Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mr. Agnes Moorehead

Jack Lee became Mr. Agnes Moorehead  on June 5th, 1930.  It is rumored that he was late for the wedding because of a matinee performance.  If that was the case it was likely a radio matinee or an off Broadway production.  There is no record of Jack performing anywhere on Broadway at that time.  It was Agnes who stated they had chosen the "Little Church Round the Corner" because of its proximity to the Great White Way and intimated that Jack had been performing there.  The documentation just doesn't support that.  His Broadway performance in "Subway Express" had ended in May of 1930.  It is likely the wedding was a late afternoon early or early evening affair.  In any case June 5th was a Thursday that year.  Jack was fresh from the success of having played a corpse in "Subway Express" and he believed, I'm sure, that this was just the beginning of a promising career.  And based on the only "review" I could find mentioning Jack Lee in this production he had a small reason to believe that this would be the case:

Havre Daily News
Havre Montana
October 5th, 1929
About New York
By Richard Massack

The acting plums this season go to the assorted victims of numerous stage assassins.  The crime wave in theatre means shorter work hours for several players, and, in one instance, applause for the corpse...Others get similar breaks in several current dramas.  But the loud outburst of appreciation at the end of "Subway Express," is a phenomenon no other actor but one Jack Lee experiences.

Stiff Job
It is seldom the victim of theatrical villainy gets a hand after his demise.  In "Subway Express," however, Jack Lee is electrocuted at the outset then must stay in his seat thru three acts of rigor mortise.  When finally he is lifted out of his seat the audience applauds although the corpse can hardly be expected to bow.

As I pointed out earlier after this his career seems to have slid downhill into a series of inconsequential roles in  various things.  When Agnes divorced Jack she stated that Jack had been drinking heavily for at least 15 years.  If you do the math then he started hitting the bottle in about 1935.  If you do the research you see very quickly that by 1935 Agnes was an established name in radio and Jack was an established name as Mr. Agnes Moorehead.  I'm not saying he didn't work because he did but he was reduced to performing at baseball games:

June 24th, 1935
The Helena Independent
Performing at the game tonight Jack Lee-well known entertainer.

I had been told be another researcher that Jack was "on tour" in 1935.  Well it is possible that the above mentioned performance was one he booked outside of his tour for a little extra pocket money but probably not all that likely.  Helena Montana was a small, small town in 1935 and it is unlikely that it was on the books for any kind of road show whether it be theater or radio.  It has been said that Jack did work at a candy store in New York as a salesman.  I can only assume that to be true because I cannot prove it with any documentation.  What is apparent is that the money in the household was earned by Jack's wife Agnes Moorehead and that Jack was mostly what we would call a house husband.  For a man in the early half of the 20th century this was the most emasculating fate that could be met.  It seems to me to be of little wonder that he turned to alcohol to soothe his wounded ego.

That it was hard for Jack to live in the shadow of his wife goes without saying especially given the fact that his own father was able to earn some sort of a living as an actor even if he wasn't famous.  I found evidence that Jack himself performed publicly as early as 1920:

Indianapolis Star
November 14, 1920
Robert Sherman presents "Pinched"
Play let by Whitney Collins
Jack Lee as "The Salesman"

Ironically enough in 1925:
The Times Recorder
Zanesville Ohio
February 18, 1925  
At The Weller Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Other Entertaining Features Will Be
Wheeler and Potter in a Comedy Skit.
Smithie Frish.  Rector and Toolin.
Laughter and Song. 
Love and Wilbur-Daring Aerialists.
Jack Lee-Somewhat Different Entertainment.
Howe Hodge Podge and Christie Comedy.

and again in 1928:
The Kingsport Times
Kingsport Tennessee
Good Will Show At Manville High
Mr. Jack Lee of New York City entertained the audience with the mechanical figures of "Punch and Judy."  Judging from the laughter during this set, it was the most popular number of the program.

Jack, it seems, was more of a vaudeville performer than serious actor.  He did nickle and dime shows.  In tiny little towns and most assuredly worked hard going from gig to gig.  His only rave review was for playing a corpse that sat completely still for three acts.  His career was hardly the stuff that dreams are founded on.  He was doomed from the get go because he was marrying a dynamic woman whose talent was limitless and whose work ethic was flawless.  She knew how to work a room and play an audience whatever the situation might be.  Agnes was destined to be limited only by the fact that she could only be so many places at one time.  Jack was destined to be limited by his own limited ability.

Moorehead snapped in a huge way.  After their reconciliation it appears that Jack was motivated to work:

1947  The Web as Maintenance Man  Uncredited
          Unconquered as Major Trent Uncredited
1948  Berlin Express as Captain  Uncredited
          River Lady as Man Uncredited
          Roadhouse as Sam the Bartender Uncredited

And then, again, nothing for eight years:

1956  Tension at Table Rock as Arndt Uncredited
1957  Desk Set as a Member of the Board Uncredited

The gaps in Jack's employment are a testament to his difficulties.  In 1942 Jack took a year long "leave of absence" to renovate the farm in Ohio:

February 6, 1942
The Times Recorder
Zanesville Ohio
See Muskingum Graduate on the Screen
...Her radio actor and scriptwriter husband, Jack Lee, is taking a year's leave of absence from radio and is renovating the farm. 

I have yet to find any indication that Jack ever wrote a script.  No credit was given if he did but then he seems to have done a great deal that has gone uncredited.  I just think that Jack got used to not having to try to accomplish anything and then he hated himself for it.  He chose to take it out on Agnes in drunken fits.  Agnes chose to seek affection and attention elsewhere.  Jack did the same publicly after their separation as well but just could not shake the moniker of Mr. Agnes Moorehead.   Check this out:

November 15, 1949
Walla Walla Bulletin
Walla Walla, Washington
Jo Ann Robinson, a blond cutie, is helping Jack Lee forget Agnes Moorehead.  They were watching Arthur Blake's impersonation of Agnes at the Bar of Music.

Seriously, he can't even go to a bar for a drink with a blond bombshell without being reminded that he needs to forget Agnes by watching a female impersonator do an impersonation of his wife, Agnes.  For those of you who don't know anything about Arthur Blake let me educate you.  Arthur Blake was a flamboyant actor who specialized in female impersonations of famous women and male impersonations of famous men.  He was a ruthless satirist and oddly enough a good many of the women he impersonated were rumored to have been bisexual or lesbian.  They were:
Barbara Stanwyck, Eleanor Roosevelt, Katherine Hepburn, Ethel Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead, and Agnes Moorehead.
Blake also had issues with Orson Welles and relentlessly lampooned Welles when performing.  He also took on Noel Coward, among others.  I find it ironic because Blake himself was hopelessly effeminate and frequently poked fun of.  He was known for outrageous clothing as well.

But I digress.  Poor Jack disappears from most records around 1957.  I know he remained in Los Angeles  because I obtained his social security records and he began drawing his social security in 1967 at the age of 65.  He died on October 19, 1974 within 11 days to the date of his former wife Agnes Moorehead.  I haven't found a record of his remarriage to anyone yet but somebody did collect his death benefit from social security alas they don't tell you who.  His biggest claim to fame comes from his marriage to the "Fabulous Redhead."  If you put his name into Google all put two or three of the items will have to do with Agnes.  He is forever doomed to wander the halls of entertainment history as Mr. Agnes Moorehead.

Coming next, hopefully, Sean Myth or Reality

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mysterious Mr. Lee

If you've done research on Agnes you learn very quickly that you have an outrageously hard time finding anything out about Jack Lee.  He appears in 1930 and disappears, more or less, in 1952 after their divorce.  His last known film was "The Desk Set" with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn.  His part was about 4 minutes long and he didn't utter a word.  He is one of the "Board" members who is on a tour of the newspaper.  A sad, sad end to a career that began with some promise.

In The Beginning

John Griffith Lee was born in San Francisco June 5th, 1902 to Marshall Robert Lee, an actor, and his wife Susan.  They lived at 1633 Webster in San Francisco.  Marshall is listed on an early voter registration form as a decorator and Susan as a home maker.  I have been unable to find any record of any siblings for Jack.  It seems that Jack was the namesake of his father's brother John Griffith Lee.  Jack had another impressive relative, his aunt, Harriet Lee.  Harriet is the woman responsible for the holiday called Mother's Day.  She was a school teacher and a superintendent of a school district in California.

Little is known about Jack's mother.  I have yet to determine what her last name was.  His father, however, is quite another matter.  Marshall Robert Lee proved to have had a colorful life as an actor on the stage.  In fact, on the 1930 census Marshall is living in the same hotel as Jack in New York and was apparently working somewhere on the stage.

Marshall Robert Lee acted all over the place.  He traveled to England many times and is listed on several arrival lists in Southampton England.  He traveled to Cherbourg, France.  He worked on the stage in Chicago and was performing there when he filled out his draft registration form during the first World War.  In 1908 he sailed from Victoria British Columbia to San Francisco.  I am sure that I have only scratched the surface of his travels.  In the 1916 voter registration list for San Francisco his occupation is listed as designer but every other piece of documentation represents him as an actor.

Marshall was born June 8th, 1875 in Woodland, Yolo County California.  He was the son of  Milroy Griffith Lee and Abigail Stoddard.  His siblings were:
Abner Grisham Lee
Abigail Lee
Thomas Edwin Lee
Harriet Stoddard Lee
Helen Lee
John Griffith Lee, after whom Jack was named
Martha Lee
Jane S.Lee
Mary A. Lee
Agnes L. Lee, ironic isn't it
Alice Anna Lee
Minna Bell Lee

It was a large family and in 1877 it was a large family without a father.  Milroy passed away that year leaving behind Abigail and their thirteen children.  Milroy's brother, Abner, stepped in as head of the household and
Abigail took over housekeeping for him.  Abigail would live until 1917 when she passed away at the age of 78.  The Lee family was living in Nicolaus, Sutter County, California.

Both Milroy and Abigail were born in Illinois  Milroy to George Washington Lee of Virginia and Mahala Elvira Griffith of Tennessee.  Mahala is listed as having passed away in 1852 "while crossing the plains."  George Washington Lee survived the crossing and passed away in California in December of 1870.

Abigail was born in Illinois to Thomas Aster Stoddard of Massachusetts and Mary Jane Cochrane of New York.  This family too made it's way to California where Thomas and Mary Jane died between 1869 and 1870.  These families were made up of pioneers strangely similar to those portrayed in the movie "How the West Was Won" which would feature their descendant Jack's ex wife Agnes Moorehead.

The Actors Who Never Were Or Not

It seems that Jack like his father Marshall decided to take up the profession of acting.  I haven't, to date, found one reference to either Marshall or his son Jack in any newspapers that expound upon their careers. However, if you take a look at the Internet Broadway Database you will find quite a different picture.

It seems that for a few short years Jack Lee spent a good deal of time on the stage.  Allegedly, he was late for his own wedding because of a matinee.  If he was it was a matinee off Broadway.  But he did work intermittently in the 1930's on Broadway:

Too Many Heroes [Original, Play, Drama] November 15, 1937 - November 1937
  • Performer: Jack Lee [Lassiter]
The Holmeses of Baker Street [Original, Play, Comedy] December 9, 1936 - January 1937
  • Performer: Jack Lee [Tom Braggs]
The Dubarry [Original, Musical, Operetta] November 22, 1932 - February 4, 1933
  • Performer: Jack Lee [Gentleman of the Ensemble]
Marching By [Original, Musical] March 3, 1932 - March 12, 1932
  • Performer: Jack Lee [Lieutenant Muller, Ensemble]
Subway Express [Original, Play, Drama] September 24, 1929 - May 1930
  • Performer: Jack Lee [Edward Tracy]
His longest stint appears to be eight months from September of 1929 to May of 1930.  I have been told he did radio but haven't been able to document that with any newspaper back up.  If he did radio it may have been uncredited.  I have been told that he did touring shows and again I cannot back any of that up with newspaper documentation.  If reviews and advertisement are the stuff of a successful acting career neither man can be called successful.  I can find no record of a Marshall Lee ever performing on Broadway.  I did find a Robert Lee whose career happened at about the same time but I have no way of proving that Marshall used his middle name as a professional name.  In order to have traveled as much as Marshall did one has to assume that he was able to support himself and his family but the only proof I can offer of that is the family address in 1916 when they lived at 1633 Webster in San Francisco California.  However, that same document also lists Marshall, as I mentioned before, as a decorator.  The only thing I can say with any certainty about Marshall is that he was a registered Democrat.

Coming in the next installation Mr. Agnes Moorehead

The Last Words Of A Woman On A Mission

During the tour of Gigi Agnes was interviewed in Saint Louis, what she referred to as her "hometown."  Below is a selection of that interview given on the way to complete her circle in New York where she had begun her career some 46 years earlier.  Agnes knew at this point she was terminally ill but chose to go on one last tour. It says something very important and very wise from a woman who learned the hard way what fame and fortune were all about. 

"The older I grow, the more I realize that the trivialities that used to frustrate one when you were younger...they don't mean anything.  Theatre is a thankless art.  When the curtain goes down, that is all.  It really doesn't mean anything, memories are short, and fame is extremely fleeting."

Agnes was dead a mere nine months or so later.

The Body of It All

In amongst my readings as I was tracking down information on Jack Lee I came across an article written in April of 1970.  I believe it shows the cracks in the veneer that Agnes had so diligently painted over her persona.  It is an article of contradiction.  It is an article that shows us a peak of what had been so well hidden for so long.  Agnes was, beyond all things, opinionated and these opinions would pop up from time to time when she was interviewed on the fly.  They show us a woman who was not happy with the world she was living in and who drifted from reality to reality while talking.  This began to occur with great frequency as she grew older.  Agnes was sixty nine when she did this interview.

Agnes Moorehead Says:
"You Can See Bodies In A Morgue."
By Nancy Kelley
The Times Recorder
Zanesville Ohio
April 22, 1970

"Theater should involve an audience, not shock them.  It should provide a  release or an enriching experience which makes people more tolerant or merciful," Agnes Moorehead stated during an interview Tuesday.  She will make her first personal appearance in this area Friday.

The X rated movies, which have been so prevalent in the past few years, do not interest the red-haired stage, screen, and television start.
"The tendency toward repetition weakens interest in the problem and then the objective is lost, " she commented.  "On the other hand, it may lead to more understanding by some people so that they can recognize a problem when it occurs.  But a rampage of this kind of thing is not effective.  It leaves an audience in shock and it doesn't learn anything in that state."
"If people want to know something about drugs or other problems, they should see documentaries or go to hospitals.  You can see bodies in a morgue," the volatile actress said.

Miss Moorehead believes that an afternoon or evening in the theater should entertain an audience or provide them with a tune to hum as they leave. 
"Actresses or actors, who are powerful performers, can be a destructive force if they do not represent the right convictions," she said punctuating the remark with a wave of her hand. "When you are an entertainer, you are constantly learning and studying human nature.  You must have limitless imagination, judgment, taste, and a sense of psychology," she noted.  "I would go so far as to say there is too much entertainment today.  We live in a discontented era, with too much affluence.  No one is contented with his lot," the Muskingum College graduate said.

Miss Moorehead expresses a warmth and love of the theater and her audiences no matter where she is.  "It is a constant circle of empathy-meeting of the hearts and minds and endlessly exciting and enriching.  This is what keeps one at it."

She refuses to be put into a groove or let her acting become hum drum. " It is a fast paced life," she said. "We live in a cruel world and you must have the courage of a colonel on the firing line and the hide of an alligator.  My father taught me to have courage and a fighting spirit and I am grateful to him for that."

She says she used to argue philosophy with him when she was young. "I knew it all then and he was very tolerant of me," Miss Moorehead commented.  "Everyone keeps talking about a generation gap, when what we have is a communication gap."

Miss Moorehead, who will appear at 8:30pm Friday in the Municipal Auditorium, has five Academy Award nominations, five Emmy nominations and one Emmy for her guest starring role on televisions "Wild Wild West."

Her program "An Intimate Evening With the Fabulous Red-Head" will combine classical prose and poetry.
"In this way I feel I can contribute something and at the same time I learn a great deal.  The objective is to inspire people to read.  When college students or other people ask about the selections so they can read them for themselves-that is the greatest reward."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Orchids and Peanuts

While I'm working on the information about Jack Lee I decided to do this post to give you a first hand peak into Agnes' life in 1935.  I mentioned before about her being a roommate of the singer Peg LaCentra.  Here's an excerpt from a newspaper article on Peg and it specifically mentions a night out with her roommate, Agnes Moorehead.

July 1, 1935
Oakland Tribune
Orchids and Peanuts: A Radio Star's Story
By Betty Goodwin

" Some other girls are the rose-type, others get gardenias or violets but Peg seems to suggest orchids.  At least that's what her beaux usually send her......He's SO thoughtful-picked JUST what she wanted-she's going to put them on immediately.
And she does.  She pins the corsage , meant for an evening of dancing, on the lapel of her tailored suit...jams a felt sports hat on top of her curls and grabs roommate Agnes Moorehead by the arm.  "What's at the Zeigfield?" she asks "How about a steak first? Shall we call Mary?  I'll leave a note for George and tell him I just couldn't make it.  It's too much nuisance getting dressed."  And the evening ends with Peg and a spur of the moment crowd sitting in the balcony of the neighborhood movie.  They always take along bags full of gum and peanuts, hiss at the villain and stomp their feet for the hero."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Next Week

An in depth look at Agnes' first husband Jack G. Lee.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reposting of: The Other Moorehead Girl

The Other Moorehead Girl

On Thursday April 12, 1906 Margaret Ann Moorehead was born in Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio to John Henderson Moorehead and his wife Mary McCauley Moorehead.  It has been reported that Margaret was born on April 23rd but the date on her certificate of birth is April 12th.
Margaret had an elder sister. Her sister would grow up to become the gifted actress Agnes Moorehead. Agnes was a woman who would become well known by several generations of radio listeners, moviegoers, theatre attendees and television watchers. From what little is known of Margaret it is hard to know exactly what she was like. We do know from the very few references made to her by her sister Agnes that she, like Agnes, had a gift for mimicry and mischief, but beyond that her life, as well as her death, is shrouded in mystery. A mystery I hope to abate somewhat.

I have said to many friends and associates that I would never talk publicly about my family, I’m an eighth cousin, but recent events have changed my mind. Speculation about those who have passed on is a waste of time, in my opinion, so in an effort to end some of that and shed some light on why people were who they were I’ve opted to end my self-imposed silence.

It has been rumored off and on that Margaret died by her own hand. Let me end that rumor with the truth of it, she did. Margaret Ann Moorehead died on the 14th of July 1929 at 7:50am in the Miami Valley Hospital, Ward 8 of Bi chloride of Mercury poisoning which the coroner ruled a suicide. A contributing factor to her demise was listed as Nephritis which was a fancy way of saying her kidney function was impaired.

It took Margaret four days to die. The “attack”, as it has been referred to, began on Wednesday July 10th. I do not know when Margaret was hospitalized but I do know that her sister was sent a telegram telling her “Things are not so well come at once.” This telegram was received in New York at 9am on July 12th 1929. I also know that her mother telephoned her but I do not know when. I know that during that conversation she was told that her sister had attempted suicide and I know that from Molly Moorhead’s letter to Agnes transcribed below:

My Dear Agnes,
I didn’t intend to frighten you so last night for I didn’t want that word to go over the telephone but as you know what happened why you are prepared for the worst if things don’t go on well. I came down early and Margaret is sleeping –had a fair night. The kept her doped and we have two good nurses…we will send for you if we things are going against us. Mother came and is at the house, we dad and I can take turns being here. I in the morning and he in the afternoon. Peg realizes now what a mistake she made and says she was to blame and wants me to forget all the trouble which I told her I would and ask her to forgive me for being crass and unreasonable. I told her, she and you were the only things we had in this world and we couldn’t lose her. She said she would fight and has been. She says that she took care of girl who was worse than she is and she pulled through. Agnes, I think Frank was cruel to her, for out of a clear sky he said they would quit and she fainted and he never called me. And if he had I could have watched her. I’ll try to keep calm and keep your dad cheered up. Please think of us…He has been a peach and he directed things when we needed a cool head around. Let us hear from you.

We all send love.

Lovingly yours,


It is apparent “that word’ Molly was so desperate to avoid using on the telephone is suicide. In the ensuing years it was always said that Margaret died of a heart seizure or heart attack. Every obituary written from Xenia to Zanesville contains disinformation from “a brief illness” to “a sudden illness while at her occupation as a nurse in New York.” Suicide was then and continues to be today a stigma that families are saddled with. In addition Margaret’s father was the minister of a Presbyterian church and to have the daughter of a minister die by their own hand was unthinkable. If you read between the lines of that letter you will witness a family dynamic that formed the personalities of both children. Molly refers to herself in the first person 9 separate times. She only refers to her husband and herself as we 4 separate times. Rev. Moorehead is only referred to only 3 times and finally Agnes is referred to only as Agnes once and as “you” 6 times. Blame for the suicide is laid squarely on the shoulders of Margaret who accepts it willingly. Frank, the lover/boyfriend who instigated the ending of the relationship, is chided for simply failing to call Molly but not for driving a disturbed young woman to suicide. I believe that Charles Tranberg makes a valid observation when he says that Agnes was “daddy’s girl” and Margaret was “mommies girl.” However much we may want to believe it suicide is never a momentary lapse in judgment. There are always signs and portents that someone is on their way down the one-way street of suicidal behavior.

Many physicians have listed characteristics of suicidal people. These are thought to be:
1. A sense of isolation and withdrawal.
2. Few friends or family.
3. Distraction and a lack of humor.
4. A focus on the past. Often voicing that the world or people would be better off without them around.
5. Being haunted and dominated by hopelessness and helplessness.
6.Viewing themselves as helpless is 2 ways. First by being unable to free themselves from the sea of despair that is swallowing them and secondly that nobody else can help them either.

There are certain life events that precipitate suicidal behavior and one of them is the loss of a love relationship. It has also been said that past emotional or physical damage to the person can lead to self-destructive behavior. It has been written many times over “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” If a person is what they call “presuicidal” they are in a state of extreme anguish in which there is no ability to neither make rational decisions nor distinguish rational options to the problem. For most people who are in the right state of mind the decision to end ones own life seems not only irrational but also incomprehensible. Loved ones cannot understand or accept that somebody they love could possibly do this to himself or herself. Unfortunately that inability to comprehend the depth of a loved one’s pain can act as a blinder to family or friends preventing them from picking up on the clues that may be right in front of them. The person who dies by suicide is in so much pain emotionally that they cannot focus on anything but ending that pain by whatever means possible.

Margaret appears to have been isolated from her parents by distance for quite a long time.  Margaret did not, as has always been believed, move to Dayton with her parents in 1925 nor did she remain in Reedsburg with her parents after their fall 1919 relocation from Saint Louis. Margaret, who would have been 13 at the time of the move, remained in Saint Louis with family. She graduated in June of 1925 from Cleveland High School in Saint Louis. I can only assume that between 1925 and her move to Dayton in the fall of 1928 that she attended college to become a nurse. I have never been able to find any record of her nursing degree or what college she might have attended to obtain it. All there is to go on is misinformation in an obituary that gives her occupation as a nurse and her mother’s reference in the letter to Agnes of a girl that Margaret had taken care of who was far worse off but survived. It has made me wonder if she might have been a psychiatric nurse but I’m afraid that we’ll never really know for sure. Her death certificate, which I have, lists her occupation as “at home.” This indicates to me that she either couldn’t find work or wasn’t capable of it any longer. The reference to her moving from Saint Louis to Dayton comes from a front-page obituary in a Xenia, Ohio newspaper and is specific in the details of the move happening the year before her death. It is transcribed below:

“Miss Margaret Moorehead, 22, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. J.H. Moorehead of 19 Stone Mill Road, Dayton, died at Miami Valley Hospital early Sunday morning after a brief illness. Dr. Moorehead is a first cousin of Miss Margaret Moorehead and William Moorehead of this city.

Miss Moorehead had been a resident of Dayton for a year, coming to that city from St. Louis last fall when Dr. Moorehead assumed the pastorate of Patterson Memorial Presbyterian Church.

She is survived by her parents and one sister, Agnes Moorehead, New York City. Funeral arrangements have not been completed.”

The Evening Gazette, Xenia, Ohio, Monday, July 15, 1929

This brings us to one of the roots of Margaret’s problem, “Frank.” Whoever Frank was, obviously there was a romantic relationship. Margaret either moved to Dayton from Saint Louis to be near him or she met him after her move to Dayton. If the latter is true then she couldn’t possibly have known him for more than a year before opting to end her life over his rejection. I think that it was a very intense affair as evidenced by Agnes’ quoting of Margaret’s words to her in her postmortem letter to her sister, “your words of last year ring in my ears, “You never loved a man like I have.” The truth of it is you can search forever in a sea of Frank’s and never find the exact one. He is never referred to in any document that I am aware of other than Molly’s letter to Agnes. There were several young men with the right name and of a similar age within a short radius of her parent’s home at 19 Stone Mill Road but we will never know if “Frank” was one of those young men. Her parent’s home now falls within the campus confines of the University of Dayton and even then may have housed students among the families that lived there. It is possible that Frank was a student. What is less likely is that the decision to end their relationship came out of “a clear sky” as Molly states in her letter to Agnes. Rarely do children dole out specific details of their romantic relationships to their parents so we have to accept Molly’s statement as coming from her own point of view. Margaret and Frank’s relationship may have been one sided or extremely stormy from the very beginning. There were obviously difficulties that had drove Margaret down the road toward suicide long before Frank ended their relationship. I have never read of anybody just suddenly on a whim decide to take their own life. It could have been a long lasting depressive state that pushed Frank to sever ties with Margaret, however, we’ll never really know for sure because we weren’t there. I do know from the letter to Agnes that Margaret asked Molly to forget “all the trouble.” This statement seems to indicate that there were tensions within Margaret’s family as a result of her relationship with Frank. There is also mention in the letter of forgiveness between Molly and Margaret. It is a confusing statement. I don’t know whether Margaret is asking Molly to forgive her for “being crass and unreasonable” or if Molly asked Margaret to forgive her for “being crass and unreasonable.” The sentence says specifically “and ask her to forgive me for being crass and unreasonable.” Anyway you cut it family tension added to Margaret’s already apparently fragile emotional state. This leads me to the method Margaret chose to end her own life.

Bi Chloride of Mercury is highly, highly toxic. If Margaret had been a nurse she would have been acutely aware of the properties of this poison. It was used primarily as a topical treatment for Syphilis before the advent of antibiotics. It was also used as a fungicide. It usually came dissolved in alcohol, which, if ingested, took it into the bloodstream more quickly thereby making it all the more deadly. It was a long drawn out extremely painful way to die. In the early 1920’s the actress Olive Thomas, wife of Jack Pickford, died from Bi Chloride of Mercury poisoning. It was widely covered in the popular press of the time and perhaps that was what made Margaret think of it. The symptoms are a litany of severe pain and are as follows:
1. Severe abdominal pain.
2. Severe difficulty in breathing.
3. Decreased urine output potentially stopping completely.
4. Diarrhea
5. Metallic taste
6. Mouth lesions
7. Severe pain in the mouth and throat.
8. Shock
9. Severe swelling of the throat.
10. Vomiting

The prognosis for survival of this type of poisoning depended then on what symptoms manifested themselves within the first 10-15 minutes of ingestion and how rapidly you got to a hospital. It didn’t take much of dose to kill you. Kidney failure and death could occur with small doses of the poison. It simply appears as though even having expressed regret, according to her mother, that Margaret was determined to end her life. What a painful tragic end it was.

This brings me to the second reason for talking about this incident, Margaret’s sister Agnes. Everyone who knows of Agnes Moorehead and has a sense of devotion to her reads whatever they can about her. I think perhaps in an attempt to understand her better. What I want to talk about here is how it affects a person when a sibling takes his or her own life.

So much has been published now about how suicide affects the surviving sibling or siblings. I have read that they are often called the forgotten mourners. Most typically people fixate on the parents of a dead child rarely on the remaining child or children. This leaves them to fend for themselves with their grief. Often they put that grief aside in an attempt to help parents cope with the loss and never fully grieve on their own.

Agnes was 28 years old when her sister died. When a sibling dies by their own hand at this stage in life the surviving sibling learns, in a most difficult way, that life does not hold the unlimited promise they once believed it did. They are literally blindsided by reality. At this point in their lives siblings have spent more time together than they have with their parents. We know this to be true of Agnes and Margaret because it is documented that Agnes spent a great deal of time in St. Louis in the 1920’s. The two of them had shared their whole lives with each other. Sharing a room, secrets, dreams, wishes, fears and plans. Now, at 28, she would find herself having lost her other half. Typically when there are only 2 children they are always grouped together. In 1925 there is a reference in the Zanesville newspaper to the “Misses Agnes and Margaret Moorehead,” returning to Saint Louis after visiting their grandfather. You can believe that they were a tandem, Aggie and Peggy. Suddenly you are left without your right hand. You are without the one person you would talk to about something this life altering and tragic. The anguished letter Agnes wrote to her sister the week after she died and transcribed below evidences that:

“A week later so many things have happened and my own dear sister where are you? Where can you be? How brave and courageous you are to face death so young—how you know our maker—the secret of life and death you know…How I wanted to see you and yet the thought of seeing you was beyond my strength. I loved you—I love you know—you asleep in a cold little bed in a tomb like the good father who created you. And you were beautiful. I only wish you could talk to me sometimes. I know you are alive and well and even so much better off than we. If only you could have come to us. Men are so heartless so cruel. Poor dear little girl your words of last year ring in my ears, “ you never loved a man like I have.” Now you know I have your spirit will know how I feel toward Jack. My little sister I loved you so. I have always loved you and prayed for your happiness. I dreamed of you last night—I love you.”

Agnes never spoke of her sister’s death. This is typical of a time when the stigma of suicide was considered a black mark on the family. The public denial of the sibling’s suicide often leads to a failure to cope with the grief. It would be then that grief, like a mold, would force its way out of the person in many other ways. Frequently it would manifest itself in a physical illness. Sometimes it would come out in deeper more damning ways such as difficulty in establishing healthy long term relationships, fear of rejection, control issues, isolation, and not least of all guilt. The guilt of believing that they could have done something to change what happened or the guilt that they should have been able to tell something was not right. It is my opinion that all of these things are evident in Agnes’ personality. Agnes had difficulty in establishing long-term relationships. She isolated herself from everyone emotionally. She was distant and was often described by those who adored her as being “cold.” I think she demonstrated a fear of rejection and yet a willingness to involve herself in relationships that would end in rejection. Perhaps it was a form self-punishment because of the guilt that hung her over her sister’s death. Agnes definitely had control issues but, again, constantly put herself into situations over which she had no control. She literally was two people living in one body, one mind. The eccentric outgoing woman the world saw and the troubled, isolated, abandoned sibling that the world only caught fleeting glimpses of. Her career was literally her salvation. She could spend time not having to be herself. It allowed her to leave the isolated sibling behind and become anything she wanted to be. It seems to me that Margaret’s suicide was one of the things that made her so successful at her career and so unsuccessful in her private life.  Despite the issues surrounding her private life Agnes is still one of the most loved and respected names in entertainment history and that would please her no end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Just In Case You Would Like To Know

I know many, many people have begun reading this blog and you will never know how much I appreciate it.  I'm thrilled to pieces that people are so interested in this wonderful woman.  Just so you will know who or rather what the person who wrote these looks like I'm posting a picture here with a wee tiny bio.

My name is Tamela.  I've worked in theatre for about 30 years and have been the technical director for a small college for the last 12 years.  I design sets, lights, costumes, sound and run the box office.  I have an extended degree in technical theatre and was priveledged to have my work on the stage of the Kennedy Center as part of the American College Theatre Festival in 1995.  I was born in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania and grew up in Maryland.  I graduated from Northern Arizona University.  I was for a time the Assistant Technical Director for the 1500 seat Ardrey Auditorium there as well as the 300 seat Ashurst Auditorium.  Agnes is an 8th cousin to me via the Humphrey family.  I've spent my whole life in awe of this woman and doubly in awe of being related to her.  These are my tribute to Agnes, the woman who inspired me to do what I do for a living.  I hope you enjoy them.

For Those of You Reading These

Please take time to re read previous posts.  I am updating them and adding material as I come across it.  10 years worth of paperwork takes a long time to locate, sort and re read so you may find more information in every single post.  I'm trying to work through this pile as quickly as possible and hope to be done with adding information in the next two weeks or so.  I hope you're enjoying them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Question Left Unanswered

"You know when I was a little girl I was my mothers despair.  I was a bit of a tomboy I suppose.  I know I used to like to lie flat on my stomach in the wet grass and drink cool water from a spring on my grandfather's farm in Ohio and then I would go home with the front of my dress all grass stained and muddy and it would cause a great "TO DO."  I love to scratch my initials on a frosted window pane.  I love the woolly prickly feel of a tomato leaf and I love the smell of patent leather.  Isn't that funny and what is nicer than the fresh earthy smell of a clean man, hmmmm?  You know Rupert Brooks poem about things like that.....These have I loved, white plated and cups clean gleaming ringed with blue lines....The cruel kindliness of sheets that smooth away trouble, isn't that a lovely line." In this paragraph you see more of Agnes than nearly anyone else ever does. It was a piece of her one woman show. She was a tomboy.  Did you know she learned how to ride a motorcycle in 1945?  Besides I can totally relate to the grass stained dress incident because I was on the receiving end of that behavior every time they dressed me up for church. You see I was a bit of tomboy as well it runs in the family.

"Don't you love the warm smell of freshly ironed linen?  You know you could always tell when my mother was in the house by the fragrance of the linen.  Even the kitchen smelled differently.  We used to call her Madame Potpourri.  That was in Ohio.  I was actually born in Massachusetts but I lived a lot in Ohio and I know and love Ohio folk."

"When I was going into New York to go on the stage my Aunt Cam said to my father John I  hope you are not going to send Agnes into that den of iniquity.  My father said well I don't see why not, she has to try her wings sometime and my aunt replied "If you don't be careful John she'll get her name in the papers."

These  little snippets of her one woman show to demonstrate to you that she was a woman of many faces.  Some got shown accidentally and some were shown deliberately.  Agnes Moorehead was a highly complex woman from a family that built her that way.  She did hide behind her religion and yet at the same time believed it whole heartily.  We will never know how she saw herself fit into it all.  But we can apply logic and come to a peaceful place where it just doesn't matter.

Agnes was not fond of heterosexual men.  It's obvious in her dealings with them.  She married the first man she dated for any length of time.  If stories are to be believed her relationship with Jack was somewhat peculiar.  They were an unusual couple.  The didn't take their honeymoon until eight years after they were married and then it was to Bermuda and back.  Their life was unremarkable as a couple until 1945.  Yet to hear it told much later she and he spent many unhappy years together.  One often gets the feeling that he was her arm candy in public situations.  To support that statement let me point out that they were actually separated in 1949 but just prior to the Academy Awards they reconciled.  Jack was her escort.  There are photos of them together smiling as though not a thing in the world was wrong.  Then wham 1 month and a few days later she filed for a legal separation.
 The same could be said of Robert Gist and his relationship with Agnes.  It was extremely peculiar.  It is apparent that whatever secret file he managed to compile during their time together he threw it on the table when she finally started her divorce proceedings. Whatever Robert knew or could prove was so powerful that a bigamist busy having children with at least two other women walked away with money and property.

When it comes to sexuality Agnes is all over the map.  She flirts with women and she flirts with men.  She herself stated she would have no compunction playing a lesbian character and did not feel threatened by that.  I think her reticence in making any statements had more to do with her surviving family than it did with her.  She was pushed into marriage while grieving her beloved sister.  A sister, I might add,  who point blank told Agnes she had never felt for a man like she had.  Agnes contended that men were such animals in her post mortem letter to her sister.  This was a sentiment she would express over and over again.  Yet, you rarely found her in the company of a man who wasn't good looking by the standards of the time.  The big secret lay in just exactly who those men were.  Agnes had an enormous circle of gay male friends.  She used them as escorts to functions quite often.  One of them was Cesar Romero.  She loved him dearly and was more than aware of his sexuality.  But because of his extremely masculine appearance he escorted her everywhere in the 1960's and it was a mutually beneficial relationship because he could appear in public with a woman on his arm.  The most interest thing of all to me is that Hollywood has kept her secret to this day, whatever that secret might or might not be.  It was rumored, I know about the rumor because of a woman named Ruth that I worked with long ago who was a make up artist for MGM in the 40's and 50's, that Agnes had an enormous crush on Susan Hayward.  She was smitten by her and allegedly pursued her with flowers as well as gifts.  Now, I take Ruth seriously because she told me about Rock Hudson and Jim Neighbors around 16 years before any of that ever came out.  Ruth's statement to me was confirmed by Boze Hadleigh's book many years later.  Hadleigh was informed by a fellow actor of Agnes' that she had a terrible crush on Susan Hayward.  The big difference is her viewpoint of her own sexuality and our understanding of what it meant to her as well as other women born in the Victorian age.

Agnes viewed sexuality from the standpoint of the Victorian culture that she was reared in.  It was perfectly normal for young women to have crushes on one another.  It was encouraged as practice for marriage.  Flowers, candy, poetry and all manner of romantic gifts were exchanged.  These were called romantic friendships.  There have been books written about the subject.  The most notable of which is "Surpassing the Love of Men," by Lillian Faderman.  In it Faderman discusses the facts, opinions and views of romantic friendship in its evolution into the twentieth century evil that some view it as today.  She even comments that first born or only children get all the attention of their parents for an extended period of time and it allows the young girl to mature with a naturally developed sense of herself that normally only boys developed.  She becomes a natural feminist if you will.  She would see the patriarchal nature of the society around her as a burden and something to be avoided.  She most likely would never marry and she would choose education then strive for a career of some sort.  Anyone think this sounds familiar?   I believe that had her sister not departed this plane of existence at a young age, Agnes would never have married.  But in all other aspects of the aforementioned statement she could have been the person being spoken about.  She did choose education including a Masters Degree, not something most women did at all.  She did choose a career and dedicated herself tirelessly to following that choice her entire life.  She had companions who were women, Cathy Ellis, Alice MacKenzie, Tanya Hills, Georgia Brown, Peg LaCentra and frankly the list is quite long but these are just a few.  Alice MacKenzie drove across country with Agnes and Jack in 1947 to be with her while she received an honorary degree from Muskingum College.  Please, please understand that I'm not saying anything other than extremely close friendship happened between them.  It could never be proved and I would never even bother to try because it doesn't change who she was one way or the other.  It would only serve to do the thing she feared most and leave her to be remembered strictly because of her sexuality.  All I'm saying is that Agnes was more comfortable with women.  She had been reared to be.  Her mother lived with a female companion from the time John Moorehead died in 1938 until the woman passed away around 1967.  It was natural for her.

These are excerpts from Boze Hadleigh's interview with Agnes.  Read them with an open mind and keep foremost in your thoughts she is making a huge point about sex and love being two completely different things.

"With two women, it's more difficult to know where love leaves off and the other begins.  With men it's clearer."

In reference to lesbians in Hollywood "Most of them are nice people and not promiscuous like the men....all men."

"A woman may love a person who is this or that, male or female.  Love doesn't have a sex.  It's men who have to bring sex and activities into everything.  Women operate on a different plane; the feelings are emotional not physical."

"Why bring up sex? That's men's concern or habit.  They talk that way and want to drag women down to their level, to have no class."

"Well I have loved women of course."

In reference to Marlene Dietrich and Garbo "You'd love to put me into their excellent company.  Even if I don't belong in the same category.  Those ladies were more beautiful than me."

She is pointedly asked about her sexuality and Hadleigh offers to turn off his recorder to allow her to speak off the record.  Her response,  "Leave it on. Leave it on.  You apparently have your own informants.  I don't know what you've heard, and I don't want to hear, and some of it may even be true."  As it was put to me recently something had to have occurred for something to be true.  She could have walked away from the interview at this point and never answered another question simply by raising the topic of her conservative upbringing, but she didn't do that, she went on.

When asked if she would be willing to come out today in different circumstance " Now, probably not.  But I don't want anyone misinterpreting what was beautiful and even spiritual.  I haven't penned my memoirs and doubt that there will be- I hope there won't be a book purporting to represent my life.  My work anyone can see.  I never really cared to share anything with the public, besides my work."
"If I make a statement to you  know, it will be used and misinterpreted and one way or another it will represent me, if it's controversial or shocking enough, in who knows how many future books."

"Inertia is the result of most of our struggles, my boy.  Life tires one out not a lot but increasingly.  One cannot underestimate inertia.  For some, it's a fear of death.  But I think for most people, there's more fear of life.  And exploring it fully or feeling everything one would like to feel.  It's an unavoidable truth.  Fear of life closes off more opportunities for us than fear of death ever does."

Agnes' sexuality is played out right here before you in the sentences above.  In simple terms she felt as human beings we were capable of loving other human beings male or female

Agnes was a breathing living human being complete with all the confusion and weirdness that goes into us all.  Nobody has the right to sit in judgment of her whatever her personal preferences were because nobody has the right to sit in judgment of anyone.  A person lives their life as they see fit.  It doesn't make it right or wrong it simply makes it their life. I think you can spend hours driving yourself crazy trying to figure out how she could reconcile any perceived untoward behavior with her religion.  I also think if you take a good long look at her you will realize she had so many demons to overcome that her religion was the one constant in her life.  If you read between the lines you will see she detaches herself from the fear of her religion and simply hangs on to the positive aspects of it.  This is my guess anyway because I can't be positively sure one way or the other since the only one I could ask who would have the absolute answer is dead.  So I choose to love her for who she was flaws, beauty, talent, humor, crankiness and all.  She's my family that is all that matters anyway.  She's just Aggie.

New York, New York, New York

In 1927 Agnes Moorehead made the transition for tiny little Soldiers Grove Wisconsin to New York City to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  This was her first step towards realizing her dream of becoming a professional actress.  The years that followed would be hectic and hard.  She would work at a progressive school to help get by while she was completing her course of studies at AADA.  She would also, allegedly, have to wait tables as well.  The 1930 census lists Agnes as living on Lexington Avenue.  Her total worth was $30.00 and her occupation is listed as painter.  It is possible she was earning some many painting since she was a talented artist.

We already know that these two years would be difficult in so many ways for Agnes.  The passing of her grandmother, grandfather and finally her sister punctuating her personal life.  Her academic life was completely different.  She excelled at being disciplined and she excelled at studying.  Her academic life afforded her the ability to become other people, to pretend.  Agnes starred in several productions during her studies at AADA.  That is illustrated by the following article:

Hamilton Evening Journal
Tuesday January 29th, 1929
Agnes Moorehead, Former Hamilton Girl, Achieves Success On Stage
That drama and the church are not far separated is illustrated in the success that is coming to Miss Agnes Moorehead, daughter of Rev. and Mrs John H. Moorehead, who has chosen the career of an actress.
Miss Moorehead is well known in Hamilton having spent a number of years of her life here, her father now pastor of  the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dayton, was the pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church of Hamilton.
Miss Moorehead is now a senior at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City admitttedly the outstanding schools for the training of serious stage aspirants in the country.
Miss Moorehead had the honor of appearing in the lead role of Anna Valeska in Walter Hacketts popular comedy "Captain Applejack," when the senior students of the academy presented this play on Broadway for three performances the past week-- one on Friday at the Lyceum Theatre and two yesterday at the McAllister Theatre.  During this week the play will be repeated at Columbia University.  The presentation of "Captain Applejack" was the first of the years series of productions of the Academy and in others to follow Miss Moorehead is to play lead roles she has been informed.
Miss Moorehead has been a diligent student of the drama and its more serious phases during the last three years she has been attending the Academy, and during the last two years has played all but two of the leading roles in Academy productions so outstanding has her work been considered.
Miss Moorehead, a girl of striking beauty and vivid personality was born while her father was in charge of a pastorate in Clinton Massachusetts.  While he was a pastor in Saint Louis, Miss Moorehead, who has an excellent singing voice, was being heard over station KMOX being referred to as "The Lady Tenor" because of the particular timber of her voice which is decidedly of that register.
Miss Moorehead's ambition, according to her proud mother, is to conduct a dramatic studio of her own, but she does not propose to do this until she has gained some normal state experience following her work in the Academy.
During the summer she expects to go into stock, a course which she regards as excellent training for her particular needs. She will completer her studies in March and will visit her parents at 10 Stonemill Road in Dayton, where she has been on but one occasion, before starting her professional work.
A short time ago she had an excellent opportunity to join a stock company in New Orleans but declined in the belief that the completion of her courses in the Academy with the training she is getting appearing on Broadway with the Academy productions is of too great a value to pass up.
Though the initial play in which she appeared is a comedy Miss Moorehead's leanings are more toward the strictly dramatic, and it is in this line she hopes to earn her laurels when she enters her work professionally.
** It is work noting that more than likely this article was written by her mother and does hint at the control issues that seem to have abounded in the home.  It is also worth noting that the last time she was at their home in Dayton she argued with her sister over her lack of attachment to men and further more that it makes no mention of her impending marriage or a fiance of any sort.

 Everything boded well for her leap from the Academy to the Broadway Stage until 1929.  This was not a good year in so many ways for Agnes Moorehead.  She endured personal crisis only to be confronted with a national crisis.  The Great Depression.

Sister Can You Spare A Dime

The Great Depression rained on everyones parade and Agnes Moorehead was no exception.  She struggled to find work on the Broadway stage and only managed to appear in a few productions in very minor parts.  She was a survivor though so she turned to a medium that she had already been somewhat successful at, radio.  She had several years of broadcast experience behind her and she knew that it would serve her extremely well.  Radio kept right on plugging along despite the nationwide economic crises.  One might be tempted to say that it blossomed because of that very same crises.  While people couldn't afford the price of a Broadway show they could afford to either own their own radio set or share one with other folks.  With this wind beneath her wings Agnes took off. 

Bourjois who sponsored the show.  It had attached to it photographs of the three stars.  One was of Agnes Moorehead as Nana the signature written in her own hand.  I just recently sold it to a very deserving collector.  It looked like this.

It was in the 1930, June 5th, that Agnes married Jack G. Lee at the Little Church Round The Corner.  It was announced in the newspaper in her former hometown of Hamilton Ohio:

Hamilton Evening Journal
Hamilton Ohio
Friday May 23rd, 1930
Former Hamilton Girl to Wed In New York

Hamilton friends will learn with interest of the approaching marriage of  Miss Agnes Robertson Moorehead, daughter of Reverend and Mrs. J.H. Moorehead, of Dayton, to John G. Lee, of New York, which will take place at the Little Church Around the Corner on June fifth.
Miss Moorehead formerly resided in Hamilton with her parents, her father Reverend John H. Moorehead, having held the pastorate of the United Presbyterian Church.
** Again worth noting that this release was more than likely written by Molly and was an attempt to put aside the questions surrounding the death of Margaret and put a normal face on her family for the people of Hamilton to whom she was very attached.

She was on time.  He was late.  It set a precedence for their entire relationship placing him second to her in everything.  During the years that followed Agnes quickly became a staple in radio.  She also became well known for her sense of comedic timing which was completely to the contrary of her mother's earlier prediction.

May 5th, 1933
Mansfield News
Mansfield Ohio
The Dial Twister
The "straight man" in Irving S. Cobbs new series on CKLW and WHK is to be a woman....She is Agnes Moorehead, whose most recent role was that of Nana in the "Mysteries in Paris" series....Her voice on the air sounds a great deal like Zasu Pitts.  This program airs at 8pm tonight.

Some of her other performances in the 1930's were:
1930 Sherlock Holmes
1931 The Ben Bernie Show
1931-1945 The March of Time
1932 Betty and Bob
1932 The Orange Lantern
1932-1933 Seth Parker Family Hour
1933 The Mighty Show
1933-1934 Evening in Paris
1933-1936 The Phil Baker Show
1934 The Gumps
1935 America's Hour
1935 Heart Throbs of the Hills
1937 Terry and The Pirates
1937-1939 The Shadow the original Margo Lane
1937 Joyce Jordan Girl Intern
1938 This Day Is Ours
1936 Way Down East
1937 Dot and Will
1938 Life Can Be Beautiful
1938-1938 The Mercury Theatre On The Air
a. Dracula
b. Treasure Island
c. A Tale of Two Cities
d. The 39 Steps
e. Three Short Stories
f. Abraham Lincoln
g. Affairs of Anatole
h. The Count of Monte Cristo
i. The Man Who Was Thursday
j. Julius Caeser
k. Jane Eyre
l. Sherlock Holmes
m. Oliver Twist
n. Hell On Ice
o. Seventeen
p. Around the World In Eighty Days
q. The Magnificent Ambersons
r. Rebecca

1937 Les Miserables
1938 Dreams of Long Ago "Twelfth Night"
1938 Dreams of Long Ago "The Foolish Boy"
1938 Mercury Theatre On The Air "War Of The Worlds"
1938 The Columbia Workshop " Beauty and the Beast
1938 The Columbia Workshop "Call It A Day"
1938 The Campbell Playhouse "A Farewell To Arms"
1939-1940 The Aldrich Family
1939 Brenda Curtis
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "Mutiny on the Bounty"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "I Lost My Girlish Laughter"
1939  The Campbell Playhouse "Chicken Wagon Family"
1939 Cavalcade of America
1939 The Columbia Workshop "Wet Saturday"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "Wickford Point"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse  "Our Town"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse " The Things We Have"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "Victoria Regina"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "Ah Wilderness"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "What Every Woman Knows"
1939 The Campbell Playhouse "Lillian"

The 1930's were a very prosperous time for Agnes once the ball got rolling.  She worked steadily and became more popular with every show.  She moved in the same circles as well established actors and actresses did.  She became friends with the likes of Helen Hayes, Marie Dressler, Phil Baker, James Cagney, Tallulah Bankhead and many, many others.   One close friend was the singer Peg LaCentra.  They were so close that they shared an apartment in New York City.  Agnes was married at the time and I haven't got any solid reasons why they were room mates.  Someone mentioned to me that it had to have been when Jack was on tour but nobody knows for sure.  Peg was a vivacious young woman about town and most of the time, according to newspapers, she had Agnes in tow.

It was during her work with Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre On The Air that the seeds were sown for her transplant to California and her introduction to motion pictures at the age of 39.  She was well past the age of being a starlet but her career would be stellar.

The Death of Her Idol

Just as the years of 1927 to 1929 had been filled with grief and loss so would the years 1938-1939 be filled with the same.  Agnes would lose her beloved father in 1938 and her beloved Aunt Cam in 1939.  Again, I have no doubt that the deaths took an enormous toll on her especially the death of her beloved father.

One could say that to die doing something you love with all of your heart and soul is the very epitome of joy.  If that is the case then John Henderson Moorehead died a completely happy man.  At 11a.m. on Sunday May 22, 1938 in the middle of a sermon in his church in Dayton Ohio John Henderson Moorehead suffered a massive coronary and died in his pulpit in front of his entire congregation.  His wife Molly was one of the first people to his side second only to a doctor from the congregation.  The doctor indicated to Molly that he was dead and she, in her somewhat stoic fashion, said she was happy that he had gone home to be with Jesus.  Agnes had to come from New York after receiving the shocking news from her mother.  The father was reunited with his youngest daughter less than 9 years after her death.  Less than a year later on March 4th 1939 at 6:00 a.m. in the morning her Aunt Camilla died of the very same thing.  Another unexpected phone call or telegram and another unscheduled trip to bury a beloved family member.  Agnes had lost all of her immediate family with the exception of her mother, her maternal grandmother, two of her mother's sisters, her father's brothers Mark and Alfred.   She was moving in to the 1940's with her typical bumpy start.  But Orson Welles was about to bring changes to her life that would forever alter the course of it.

Coming in the next installment
The Question Unanswered

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Muskingum Years

In August 1919 Agnes Robertson Moorehead began her college career at Muskingum College in New Concord Ohio.  It was country she was extremely comfortable with as her grandparents did not live all that far away.  Agnes was taking steps on her own but it must be remembered  that college life then and what we are familiar with today are so vastly different that they seem to be separated by hundreds of years.

 This photo was taken in the summer of 1919 when Agnes was 18.  The woman immediately in front of her is her mother, the kneeling gentleman is her father and the woman beside her is Aunt Cam.

The first huge difference was the replacement of two parents by an army of educators.  Women were housed together in houses under the watchful of house mothers.  There was no such thing as being unchaperoned with the opposite sex at any time.  When Agnes first went to the campus at Muskingum there wasn't even such a thing as a sorority on campus.  They would not be permitted until the following year.  But there were other organizations to partake of.

One of the first groups Agnes found her way into was the girls athletic association.  It was a group she would remain associated with for the remainder of her college career.

Agnes is on the top and was 18 or 19 years old when this photograph was taken.

Every year the freshman class was separated into young men and young women for a group picture.
The young woman with hat and scarf is Agnes.  She was 18 years old when this picture was taken.

She is listed as being a member of the literary society as well her freshman year.  By the time her sophomore year rolled around she had branched out in to a great many more activities.

She was a member of the girls Glee Club.
Some one has said that the two prerequisites for a good Girls Glee Club are good singers and pretty girls.  Since Muskingum meets both of these requirements how could the Glee Club help but be a success?
Each girl in the club is full of spirit and pep but, should she ever lose any, the enthusiasm of Professor Lundquest urges each girl to display her best effort. 
The girls were rather late in organizing and for that reason were unable to take a trip at Christmas time.  But steady work soon proved to all that though later in starting, the girls were able to over come the lead that the Boys Glee Club had in this respect.  The girls even got ahead of the boys in putting on their home concert and the success of that musical program rivaled any given in the past.  The beauty with which Carmina was given, the catchy little songs of the quartet, the clever readings and simplicity of old Folk Songs all combined to make a truly delightful evening.
The Girls Glee Club is an all around Muskingum organization for it is every ready to lend its assistance to any college affair, be it Y.M. or Y.W., oratorical contests, chapel services or some class that wants to put on a stunt.

She was a member of the Athletic A's or The A Association
Motto: Health and happiness
Aim: The stimulation of interest and enthusiasm in the Department of Physical Education and the promotion of good health, physical development, and wholesome fellowship among the girls of the department and of the college.
The "A" girls do not always consider the more serious subjects of health and development, but they do try to find "health and happiness."  Haven't you noticed the "A" girls coming to classes a trifle late some bright May morning?  They were at the "A" breakfast having such a good time that they couldn't leave earlier.  They had risen early and hiked to some cozy place where they had cooked their breakfast and oh, how good it did taste!  They are surely a jolly bunch of girls.

She was a member of Delta Theta Gamma.

She was a member of the Erodelphian Literary Society.  "Now would you like to know something about us?  Look us over.  Not a large group we admit but we are right there when it comes to what you want.  Whether it be debate on the question, "Resolved, that a hairnet is a thing of beauty and a joy forever" or whether it be on the subject of the League of Nations, we are equally able to rise to the occasion.  Our meetings are never dull but are peppy all the way through.  We find that after a week of classes a rest is need for the fagged brain and tired body, so we indulge in a few frivolities every now and then.  "Stunts" are our specialty and those who worked up on the adventures of Mr.s Lockett and Miss Lavaaiere have furnished us with great amusement.
" The Twig of Thorn, " a play by Miss Josephine Warren broke into our regular meetings for a few weeks but the time spent on it was well worth the work.  It is said that person gains something from living a part in a play, that can never be got in any other way.  For it broadens one's sympathies and widens ones understanding of human nature.
Our object has been not only to strive for the attainments in literary lines but to work toward the greatest and highest good in life.  In the words of Browning, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's heaven for?"

 Sophomore picture.

Her junior year saw the same level of activity.

Erodelphian Society

Delta Theta Gamma

Glee Club

Junior Class Picture
She played the romantic lead in the junior class production as a young man.  She is standing 3rd from the left.

Her senior year leaves us with 2 photographs.
Athletic A's

She is on the first row fourth from the right.

A theatrical production.
She is standing 3rd from the right in the back row.

It should be noted that according to Agnes she played a hot ukulele when she was in college.  She was an excellent dancer and once nearly got expelled for doing a dance move called "the bump and grind" in a talent production.  She found herself in the presidents office as a result of this highly provocative move.  She was a bit of a wild girl when she was feeling her oats.

Agnes graduated in 1923 but stayed for one more year doing post graduate work before moving to Soldiers Grove Wisconsin where she took up a position as a teacher.  She began to pursue her Masters at the University of Wisconsin.  Below are a few pages from a book I own that she used in her graduate studies.
 She wrote in the book making notes to herself on what to follow up on.

She was, it seems, a scholar, an athlete, a socialite, and an actress.  That was only college the best was yet to come.

Next Installation
New York, New York, New York