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.

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