of a decade.

Posted By paying guest in andheri east : March 9, 2009 1:09 am

I have never noticed. She was in 173 out of 254 episodes and was in the very last episode that aired in 1972. In all there were 7 seasons. I have never heard that Agnes Moorehead and Elizabeth Montgomery hated each other. Actually if that’s true I find that somewhat disappointing because they were both so good in their respective roles and worked together for the better part of a decade.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 9, 2009 9:12 am

I’ve never come across any material, including Mr. Tranberg’s book, that indicated any real, long-lasting enmity between Agnes Moorehead and Elizabeth Montgomery. As a professional striving for perfection, Ms. Moorehead did seem to chafe a bit under the sometimes formulaic parameters of a sitcom, as indicated in some interviews. There may have been a bit of friction at times, as there is in almost any creative foray, but in the end that professionalism, the financial security, and mutual self-respect of all involved appears to have overcome any underlying tension, allowing viewers the enjoyment of a well-crafted half hour.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 9, 2009 9:12 am

I’ve never come across any material, including Mr. Tranberg’s book, that indicated any real, long-lasting enmity between Agnes Moorehead and Elizabeth Montgomery. As a professional striving for perfection, Ms. Moorehead did seem to chafe a bit under the sometimes formulaic parameters of a sitcom, as indicated in some interviews. There may have been a bit of friction at times, as there is in almost any creative foray, but in the end that professionalism, the financial security, and mutual self-respect of all involved appears to have overcome any underlying tension, allowing viewers the enjoyment of a well-crafted half hour.

Posted By KClayton : March 23, 2009 2:20 pm

In Debbie Reynolds autobiography she mentions 2 times that Agnes had mentioned having been married 3 times. Could you shed any light on this discepency and what you discovered for your book.

Posted By KClayton : March 23, 2009 2:20 pm

In Debbie Reynolds autobiography she mentions 2 times that Agnes had mentioned having been married 3 times. Could you shed any light on this discepency and what you discovered for your book.

Posted By Somnath : May 20, 2009 9:03 am

I did not knew anything about it before… thanks for this post…..

Posted By Somnath : May 20, 2009 9:03 am

I did not knew anything about it before… thanks for this post…..

Posted By blais edelen : July 19, 2009 5:53 am

as a lifelong fan of ms moorehead and her work, i truly enjoyed this great website and the informative interview-it is great to know she still has so many fans out there like me who truly appreciate her many wonderful characterizations.i am looking forward to reading her biography.

Posted By blais edelen : July 19, 2009 5:53 am

as a lifelong fan of ms moorehead and her work, i truly enjoyed this great website and the informative interview-it is great to know she still has so many fans out there like me who truly appreciate her many wonderful characterizations.i am looking forward to reading her biography.

Posted By Joared : November 15, 2009 1:36 am

Delighted in reading these accounts of Miss Moorehead’s life. I vividly recall seeing her in Shreveport, La. in ’52 or ’53 stage performance of “Sorry, Wrong Number.” She was phenomenal — should have been allowed to create the movie role. Her “Don Juan In Hell” performance had been highly recognized which partly motivated our desire to see her show since our college drama dept. was in the process of presenting “Don Juan…” Prior arrangements with our attendance included Miss Moorehead graciously meeting with our small group backstage following her “…Wrong Number” show. We were most appreciative of her discussing our upcoming production so encouragingly. In retrospect, she must have privately thought how young, ill-prepared but ambitious we were to be undertaking such a daunting piece. She masked whatever reservations she might have had for us, but have since wished I could have overheard comments she probably made after we left the room — maybe, “Would you believe the audacity of those students!” Or, maybe we touched memories for her of her college acting days.

I believed at the time and have continued to think she was married to Paul Gregory at the time, so was surprised to see nothing in her biography to confirm that as fact.

Posted By Joared : November 15, 2009 1:36 am

Delighted in reading these accounts of Miss Moorehead’s life. I vividly recall seeing her in Shreveport, La. in ’52 or ’53 stage performance of “Sorry, Wrong Number.” She was phenomenal — should have been allowed to create the movie role. Her “Don Juan In Hell” performance had been highly recognized which partly motivated our desire to see her show since our college drama dept. was in the process of presenting “Don Juan…” Prior arrangements with our attendance included Miss Moorehead graciously meeting with our small group backstage following her “…Wrong Number” show. We were most appreciative of her discussing our upcoming production so encouragingly. In retrospect, she must have privately thought how young, ill-prepared but ambitious we were to be undertaking such a daunting piece. She masked whatever reservations she might have had for us, but have since wished I could have overheard comments she probably made after we left the room — maybe, “Would you believe the audacity of those students!” Or, maybe we touched memories for her of her college acting days.

I believed at the time and have continued to think she was married to Paul Gregory at the time, so was surprised to see nothing in her biography to confirm that as fact.

Posted By The Magnificent Agnes Moorehead | The Sheila Variations : June 28, 2010 8:09 pm

[...] An in-depth appreciation of Agnes Moorhead (shame on me for forgetting to put her on my list) – and a great interview with Charles Tranberg, the author of I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead . Not to be missed. Here is a juicy excerpt. [Moorehead] had actually recalled years later meeting a very precocious Orson Welles as a boy at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. When she began working with Orson something kept nagging at her–where have I seen him before. Welles was very young still–only in his early twenties and then when thumbing through LIFE magazine she saw a picture of Orson as a child and knew then that was the boy she had once met years before at the Waldorf-Astoria. Himan Brown told me how Aggie and Orson had met later on. Aggie was doing “The Gumps” in New York and the program which was on just before “The Gumps” was this young man with a wonderful voice reciting poetry–it was Orson Welles! Orson would watch “The Gumps” and was fascinated by Aggie. He later said many times that he considered her the best actor he had ever worked with. But he knew that when he launched the mercury theater that he wanted her to be part of it–and she was–the most prominent female member of the Mercury players. It only made sense that when Welles went to Hollywood and made “Citizen Kane” that he would find a part for Aggie. He did as Kane’s mother. It was a small part of only five minutes in length but it was one of the most memorable sequences in the picture and anguished performance as a mother giving up her son because she realized that she and his father couldn’t give him the kind of life he deserved is one of the best in the film. [...]

Posted By The Magnificent Agnes Moorehead | The Sheila Variations : June 28, 2010 8:09 pm

[...] An in-depth appreciation of Agnes Moorhead (shame on me for forgetting to put her on my list) – and a great interview with Charles Tranberg, the author of I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead . Not to be missed. Here is a juicy excerpt. [Moorehead] had actually recalled years later meeting a very precocious Orson Welles as a boy at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. When she began working with Orson something kept nagging at her–where have I seen him before. Welles was very young still–only in his early twenties and then when thumbing through LIFE magazine she saw a picture of Orson as a child and knew then that was the boy she had once met years before at the Waldorf-Astoria. Himan Brown told me how Aggie and Orson had met later on. Aggie was doing “The Gumps” in New York and the program which was on just before “The Gumps” was this young man with a wonderful voice reciting poetry–it was Orson Welles! Orson would watch “The Gumps” and was fascinated by Aggie. He later said many times that he considered her the best actor he had ever worked with. But he knew that when he launched the mercury theater that he wanted her to be part of it–and she was–the most prominent female member of the Mercury players. It only made sense that when Welles went to Hollywood and made “Citizen Kane” that he would find a part for Aggie. He did as Kane’s mother. It was a small part of only five minutes in length but it was one of the most memorable sequences in the picture and anguished performance as a mother giving up her son because she realized that she and his father couldn’t give him the kind of life he deserved is one of the best in the film. [...]

Posted By ladyaggie1900 : June 29, 2010 4:42 am

I haven’t read the biography and I don’t mind admitting that I’ve only recently noticed the career of Agnes Moorehead, so I may not be exactly the world’s leading authority on her.

However, being the obsessive person I am when I make a new and exciting discovery, and she’s about as good as they get when it comes to actors, just from the time I’ve spent gleaning information from the internet, I’m going to express my belief that what would appear to be facts about her sexuality have not been taken into consideration.

I just don’t get how anyone including Tranberg can assert, despite the apparent lack of real evidence, that there is not enough other equally valid information to conclude, as I have, that Agnes was bisexual or lesbian.

There was clearly a very strong possibility that she was bisexual, perhaps more in her later years to the point where you could say that she may have even been exclusively lesbian.

Charles – are you or are you not aware of the following quotes and information?

It is on the public record that Agnes Moorehead said in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, “Love doesn’t have a sex..a woman may love a person who is this or that, male or female…you apparently have your own informants. I don’t know what you’ve heard, and I don’t want to hear. Some of it may even be true.”

It is documented in her obituary in the New York Times of May 1, 1974 (I was 2! How I wish she had lived for as long as she could have, if she hadn’t made The Conqueror – into this very decade!) that Agnes Moorehead said, “I have played so many authoritative and strong characters that some people are nervous at the prospect of meeting me. There is a certain amount of aloofness on my part at times, because an actor can so easily be hurt by unfair criticism. I think an artist should be kept separated to maintain glamour and a kind of mystery. I don’t believe in the girl next door image. What that actor has to sell to the public is mystery, a magic kind of ingredient that should not be analyzed.”

I don’t know the source for this one but she also replied to a well-known/credible publication/journalist, when asked if like Greta Garbo etc etc if she had ever had a sexual relationship with another woman, “But these women were more beautiful than me”.

To me, these comments are admissions that she was bisexual or lesbian – but admissions from a woman who isn’t going to say simply “Yes” (and she even gives her reasons for her reticence, to which I would add being a fundamental Christian). Also as a fundamental Christian, she isn’t going to deny it and simply say “No” because she didn’t want to lie. She didn’t want to come right out and admit it but she admitted it in the classy and restrained way you would have expected from a supremely elegant, uniquely and stunningly beautiful and incredibly talented and underrated woman that leaves very little doubt.

There is more, by the way – another time.

Posted By ladyaggie1900 : June 29, 2010 4:42 am

I haven’t read the biography and I don’t mind admitting that I’ve only recently noticed the career of Agnes Moorehead, so I may not be exactly the world’s leading authority on her.

However, being the obsessive person I am when I make a new and exciting discovery, and she’s about as good as they get when it comes to actors, just from the time I’ve spent gleaning information from the internet, I’m going to express my belief that what would appear to be facts about her sexuality have not been taken into consideration.

I just don’t get how anyone including Tranberg can assert, despite the apparent lack of real evidence, that there is not enough other equally valid information to conclude, as I have, that Agnes was bisexual or lesbian.

There was clearly a very strong possibility that she was bisexual, perhaps more in her later years to the point where you could say that she may have even been exclusively lesbian.

Charles – are you or are you not aware of the following quotes and information?

It is on the public record that Agnes Moorehead said in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, “Love doesn’t have a sex..a woman may love a person who is this or that, male or female…you apparently have your own informants. I don’t know what you’ve heard, and I don’t want to hear. Some of it may even be true.”

It is documented in her obituary in the New York Times of May 1, 1974 (I was 2! How I wish she had lived for as long as she could have, if she hadn’t made The Conqueror – into this very decade!) that Agnes Moorehead said, “I have played so many authoritative and strong characters that some people are nervous at the prospect of meeting me. There is a certain amount of aloofness on my part at times, because an actor can so easily be hurt by unfair criticism. I think an artist should be kept separated to maintain glamour and a kind of mystery. I don’t believe in the girl next door image. What that actor has to sell to the public is mystery, a magic kind of ingredient that should not be analyzed.”

I don’t know the source for this one but she also replied to a well-known/credible publication/journalist, when asked if like Greta Garbo etc etc if she had ever had a sexual relationship with another woman, “But these women were more beautiful than me”.

To me, these comments are admissions that she was bisexual or lesbian – but admissions from a woman who isn’t going to say simply “Yes” (and she even gives her reasons for her reticence, to which I would add being a fundamental Christian). Also as a fundamental Christian, she isn’t going to deny it and simply say “No” because she didn’t want to lie. She didn’t want to come right out and admit it but she admitted it in the classy and restrained way you would have expected from a supremely elegant, uniquely and stunningly beautiful and incredibly talented and underrated woman that leaves very little doubt.

There is more, by the way – another time.

Posted By Sean Moorehead : September 7, 2010 8:37 pm

I am confused by the various characterizations of Sean Moorehead. First, I was surprised that Sean Moorehead was not adopted – it has been alleged that he was and was not adopted. Second, I’ve been quite shocked about the confusing details of this young man. The sense that I get is that Ms. Moorehead was gone a great deal and that he was shipped off to boarding schools and resented her at some level but loved her and hoped for a relationship at another. The third detail is whether he was told to leave or if he left of his own volition. The reason I ask these rather benign personal questions is because I think it lends us a valuable look into the psyche of this talented actress. It was around this time that I sensed she became more and more aligned with religious conservatives including Bob Jones, Jr. which rather surprised me. Debbie Reynolds does not appear to shed a great deal of light on Ms. Moorehead perhaps out of respect and loyalty to her departed friend. I don’t blame her, however, Ms. Reynolds relationship with her own children I think was a bit stormy (if memory serves me correctly). We do have to remember the time period of which we speak here – Vietnam and its aftermath were very controversial. Parents and children experienced serious generation gap phenomena over this very issue (and others). Also if one reads between the lines one is under the impression that Sean Moorehead might not have been “straight” – again that’s based on things I’ve read which didn’t specify relationships. I may be incorrect on that score – and if so I most heartily apologize. If someone could tell me a few facts bout this situation that would be invaluable. I also apologize if people find my characterizations unfair, I respect Ms. Moorehead greatly, I simply want to understand her a bit better.

Posted By Sean Moorehead : September 7, 2010 8:37 pm

I am confused by the various characterizations of Sean Moorehead. First, I was surprised that Sean Moorehead was not adopted – it has been alleged that he was and was not adopted. Second, I’ve been quite shocked about the confusing details of this young man. The sense that I get is that Ms. Moorehead was gone a great deal and that he was shipped off to boarding schools and resented her at some level but loved her and hoped for a relationship at another. The third detail is whether he was told to leave or if he left of his own volition. The reason I ask these rather benign personal questions is because I think it lends us a valuable look into the psyche of this talented actress. It was around this time that I sensed she became more and more aligned with religious conservatives including Bob Jones, Jr. which rather surprised me. Debbie Reynolds does not appear to shed a great deal of light on Ms. Moorehead perhaps out of respect and loyalty to her departed friend. I don’t blame her, however, Ms. Reynolds relationship with her own children I think was a bit stormy (if memory serves me correctly). We do have to remember the time period of which we speak here – Vietnam and its aftermath were very controversial. Parents and children experienced serious generation gap phenomena over this very issue (and others). Also if one reads between the lines one is under the impression that Sean Moorehead might not have been “straight” – again that’s based on things I’ve read which didn’t specify relationships. I may be incorrect on that score – and if so I most heartily apologize. If someone could tell me a few facts bout this situation that would be invaluable. I also apologize if people find my characterizations unfair, I respect Ms. Moorehead greatly, I simply want to understand her a bit better.

Posted By luca : September 12, 2010 4:49 am

I dont know what all the fuss is about…………… ”AM”was a mediocre actress,and her only real claim to fame is ”BEWITCHED” sure in that sitcom she was great,but apart from that who will remember her for anything else other than that, say in 20 years time from now??? and yes i have seen her movies and to me she was good not great!!and no i am not bagging the old girl because she does have her place in history!!!

Posted By luca : September 12, 2010 4:49 am

I dont know what all the fuss is about…………… ”AM”was a mediocre actress,and her only real claim to fame is ”BEWITCHED” sure in that sitcom she was great,but apart from that who will remember her for anything else other than that, say in 20 years time from now??? and yes i have seen her movies and to me she was good not great!!and no i am not bagging the old girl because she does have her place in history!!!

Posted By denzel : September 12, 2010 5:02 am

This is for Luca…………….
Grow a brain and take tour stupid comments to some other forum,because evidently you don’t understand this one! Agnes Moorehead was one of the greats.And she will be remembered in 100 years from now.

Posted By denzel : September 12, 2010 5:02 am

This is for Luca…………….
Grow a brain and take tour stupid comments to some other forum,because evidently you don’t understand this one! Agnes Moorehead was one of the greats.And she will be remembered in 100 years from now.

Posted By denzel : September 12, 2010 5:04 am

I will always love you agnes,you were the bomb!!!

Posted By denzel : September 12, 2010 5:04 am

I will always love you agnes,you were the bomb!!!

Posted By Professional Tourist : September 15, 2010 11:43 am

A follow-up for the respondent who has used the name ‘Sean Moorehead’ –

There is no doubt that Sean was a foster child, he was never adopted. There has been misinformation reported on this, including by Agnes herself in interviews, but among the documentary evidence the bottom line is in her last will and testament, where she declares that she has no children natural or adopted.

Historically, the question of the cause of the estrangement of Agnes and Sean has not had a clear answer — some sources saying that he ran away, and some that she asked him to leave. However, in an interview I conducted this summer with one of Agnes’ old friends I learned what I believe is more likely to be the truth — that the end came in a stalemate of their two wills.

Sean had just graduated high school (he completed his last two years of high school in Beverly Hills, was no longer in boarding schools) and did not wish to go on to college. He was still living in Agnes’ house, although he would have been eighteen by then and as such the fostering arrangement would legally have concluded. Agnes was against Sean’s staying out very late at night and advised him that the next time he came home late he would find the house locked. Soon after, Sean stayed out very late and upon his return found the house was indeed locked. He went on his way and did not return (except perhaps one time as burglar while Agnes was working out of town). Agnes did not attempt to find him. It is believed that they two had no further contact.

Posted By Professional Tourist : September 15, 2010 11:43 am

A follow-up for the respondent who has used the name ‘Sean Moorehead’ –

There is no doubt that Sean was a foster child, he was never adopted. There has been misinformation reported on this, including by Agnes herself in interviews, but among the documentary evidence the bottom line is in her last will and testament, where she declares that she has no children natural or adopted.

Historically, the question of the cause of the estrangement of Agnes and Sean has not had a clear answer — some sources saying that he ran away, and some that she asked him to leave. However, in an interview I conducted this summer with one of Agnes’ old friends I learned what I believe is more likely to be the truth — that the end came in a stalemate of their two wills.

Sean had just graduated high school (he completed his last two years of high school in Beverly Hills, was no longer in boarding schools) and did not wish to go on to college. He was still living in Agnes’ house, although he would have been eighteen by then and as such the fostering arrangement would legally have concluded. Agnes was against Sean’s staying out very late at night and advised him that the next time he came home late he would find the house locked. Soon after, Sean stayed out very late and upon his return found the house was indeed locked. He went on his way and did not return (except perhaps one time as burglar while Agnes was working out of town). Agnes did not attempt to find him. It is believed that they two had no further contact.

Posted By Juvenal (Brazil)) : April 7, 2012 7:51 am

Thanks for the post. Excelent work. Agnes is not very popular in Brazil, but who love movies reconizes your special dramatic talent. I am 80 y.o. (today) and know her from my youth. Hus. Juvenal

Posted By Juvenal (Brazil)) : April 7, 2012 7:51 am

Thanks for the post. Excelent work. Agnes is not very popular in Brazil, but who love movies reconizes your special dramatic talent. I am 80 y.o. (today) and know her from my youth. Hus. Juvenal

Posted By AMooreheadFan : January 20, 2013 10:27 pm

Thanks for all the info. I have been a fan of Agnes Moorehead’s for a very long time. Agnes was the most talented actress that ever lived! She was one of a kind. There was no one like her before and there will never be another one like her ever. I feel that after she died in 1974, that the whole Hollywood/NY entertainment industry could have just shut down because there really isn’t anyone out there worth watching. Her radio work is amazing, her movies roles were incredible (just her scenes – I fast-forward through everyone else’s parts) and her TV roles were just as amazing. She may have became more popular as Endora from TV’s Bewitched and increased her fan base but she had an incredible career before 1964 and will always be remembered for everything that she did for 100 years.

Posted By AMooreheadFan : January 20, 2013 10:27 pm

Thanks for all the info. I have been a fan of Agnes Moorehead’s for a very long time. Agnes was the most talented actress that ever lived! She was one of a kind. There was no one like her before and there will never be another one like her ever. I feel that after she died in 1974, that the whole Hollywood/NY entertainment industry could have just shut down because there really isn’t anyone out there worth watching. Her radio work is amazing, her movies roles were incredible (just her scenes – I fast-forward through everyone else’s parts) and her TV roles were just as amazing. She may have became more popular as Endora from TV’s Bewitched and increased her fan base but she had an incredible career before 1964 and will always be remembered for everything that she did for 100 years.

Posted By AMooreheadFan : January 20, 2013 10:28 pm

I Love You Agnes!! I’ll see you in Heaven one day.

Posted By AMooreheadFan : January 20, 2013 10:28 pm

I Love You Agnes!! I’ll see you in Heaven one day.

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