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?"

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