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

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