Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fashions For Festivities, Milwaukee Journal, December 20,1936 by Isabella Taves

I was lucky enough to capture Agnes Moorehead ( she is Phil Baker's madcap stooge on his program Sunday nights over CBS) for lunch and we got to talking at length about this very thing.

"I am naturally pretty much of a conservative when it comes to clothes." Agnes told me. "I am the tall and stately type and heaven help me if I try to look cute. But at Christmas I like a red dress. I have to be very careful about the shade of red, because my hair is such a funny color."

Her "funny color" hair is actually a beautiful rich auburn, almost mahogany, with shades of bronze in it.  I can see why Agnes has to watch her step with red.  I made noises to that affect.  Agnes smiled.
"I have had yearning eyes on a red fox cape for months," she said, "but my husband tries to keep me from it by warning me that I can't wear that particular shade of red. I can though.  I can wear anything that is in the orange tones and lavender and warm shades of brown.  I especially adore chartreuse and it's nice with my hair, but my husband definitely doesn't like it so I pass that up."

I made a particular mental note that the radio stars aren't much different from other folks; husbands have a lot to say about what they will wear.  I have been just a shade out of the fashion picture for years because my husband won't take me out if I am wearing anything in my hair, even a diamond tiara, if I had a diamond tiara.  I was prepared to go into this a great length over the onion soup but Agnes was rambling on.

"I don't dress up for broadcasts," she said "unless there's a special benefit after the program or some special high jinx that the cast is putting on. Then I like to be very formal. I have a lavender raffia lace with purple velvet straps over the shoulders which I especially adore- it is dignified yet dramatic.  And I love rich furs-ermine and silver fox."

Agnes does not change her hair for evening except sometimes to do it in a coronet braid.  She can make this braid of her own hair because it is very long and very heavy.  She has one interesting pet idea- she makes her own foundation cream for evening.

It is a special formula with bay rum in it, and witch hazel, a little glycerin and a drop or two of iodine and Mercurochrome.  The result, when applied, is a warm glow, a little like suntan make up.  But don't try to make it yourself it has taken her years of experimenting to work out the formula, and she only recommends it for girls who the same type of skin and coloring as hers.

Tangled Up With Paul

I know that when folks back in the day fluffed out their backgrounds to eliminate situations that were traumatic for them or situations that were not for public consumption they definitely didn't take into consideration that we would live in an age of information sharing.  If they had they might have been less likely to invent past experiences that would be easily disproved.  If you sit down, at any time, and look into the background of just about any of Hollywood's elite from its Golden Age you will find that many of them simply invented a past that worked for them.  Producer Paul Gregory was no exception to that.  

We all know who Paul Gregory is.  The man behind "Don Juan In Hell" and "The First Drama Quartet" he brought to the stage 4 talented performers and changed the face of theatre forever.  Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke, Charles Boyer and the inestimable Agnes Moorehead wound their way across America and England performing "Don Juan" to rave reviews and standing ovations.  Paul Gregory, the plain spoken producer  of "Don Juan" revolutionized the way theatre was performed.  He and Charles Laughton together changed the way theatre would be viewed forever.

 While Paul may indeed be a plain spoken man now he hasn't always been. Paul Gregory is an invention of one James Burton Lenhart of Des Moines, Iowa.  Below is an excerpt from and interview with Paul done in 2012 and published in "The Desert News":

Gregory, a successful theater producer, was sent an adapted screenplay of Davis Grubb's novel about a conning, Bible-pumping sexual predator. The character reminded Gregory of his father, who deserted his family in Des Moines, Iowa, and ran off with his wife's $240,0000 Indian allotment, forcing Gregory to live with his aunt and uncle in England through his teens.

Gregory gained a cultural education in England that proved propitious upon his return to America. He recognized Ruth St. Denis while working in a Hollywood drug store, which led to him promoting a show by the modern dance progenitor. More promoting opportunities arose, and Gregory was soon hired by MCA to book “class acts.”


There is no evidence to indicate that  Paul Gregory, aka James Burton Lenhart, ever went to England to reside with an aunt and uncle there through his teens.  He was residing in Des Moines, Iowa in 1940 with his mother and sisters.  He attended Lincoln High School and is clearly pictured in 1937 in two pictures of the high school drama group.  He went by Burton Lenhart and his father went by James.  Furthermore, in the 1934 edition of the yearbook he is listed as being in the band and one will find him clearly listed as beneficiary of a senior will in Lincoln High School yearbook of 1938.  He was willed musical talent by one Laura Fontanini.  Clearly his claim of having lived throughout his teen years with an aunt and uncle is untrue.  He lived an average life in Des Moines.  His parents were divorced before 1940 but his father never ran off with $240,000.00 that had come from his mother's Indian Allotment.  His father remained in Des Moines and remarried.  His second wife was Alma Phelps. James Lenhart was a clerk in a grocery store in 1940, he was listed as a manager in a grocery store in 1930, and had an estimated annual income of $1200.00 and his second wife Alma worked in a hosiery mill adding $700.00 per year to their household income.  James Lenhart died in Iowa in 1982. Paul's mother Esther May Taylor Lenhart was living in Des Moines in 1940 and working as a seamstress.  Her annual income was $900.00 and her eldest daughter Lenore was a clerical worker for the phone company adding her $100.00 per year to their income.  Obviously Paul's father was much better off but he wasn't rich by any stretch of the imagination.  James maintained ownership of 607 Creston Ave, the family home in 1930, and Esther May Taylor Lenhart moved to 7th Street out of the family home. Paul had 3 siblings, Lenore, Virginia and Edwin.  Of these the only one I have been able to trace is Edwin Lenhart who died in 2007 in Alaska.

Paul's life may have been traumatic.  I cannot say for sure why his parents divorced or if his father ever gave any financial assistance to his former wife and children.  It's likely, at least from Paul's apparent disdain for his father, that no money was ever given to the family and that the children were supported by their mother.  It is also likely that this created stress for Paul and his siblings.  Edwin joined the military around 1943.  I can't find either of Paul's sisters beyond 1940 nor can I locate their mother.  Edwin spent time in California in 1955 because there is a marriage record there date June 5, 1955 in Los Angeles where he married Mollie McCart.  By 1981 Edwin was living in Alaska.  I can say that Paul's mother was not native American.  She was born in Iowa to John R. Taylor of Ohio and Margaret C. Lash of Illinois.

The American theatre owes a great deal to Paul Gregory.  He most assuredly is one of kind.  The enduring nature of his creations speaks volumes about his talent and foresight.  His truly humble beginnings speak volumes about his drive and desire.  We salute you sir for all you've given us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Veil Of Mystery Revisted

In November of 2013 I was so proud of myself for having "figured out" the truth of Agnes' maternal grandfather.  Well, you know what they say, "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched!"  Now I get to correct my mistake.  So, take the post, "The Veil Of Mystery Revisited" and chuck it right out the window.  This time I'm double positive, mostly because I quadruple checked this stuff, in hope that I don't have to eat my words again.

I had made this statement in a bit of my blog written a couple of years before "The Veil Of Mystery Revisited" about the alleged death of Agnes' maternal grandfather:
 6. Death of Teddy McCauley
Agnes was no doubt close to her maternal grandfather.  But the idea that she was small child when he died is truly misinformation.  Teddy McCauley along with his wife Margaret moved to Canton Ohio to be close to Molly and her girls.  Teddy died after 1913.  This makes Agnes a teenager when she discovered her grandfather had died in his sleep.  I'm positive that it scarred her for life but she wasn't a small child as some biographers hint.
"Agnes was also close to her maternal grandfather.  He was a religious man and used to speak to Agnes about God and the gospel.  One Sunday afternoon it appeared he was asleep in the big comfortable easy chair he often sat in when telling Agnes stories from the bible.  Agnes went up, as she sometimes did when he fell asleep in his chair, and tapped him on the shoulder.  However, this time he didn't wake up. Agnes would recall that she cried for days."

It is a fine piece of fiction and really not much more.  A huge piece of fiction.  In fact, the only truth to any of it is that Agnes' maternal grandfather died.  The story of her grandfather's death is untrue and often repeated in various ways by various writers.  I am absolutely sure Agnes did cry for days when her maternal grandfather died, though, as he died in a very tragic accident.

Who Was He
Agnes' grandfather was born Terrence McCauley  on May 26, 1865.  He was the son of Thomas and Anne Phillips McCauley and first entered this world in Manchester, England.  His parents were weavers in that city but originally were born in Ireland in 1833.  Terrence was given the nickname "Teddy." It is more than likely his middle name was Edward. He may have gone by that name in Ohio and definitely went by that name in Pennsylvania.  He had two living siblings, Mary Jane and Katherine or Kitty.  He emigrated with his sisters to America around 1874.  He eventually married Margaret Doyle and subsequently settled in Pennsylvania.  Teddy/Terrence/Edward earned his living working as a roller and a heater in sheet mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  

The First Odd Bit
The first odd bit is found on the 1900 census.  Edward/Teddy/Terrence McCauley is listed as a roomer in a home in Pittsburgh. He is a roller in the sheet mill.  What I find odd is that I can find no record of his wife or children in Pennsylvania.  What makes this even stranger is that another roomer in the house is William E Spang.  William Spang eventually married the McCauley's eldest daughter Cecelia Agnes McCauley.  I find it strange that he isn't living with his family and they don't appear to be in the state.  I've searched everywhere and read through so many pages it felt like my eyes were going to bleed.  They just aren't there.  How do you marry someone you can't date or do you really marry them at all?  I'm referencing William Spang because if information is to be believed his son Doyle Spang, who changed his last name to Scott apparently when his mother remarried but I can't find the second husband and this is giving me a head, was born June 15, 1899.  That is 10 days short of being a full year before the 1900 census which identifies William E. Spang as single, not divorced, single.  In fact I can find no record of a marriage between Cecelia McCauley and William E Spang.  She ends up in Massachusetts where her son attends school as Doyle Henry Scott and she is identified as Cecelia Agnes Scott.  I know this from Doyle's registration for the draft in WWI in 1918.  He lists his mother as C. Agnes Scott and Agnes Scott, widow, reported Margaret McCauley's death in 1953.  So no family and an unmarried son in law in 1900...hmmm odd, very odd.

The Second Odd Bit
I can actually on account for  Edward/Terrence/Teddy residing in the same house as his wife in Canton in 1910 and 1913.  It's anybodies guess where they lived before or after.  I'm still trying to locate them on the 1920 census, unsuccessfully. I did find Cecelia Agnes Scott in Canton in 1920.  She is living with her son.  His age is listed as twenty and hers as 37.  This is actually closer to the truth than I expected.  It would mean that Cecelia was about 16 or 17 when Doyle was born.  A 1906 article detailing a visit that Cecelia paid Molly refers to her as Mrs. William Spang and makes no reference to a son but lists her home as being in Scottdale, Pennsylvania..  Meanwhile, I have no idea who is living where with whom except for John Moorehead, Molly and their children.  The rest is just, well, a mystery...or something.

The Third Odd Bit
Now we return to the creative bit of fiction involving the death of Edward McCauley.  For years it's been reported that Edward died in his sleep on a Sunday and that Agnes thought he was sleeping.  She tried to wake him and found that he was dead.  It is also widely accepted that Agnes was a child when this happened.  Like I said before the truth in any of this lies in two things:
1. Terrence/Teddy/Edward McCauley died.
2. It was highly distressing for Agnes.
The rest is a fantasy.   Terrence McCauley died July 30, 1927.  He died of a fractured skull.  He died at 12:20Pm on a Saturday at work after being struck in the head by a crane at Trumbull Steel in Ohio.  He was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Warren Ohio.  He was neither asleep nor reading the bible and Agnes was not at the steel mill.  I honestly don't know who came up with the story of his death.  It was quite likely Agnes and if I'm not mistaken there is an article in a magazine somewhere that talks about Agnes hearing the voice of her dead grandfather.  She attended a party when she first went to AADA because she was lonely.  This party was typical, or so it is told, of most of the "wild" parties of the 1920's.  People making out, drinking, smoking and immorality of every kind all around her.  She hears her grandfather's voice tell her she's better than this, that she should get up and leave.  It does fit the timeline of her grandfather's passing as Agnes was enrolled at AADA.  It also fits her flair for the dramatic yarn that came to represent most of her life.  


The Fourth Odd Bit 
On to the fourth odd bit.  You'll notice above I mentioned Trumbull Steel?  It was steel company in Warren Ohio and Warren is, by today's method of transport, an hour and ten minutes from Canton.  At the time of his death Edward/Terrence/Teddy was not living in the same home as his wife.  His residence is listed as 305 Buckeye and the death certificate says he had been a resident there for 12 years.  It would mean that he had lived there since 1915.  Margaret is clearly identified as his wife but her address is given as 1156 Walnut, Canton, Ohio.  So, out of their 45 year marriage I can identify these two people living in the same place for about 3 years.  Divorce was not the kind of thing done before 1900 but post 1900 it happened all the time.  Perhaps since Margaret's parents were both Catholic divorce was out of the question or maybe they didn't want to be divorced.  It is something we can only guess about.

Conclusion
One thing is certain Agnes' family was 50 percent "normal" and 50 percent "unusual."  John Mooehead's family was a bastion of stability compared to Molly's.  The only blemish, if you will, in John's family was Aunt Cam's divorce and that happened post 1920 but before 1930.  It almost appears to me that both Molly and her sister did their best to get out from under their, I am going to say parents but actually I mean mother, parents thumbs by marrying or, in the case of Cecelia potentially having a child out of wedlock, quite young. It also appears as though Molly's father did his best to stay out of the house as much as possible by living separately from his wife at least.  I say at least because it's obvious that Cecelia met William Spang at some point.  I get the sense that Molly's life prior to marrying John was a roller coaster driven by a very domineering mother and that Molly herself was capable of dominating her children.  Molly was a sweet woman but more than one person describes her as driven and opinionated.  It is ironic that these two qualities would be the ones that would lift her eldest daughter up and put her in a very public spotlight.  It is these qualities that made Agnes who she was and led to her being one of the most recognizable faces of the golden ages of radio, Hollywood and television.  Without that 50 percent "unusual" Agnes may well have remained a school teacher.  Instead she embraced it and used it.  We should all be very grateful for that.





Saturday, July 12, 2014

It Runs In The Family

It has been well documented and accepted that suicide runs in families.  In recent years it has led to the identification of a gene that may be responsible for suicidal behavior.  In my genealogical research one thing that I do for verification of information is obtain documentation, as often as possible, through death certificates.  It was on one of those very same death certificates that I became aware of the suicide of Agnes' sister Margaret.  It was a shock to me since I was unaware, up to that point, of anyone closely or distantly related who had committed suicide.  I have been continuing my work on family history and today I discovered another family suicide.

One the 27th day of June 1911 Lucy Cole Logan, daughter of David Coles and Mary Jane McCauley, wife of Charles Logan,took her own life by consuming carbolic acid.  Lucy was a resident of Pittsburgh, Ohio.  She was a first cousin to Molly McCauley Moorehead.

Background
Lucy Cole was born in Leechburg, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1876.  Her mother, Mary Jane McCauley was the elder sister of Agnes' grandfather Edward McCauley.  Mary Jane and her siblings came to the United States around 1875 to 1879.  Their parents Thomas and Anne, both weavers, appear to have died in Lancashire leaving them on their own.  Both Thomas and Anne were born in Ireland but their 3 children were born in England.

Mary Jane married David Cole or Coles, it's spelled both ways, their oldest child was born in 1875 and was born in Pennsylvania.  I have no way of knowing whether they married in England or Pennsylvania.  I'm still going through records to find out.  The children I have documented are:
Mary A Cole: 1875
Lucy: 1876
Willie: 1878
John: 1880

For the most part this family stayed in Pennsylvania with the exception of John.  John travelled to Ohio and his first child was actually born in Zanesville in 1905.  Her name was Lillian Estelle Cole.


This is Lillian in the 1920's.  It's actually startling how much Lillian and Peggy resemble each other.

Finally, Lillian became a life long teacher so that runs in the family as well.  She never married and died in Pennsylvania in 1988.
Lillian in the 1940's.  The smile of Lillian and Peggy is nearly identical.

John's second child, Olive Emily, was born in Newcomerstown, Ohio.  As a young child her photographs bear a striking resemblance to Agnes.

The upper photograph is Agnes and the lower Olive and they are about the same age in each picture.

John only had two children and they lived in Ohio until the 1930's or 1940's when they returned to Allegheny Pennsylvania.  My point is that these people likely knew Agnes, Peggy and their parents well.   It appears that at various periods the Moorehead family and parts of the McCauley family lived in very close quarter indeed.  Lucy Cole may have actually known Agnes and Peggy.  Peggy may have been aware that she had a cousin who committed suicide and how she did it.  Certainly it would have been communicated to the family that Mary Jane McCauley's daughter killed herself.  Edward McCauley would have been notified that his niece killed herself, without doubt.

The Genetics And The Theories
In March of 2011 the results of a study by Johns Hopkins gave evidence that genetic risk factors may influence the decision to attempt suicide. They identified a small region on chromosome 2 that is associated with increased risk of suicide attempt.  This small region contains four genes, including the ACP1 gene and the researchers found more than normal levels of the ACP1 protein in the brains of people who had committed suicide.  Genetics is not destiny but it certainly can set the stage for disaster.

Dr. Thomas Joiner has written at length about the "Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior." The interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior proposes that a person will not die by suicide unless they have both the desire to die by suicide and the ability to do so.  The answer to the first question of who desires suicide is complex.  The theory asserts that when people hold two specific psychological states in their minds simultaneously and when they do so long enough the develop the desire for death.  The two states are perceiving themselves as a burden and social alienation/low self esteem. The answer to the second question is a development of a fearlessness of pain injury and death. It becomes something they experience vicariously, in some cases by becoming a health care professional, like a nurse.  Peggy was a nurse.  Coincidence, I think not.

Long story short, both genetics and psychology contribute to a person successfully committing suicide.  Peggy had both the genes and the psychology to be successful at it.

Conclusion
Peggy Moorehead had an unfortunate combination of circumstance and genetic predispostion that may have lead to her suicide but Agnes had the same genes and equally as devastating circumstances yet never attempted suicide.  Peggy was emotionally out of control and Agnes was in control of her emotions.  Agnes lived a very high stress lifestyle but never let it get the better of her and not even the death of her sister pushed her far enough of the edge for her to jump.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sean Ability or Who Is This Ernie Winkle Guy Anyway?

The Evidence
St Petersburg Times
May 5, 1977
New Abilities
In the idea stage: An Agnes Moorehead Memorial Physical Rehabilitation Center, honoring the late actress, to be run by and located adjacent to, Abilities Inc., on the property originally given by the late Ed Wright.
Ernie Winkle, Agnes Moorehead's son now living in Tampa, is enthused with the plans which will be announced May 17 before the Annual Banquet of Abilities Inc.  Director Hal Nunn will be announcing the committee to administer, plan and raise funds for the Agnes Moorehead facility.  Winkle suggests a celeb event and he offers to bring in name people for that proposed occasion.

My God What Deep Pile This Is
Of course, I started where any logical individual in this age of information would begin, Google.  My problem was the only Ernie/Ernest Winkle who turned up was way too old to be masquerading as Agnes' son as he was born in 1919.  Then I stumbled upon documentation that essentially would have put the screws to Ernie Winkle raising money for anything, he was convicted of major medical fraud in 1976.  I very nearly had a nervous breakdown on the spot.  I mean seriously who would make up a name like that anyway.  Undaunted, I soldiered on through the life of Ernie the elder.  

Ernest Albert Winkle was born in 1919 in England.  He emigrated to New York with his family and in 1940 he was still living in the home of his parents Ernest George Winkle and Elsie May Kentish Winkle.  In 1942 he was still single per his enlistment documentation.  Somewhere between 1942 and 1950 Ernie married.  It was a quick marriage to a young woman named Elizabeth.  It ended in divorce in Florida in 1950.  Elizabeth Winkle disappears and I can find no record of her remarriage.  What makes this all so totally plausible is the fact that Ernest Albert Winkle was Roman Catholic.  He believed in divorce but would never have suffered a child or children to be born out of wedlock.  It would make complete sense to name a son after his father and even more so when the name Ernest was also his grandfather's name.  These folk were Irish by way of England.  The progenitor of the family came from County Cork Ireland.  The other unusual thing is that Ernest Winkle the elder had two children during his second marriage to on Loretta T. Winkle and they were fraternal twins a girl, also named Loretta and a son named Paul.  Twins run in families and allegedly Sean Eric Ernie Moorehead Winkle was a fraternal twin having had a sister supposedly adopted by a prominent Hollywood family.

I therefore propose that the person who was mentioned as "Ernie Winkle" in the article above is, in fact, the foster son of our girl Agnes.  The Winkle's were and are a prominent New York family.  It was probably wrangled by lawyers who determined the best way to handle a potentially unwanted child without blow back was to foster that child out to someone who would be able to provide all of the same benefits that the child might have enjoyed had they stayed with their family.  If you deposited the child in an orphanage the potential for scandal would be enormous if the child became aware of who their parents were.

The Tear Jerking Back Story
The back story created for Sean was heart wrenching.  Poor, malnourished, ill and left in a hospital with his sickly twin sister.  His parents had 14 children and had to put six up for adoption because they couldn't care form them.  It's enough to make even the coldest person feel some warmth for the lad.  It was plagued by one question for many years, why leave the little girl alone in the hospital?  Why not take both children?  Agnes never really had an answer for it.  When faced with it she would usually change the subject.  It wasn't because she didn't want more than one child as she and Jack had talked about adopting four.  Robert and she had talked about adopting six, supposedly.  Most likely, the reason she didn't take the sister is because either the sister never existed or she was given to another prominent family before Agnes was given Sean/Ernie.  Supposedly Sean was born January 6, 1949, oddly enough the real twins were born near that date many years later.  Sean was ill with a spot on his lung.  He was cross eyed and had dental issues. He was a lost waif that needed a home.

Finale, Not So Much
Okay, the story is plausible.  I think it creates as many if not more questions than it solves.  I've always wondered how Sean got to Switzerland to even live with Paulette Goddard, if he was Ernie Winkle that wouldn't be an issue.  Daddy had cash and a son he likely wanted nothing to do with.  I think Sean left home at 18 not simply because he couldn't handle Agnes or her strictness but because the agreement that kept him there was only binding until he turned 18.  I also think that is why Agnes didn't freak out over him being potentially homeless.  She knew he had access to money and a place to live.  I also think it's why Agnes was so adamant about Debbie Reynolds not trying to find Sean when Agnes was ill.  Her part of the agreement was to keep the Winkle family out of anything that might be considered contentious.  I also think that everybody but Agnes was completely clueless as to who this young man really was.  If anybody had known for sure who Sean was it would be public knowledge by now.  The only person who ever mentioned that he was Agnes' son publicly, very publicly was Ernie Winkle of Tampa Florida.  Not only does he mention it but he is pushing for a Rehab Center to be named for her.  Does that sound like someone who hated her?  Not to me it doesn't.  For better or worse the lid is a wee bit further off of Sean's Pandora's Box.  As I said before, the truth is out there, somewhere.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sean Today and Gone Tomorrow.........

December 24, 1951 Toledo Blade
Agnes Moorehead has adopted a two year old boy in the east and named him Sean. Aggie, who's had fabulous success in "Don Juan In Hell", says, "Sean is the greatest Christmas gift I could possibly be blessed with."

Close your mouth.  I sat there is stunned amazement while I was reading this too and yes, it does say that  Sean came from the east.  Everybody, including myself, has been looking for him in California.  I had, at one point mused that perhaps he was from Wisconsin or Ohio but I had never firmly decided he was from the east.  Agnes did spend a great deal of time in New York and if she adopted/fostered Sean while on tour, given the time line that would almost certainly be the case, he could have been from practically anywhere.  Just when you think you know where to look somebody else points in the opposite direction.  I feel like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" must have felt when the Scarecrow was trying to tell her which direction to go.  Honestly I think I may just go have a glass of wine and sob softly for a little while.