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

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