Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6, 1900 Always a bright child, Agnes was a talented youngster, so it was no surprise that she became a brilliant character actress. Indeed, Agnes enjoyed playing different characters for the fun of it so much, her mother would always say, “Who are you today, Agnes?”
The first time I had heard about Agnes Moorhead was when I was a little kid in New York City, living in the charming Country Club area of the Bronx. We loved the smash TV sitcom Bewitched, the 1964 – 1972 comedy about witches in suburbia, starring Elizabeth Montgomery. Being kids, we didn’t realize Ms. Montgomery was part of a film and TV dynasty, including actor/producer Robert Montgomery (Here Comes Mr.Jordan; They Were Expendable; Lady in the Lake; Ride the Pink Horse). Agnes always cracked us up as Endora, Samantha’s irksome yet hilarious mother, always a show stopper with her tart tongue and fabulous wardrobe, usually in hues of purple! Indeed, friends often affectionately called Agnes “The Lavender Lady” or “Madam Mauve.”
Ever the world traveler, Agnes worked in France and studied with none other than the great mime Marcel Marceau! She taught public school English and drama for five years, as well as going to Paris to study pantomime. No doubt that came in handy with the memorable Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders.”!
Agnes covered just about every medium (no pun intended…well, maybe a little!), starting with singing at a St. Louis band radio station, and that particular medium stayed with Agnes all her life, from the 1930s through the 1950s, with shows ranging from Terry and The Pirates as The Dragon Lady; The March of Time; and so much more – makes me wish I could have been young with a great voice back then!
It seemed Agnes could do anything in any medium, bless her! Agnes’ Radio triumphs included wicked Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca; and Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number (a broadcast I’d love to hear if I could)! Such was Agnes’ zeal to perform on the airways, she insisted on its pre-continuation of a later contratct with MGM — clever gal, our Agnes! Even better, through her Radio work on The Shadow and The March of Time in 1937, Agnes met and befriended fellow actor Orson Welles! Knowing a great performer when he saw one, Welles invited her to join him and Joseph Cotton as Charter members of his Mercury Theater of the Air, and Agnes was among the company responsible for the 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds", scaring the heck out of the populace -- and making a name for herself as well as the rest of the cast, with Agnes wowing Radio fans all the way, famous ever after – oh, those Mercury scamps!
Agnes was practically bulletproof with her chameleon dexterity, thanks to her great voice, so it was only a matter of time when Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater came a’knocking, starting as Citizen Kane’s mother, and the rest was history!
Agnes got her first Oscar nomination for her role as Auntie Minafer in The Magnificent Andersons (1942), as well as New York Film Critics. She hit a home run with Lucille Fletcher’s thriller Sorry, Wrong Number
Wish I could have seen them on stage as well!
Agnes didn’t get any Oscars (though she should have, in my opinion; nothing personal, Barbara Stanwyck!), but she was nominated four; times in her long career: the aforementioned The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) AND Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
There was only one thing that could stop the unforgettable Agnes, and that’s death – and not just any death, but death from fall-out from the Atom Bomb, no less! Poor Agnes; she and her fellow stars of The Conquerer had the unwitting misfortune to be filming on a site that happened to be on Ground Zero, and Agnes, John Wayne, director Dick Powell, and the rest of the all-star cast the cast, including Agnes, got uterine cancer. No wonder Agnes said, " I wish I’d never made that picture.”Agnes is always riveting and stunningly memorable, but my favorite is still the film noir Dark Passage (1947) with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, based on David Goodis' noir novel. Agnes is stunning as Madge Rapf, a dame as mesmerizing as she is vicious, a dame who draws me to her out of one side of her mouth and pushes them away with the other. She's the type who won't let anyone have something if she can't have it - a compulsion that causes her to go to quite serious ends!
Want to hear more about the amazing life and times of the late, great Agnes Moorhead? Read Agnes’s autobiography I Love The Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorhead!
I saw CHARLOTTE at an outdoor film fest here in NYC on a hot, muggy summer night. The heat made me sleepy and I found it tough to pay attention, and after awhile, all I could remember was Moorehead, Bette Davis and Olivia deHavilland screaming at each other. But it did seem like a good movie, regardless. Didn't know Moorehead was Oscar nominated for it.ReplyDelete
That's funny that she played Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA on radio; I always confuse her with the actress who plays her in the film version (whose name escapes me).
That TWILIGHT ZONE episode might be the best thing she ever did.
Rich, I can certainly understand how even a film buff like you would get sleepy on a muggy summer night under those conditions, even with Agnes and the rest of that sterling cast! Maybe it's better served on a cool evening instead! Either way, you can't beat a great performance by Agnes Moorhead, and I'm the first to agree that anytime! Thanks for joining the Agnes Love-Fest here at Team Bartilucci for Agnes Moorehead! :-DDelete
"That's funny that she played Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA on radio; I always confuse her with the actress who plays her in the film version (whose name escapes me)." Dame Judith AndersonDelete
You know you are watching the epitome of the word "professional" when you watch an Agnes Moorehead performance. She could do it all, and make it seem easy. She act rings around her co-stars, but was a team player.ReplyDelete
The radio broadcast of "Sorry, Wrong Number" can be found online on old time radio sites and on YouTube. Don't wait another minute!
Paddy, thanks a million for letting me know where I can find SORRY, WRONG NUMBER on Radio, my friend! You're right, our gal Agnes was a brilliant actress and a swell team player in the bargain! All actors should be like her! :-DDelete
Moorehead was a nasty piece of work in DARK PASSAGE. That performance is, like with you, my favorite of her long and amazing career. Good choice!!!ReplyDelete
Thanks, John, you once again have awesome taste in film noir, my friend! :-D Agnes' stunning performance of wily Madge Rapf in DARK PASSAGE, to warn the rest of the unsuspecting nice people of the world, should even get caught up with a Madge Rapf (yes, they exist, but not many, thank goodness! :-D Thanks for your swell comments, as always!Delete
What? I'm the first???ReplyDelete
How cheesy (or, as the French would say, quel fromage!).
Anyway . . . (see? If you people would comment earlier you wouldn't have to put up with second-rate Jay Ward puns from me) . . . I wanted to point out how, among her numerous achievements, the divine Miss Moorehead cut a rather villainous swath through the television Old West. Not only did she play Emma Valentine in "The Night of the Vicious Valentine" episode of "The Wild Wild West", but the year before she voiced the character of The Black Widow in a 1966 episode of the highly excellent (and woefully underappreciated) animated "The Lone Ranger" series (the really good one produced by Format Films for CBS).
Other Agnes performances worth watching include Cornelia van Gorder in the campy Vincent Price potboiler "The Bat" (did Price make any other sort of films?), and the domineering Mrs. Phoebe Tuttle in "Who's Minding the Store?" (think of Endora without magical powers). Agnes also cut a rather stylish figure as the Red Queen in Alan Handley's 1966 television version of "Alice Through the Looking Glass".
Agnes was a busy little bee during the Sixties.
But for me, Agnes is firmly cemented within Character Actor Olympus on the basis of her performance in "The Invaders" episode of "The Twilight Zone". This episode should be presented in theater classes as an example of how a talented individual can carry an entire performance without dialogue (and it should be included in the dictionary alongside "tour de force").
A charter member of my Secret Girlfriend List!
I love Agnes Moorehead, Dorian. Always did, always will. She was a righteous broad, as I like to say. Yes, in DARK PASSAGE, she was evil, EVIL!! That deadly movie (in more ways than one), THE CONQUEROR with John Wayne (!?) as Genghis Kahn, has a lot to answer for. So stupidly tragic. Susan Hayward, I believe, was in it and she too got cancer as did most of them.ReplyDelete
Yvette, my friend, I agree that, as you always say quite rightly about the late, great Agnes Moorhead, Agnes was a was "a righteous broad" indeed, and so talented and gifted! You're so right about Agnes and the rest of the poor stars and crew of the wretched crew of THE CONQUEROR and company, including Susan Hayward (as you put it so well). Nowadays, there would be lawsuits a plenty, though it doesn't help them now, poor souls, even stage plays.. But at least there are plenty Agnes' films and TV shows for us to remember this remarkable actress; thanks a million for joining our Agnes Moorhead Lovefest, including Team B's favorite among her noirs, DARK PASSAGE! :-DDelete
Michael, as always, you've done a superb job of saluting the fabulous, multi-taltented Agnes Moorhead, and I'm especially pleased that you're praising not only her Oscar nominees and THE TWILIGHT ZONE and her delightful episodes like her guest star turns like THE WILD WILD WEST. THE TWILIGHT ZONE (that's my favorite, too), and so much more even I didn't know all the amazing guest star turns! Let's face it, Agnes was two awesome for words (and not just in "The Invaders". And yes, THE BAT has often been a "guilty pleasure," by golly! No wonder you love Agnes as much as we do! We applaud your swell taste, my friend! :-DReplyDelete
I couldn't pick a favorite Agnes Moorehead performance, she was sooo good in so many, many films (and on TV, of course). But the film that pops to mind most often when I think of her is "Dark Passage" - such a chilling creature. Then I think of her in "The Magnificent Ambersons" - deservedly Oscar-nominated.ReplyDelete
Eve, you're a gal after my own heart, because I too love Agnes Moorhead and her brilliant gifts as an actress and chameleon! Was there anything Agnes could NOT do as a performer? I think not! I'm also pleased that you and many of us here agree that Agnes should have gotten an Oscar nomination for DARK PASSAGE, as well as her many other great performances! Where's a Way-Back Machine when you need one? :-D But seriously, thanks for your swell comments saluting our gal Agnes, and have a wonderful evening!Delete
Dor, I'm another one who couldn't choose one favourite Agnes Moorehead performance. And it never really struck me, until I read your post, that she never won an Oscar! That ought not to be!!ReplyDelete
So glad you featured Agnes, because she definitely deserves more recognition. She really was one of the greats.
Ruth, as always, you have superb taste in awesome character actors, and the remarkable Agnes Moorhead was indeed, as you confirmed so well, was truly one of the greats indeed! Call me greedy, but I wish Agnes could have lived longer (darn CONQUERER!), and actual Oscars for her four Oscar nominations -- not to be greedy! At least movie lovers like us can relive our favorite Agnes Moorhead films and TV shows! Glad you dropped by to celebrate Agnes, thanks to WHAT A CHARACTER!, and have a great weekend, my friend! :-DDelete
I love Ms. Moorehead, no one is better at bringing the wickedness. I had no idea of the tragic nature of her death, and that so many others shared in that misfortune.ReplyDelete
You're so right, Paula, about Agnes' long career, from singing two to acting -- wrote her own bio -- was there nothing Agnes couldn't do?! It's so sad that Agnes and her fellow CONQUERER co-stars (including director Dick Powell) had no way of knowing it would kill them, but I always try to keep in mind all of her films, TV shows, and more! Thanks for joining us in our Agnes Lovefest, Paula, and have a great weekend, what with Thanksgiving on the way! :-DDelete
I need to watch some more of Moorehead's performances, considering her long career I've seen too few of them. That said, I love her wickedness in Dark Passage - she definitely deserves more recognition for that role! Great post and a wonderful tribute.ReplyDelete
Always happy to have Girls Do Film come and join the fun here at Team Bartilucci HQ! Agnes could play anything with her brilliant chameleon-like way to get into a character with what seemed the greatest of ease, bless her! You know, one of the things I especially enjoyed during the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon was discovering even more about Agnes' amazing life, and I was especially happy to see lots of younger bloggers discovering Agnes -- especially DARK PASSAGE! Thanks a million for your kind comments, and have a wonderful weekend! :-DDelete
Well-profile profile, Dorian, of one of the great character actresses. I just saw her in CITIZEN KANE this morning and her performance was so different from DARK PASSAGE (which I viewed not long ago). Though it's not considered one of her best role, I quite enjoy her performance in POLLYANNA ever time I watch it.ReplyDelete
Rick, I couldn't agree with you more about Agnes Moorhead and her amazing versatility as an actress, from POLLYANNA to DARK PASSAGE to TV's Bewitched and so much more, I need a score card to keep track of this perpetual TV and Oscar nominee/winner! Thanks for joining us Agnes lovers, and have a great day on this fine Sunday! :-DDelete
Just like you, I met Agnes through Bewitched. It was a joy and a surprise to see her as a great versatile actress in classic film! I also wish I could hear some of her radio performances (and, why not, see her live)ReplyDelete
Don't forget to read my entry!
Le, isn't is fun when you discover a wonderful actor or actress in the most unlikely films or TV shows, like the way you and I became fans of Agnes Moorhead? You have great taste in character actors! :-D I'll have to track down her recordings for SORRY, WRONG NUMBER and such! Thanks for your great post, and I'll check out your post about C. Aubrey Smith, too!Delete
Wonderful tribute to a great actress -- Dark Passage is one of my very favorites, and of course The Invaders Twilight Zone episode. I have to look up her Sorry, Wrong Number radio play! Can't wait to hear that. I got to play that part in high school, and although I'm certainly no Agnes Moorhead or Barbara Stanwyck, I got good reviews. I have to catch you up on a funny -- I had no idea that John Wayne or Dick Powell had uterine cancer -- how unusual! Muwahahahaha!ReplyDelete
Hey, Big Sis, I always get a kick out of your "Muwahahahaha! laugh! I'm delighted to see you're a fan of Our Gal Agnes Moorhead, too! Wish I had a Way-Back Machine to see you performing SORRY, WRONG NUMBER -- I know you must have been a smashing success! Thanks for your kind kudos, Big Sis, from Little Sis, and feel better soon! :-DDelete