Saturday, July 30, 2011

Too Sweet A Song

Pale With Envy The Rose Doth Grow
If one is to discuss the psychology of another it cannot be done without addressing the topic of sexuality.  Agnes was born in the year 1900 on December 6th.  On the 22nd of January 1901 Queen Victoria died.  With her passed the Victorian Age and the industrial revolution became a full throttle obsession of every civilized nation.  As far as women were concerned it took nearly two decades for everyone to become obsessed with morality, psychology and religion.  By 1920 all three were served up to America with the delicacy of a velvet covered sledge hammer. 

Agnes began growing up in the Age of Innocence and became an adult in the Jazz Age.  What, you may ask, has this to do with her sexuality?  The answer is a very great deal.  In her formative years Agnes was an avid reader.  A trait she maintained until she died.  Her appreciation of Victorian and early twentieth century literature is highlighted by many of the pieces she performed in her one woman show.  Like every young woman in the early part of the last century she undoubtedly read children's magazines.  They were plentiful and cheap.  They were considered moral wholesome entertainment for children of both sexes.  What you don't know is that during the age of innocence it was perfectly acceptable for a girl to have crushes on other girls.  It was encouraged because it meant they weren't getting into trouble with young men and it was considered relationship practice.  In 1908 in an American children's magazine there was a story in which a teenage girl writes a love poem in honor of her female schoolmate.  It is a beautiful poem and goes like this:

My love has a forehead broad and fair,
And the breeze blown curls of her chestnut hair,
Fall over it softly, the gold and the red
A shining aureole round her head.
Her clear eyes gleam with an amber light
For sunbeams dance in them swift and bright
And over those eyes so golden brown
Long, shadowy lashes droop gently down.
Oh pale with envy the rose doth grow
That my lady lifts to her cheeks' warm glow!
But for joy its blushes would come again
If my lady to kiss the rose should deign.

Isn't it just a beautiful piece.  I adore it.  I would bet money on Agnes having read it.  It was published in total innocence.  In the belief that girls and women weren't sexual creatures but emotional ones.  I've read that somewhere before, oh yes, in an interview with Agnes.

Even well established magazines, some of which still exist today, like Ladies Home Journal published stories about "romantic friendship."  Ladies Home Journal published a story in 1919 called "The Cat and The King."
In the story a young college woman named Flora sees her idol Annette and the narrator observed the following:

"To the freshman gazing from her walk, it was if a goddess high-enshrined and touched by the rising sun, stood revealed.  She gave a gasp of pleasure."

Nobody batted an eyelash at the story because it was still considered natural.  Agnes read a piece her one woman show called "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver." It was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Millay was a feminist and a playwright as well as a lyrical poet.  She was a well educated woman graduating from Vassar.  In 1923 "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver" won a Pulitzer Prize. Her 1920 collection A Few Figs From Thistles drew controversy for its novel exploration of female sexuality and feminism.  She was bisexual.  Her work is amazing.  Agnes loved her work.

Agnes began her college career in 1919.  She once said that she had never gone on a date unchaperoned until she left college.  At Muskingum the rules and regulations governing intermingling of young women and young men were lengthy.  They were also strictly enforced.  Essentially the college acted as two schools under one roof.  A women's college and a men's college.  They attended some classes together but social groups were divided right down the line of sex.  There were men's groups and sports.  There were women's groups and sports.  Never the twain shall meet except under the watchful eyes of faculty, period!   It is such a huge departure from our education system today that if we suddenly hit a time warp and found ourselves in the middle of 1919 we'd be hard pressed to survive believe me!

Lavender With A Big Difference
It was during her years at Muskingum that Agnes probably flourished and floundered the most.  She flourished because she had the chance to learn, to perform in plays, to sing, to read and to be athletic.  One thing she does say during her "Lavender Lady" performance sticks with me, "I guess you could say I was a bit of a tomboy."  Agnes spent four years as a member of the women's athletic group flourishing.  Her floundering was most likely a result of inexperience.  She was a preacher's daughter.  She was not streetwise in any way.  Her social identity was strictly related to women.  While the young women around her began to experiment with the somewhat Bohemian loose morals of the "Jazz Age" Agnes did not.  She maintained her circle of female friends and did not venture beyond it.  In one of her first shows at college called "The Twig of Thorn" and Agnes played the love sick young male lead.  Her ability to play a cross gendered lead speaks to the fluidity of her personal sexuality.  It takes a very special woman to play a male role as a man and to be defined within that role as the lover of a young woman takes even more gumption.  I have witnessed roles cast across gender and seen distress at the idea of what people might think about the actress playing the part.

Love Knows No Sex
"You know when I was a little girl I was my mother's 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 grandparent's farm in Ohio and then I would do home with the front of my dress all grass stained and muddy and it would cause quite a "to do.""  I can imagine that pinafored young lady coming home muddy and grass stained.  I was only ever forced into a dress on Sundays for the very same reason.  It speaks to her sense of freedom does it not?  To admit you were a tomboy when the masses were whispering about her sexuality already.  It is why I have always believed she viewed passion and love as an emotion shared between human beings but not necessarily between male and female or any combination therein contained.  These were standards that were accepted before 1920, standards she had be reared with.  Sex was something quite different from love and love was like bread you could fill yourself with it and still want more, more, more.  Interest in the physical wanes with time but love will link you with another human being forever.

Inertia And Its Beauty
There are people who have read the Boze Hadleigh interview with Agnes and dismissed it.  I think they read it with the idea that it couldn't possibly be true and most definitely searched for any reason they could to point out that would make it untrue.  I read it with the idea that I wasn't there and I could not judge its truth or validity.  Then I reread Quint Benedetti's book.  He taped the classes at Agnes' acting school.  He was grateful that he had because he still had her words to listen to and I am grateful he recorded them because I believe without knowing it he has proven the Boze Hadleigh interview is indeed valid.  How you may ask? With this word, interia, yes inertia.  In one of the lectures Benedetti taped Agnes talked about inertia and in Boze Hadleigh's interview Agnes talked about, yes indeed, inertia.  Not a common word at all.  Certainly not one used as a descriptor in everyday conversation.

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. Agnes stated to Hadleigh that "Life tires one out-not alot but increasingly.  One can't underestimate inertia....inertia is the result of our struggles, my boy."  It was a hallelujah moment for me.  I had connected the two with a word that wasn't exposed as a conversational word for Agnes until well after Hadleigh's book had be written and published.  Benedetti writes, "..It’s just calculated to produce shock which will lead to lesser shock and lesser shock ending up in inertia."  I think I have just fallen in love with the word inertia!

"Well I Have Loved Women Of Course."
" But I don't want anyone misinterpreting what was beautiful and even spiritual."  Spiritual love was an enormously Victorian idea.  That was the whole point for romantic friendship between women, a spiritual connection with one another.  Love of one soul for another soul.  I don't care one bit to know with whom she shared this beautiful and spiritual love.  That isn't the point of it at all.  The heart of the matter is to respect that and to be grateful that she chose to tell someone about it before her passing.   Agnes could have ended the interview without uttering any of these words.  Hadleigh offered to turn off his tape recorder and she counters with " Leave it on. Leave it on.  You apparently have your informants.  I don't know what you've heard and I don't want to hear, and some of it may even be true."   She could have stopped at any time.  Barbara Stanwyck threw Hadleigh out of her house.  Agnes did not, she made the choice to speak.   She emoted the Victorian spirit in all of its purity, "With two women, it's more difficult to know where love leaves off and the other begins, with men it's clearer."  She continues with, "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."  Pure Victorian and beautiful in every sense of the word.  It is a humanist view.  Here is this beautiful woman, a grand dame of the entertainment industry, showing us the beauty of her soul.  Think of the juxtaposition that this Victorian view has with her religious sensibility.  She had the ability to be two different people maybe three different people as I see it.  She was also smart enough to  know that what she was saying was truly controversial and as she says, "If I make a statement to you now, 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 books.  On the screen or in a book, even a famous supporting actress never receives the same in depth....the amount of time that any star, great or indifferent, always receives.  As an actress I'm used to this.  I have no option, as a person I do.
My life has been as long as any, I've had to struggle more than most people in my very privileged profession and although my career might be described or capsulized in a few paragraphs by some writers, I won't let that happen to my life.  Certainly not to my private life, having others try to understand or illuminate me, all in the space of one or two pages."  It bears out in a phrase that she constantly repeated, "I know what I'm about."  She certainly did, without any doubt, know what she was about.  Every nuance of every personality she let show was a result of a disciplined spirit that understood the rules of the world and how they must dictate your life but that they could not dictate your spirit, they could not dictate your heart, the could not dictate your soul.
That was a task left to her and her alone.  A part of her guarded by pillars and mirrors and mazes that only the owner could show anyone safely through.

Next installment:  Forensic Conclusions Are More Difficult Than You Will Ever Know!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Alter Ego

Living A Double Life

As I mentioned in the previous posting, Quint Benedetti stated that Agnes lived a double life.  Even Agnes herself hints at that very thing during an interview stating "What the actor has to sell is fantasy, a magic kind of ingredient that should not be analyzed.  I'm sure that Endora, my alter ego on "Bewitched," would agree.  She's quite an actress herself, sometimes, and better versed in magic than most of us."  Wow, quite a statement when you "analyze" it!  I know that Agnes feared being dissected, analyzed, and set in front of the world naked.  She says so repeatedly.  But methinks the lady doth protest too much or maybe she doth protest just the right amount.  It depends on which person you choose to view, really.  If your choice is the Agnes who was in command of her career then you'd say she protested just enough to keep people interested.  If your choice is the human Agnes who was inept at living then you'd say she protested too much.  My theory is that they are really just the same person in control of the same body at different times and she protests too much.

The Second Self

The definition of alter ego is:
a second self, a second personality within a person, who is often oblivious to the persona's actions.  It was coined in the early nineteenth century when dissociative identity disorder was first described by psychologists.  A person with an alter ego is said to lead a double life.

Lets start by taking a look at some of the words used to describe Agnes by various people at various times and then lets make two lists.
  1. Royal
  2. Naive
  3. Selfish
  4. Intuitive
  5. Phony
  6. Cold
  7. Warm
  8. Insecure
  9. Simple
  10. Complex
  11. Multifaceted
  12. Great
  13. Unemotional
  14. Self Protective
  15. Isolated
  16. Gracious
  17. Professional
  18. Sincere
  19. Interested
  20. Impersonal
  21. Troubling
  22. Uninterested
  23. Distant
  24. Detached
  25. Religious
  26. Commanding
  27. Solitary
  28. Direct
  29. Capable
  30. Certain
  31. Strong
  32. Vacillating
  33. Unsure
  34. Adept
  35. Inept
  36. Ordinary
  37. Irreverent
  38. Secretive
  39. Beautiful
  40. Humble
  41. Normal
  42. Lesbian
  43. Bisexual
  44. Straight
  45. Enthusiastic
  46. Untrusting
  47. Paranoid
  48. Liar
  49. Quiet
  50. Human
Holy crap that cannot be all one person...can it?  Yes it is and I made a choice to stop at fifty because if you read every article ever written in every newspaper or magazine you'll find millions more to add to this.  If you tackle the few books every written about her you'll find even more descriptive words.  Now let us make our two lists by pairing up the words that seem to go together.  We'll build Agnes One and Agnes Two

Agnes One: This is the public persona often displayed by Agnes.  It incorporates all of the descriptors used by people who observed her in public.  Some of them knew her well some not at all but often times they would come up with the same observations.
  1. Royal
  2. Selfish
  3. Intuitive
  4. Phony
  5. Cold
  6. Complex
  7. Multifaceted
  8. Self Protective
  9. Unemotional
  10. Troubling
  11. Isolated
  12. Detached
  13. Distant
  14. Impersonal
  15. Uninterested
  16. Commanding
  17. Direct
  18. Capable
  19. Certain
  20. Strong
  21. Adept
  22. Irreverent
  23. Secretive
  24. Beautiful
  25. Straight
Agnes Two: This is the private persona of Agnes rarely if ever displayed in public except during her two divorces.  It incorporates discriptors used by people who were privy to her private world and saw beyond the veil, somewhat.
  1. Naive
  2. Warm
  3. Insecure
  4. Simple
  5. Unemotional
  6. Great
  7. Sincere
  8. Interested
  9. Professional
  10. Religious
  11. Solitary
  12. Vacillating
  13. Unsure
  14. Inept
  15. Ordinary
  16. Humble
  17. Enthusiastic
  18. Untrusting
  19. Paranoid
  20. Liar
  21. Quiet
  22. Human
  23. Lesbian
  24. Bisexual
  25. Gracious
These two are as different as night and day are they not?  Who would even begin to believe that these conflicting personality traits could live in one body, one mind. Most of them are polar opposites of each other.  These might not be in the order all of us would choose but that's not the point.  The point to the whole exercise it to look at the internal conflict with which this woman lived every single day!  Her mother once said to her when she was a little girl, "Who are you today, Agnes?"  I think that was something Agnes asked herself every day as well.  Just to give you an idea of how the mind of the child Agnes functioned her mother tells a story in a newspaper article of how Agnes, just three or four at the time, would stand in the front window of their home and weep bitter tears of despair just to prove she could do it.  It left her parents in the unenviable position of having to explain to parishioners who passed by that their daughter was simply emoting.  At a very young age, at the drop of a hat she could change personalities like most of us change shoes. 

Fairy Tales, Creativity or Half Truth
By her own admission she used to make up fantastic tales and tell them to her father who did not punish her for lying but praised her creativity.  This was a troubling trait she would carry with her to adulthood.  She stretched the truth or outright lied without even thinking that the people she was talking to would notice.  Take for example her interview with Bernice Mason.  When Mason asks her if she is married she responds, "I was married, twice.  My first husband died, the second one I divorced." Mason says she speaks of it with a surprising lack of interest then volunteers, "I've been single since 1954."  You may not be aware of this but Jack Lee died within six months, nearly to the day, of Agnes.   He was very much alive and living in Los Angeles when Agnes told an interviewer he was dead.  It would have taken Mason a matter of minutes to determine that he was not dead if she had chosen to do so but she, like so many others, opted to either believe Agnes or look the other direction.  Paul Gregory openly referred to this part of her personality as troubling after she allegedly sat with Joseph Cotten and his wife weaving the tale of having gone through labor and describing the birth of Sean.  Then she simply stood up and left the room without even speaking.  Fantasy is a good thing but not when you live in it.  In fact the psychiatric community lists the inability to separate fantasy from reality as a defining symptom of many different disorders.

Emotional Detachment and/or Depersonalization Disorder

The first thing that lept out at me when I started looking at my cousin through purely forensic eyes was that she was, by her own admission, emotionally detached.  She called it aloofness but really it's the same thing.
That led me down the first path of research and I came up with Emotional Detachment Disorder.

This disorder prevents people from being able to form emotional bonds with anyone else.  It is usually evident in early childhood when the child doesn't bond well with one or both of their parents.  There are some researchers who theorize that the disorder is caused by the failure of the mother to properly tend to their infant children.  Then as an infant the person learns not to trust other people.  It's odd but one of the statement's that she herself made led me to this theory.  In her interview with Bernice Mason Agnes makes the statement, "As for personal loves, you can't always depend on a human being, you know."  Aside from many people making statements that she trusted no one she herself says you can't depend on human beings.  It really floored me.

Now to be fair Emotional Detachment can actually mean two things:
  1. An inability to connect with others emotionally, as well a means of dealing with anxiety by preventing certain situation that can trigger it.  It is often described as emotional numbing, or dissociation, depersonalization, or in its chronic form depersonalization disorder.
  2. A mental assertiveness that allows people to maintain their boundaries and psychic integrity when faced with the emotional demands of another person or group of people.
Emotional detachment in the first sense above often arises from psychological trauma and is a component in many anxiety and stress disorders. The person, while physically present, moves elsewhere in the mind, and in a sense is "not entirely present", making them sometimes be seen as preoccupied or distracted. Still, it is often not as outwardly obvious as other psychiatric symptoms; people with this problem often have emotional systems that are in overdrive. They have a hard time being a loving family member. They avoid activities, places, and people associated with any traumatic events they have experienced. 

Some of this works and some of it doesn't when applied to Agnes.  It is apparent to me that she wasn't paralyzed by her detachment.  She continued to perform and in fact excelled at it.  But she constantly insisted that she believed a performer should not be available to the public at will and should have buffers between themselves and their public.  Always her reasoning was that an actor can be hurt by unfair criticism or become to accessible, more human than fantasy and that would be fatal for the career.  Yet, she insisted she did not read criticism and cared nothing for it.  She would say that she always did her best therefore criticism was irrelevant.  Why then was she so afraid of it?  Answer she wasn't.  This was part of that multilayer defense system referenced by Bernice Mason in her interview.  Sort of like the sign in the forest leading to the witches castle in the "Wizard of Oz."  It reads "I'd turn back if I were you."  Most of the time it worked.  People backed off but then you get an interviewer like Bernice Mason who is smart enough to see past the forest.  What do you do then?  Well, today most celebrities would stand up and walk out.  They would make little effort to hide their disgust at a question and their profound refusal to answer it.  What did Agnes do?  She answered the question.  Why?  Because it was direct and unexpected.  It took Bernice Mason little time to realize that the way to get at Agnes Moorehead was to simply ask the question she wasn't expecting you to ask.  She answered every single one of them.  Blankly, unemotionally, but she answered them.  She thought fast enough to throw out the untruth about Jack Lee being dead or maybe that's how she actually saw him.  He was dead to her.  Nobody can say for sure.  But she exposed herself a great deal more than she was prepared to.

The next street I turned down was named Depersonalization Disorder.  I tell you right now I have as fine a grasp of the human psyche as any well trained psychologist and I don't like it one single bit.  You end up learning a great deal about yourself in the process, but I digress.

Depersonalization disorder (DPD) is a dissociative disorder in which the sufferer is affected by persistent or recurrent feelings of depersonalization and/or derealization. Diagnostic criteria include persistent or recurrent experiences of feeling detached from one's mental processes or body. The symptoms include a sense of automation, going through the motions of life but not experiencing it, feeling as though one is in a movie, loss of conviction with one's identity, feeling as though one is in a dream, feeling a disconnection from one's body; out-of-body experience, a detachment from one's body, environment and difficulty relating oneself to reality.

Occasional moments of mild depersonalization are normal; strong, severe, persistent, or recurrent feelings are not. A diagnosis of a disorder is made when the dissociation is persistent and interferes with the social and occupational functions necessary for everyday living. Depersonalization disorder is thought to be largely caused by severe traumatic lifetime events including childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse; accidents, war, and torture.

Okay, again I am faced with some of this fits and some doesn't.  I cannot speak to abusive situations in the childhood of Agnes, other than to suspect her mother was at least verbally abusive.  Verbal abuse will cause emotional abuse, the two go hand in hand.  We know that Agnes suffered several severe traumatic events during her lifetime.  She found her maternal grandfather dead.  Her sister committed suicide.  Her father was struck down suddenly by a heart attack in his church.  Many of these deaths occurred very near to each other including the passing of her paternal grandfather and the suicide of her sister as well as the passing of her father and her Aunt Cam.  Her paternal grandmother died in 1927.  She was forced to repress grief for the death of her sister because of the stigma of suicide.  Her first husband was physically abusive and potentially sexually abusive, she locked him out of her bedroom according to divorce proceedings.  She suffered an accident of some sort that caused the scaring on her face but that could have been a result of Jack beating her.  There is also a record in the divorce proceedings of Jack forcing his way into her room and making her sleep in the same bed with him using a gun to threaten her.  I think that qualifies as torture.  War seems to be the only thing left out.  I won't even list the litany of potential damage done by Robert Gist.
Apparently the only reason this might not be diagnosed in her case is it's inability to interfere with her social and occupational functions.  Good lord it runs in the family!  I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the suicide and shootings I mentioned earlier I witnessed them.  My doctor has been puzzled by my ability to maintain social and occupational function.  Now I can tell him it's genetic. 

At the core symptoms of this disorder are thought to protect the individual from negative stimuli.  You could call it a defense mechanism. Depersonalization disorder is often found in tandem with anxiety disorders, panic disorders, clinical depression and bipolar disorder.  I'm sure that were we able to speak with Agnes and able to get her to openly discuss her feelings we might locate hints of one or two of the tandem disorders that are often found with DPD.

Although depersonalization disorder is an alteration in the subjective experience of reality, it is by no means related to psychosis, as sufferers maintain the ability to distinguish between their own internal experiences and the objective reality of the outside world. During episodic and continuous depersonalization, sufferers are able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and their grasp on reality remains stable at all times.  I think despite her troubling episodes of loosing touch with reality, eg Joseph Cotten and his wife, Agnes herself was fully aware of what was real and what wasn't so this does fit a whole lot better than I thought it was going to. 

I think that we have successfully determined that Agnes may have suffered from:
  1. A disorder related to an overbearing mother.
  2. Depression as a result of her overbearing mother and the suicide of her sister.
  3. Emotional Detachment Disorder again related to the mother.
  4. Depersonalization Disorder as a result of traumatic events occuring throughout her life.
What is certain is that we have only scratched the surface of this highly complex woman.  We are in the first layers of the multi layered defense system.  She has so many more to go.  But I have to emphasize again think of the incredible amount of strength this woman had.  Normal people would not have been able to bear up under some of the things she went through.  Every layer we peel back only emphasizes her humanity but it magnifies her strength.  As Bernice Mason said, "Lacking the terrible hardness of many other long established celebrities, her flexibility of manner is something like that of a good fencing foil, which can be bent into a circle without breaking yet is made of finely tempered steel."

Next installment: Too Sweet A Song

A New Look At The Suicide of Margaret Moorehead

Precious Little Time

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. She was 23 years old.  She had precious little time on the face of this earth and died a horrendous, painful death at her own hands.  I have seen in comments on other blogs people wondering what could possibly have been so bad in her life that it would cause her to end it and to end it so horribly?  I hope to provide some insight into that and to discuss the second victim of that suicide, Agnes.

Borderline Personality Disorder Theory

There is only one contributing factor to Peggy's demise was listed on her death certificate and that was Nephritis.  Nephritis was and is just a fancy way of saying her kidney function was impaired which is a side effect of Bi chloride of mercury poisoning.  There is, however, another highly important unlisted contributing factor and that is Borderline Personality Disorder. I will hereafter refer to this as BPD, just a whole lot easier than spelling it out. BPD is a mental illness and the underlying cause of every single suicide is a mental illness of some type.

First let me tell you a little bit about BPD.  You can read forever and get everybody elses opinion about this disorder or you can go straight to the tools used to diagnose BPD The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition or DSM IV-TR.  This is what you will find:

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, as well as marked impulsive behavior, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5
  5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.
  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms

The onset of the symptoms of BPD typically occurs during adolescence or young adulthood.  Parents of individuals with BPD have been reported to show co-existing extremes of over-involvement and under-involvement. During this period Margaret's parents were largely absent from her life.  She lived in Saint Louis with family not with her mother and father.

 Individuals with BPD can be very sensitive to the way others treat them, reacting strongly to perceived criticism or hurtfulness.  Given Mollies predilection for making demeaning pointed remarks to Agnes it is likely that she did the same to Peggy especially if and when she began to feel her control over Peggy slipping away. 

Their feelings about others often shift from positive to negative, generally after a disappointment or perceived threat of losing someone. We know from Agnes' letter written to her sister after her death that Agnes had most certainly had words just the previous year with Peggy and it was over the topic that would haunt her the rest of her life her sexuality.  I think we can safely assume that was the topic of discussion because Agnes states, "Poor dear little girl your words of last year ring in my ears, “ you never loved a man like I have.” 

The self-image of someone BPD can also change rapidly from extremely positive to extremely negative. Perhaps Agnes' referral to Peggy as beautiful was a reference to her sisters view of herself.  Impulsive behaviors are common in people with BPD and although we have no documentation specifically talking about impulsive behavior demonstrated by Peggy I think it is safe to assume that she had some impulses contrary to the behaviors her mother would approve of.

 People with BPD tend to view the world generally as dangerous and malevolent, and they tend to view themselves as powerless, vulnerable, unacceptable and unsure in self-identity.  Given her shuttling back and forth from Reedsburg to Saint Louis Peggy was undoubtedly in flux with her view of herself as well as her view of the world.  We will never know if the life she was living in Saint Louis was one in which she felt safe or if something traumatic happened to her during her time there.  No record remains of any of it.  She was powerless, vulnerable and unsure of that there can be no doubt.

Individuals with BPD are often described as deliberately manipulative or difficult, but analysis and findings generally trace behaviors to inner pain and turmoil, powerlessness and defensive reactions, or limited coping and communication skills.  Inner pain is never more apparent than when someone successfully takes their own life.  It speaks volumes about how Peggy saw her own life and how she viewed her parents.  Suicide is at is core a manipulative behavior.  It leaves people behind with lives forever changed and the person who dies feels no pain.  Often it is done as a punishment.  In this case it could be not only Frank that Peggy wanted to punish but Mollie as well.  It also shows that Peggy really had no coping skills what so ever and wasn't offered any support, at least by her mother.  I'm sure that for her father her "troubles" were difficult because being a minister means that people look up to you as a role model and there you sit with your troubled child, very difficult position to say the least.

If any of this sound familiar it should, because it is laid out in the communication between Mollie and Agnes that I have transcribed further down on this page.  In this communication Mollie hints at the trouble Peggy wants Mollie to forgive her for.  Notice that it doesn't mention any issue with their father only an issue between Peggy and Mollie.  In the previous post I mentioned that Mollie qualified as an "overbearing mother."  I also went through the list of things that can develop psychologically when you have an "overbearing mother."  Additionally I mentioned the quip to Agnes that  the "wrong daughter died."  Well, as stated above an over involved parent can push someone into BPD and I guarantee you that is what has happened here.  BPD has also been linked to increased levels of chronic stress and conflict in romantic relationships.  Remember the mention in the first go around with this of  "Frank?"   Also think about the fact that Peggy did not live with her parents full time for years and attach that to the statement above of co-existing extremes of under and over involvement by the parents of a child with BPD.  It took me a long time to connect these dots believe me but the evidence, slim as it may be, is certainly there to support a diagnosis of BPD.

Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.  

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 Mollies 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’ Mollie 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. Mollie 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 with Mollie stating only that she asked to be forgiven for being crass and unreasonable. Frank, the lover/boyfriend who instigated the ending of the relationship, is chided for simply failing to call Mollie 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 and suffering with a mental illness.  People don't like those signs though because they view it as a failure on their part so they overlook them, they call them phases and assume they will pass.  BPD is a bonified mental illness that can and does lead to tragic endings.
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.

This reads exactly like the list in the DSM-IV for BPD and really that is what they are talking about.  Mental illness, BPD, Schizophrenia, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,  the list is endless but a common thread runs through all of them.  If no help is sought or given the outcome is likely to be quite tragic.
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.

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 explaining why Peggy was kept "doped" 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.

Parents of individuals with BPD have been reported to show co-existing extremes of over-involvement and under-involvement.

Peggy appears to have been isolated from her parents by distance for quite a long time. Peggy 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. Peggy, 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 Peggy 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

A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

This brings us to one of the roots of  Peggy's problem, “Frank.” Whoever Frank was, obviously there was a romantic relationship. Peggy 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 apparently opting to end her life over his alleged rejection.  I think that it was a very intense affair as evidenced by Agnes’ quoting of Peggy'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 Mollie'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 Mollie 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. Peggy 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 Peggy, however, we’ll never really know for sure because we weren’t there. I do know from the letter to Agnes that Peggy asked Mollie to forget “all the trouble.” This statement seems to indicate that there were tensions within Peggy's mother as a result of her relationship with Frank. Anyway you cut it family tension added to Peggy’s already apparently fragile emotional state.

Can Suicide Take Two Lives At Once?

This brings me to the second victim of this suicide Peggy's sister Agnes. 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. Who can determine the severity of the heartbreak of losing a sibling to suicide?  Losing a sibling changes family dynamic in one swift brush stroke.  In the case of Agnes she went back to being the only child in a heartbeat.

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 Peggy 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. She may have acted as a mother figure to Peggy because of the separation between Peggy and their parents. 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.”

Look at this phrase from this litany of anguish, "How I wanted to see you and yet the thought of seeing you was beyond my strength."  We know that Agnes arrived either just prior to or just after her sisters passing.  She never saw her sister that much is obvious.  Because she couldn't bring herself to.  It "was beyond my strength."  Agnes was a strong woman.  She had achieved 3 different degrees by the time her sister died.  She had taught school for a year to save money to attend the American Academy.  She packed up and moved to New York without even a thought as to how she would survive.  She worked while attending the Academy.  She stepped onstage in front of audiences and performed, no mean feat in itself.  But she could not handle seeing her sister.  Their last meeting had been at least a year before Peggy's death.  We know that because of the letter above.  Words only ring in your ears when they are exchanged in heated discussion.  Casual happy words are never described as "ringing in my ears."  We also know from an article about Agnes' success in New York published in the Hamilton newspaper in January of 1929 that her family expected her home immediately after her graduation in March of 1929.  That obviously never happened.  It is stated in the article from Hamilton that Agnes had only been to her parents home in Dayton once before January of 1929.  Given the letter Agnes wrote her sister that visit happened in 1928 and if Peggy's obituary in the Xenia paper is to be believed as accurate Peggy didn't come to her parents home in Dayton until fall of 1928.  That means that the last time the sisters had seen each other was sometime between the end of September 1928 and Christmas of 1928.  My money is on Christmas.  So, Agnes sees her sister during Christmas of 1928, fails to return home in March or April of 1929 as agreed and by July 14th of 1929 Peggy is dead. That is a period of about seven months.  The stock market crash and the Great Depression didn't begin until October of 1929 so it wasn't that which made the trip in March or April of 1929 impossible
for Agnes to make.  Peggy's birthday was April 12th and surely Agnes wanted to be there for that or perhaps this is where the statement in her letter to her sister actually comes into play, "How I wanted to see you and yet the thought of seeing you was beyond my strength."  Maybe she was already aware of some difficulty rearing it's ugly head and she didn't want to deal with another confrontation with her sister regarding her own personal choices.  It has always seemed odd to me that Peggy made such a pointed remark about Agnes by saying "you never loved a man like I have."  Siblings are privy to each other's secrets.  Often times they know their sibling better than anyone on the planet.  So why this comment and why such an aversion on Agnes' part to seeing her sister.  Why didn't she go when she had the chance?  You can bet she asked herself that question over and over and over again!  If she had gone would she have been able to save her sister?  Also a question she repeated to herself numerous times.  It's called survivors guilt.  What if?  Why didn't I know?  Maybe I did know and couldn't cope with it myself? 

The other thing that puzzles me about Agnes' depressed letter to her sister is her intimation that her sister was brave and courageous to face death so young.  I would certainly say that of someone who died of a disease like cancer or heart failure but suicide doesn't seem like an act of bravery to me. From my own experience I can tell you that the only suicide I ever witnessed, yes witnessed, was an act of illness not bravery.  The person was severely mentally ill and had killed two people I knew as well as wounding three others.  He was ill, very ill and his suicide was the result of terminal mental illness.

She also seems to think that somehow her sister now knew the secret of life and death.  That seems rather an odd observation to me, although I suppose it is true enough.  Her desire to speak to her sister and her adamant desire that her sister "know" how she felt about Jack also seem out of place somehow.  I think that it shows the fragile nature of her own state of mind.  Her thinking was not 100 percent clear.  She was obviously depressed over her sister death and she was dealing with demons that would have no resolution now because the only person with whom resolution could happen was gone.  She had made the choice not to resolve those demons she was paying a very high price for that choice.

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.
It is my opinion that all of these things are evident in Agnes’ personality. Agnes had difficulty in establishing long-term relationships. Hers were, to say the least, stormy.  Take for example Quint Benedetti's reference to Agnes being physically abused by her husband. "On the other hand, Agnes would sometimes show up with a deep bruise on her face or slice alongside her head or a band aid somewhere and say "Look what my husband did."  She said it with no emotion as if it were a part of life." The only way he could have known about any of that was to be told either by Agnes or those close to her because she wasn't married when he knew her.  We know from newspaper articles that Jack Lee did allegedly beat her.  Lee never denied that as far as I can tell. This was not the first time that anyone had referred to her saying something with no emotion whatsoever, Bernice Mason said the same thing when she talked about Agnes' reaction to Sean's disappearance. "There is no emotion in the things she says," said Mason.  No emotion, none.  Disconnected.

She became so disconnected that 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.  Even Benedetti, who claims to have known her best says, "You might say Agnes lived a double life, a life on the stage, on the movie set and her life off."  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 Peggy's suicide was one of the things that made her so successful at her career and so unsuccessful in her private life.  But she definitely did not escape her past unscathed.  She was emotionally crippled by her past and I believe she herself fought mental illness of a sort.  The difference between she and her sister was that Agnes won.  She had to have had an inner strength that was unimaginable because she did it on her own.

The next installment: My Alter Ego

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Don't Forget; Don't Ever Forget That I'm Human"

"The Safety of a Hypersensitive Spirit"

Just recently I reread Quint Benedetti's treatise about Agnes Moorehead.  It has prompted me to go through this process of reading the stacks of things I have and writing, again. The whole idea behind documenting the life of Agnes Moorehead was to gain a better understanding of who she really was.  Paul Gregory described aspects of her personality "troubling."  Quint Benedetti described her with a series of words and phrases. "The royalty, the naivete, the selfishness, the piercing intuition and astonishing lack of it (two marriages), the phoniness and the irrepressible humanity it contained, the coldness and the longing to be warm and sometimes the warmth, the insecurity and the yearning to be loved, the human simplicity touching greatness."  Bernice Mason stated that "she lives within a created impenetrable fortress composed of layer on layer of self protective covering, perhaps to guarantee the safety of a hypersensitive spirit against the knife thrust of living."
Agnes herself described her behavior as containing "a certain amount of aloofness on my part."

It is well documented that she had a roller coaster existence from childhood to the day she died. We have already looked at the documentation regarding this.  What I would like to do with this piece is an autopsy of sorts on her psyche.  Analyze her, a comment she would have found highly agitating.  The one thing she did not want to be was analyzed, ever.  So I'm shooting myself in the foot here by doing this but I think that it will explain so much and help us to see her more as an extremely strong, gifted, individual, who despite overwhelming odds became an icon in the eyes of millions.

"A Too Knowing Surgeon's Probe"

Where to begin?  Well, as with all autopsies you must begin with dissection and interpretation of the facts, in this case mental as opposed to physical.  Like a profiler you must take apart the persons psyche and apply psychiatric diagnosis to it then interpret the whole as it relates to the individual.  It is a somewhat sterile process as well as being a somewhat traumatic process.  It is always easier to accept people for what we see on the outside and believe that nothing deep or troubling runs beneath the exterior.  All too often that isn't the case and I believe that Agnes is going to fall into this category.  Still waters run deep and deep water has wicked strong current to it.


I must begin with the early life of Agnes Moorehead.  We know from my previous set of blogs that she worshipped her father.  Reverend Moorehead appears to have been a well balanced man of firm conviction.  Patient, kind, and loving, his involvement in the rearing of his child was one of discipline, encouragement, and support. He encouraged her to be educated.  He supported her in her foray into performing with the Municipal Opera.  He disciplined her by having her learn psalms while sitting in his study with him as he worked.  He obviously loved his daughter very much.  That is why this next bit troubles me.  He is alleged to have asked his daughter "Agnes, why do you marry such weak men?"  I find that hard to believe because Agnes did not divorce her first husband until nearly 13 years after her father's death so the plural "men" just doesn't make sense.  He may have asked her why she had married such a weak man in Jack Lee and considering what Lee was putting her through by the time her father died I can understand that question.  As a father Reverend Moorehead would have felt protective of his daughter and given his predisposition for speaking the truth as he saw it he would have felt compelled to say something to his child about a situation he saw as unfit. However, the demeaning nature of the statement does not fit John Moorehead's apparently gentle personality.  As I ruminated on the statement, which comes from Quint Benedetti's book, I began to sense that it wasn't made by her father at all but by her mother.  Agnes quite likely credited it to her father but it just wasn't the kind of comment he would make.  Mollie was there for both of her marriages, though.  John was not.  Mollie was definitely the dominant personality.  John was not.  Mollie reveled in the limelight. John did not.  John's joy was in watching his daughter "test her wings and learn to fly" not in demeaning her for her choices.  I believe that, and the documentation supports this, John was a busy man.  He spoke frequently at public events.  He baptized, married and buried a large number of parishioners.  He worked quite hard and he did travel abroad.  I have found his application for a passport and subsequent documentation that he acted as a chaplain at one point during the first world war.  He was loving but frequently absent for one reason or another.  This left the child rearing to Mollie.


When Mary Mildred McCauley first met John H. Moorehead she was only fifteen going on sixteen years old.
He was pastor of the United Presbyterian Church in Scottdale, Pennsylvania from January of 1896 to November of 1898.  We know from previous documentation that Mollie sang in the choir in her husband's church.  It is likely that is how she met John to begin with.  Mollie was musically inclined and played the cello as well as the piano.  She is said to have been on stage but I have no documentation to back that up.  In any case, Mollie was married to John on August 30th, 1899 at the age of eighteen.  Mollie's mother Margaret appears to have been the dominant force in Mollie's family and Mollie learned at the feet of a master.

John Moorehead was twelve years his wife's senior but Mollie was hundreds of light years beyond John in worldly experience.  John had spent his life in small town Ohio.  Mollie grew up not all that far away from Pittsburgh.  Her mother's family was quite prominent in Pittsburgh and its suburbs.  She was streetwise.  John came from a family of farmers.  Mollie wanted to be prominent and being the wife of a minister was a more than acceptable way to do just that.  To top it off he was posted to Boston which was quite a step up from the steel mills of Pittsburgh.

Mollie's involvement with the rearing of her child gives a whole new meaning to the word dominant.  I should qualify this with the introduction of Margaret, Agnes' sister, to the picture.  Agnes spent nearly six years being an only child.  Margaret, who arrived in 1906, appears to have been the favorite of her mother.  I hearken back to a mention in a previous blog that allegedly Mollie once said to Agnes that "The wrong daughter died."  It is worth noting that pressure from her mother is more than likely what pushed Margaret down the road to suicide but we'll discuss that later. 

Every comment I have found attributed to or made by Agnes about her mother shows a woman obsessed with control over her daughter's life.  Have either of your parents every awakened you in the middle of the night to test your knowledge of the bible?  Seems a little like a drill Sargent turning over the trashcans in the barracks at four in the morning to test your ability to react under pressure.  Agnes made a point of saying she did not want her mother to live with her even in the face of Mollie's advancing years.  Mollie treated her sixty plus year old daughter as though she were twelve by telling her to "Hush Agnes" during an argument and Agnes did.  When someone told Mollie she must be very proud of her daughter Mollie responded with "I had two daughters."  When Agnes died Mollie insisted she be the only one in the room and then proceeded to tell everyone that Agnes' last words were "Mama." Mollie was in charge in every way when she was in the presence of her child and the majority of the damage done to Agnes' psyche was at the hands of her mother.

The Dominant Mother Syndrome

I embarked on a search for information on the effect of a domineering mother on a child.  I have read more psycho babble than you will ever know and this is what I have gleaned from such light reading as the "British Journal of Psychiatry" and so many others just as stuffy if not more so:
  1. The child will become performance oriented as it matures.  Perfection becomes the means by which the child keeps the love and acceptance of the mother.  The result is a child who is continually anxious about every performance oriented aspect of their life from school to after school activities. 
  2. The child will require constant assurance from people in positions of authority such as teachers that their work is above average.
  3. All of the child's actions become calculated to please someone else, primarily the mother.  The expectations and approval of the mother becomes the focal point of the child's life.
  4. If the child fails at something or does something that the mother would disapprove of the child will magnify the mistake or failure in their mind.  This will lead to the development of an extreme sense of guilt or self loathing over the imperfection.
  5. If the mother increases the feelings of guilt through her reaction to the mistake or failure it may lead to the child developing an attitude of insecurity which will demonstrate itself through low self esteem.
As the child becomes an adult child of an overbearing mother the following is likely to occur:
  1. The adult child will be emotionally immature.
  2. They will not know how to express feelings, make decisions or assert their independence.
  3. They will not exercise their right to say no to authority figures such as employers.
  4. They will be driven to perform for their employer to gain their approval.
  5. The adult child may be more likely to cave in to peer pressure because they have been taught to obey their mother's rules without having been given the reasons for those rules.
  6. They may do things they know are wrong in order to avoid conflict with others or earn their acceptance, love and approval.
  7. They will have difficulty believing that anyone can love them unconditionally.
Nearly everything in these readings relates to Agnes.  Quint Benedetti states that "Agnes lived a double life, a life on the stage and movie set and her life off.  In one she was strong, certain, direct, capable.  In the other, she was vacillating and unsure......At one she was adept, the other inept."  Agnes was most assuredly the adult child of an overbearing mother and it was so ingrained in her personality that even distance between them could not free her from its influence.  The damage done to her was permanent and far reaching.  Add to this the next trauma that would affect her psyche, the suicide of her sister, and you have a recipe for an emotionally crippled individual.

Coming in the next installment: A New Look At The Suicide of Margaret Moorehead

Friday, July 22, 2011

So Much More Than Skin Deep

I cannot tell you the number of times I have read in either a newspaper article or magazine article Agnes describing herself or being described as "not beautiful."  It appears, to me anyway, that perhaps this was ingrained in her from the time she was very, very young.  Most likely, her sister was referred to as the pretty one and most likely Agnes was referred to as the smart but unattractive one.  It is amazing what these types of off handed comments can do to a young psyche.  I was told that "You will never be beautiful so you had better develop my personality or you'll get nowhere in this world.  Brains and personality will get you what you need to survive."  I'm sure that having a massive scar on her face didn't help her view of herself either.  Most folks don't notice it because it is airbrushed out of studio portraits and covered in heavy make up on other occasions.  It is on the right side of her face starting about an inch to an inch and a quarter above her eyebrow right at the nose end of the brow.  It runs about 2 inches back above the brow, down the inside of her nose next to the tear duct and terminates about 3 inches below the tear duct.  It is about a half an inch or so wide right at the front of the eyebrow.  It's why her right eyebrow is shorter than her left.  I don't know how she came by it but that must have been some cut and it was definitely stitched.  I know first hand what that looks like, stitch marks I mean, I was hit on the right side of the face with the base of trampoline at age 5 and that took 45 stitches inside and out to close.  If you watch for it on close ups in Bewitched you can see a little of it.  I happen to own an unretouched photo.  I will scan it in so that you can see it for yourself.  Suffice it to say that at any age a facial scar will definitely make it difficult to see yourself as attractive.

I just posted an article yesterday in which Agnes herself said, "I never was pretty enough to play a heroine.  As a little girl I was the long gangly type, almost as tall as I am now (5'6"), sad and pathetic.  I have no vanity at all..."  How tragic to have that view of yourself.  Oddly enough as a young girl, around 4th grade I stood head and shoulders above the class at five feet five inches.  I only grew another inch the next year and have been five feet six inches tall ever since.  I know exactly what it feels like to be the long gangly one that everyone picks on but I wasn't necessarily sad and pathetic.  It breaks my heart to think she saw herself in such depressing terms.  Further back in the same article she talks about being afraid to ask for a job, "Because I can't sell myself-I'm still scared to ask anyone for a part."  This was in 1942 and I don't know about you but I cannot even begin to imagine my cousin being scared to ask anyone for anything.

I think this supports the hypothesis I put forward in an earlier blog.  The hypothesis was that Agnes kept everyone at arms length and the creation we came to know as Agnes Moorehead was just another role for her.  It was a part she stepped into that gave her control over her life and her career.  She was forever saying that her air of mystery was a boon to her career.  I even have an article titled " Actress Says Mystery Aids Her Career."  She also says in this article, "I have played so many authoritative and strong characters that  some people are nervous at the prospect of meeting me for the first time.  Hmmm, come to think of it, in their shoes, I might be, too.  To be frank, there is a certain amount of aloofness on my part at times, because an actor can be so easily hurt by unfair criticism." 

As I sift through all the pieces of paper I have seen a pattern develop with Agnes.  She started out being humble, especially about her looks, being self deprecating and then she came into her own, performance wise.  Once that happened a whole new woman developed.  She became flamboyant, direct, opinionated and for a long time courted controversy in her personal life with her two marriages.  She became known as one of the best dressed women in Hollywood.  By 1950 this article appears:

August 26, 1950
Glamor Boys Choose--Filmlands Sexiest Sextet
Maralyn Marsh

The six sexiest women in Hollywood were handpicked today!
The sextet stacks up with Linda Darnell, Paulette Goddard, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Malone, Spring Byington and Jan Sterling.

Judeges, who stuck out their necks and opions were Richard Widmark, Richard Basehart, Ray Milland, Scott Brady, Charles Coburn and Paul Douglas....

Goes For Agnes
Ray Milland, who has caressed such sexy sirens as Lana Turner, Joan Fontaine, Ginger Rogers and Paulette Goddard during his celluloid days turned his back on them and selected Agnes Moorehead.
Usually Agnes' allure is hidden under layers of character makeup and costume, Milland claimed.  As for why she is "sexy" the suave smoothie stammered, "Well, she is very intelligent--she has reddish hair-she's quite beautiful, she, well she just is!"
Agnes, who usually plays the intense, shrill voiced psychotic, frowned then smiled:
"I'd never thought of myself in the glamor girl bracket, but its very pleasing.  I have no beauty rituals-rather, I think sexy is more in the mind than body.  That's me."

This piece blew me away actually.  Two character actresses selected as Hollywood's Sexiest.  The other was Spring Byington.  She, like Agnes, played a certain type of part usually the mother or aunt.  Just as an aside Spring was also the long term partner of Marjorie Main.  Her sexuality, like Agnes' was a topic of discussion then as well.  What really stunned me though was the grasp that Agnes had on sexy being a state of mind and Ray Milland's very first comment was "She is very intelligent."  I think back to my instruction to use my brain and definitely not count on beauty for anything.  Apparently it wasn't all that bad as far as advice goes.

Agnes radiated a type of beauty that cannot be duplicated.  Yes, in later years she relied on heavy make up to cover her proliferate freckles.  I must add this runs in the family and if we, family wise, spend any time in the sun we blossom with freckles.  She definitely didn't take care of her skin the way women do today.  She spent a lot of time outside and no doubt did a great deal of damage to her skin but her beauty wasn't exterior it came from the soul.  It came from her eyes and her bearing and her elegant movement. 

By the time she was seventy she was still one of the most beautiful women we had ever seen.  She aged gracefully.  She worked with her age and used her skills to distract us from anything that might be perceived as a flaw.  Her beauty was so much more than skin deep it was soul deep.  We should all be so fortunate to have a soul that beautiful.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

She Learned Mimicry in the Loft of Her Father's Church

Milwaukee Journal
June 5th, 1942

She Learned Mimicry in the Loft of Her Father's Church
If you had seen little Agnes Moorehead singing up there in the choir loft, with angel light in her blue eye-back in Clinton Massachusetts, or St. Louis Missouri, you might never have guessed she'd eventually  be playing leads on the stage, in radio plays or before movie cameras.  You might not have been so surprised at that, if you had seen little Aggie, at  five or six or even ten years of age, mimicking members of the congregation she learned to know so well from the choir loft vantage.

Agnes made her first public appearance at three, singing in a solo in church.  At twelve she was in a ballet chorus at the St. Louis Municipal Opera.  She wanted to plunge into professional acting immediately, but her father said school came first.

She continued mimicking parishioners "until her father was in stitches...but he wouldn't let me know until years later.  He almost burst sometimes hiding it."  "When I was naughty he'd set me up on a shelf of the hardest encyclopedias you ever saw and give me a psalm to memorize.  There I sat until I could recite it.  it was wonderful memory training.  And it made me think before I would do something wrong again.'

Scared to Ask for a Job
Agnes went from Wisconsin to the American Academy in New York, " Because I can't sell myself-I'm still scared to ask anyone for a part.  If I was good at the Academy, someone would see me and give me a chance."

Someone did.  Agnes was playing on Broadway in "Candlelight" when the depression hit and producers virtually quit staging plays.  She took a role in a radio mystery melodrama at NBC at $22.50 a week, hoping it would lead to something more.  That it did, too.

Several radio breaks and a twenty week tour of one night stands with Seth Parker followed.  She got the Parker job on her ability to imitate Ma Parker, who didn't make the trip, reciting chapters of the bible at high speed.  She had learned a lot of verses perched on encyclopedias in her father's study.  She developed her art of mimicry so well that she imitated the voices of the Duchess of Windsor, Queen Wilhelmina, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mme. Chiang Kai-Shek and a lot of other women, big and little, on the radio.

Followed Immigrants
She spent hours at the New York docks listening to immigrants and studying their voices and mannerisms.

Agnes isn't a pretty girl-she's the first to admit it.  She has high cheekbones and an irregular mouth, but she is attractive. 

She has a fine sense of humor.  She has played many an old hag role, but she doesn't mind.  She has been doing that ever since she was eleven, when she put on red flannels and a lot of petticoats and makeup for a church show.

"I never was pretty enough to play a heroine.  As a little girl I was the long gangly type, almost as tall as I am now (5'6"), sad and pathetic.  I have no vanity at all, especially since Orson."

Likes Security of Farm
Orson, of course, is Orson Wells.  Agnes was in his first Mercury Theatre production and has been in all of them since.  He brought her to Hollywood, and in "Citizen Kane" gave her the important part of Kane's mother.

Agnes has no illusions about ever becoming a glamor star, but she would like to "do something really fine, artistic."  She's in her thirties, has chestnut hair and is married to Jack Lee, a San Franciscan who became an actor and radio director in New York.  But now has retired to their 320 acre farm near New Concord, Ohio.

Her ambition is to become a great actress and divide her time between the farm and the studio.  She has no intention of giving up the farm, come what may in Hollywood.
"There's a security on a farm but who can accurately predict Hollywood?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Part She Plays In Sunday Radio Skit Fits Girl, She's A Pastor's Daughter

Sarasota Herald Times
December 17, 1931
Columbus Ohio (AP)

Dramatizing the part of "Lizzie" in Seth Parker's "Sunday Evening" group is not altogether acting for Agnes Moorehead.

She has a good background for the role, for she was reared in a Presbyterian parsonage, her parents being the Reverend and Mrs. John H. Moorehead of  Linden, a Columbus suburb.  The part of "Lizzie" is a happy compromise for if Agnes is to give vent to her dramatic urge nothing could suit her parents better than the part she plays.

Miss Moorehead, the mother says, liked dramatics from the days of pinafores.  She excelled in Sunday School, Church and School entertainments.  She went in seriously for dramatics at Muskingum College at New Concord, Ohio and at the University of Wisconsin where she received her Masters Degree.

While in college she directed a few plays so successfully that she determined to enter the American Academy in New York.  She was graduated from the institution.

Aside from the characterization of  the sharp tongued "Lizzie," Miss Moorehead plays other parts on the air.

"We did not object to her going in for dramatics, says Mrs. Moorehead. The fact is she was so determined that our objections, had there been any, would have availed little.  We felt she could find greater success in a career of her own choosing than any we might choose for her."

 This was the photo used in the article.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dear Anonymous

This post is intended for the express purpose of telling the hater "Anonymous" that they are 100 percent out of line.  Just recently, in response to my post "Primary Preference" they felt it was appropriate to say to me "
Anonymous to me
show details 9:03 PM (1 hour ago)

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Primary Preference":

Sorry Darling, but you are THE most homophobic "theater person", that I have never met..... "

 Whoever you are and whatever reason compels you to refer to me as"homophobic" let me just enlighten you a wee bit. First, idiot, bigotry works both ways a concept obviously lost on you. Secondly,I am an out bisexual you jackwagon and prior to my current mate, who happens to be male, I was in a long term relationship with a woman.  It lasted nearly 20 years. Before that I had relationships with both sexes.  So the next time you decide to be a cowardly,insulting, undignified jackass make sure you know exactly who you are insulting.

The point is now and always will be love is love period. Love is also apparently something you lack in your life as well as suffering from a severe shortage of compassion and a gross lack of comprehension skills.  The cover of the book doesn't matter the content does. Which indicates that you, well, you are a sleazy poorly written piece of minor pulp fiction with a badly illustrated cover.

And oh yes, darling, anonymous more anonymous comments permitted sweetheart.  If you can't play nicely you can't play period!  Either have the conviction to identify yourself or shut up!

Have a pleasant evening gorgeous!

Peggy Fears

Born June 1, 1903
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Died August 24, 1994 (aged 91)
Montrose, California, U.S.
Spouse A. C. Blumenthal (m. 1927-1950)
Partner Tedi Thurman
Peggy Fears (June 1, 1903 - August 24, 1994) was an American actress, who appeared in Broadway musical comedies during the 1920s and 1930s before becoming a Broadway producer.


Leaving New Orleans at the age of 16, she attended the Semple School. Yale University student Jock Whitney took her to the Richman Club where vocalist Helen Morgan heard her singing and encouraged her to attend auditions being conducted by Florenz Ziegfeld.
Beginning with Have a Heart (1917). Fears performed in ten Broadway productions, including the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925. In Ziegfeld's No Foolin (1926) she appeared with Edna Leedom and the Yacht Club Boys plus a chorus line with Paulette Goddard, Susan Fleming, Clare Luce and Baby Vogt. By 1932, with Child of Manhattan (written by Preston Sturges), Fears became a Broadway producer. Her only motion picture appearance is the role of Gaby Aimee in The Lottery Lover (1935).
In 1971, Louise Brooks, a former lesbian lover to Fears by her own account, wrote for Sight & Sound about meeting Peggy Fears and W.C. Fields in 1925:
The fifth floor dressing-room lost its exclusive atmosphere when Peggy Fears, who had also transferred from Louie the 14th to the Follies, decided to become my best friend. She was a darling girl, with a sweet singing voice, from Dallas, Texas. Her smooth chestnut-coloured hair was untouched by dyes or permanent waves. Instead of the expensive gowns of a Follies girl, she wore schoolgirl sweaters and skirts. Perhaps it was her whimsical sense of fun that attracted her to me. And what could be more fun than Peggy, the most popular girl in the show, becoming friends with its most abominated member--me? One night she crashed our dressing-room carrying a Wedgwood teapot full of corn whiskey and, knowing my literary pretensions, two disgustingly vulgar magazines, Broadway Brevities and the Police Gazette. A week later we were living together in the Gladstone Hotel off Park Avenue, where swarmed Peggy's friends until September when she went on tour with the Follies and I went into The American Venus at Paramount's Long Island studio.
It was through Peggy Fears that I came to know Bill Fields. Before the matinée, at the Rosary Florist, she would select a bouquet to be wrapped in waxed paper and presented to Bill in his dressing-room. It touched his heart. Bill adored beautiful girls, but few were invited to his dressing-room. He was morbidly sensitive about the skin disease which inflamed his nose and sometimes erupted on his hands, making it necessary for him to learn to juggle wearing gloves. After several devastating experiences with beautiful girls he had decided to restrict his choice of girl friends to those less attractive whom he would not find adrift with saxophone players.
Bill entertained Peggy and me with distinction. His bar was an open wardrobe trunk fitted with shelves, planted, as if it were an objet d'art, beside his chair. While Shorty, the silent dwarf who was his valet and assistant on the stage, went about preparing our drinks, Peggy and I would dance around Bill who sat at his make-up shelf, listening to our nonsense with gracious attention.[1]

Marriages and relationships

On June 19, 1927, she married Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal.[2] As Broadway producers during the early 1930s, they co-produced Music in the Air, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. The show had a run of 342 performances in 1932-33.
Blumenthal earned $15 million during the first three years of their marriage. Fears purchased five Rolls Royce autos and a $65,000 chinchilla coat, retaining only $300 in her bank account. The couple fought and split up. Eventually, they reunited and renewed their vows during three different marriage ceremonies. In 1950 Fears and Blumenthal separated permanently. Fears entertained in night clubs, and Blumenthal lived in Mexico.
Although she had been married, Fears is described by those who knew her as being bisexual, or even lesbian, but primarily preferring the company of women in her private life. According to actress Louise Brooks, she and Fears were involved with one another, but Brooks never allowed herself to let the affair develop into a serious relationship.[3][4]

Death of mother

In 1938, her mother was found dead from gas asphyxiation.[5]

Real estate

Fears built Fire Island Pines, New York's original Yacht Club. Part of the construction was a cinderblock hotel which still stands today. She invested $10,000 and bought an inlet on Great South Bay. In 1959, she paid off the last of her debt on her property. It was then valued at $350,000.
While a resident of Fire Island, she had a stormy romantic relationship with Tedi Thurman, famed in the 1950s as the sexy voice of Miss Monitor on NBC's Monitor. Thurman was interviewed about her life with Fears for Crayton Robey's documentary film, When Ocean Meets Sky (2003), which features Sara Ramirez as the voice of Peggy Fears.[6] In 1966 she sold out her interest to John B. Whyte.[7]
Fears died August 24, 1994 at the age of 91 in La Crescenta-Montrose, California.[8]