Sunday, January 19, 2014

Back In The Day

For ages people have attempted to find out where Agnes attended high school.  In a front page article written when she was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance as Aunt Fanny in Orson Welle's "The Magnificent Ambersons" she states she attended Central High School in St. Louis.  At various times other information has come to light that she may have attended, at least for a short while, Soldan High School.

1914 and 1915 Soldan High School singing group "The Chaminade."



Saturday, December 14, 2013

An Article of Truth

I posted an article yesterday that was published February 2, 1936.  I've just been sitting here reading it for the hundredth time and lamenting the fact that it took me so long to get it posted.  When I first found this, and I must admit it was several years ago, I briefly glanced over it then filed it with all the other bits I've collected over the years.  I recently relocated and have been forced to go, bit by bit, through the enormous amount of stuff that I've packed away over the years.  As I go through it I come across gems like this that give a more accurate glimpse into the actual life of Agnes.  I have decided to break this article down, section by section, and talk about the things that evolved in her recollection into things that were completely different from the actual situation.

But If She Tells You The Opposite
The first thing that struck me about this article is the utter willingness of Agnes to say she really doesn't like what she's doing.  It speaks loudly about her opinion of what was actually happening in her life.  She was playing dizzy dames and hard broads.  This was not any challenge to her skill.  She could do it all day and all night without breaking an acting sweat.  It tells us that her work was irritating, she turned parts down out of frustration.  It tells us that she was completely unchallenged.  It tells us that she was, in her youth, willing to say yes I work and yes I actually dislike what I'm doing.  I'm bored.  I want something I can sink my teeth into.  How refreshing.

Agnes spent a good portion of her Hollywood career not being able to say any of this.  Starting her film career with "Citizen Kane" put her in the position of having to shut up and play nice in order to keep her film career from sinking like a rock.  During her early years in Hollywood she had to cultivate her exposure by working diligently to keep the Hedda Hopper's of the film world on her side.  This 1936 article doesn't smack of any of that.  It's just Agnes saying she wants something different.  She's issuing a written, public challenge to any director reading to give her a chance at something, anything!
I can tell you this I don't think it's coincidence that Agnes was recruited to the "March of Time" program in 1936.  I think it was a direct result of this article and her willingness to say exactly what she was thinking.  She ended up portraying every fascinating woman of the time including Eleanor Roosevelt.  Think of the career of Agnes Moorehead in radio and what you see being publicly hailed as her golden age, when did it really begin, 1936.  All of the machinations that would catapult her to fame began with this article and her willingness to say she didn't really like what she was doing.

Manna From Heaven
The phrase "manna from heaven" was pure genius on the part of Agnes.  It was her catch phrase for her early days.  She was hungry and was blessed with finding change in the telephone, or not.  This article is the only time in Agnes' life she actually admits to doing something a great many folks were doing during the Depression, pawning a piece of her jewelry for money to live off of.  Nowhere in any stories she tells later does she ever mention the act of pawning her diamond to by oatmeal, let alone apples.  It becomes a sort of Fanny Minnifer story later on.  The boiler scene where Fanny cries about having walked all over town and refusing to spend a nickel for the trolley.  She walked and walked until the heels were worn down on her shoes, so did Agnes, or so we are told.  Agnes often told the story of of one of the casting agents on her rounds insisting that she call instead of coming in and how she walked forever to a diner to use a pay phone.  In that diner she had to change her last dime in the world into two nickels for the phone.  That nickel would have bought a white roll and butter but she had to sacrifice it to a phone that, in the end, didn't work.  But she found in the phone enough money to by oatmeal and rice enough to feed her until she got her first part. What she had actually done was pawn a diamond ring for oatmeal and apples.  That she even had a diamond ring to pawn was highly unusual for the time.

Her talk about her first parts on Broadway are equally different from what would become the story of her youth later on.  Some biographers intimate that Agnes kept busy with bit parts and understudy roles until she got her first break with Seth Parker.  This article says, not so much.  It intimates that she was out of work the majority of the time until she got a nod from Joseph Bell to come and play the part of Sally, the tough girl, in an NBC program "The Mystery House."  It also says she did that role for over a year before Seth Parker and that once Seth had finished she auditioned repeatedly without any success. Finally, she landed the role of Nana on the program "Evening In Paris."  The length of the Seth Parker tour at some point is shortened to 16 weeks from 20 and Agnes admits,for the first time every, that the tour was something the gave her "the thrill of my life."  As well all know she went on to be known by many in the industry as the "Queen of the Road."  In any case, Agnes repeated, frequently, that she had trod the boards many times as a young woman in New York but this article seems to contradict that by her reference of being often at liberty.

Aloof and Self Contained
Frequently the terms aloof and self contained  were used to describe Agnes.  These terms were used by reporters, acquaintances, friends, and family repeatedly.  This is the first reference I can find to those qualities in Agnes.  Mary Jacob, who wrote the article, states that her first impression of Agnes was that she was "aloof and self contained."  She also observes, as many would over the years, that Agnes warmed up to Mary and the reticence left her once she began to speak.  I've often wondered how much of that time was spent by Agnes sizing up the person she was about to speak to and judging what she would say as the conversation progressed.  But the remainder of the interview is so candid that it seems to contradict that altogether.  I'm not so sure she was judging what she would say but more likely judging the person she was talking to.

The other thing I noticed about this article was the indication that Agnes was just very matter of fact. There appears to be none of the eccentric, larger than life personality we came to know later.  She shrugs her shoulders, taps her foot nervously, and is distracted all at the same time.  Miss Jacobs makes reference to Agnes frowning at the fireplace as she speaks.  It seems as though she was a million miles away at that point, just talking aimlessly.  Then a few sentences later she references the fact that Agnes looks up and smiles then her eyes wander straight back to the fireplace.  It made me think of the story that Agnes told to Joseph Cotton's wife about giving birth to Sean.  Staring off into space and then just leaving the room as if she had never said a word of it.

Finally there is the stunning reference to Jack Lee as John G. Lee.  Who introduces their spouse like that?  As if that isn't enough, she follows that up with "...He's in the movies.  And the swellest person you ever met."    We all know that her marriage to Jack was less than blissful and that during divorce proceedings Agnes admitted Jack had been a hard drinker since 1936.  Jack swans in kisses her and announces that he will return at six.  I almost fell out of my chair when I read that.  The only person I've ever seen Agnes kiss is Joe E. Brown and yet here she allows a complete outsider to witness an unprecedented public display of affection.  The other random mind blowing statement is that Jack is in the movies.  He hadn't even been to Hollywood let alone near a movie camera.  Agnes made an easily verifiable, blatantly untrue statement about Jack to a reporter and it wouldn't be the first time.  Some forty odd years later she would do the same thing by blatantly stating to a reporter that Jack was dead.

The Original Wallflower
I don't know about you but I had never thought of Agnes as a wallflower.  It really stunned me to ready that she honestly believed that everyone thought she would turn out that way.  She has always struck me as vivacious and impish, a little devil, if you will.  But a wallflower, honestly?  I get the whole idea of being a preachers kid and how one might appear to be a wallflower because they couldn't go wild like the other kids.  It makes sense that a preacher's child would be expected to appear conservative and religious, especially when you consider the time period.  I am sure, though, that Agnes never suffered from a "martyr complex."  Perhaps she felt like a martyr because she was unable to attend parties being given by friends but, other than her penchant for straying from the truth, Agnes did not suffer from a "martyr complex."  Her sister, well that's a different discussion all together.

I'll tell you something else a boxed up child wouldn't do and that's skip school to audition for an opera company.  In addition she confessed that to her father who responded by asking if they could get tickets for the show.  I don't see this as being the typical religious preacher, let alone father, response.

Conclusion
I think this article may be as close as any of us will ever get to seeing who Agnes was.  It shows various sides of her in a way that would not ever be seen again.  She doesn't insist she was 12 when she auditioned for the opera but, instead, has obviously told the interviewer she was 15.  She is distracted and focused. She is honest and dishonest.  She is outgoing and withdrawn.  She is lively and quiet.  She is every single different facet of her complex personality without apology.  She bubbles like a volcano ready to go off but you don't know just when.  She is in control and out of control  She is like a snowflake and there just never was or will be anyone quite as brilliant as she.

Friday, December 13, 2013

She Admits She Doesn't Like Her Work

Oakland Tribune
February 2 1936

Agnes Moorehead Longs To Escape ZaSu Pitts Roles
By Mary Jacob

You're going to interview a radio star, a young, feminine star.

You make your appointment, you get there on time, and after a while SHE arrives.  That's fine; you're glad she got there at all.  So you get set to hear how wonderful her work is, how she simply LOVES radio, how happy she was when she got her present role, and how everything is perfectly adorable. She will probably wind up by telling how, when she was five and making her debut in the Sunday School class play, that she knew she would never be happy unless she could become an actress and do just what she is doing now.

If she tells you just that you sigh and shrug your shoulders; that's what you expected anyway.  But if she tells you something else, tells you, in fact, just the opposite, that, folks, is something to write about. And that is what Agnes Moorehead told me.

Since Agnes came to radio in 1930, she has played one dizzy female role after another including her present jobs.  She is, you may know, one of Phil Baker's stooges on CBS and the nosey Mrs. Van Alastair Crowder on Helen Hayes' NBC show, "The New Penny." And how does she feel about it all?

"Invariably," she said with a sigh, "when there is a pain in the neck role for a girl to play, the directors start yelling, 'Agnes.' And Agnes comes running, except once in a while when I get so fed up I refuse the job."

"If I could get one decent dramatic role to play, it wouldn't be so bad. But do I get it? No! I'm ZaSu Pitts of the radio, and apparently I've got to keep on being ZaSu Pitts until my hair is white and the bones of my fingers rattle when I wring my hands."

We were talking in Miss Moorehead's sitting room, a huge paneled white room, very modern and not at all ZaSu Pitt-ish. She sat on a brown linen box like sofa, one foot restlessly tapping on the floor as she spoke.  Dressed in a simple white flannel suit trimmed with navy braid and a navy sailor tie she looked about 18.  Actually she is in her twenties.

Tall, blue eyed, titian haired , Agnes Moorehead is the kind of girl the men are just so k-krazy about.

My first impression of her was that she was very aloof and self contained.  That was when I entered her apartment.  But as she warmed to her subject this reticence left her.  She went on:

"When I got my first chance on the air I felt grand.  You would too if you were an unemployed actress down to your last nickel and a job on the air landed like manna from heaven."

"I had pawned my diamond ring.  I lived on oatmeal soup and apples. Nourishing enough," with a shrug of her shoulders, "But no diet for little Agnes."

"Joseph Bell, who had been one of my instructors at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, started to work for NBC and sent for me.  He gave me the role of Sally, the tough girl in 'The Mystery House."
She was so tough she seemed worse than Capone to me.  But I played the role for over a year."

"My next job," she says, "Was Lizzie Peters, the sharp spoken New England spinster on the Seth Parker program.  I toured with Phillip Lord in the Seth Parker shows for 20 weeks." A smile lighted her face, "I got the thrill of my life then," she confessed.

Agnes offered me a cigarette.  "Don't mind my not smoking," she said, "just a remnant of my childhood days.  I'm a Presbyterian minister's daughter and when you are a minister's daughter you don't smoke or do a lot of other things."

"After the Seth Parker stint was finished," she continued, frowning at the fireplace in front of the sofa, "I tried my best to get a dramatic role on the air.  I auditioned and I auditioned. "

"And I landed up as Nana, the most fluttery, helpless, half wit who ever lived. I was Nana for three years on the 'Evening In Paris' program.  Somebody, with nothing but the the best of intentions, I'm sure, phoned CBS after the show one night.  She wanted to talk to ZaSu Pitts, she insisted. 'But,' the attendants told her, 'Miss Pitts is in Hollywood.'  She kept insisting that she had just heard the movie star broadcast from their New York studios."

"It wasn't til she mentioned Nana on the 'Evening In Paris' program that they realized she thought I was ZaSu.  Then all the directors began to say I was the ZaSu Pitts of radio and I've been that ever since."

Looking up for a minute she smiled, then her eyes wandered back to the fire again.  "When Mr. Griffith, the famous movie producer who had discovered ZaSu, went on the air, " she continued, "he clinched matters.  He wanted someone to impersonate ZaSu." Dozens of actresses were tried out, including, Agnes Moorehead.

After he heard her, he said, "She's more like ZaSu than ZaSu is herself. It's amazing."

"You know," Miss Moorehead told me, "I almost did play one swell emotional row on the air.  I was ambling through the halls of NBC when a director came running out of one of the studios and literally pulled me after him.  'You've got to help us out,' he gasped, 'Miriam Hopkins hasn't appeared for the dress rehearsal of her program yet and the sponsor is listening in.  Please, Miss Moorehead go in and act for all you're worth.  The sponsor must be pleased.'"

It was an original dramatic sketch prepared for Miss Hopkins.  Agnes Moorehead did her best.  The sponsor was pleased.  Everyone patted her on the shoulder and said she was superb.

But that was only for the dress rehearsal.  When the show went on the air that night Miss Hopkins played the role.  No one outside the studio ever heard of Agnes acting.

" I almost got a break that time," she told me grimacing, "but almost doesn't count."

Just then a tall, slim, blond man entered the room and said to Miss Moorehead, "I'll be back at 6," as he leaned over and kissed her goodbye.

"That's my husband, John G. Lee," she said, "We met when we both attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  He's in the movies.  And he's the swellest person you ever met."

Agnes glanced at her wrist watch.  "Goodness." she exclaimed, "I'm due in rehearsal at NBC in 10 minutes.  I've become to engrossed in talking about myself.  I've forgotten about the time.  Do you want to come along to the rehearsal?  It wouldn't take long and we can finish our chat there."

The NBC studios were just a few blocks from Miss Moorehead's apartment.  We walked quickly and soon we were in one of the rehearsal studios on the third floor of the NBC building.  There wer about 10 actresses sitting in a semi circle.  The production man sitting in front at a table with his assistant.

I retreated to the piano stool.  They were rehearsing for "Dot and Will," that long lived sustaining feature at NBC.  Perhaps you will listen in.  If so, you'll recognize Agnes as Rosie, the wholesome ordinary, housewife.  She doesn't like that role either.

Soon she said her few lines in the days program, and we sat out in the lobby.

"Tell me was there any single role in radio you really liked" I asked her.

"Yes," she told me "Jeanne, the sweet ingenue, on the 'Lady Next Door' program.  Of course, it wasn't a particularly dramatic part, but Jeanne was a nice girl instead of a witch like female.  That lasted over a year."

"I also played," she added smilingly, "the role of Betty on that program and Betty was as nasty a cat as ever lived."

"What is the most unsympathetic role you've ever played?" I asked.  "I think my present role as Mrs. Crowder on the Helen Hayes show, " she said.  "I am the most terrible malicious cross patch you ever heard of.  For shear hopelessness, though, I think my role at CBS with the Street Singer a few years ago was the worst.  I was Lonesome Lulu the original wallflower."

"When I was a youngster, " she told me "everyone thought I'd turn out that way. I had a martyr complex as a child.  I longed to attend the parties my classmates gave.  But, I was a minister's daughter.  I couldn't stay out after 9:30 at night.till I went to college.  I never went to a dance until I was grown up and away from home."

You can imagine what went on in the Moorehead household when, Agnes, a naturally gifted dancer, secretly tried out and was accepted for the ballet of the St Louis Municipal Opera Co. when she was 15.  And you can imagine how her family felt a few years later when she announced she was going to be, not a teacher, but an actress!

"I came to New York to study at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts," she said, "I fell I was on my own and could do as I wanted. I liked acting better than dancing-that was all there was to it."

She graduated in 1929 in the heart of the depression.  "John and I, without a cent between us, got married as soon as we graduated."  And then......

"I had an awful job getting placed," she said " I got my first job by pestering Al Woods, the producer, til he got tired of seeing me around so he gave me the part of the French Maid in 'Scarlet Pages.'  When that was ended I couldn't any work to do.  Aside from a few brief engagements in dizzy parts, like the Hindu in 'Soldiers and Women', I was at liberty all the time."

Then along came radio.

"I think radio is O.K," Miss Moorehead concluded, "but how I would like to be something besides a hard hearted Hannah or dumb Dora combined."




















."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Side Effects May Include

I have recently taken up, again, my search for Agnes' "foster son" Sean.  More importantly, I have decided to attempt to understand what may have actually gone on between Agnes and Sean.  The termination of contact between them was immediate, complete, and has all the indications of being a scar on the soul for both of them.  I think it is safe to say that Agnes' age had as much to do with it as Sean's childhood neglect, before joining Agnes' household, did.  It seems a logical place to begin as any.  So let's start with Agnes' style of parenting.

Victoria Regina


Agnes was born in 1900.  Her mother, Mollie, was born in 1883 and her father, John, in 1869.  Both Mollie and John would have been reared in a Victorian household.  The Victorian era encompasses the years 1837 to 1901 placing John and Mollie's childhood squarely in the middle of it.  Victorian society was rigid, to say the least, and their mode of child rearing would scare the pants off of any child walking the face of the planet today.  It appears harsh because it was harsh and the psychological damage done to children would take a lifetime worth of psychoanalysis to over come.

The morally strict Victorian age presented the conviction that anything that remotely smacked of feeling, desire or need in children was something that required repressing and controlling.  Often children were controlled via the infliction of guilt, threat or spanking, however, Victorian parents were definitely not above using other forms of punishment such as locking a child in a closet or tying them to a bed.  They became stellar at inflicting mental and emotional abuse as a means of control though because it was so very effective.

Victorian parents weren't strict because they didn't love their children.  Victorian parents would, in fact, insist they were strict because they did care for their children.. For them it wasn't about rearing a child who was happy on the inside, it was about rearing children to look good and do well on the outside.  The perfect Victorian child was well taught and well mannered

This style of parenting evolved at the beginning of the twentieth century to include a scientific approach to  child rearing which included the mind set that showing love and and affection was actually dangerous.  Having too much affection from a mother would lead to a spoiled child.  Assorted manuals began to be published during the early twentieth century.  They were overly occupied with the emotion of the child, in particular fear, anger and jealousy.  These manuals were not written to advocate for the acceptance of emotion in children, instead, they advocated just the opposite by insisting that emotion was destructive of order, predictability and sound moral judgement.  Even something as positive as love was potentially dangerous. Emotion was a sign of weakness, a sign of not being in control of oneself.  A Victorian parent displayed an outward detachment and coolness toward the child.  It is an unfortunate fact of human nature, though, that you cannot control emotion forever.  The parent would only be successful until they had bottled themselves up to the point of explosion then BOOM, off comes the lid.  The end result would be roller coaster like swings of complete detachment followed by anger and intrusion.  I doubt that anybody came out of a childhood like this without emotional scarring.

This then would be the style of parenting that Agnes would have been exposed to, familiar with and subsequently emulated.  This combined with Sean's early childhood experiences would be an emotional Molotov cocktail.

Fire and Gasoline


We know from Agnes that Sean had been in two or three foster homes before she took him in.  We also know that Sean was in poor physical condition suffering from malnutrition, vision problems, anemia and a spot on his lung.  Reference is made to the fact that his family was quite large and could no longer afford to care for either Sean or his sister.  It is pitifully apparent to anyone that a child doesn't suffer malnutrition or anemia in a normal setting nor would a situation affording that little concern for a child's well being be in a position to maintain a large family of any variety.  I'm sure if we could find any record at all of any of this we would find that many children, if they actually existed, from the same family would have ended up in foster care or hospitalized.  In addition it speaks volumes about any foster care that Sean may have been inflicted with that they would allow him to remain malnourished and anemic.  This boy and his sister had been in some deplorable conditions for either or both of them to be ill enough to be hospitalized.

Sean and his sister, like many before and since, were likely removed from their environment because of neglect.  The impact of neglect and , potentially, abuse will scar a child for years to come even if they are very young when they are removed.  A child who suffers neglect usually will respond in different ways depending on developing characteristics of the child.  There are two types of these characteristics: active and outgoing and the reserved cautious type.  The outgoing active child will become assertive and attempt to control their experiences.  The reserved cautious type will become anxious and withdraw.  Regardless of which type of child receives the neglect it will lower their sense of self worth.  If the parent is unresponsive to the needs of the child the child develops a sense of worthlessness.  If the parent is unreliable and inconsistent the child develops the sense that the environment is unsafe and will experience anxiety.  If the child fears the parent the response will be to view themselves as weak and ineffective.  The cautious child will likely become nervous, upset and develop mental health problems.  The active child will become aggressive, controlling and develop behavioral problems.  Often times a sense of inadequacy demonstrating a dependency more pronounced than would be typical of the age of the child will present itself.

There is always an large amount of transitional stress when a child is first removed from a home.  These transitions can leave and emotional mark on the child adding to apprehension and anxiety.  Often a child will begin to react in the same manner they reacted in their original home once they have transitioned to a new environment.  If they were aggressive and demanding they will likely become that way again once they are placed in a new environment.  If the child learns they will have their needs met without displaying these traits then they will learn the traits are not needed, however, if they are not conditioned that way they will continue to act out.

The signs of problems can be many and varied.  Four categories are typically identified and they are:
1. The anti-social child may initially present as charming and compliant but after the shock of transition wears off, will become passive-aggressive, manipulative, resentful and untrusting.  They may demonstrate:

  • Sadistic behavior and violence
  • Compulsive lying and stealing
  • Sexually obsessive
  • Seemingly lack empathy or conscience
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Defiance
  • Controlling behavior

2. An overanxious and insecure child may demonstrate panic when separated from caregivers. They many develop school avoidance, night terrors, thoughts of losing a parent and frequently ambivalence in the relationship with a caregiver.  They may demonstrate:

  • School anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Fear of being alone
  • Depression over separation from a parent
  • Nightmares with the theme of loss
  • Intense love/hate relationships with caregivers

3. The asocial and withdrawn child may become cool and indifferent.  They may demonstrate a remarkable lack anxiety about being isolated from others.  They will likely develop a thick emotional barrier to protect themselves.  They may appear emotionally blunted, socially inept, and have a deep distrust of others.  They may demonstrate:

  • Defects in their capacity to develop relationships
  • Lack of strong social desire
  • Lack of concern over isolation
  • Few observed needs for affection and emotional attachments
  • Obliviousness of others
  • Lack of self awareness

4. The inadequate or dependent child clings to caregivers and exhausts the foster parent with needs.  They can cling to anyone instantly but will usually be superficially attached.  They require guidance and constant attention.  They can be submissive and unwilling to show signs of rebellion or a difference of opinion.  They will demonstrate very little confidence.  They may demonstrate:

  • Insatiable neediness
  • Flatness of emotions
  • Unwillingness to negotiate the environment
  • Submissiveness
  • Low self esteem and confidence
  • A sense of apathy

There are still other children who demonstrate a combination of factors, and, as such, their behaviors may be hard to predict. Children may demonstrate differing degrees of reactions, with some strong in their reactions and others milder. It is likely that most children who are placed in care will demonstrate some reaction to the transition to care and carry over their legacy of responses from the home of origin. 

Infants and toddlers very quickly come to view the caregiver providing for their daily emotional and physical needs as their primary attachment figure and subsequently a return to their parents or placement in an adoptive home constitutes an attachment disruptions.  Disruptions in attachment relationships has been associated with and increase in mental health issues.  Repeated disruptions can lead to Reactive Attachment Disorder of Infant or Early Childhood.  This disorder can result in severe disturbances in relationships with caregivers.  

The quality of care children receive in foster care is a huge factor in the type of relationship they develop with their foster parent and their basic psychological adjustment.  Care that provides for physical need but is relatively insensitive or unresponsive to attachment signal and emotional need can lead to an insecure caregiver attachment.  There are many factors associated with the quality of the child's attachment with the caregiver including the foster mother's attachment style, the foster mother's responsiveness to the child's needs, the commitment to the child and the foster mother's delight in the child.  

The combination of Sean and Agnes appears to have been the same effect as throwing gasoline on a fire.  Agnes was largely absent when Sean was young.  She provided for his physical needs but her upbringing, Victorian, combined with the likeliness of him having an attachment disorder doomed them from the beginning.  She was never going to be what he needed and he was never going to be what she required.  

Conclusion

The fact that Sean was able to walk away without ever looking back is indicative of a detachment most people don't understand. He was tremendously damaged and I don't think he ever became that emotionally attached to Agnes.  It appears that he had only one close friend and that he was not well liked by most.  Sean apparently had great emotional problems.   As a child he sent pleading letters to Agnes begging her to come home.  As a teenager he couldn't get away from her fast enough.  He turned his back on her and she on him.  Not even the knowledge that she was dying prompted her to reach out.  I think she knew, she understood that he was not emotionally attached to her and it broke her heart.   She was a kind woman but I think child rearing was so far out of her depth that the damage done to both of them was something that could never be recovered from by either of them..  




Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fostering Affection For Sean

The boy we have all come to know as Sean Moorehead has been one of the greatest mysteries to have occurred in the life of Agnes Moorehead.  Many of us have taken a run at finding out who he was, where he came from and, most importantly, where he finally ended up.  Last night as I was backstage during our annual Christmas concert I had an epiphany of sorts.  It happened, oddly enough, during the performance of the song "What Child Is This."  My epiphany was this:
We have all operated under the illusion that "foster care" was the relationship that "Sean" had with Agnes, but what if it wasn't?  I put it to you that Agnes was not "Sean's" foster mother but his legal guardian.

To understand the difference between the two I launched myself into the history of "Foster Care" and "Legal Guardianship."  I had no idea that what I would find would completely alter the way I viewed this chapter of not only "Sean's" life but Agnes' as well.

In the beginning of the movement toward placing children with families unrelated to them who would not be adopting them the aim was to remove children from institutions.  The institutions were not conducive to establishing any kind of mental health for a child.  We've seen it today in children adopted from eastern European countries who have attachment disorders as a result of being institutionalized.  Foster care was an excellent option for these children but  it was considered temporary because ties were maintained with the birth parents of the child.  This meant that in theory the placement was temporary but in actuality it could be lengthy depending on the circumstances. By 1950 the statistic show that children in family foster care outnumbered those in institutions for the first time.  Adoption meant wholesale family substitution.  Foster care did not attempt that at all.
What does this have to do with Agnes and Sean?  Simple.  Foster parents were not autonomous.  They were expected to provide safe haven and love for the child at risk, but they were also responsible for keeping that child in contact with relatives and agency workers.  This is something that appears to never have happened with Sean, at all.  I, for one, cannot see Agnes submitting herself to the scrutiny of any kind of social worker.  Given the time Sean came into her life that scrutiny would have resulted in him being removed because of the instability in the home. We know that Sean and his twin sister had allegedly been in "two or three foster homes."  If they had already been in two or three foster homes scrutiny was happening.  So, Jack was allegedly an alcoholic and abusive, Agnes was having an affair with Robert Gist and by the time Sean was living with her so was Robert, yet Robert and Agnes were unmarried.  All of this would have been completely clear to a social worker.   A social worker would not be amused and Sean would have been removed.  We know he wasn't.  That is a fact.

The key word that struck me was autonomy.  A foster parent has to have permission to obtain health care, education, etc... but Agnes appears to have had total autonomy with Sean.  She routinely talked about health care needs, dentist appointments and his education.  Sean was sent to boarding schools in Switzerland and Wales.  None of this could have occurred if Agnes was merely a "foster mother."  I began exploring other alternatives because we know Sean was was never legally adopted by Agnes and I came across something that had never once crossed my mind, legal guardianship.
We know or have been told via Charles Tranberg's book that Agnes said the first thing she did once she got legal custody of Sean was to take him to a pediatrician.  It is not necessary for a legal guardian to have custody of a child but it does occur.  Guardianship suggests a higher degree of both leeway and obligation regarding major or significant decisions about the care of a child.  When a child is adopted the birth parent's legal rights to the child are dissolved and the child becomes a member of the adopting family.  That means that this child has the same rights to support and of inheritance as a birth child.  When guardianship is granted the birth parents rights are merely held in abeyance.  The guardian has no obligation to support the child, although we know Agnes did support Sean, and the child enjoys no inheritance rights to the estate of the guardian.  Because the birth parent's rights are not severed, the child's formal and legalities to the family origin remain intact.  It also means that, like foster care, once the child comes of legal age they guardian is no longer responsible for them.  Guardianship has been a means of not taking the final step of adopting for years and is often used as means of having a child without having the permanent tie of adoption.   The one thing it does require is a court issuing the order of legal guardianship to the legal guardian.  For this one needs a lawyer.   Perhaps that lawyer was Franklin Rohner?  He did work exclusively for the entertainment industry.  Agnes once used the excuse that she couldn't adopt Sean because she was a single woman.  Well, Joan Crawford was a single woman who successfully adopted children and I'm sure not the only one.  Point is she could have adopted Sean at any point but chose not to and I think in the end actually having legal responsibility for another human being is daunting.

That Agnes had no legal responsibility for Sean comes to us from her own hand; "After graduation , Sean left home. “Sean is nowhere to be found,” Agnes wrote to Georgia Johnstone. “The police have a warrant out for his arrest as he evidently was cited for a traffic violation and didn’t show up. As far as I know, he hadn’t a license to drive. It’s quite a heartbreak — he is absolutely out of his mind — but I’ve done all I can. I’m only grateful I didn’t adopt him. My lawyers say I am not liable for anything he might do. It’s tragic — life deals some difficult blows. It’s depressing, Georgia.” This comes from Charles Tranberg's book.

The other thing that struck me is that foster children are not placed out of state.  I think perhaps initially Sean was a foster child and that Agnes very quickly got legal custody of him.  Again, all of this would have to have happened in the state of California.  That means Sean was born in California and most likely in Los Angeles.  There are some things about Sean we have to accept as truth, or as near to truth as can be.  He was sickly.  He had a twin sister.  He had been in foster care before.  He graduated from Le Lycee Francais in 1967.  He was from California and his birthday is allegedly January 6, 1949.  He didn't like being called Sean and wanted to be called Eric but we don't know if either were his legal names.  He disappeared.  Perhaps this is where we begin to find out who Sean was and foster an affection for the child who became the enigma.



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Monday, November 25, 2013

Unretouched picture

Kate,
Since you asked here it is.  Somewhere I have a much better quality scan but this will give you an idea of what I was talking about.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Louisiana Connection, Velma and Moses In the Bullrushes

I remember someone saying a long while ago that the character of Velma from "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" reminded them a great deal of Cousin Daphne the original story teller of the piece "Moses In The Bull Rushes" which Agnes used in her one woman show.  Now everybody knows what a consummate actress Agnes was but I've often wondered when in the world did she every find time to hang around Louisiana and pick up that slow Louisiana drawl.  After all Agnes was a Yankee born and bred, wasn't she?  The answer to that is yes she was but her family tree meanders this country like a gigantic kudzu vine.

Agnes, it turns out, had family in Louisiana.  Real live plantation living family whose names where, Vachel Michael Stevens, Louise Premise Verret and Godfroid Verret.  These folks were planters and lived on enormous plantations prior to the civil war.  They bought and sold enormous numbers of slaves.  They were very, very wealthy people.  Keep in mind that these folks lived before Agnes was born but she may have been aware of the existence of the heirs and she may have had contact with them.  By 1870 their wealth and their vast plantations were gone.  Many moved to New Iberia where they became common farmers.  To date I haven't proved that "cousin Daphne" was a real person but in spirit she is just as the character of Velma Carruthers is.  Somewhere out there in Louisiana are folk related to Agnes Moorehead and I'll bet they don't even know it.