Monday, June 13, 2011

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

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