I started this whole process of dissecting Agnes' personality with a decision to be surgical and clean in the process. At the end of it I find that to be pretty much impossible. There are many reasons for this but the frontrunner on that list is her humanity. I have found this wonderful, complex, determined, strong, weak, protective person under that veneer. In other words human just like the rest of us.
I know very few people who are utterly and totally predictable. I know even fewer who show themselves for what they are one hundred percent of the time. I have been through trauma but, unlike her, I have had the opportunity to speak to professionals about it, to be monitored and assisted when needed. We have all had moments in our lives when everything we thought we knew was swept away and we were forced to learn how to live again. Some of us have even been where she was, controlling mother, sibling suicide, deaths in rapid succession amoung close family members, divorce, financial woes, lonely, petrified that someone would learn the truth of who we were, failed relationships, failed business ventures, overwhelmed by success, under a microscope, child behavior issues, fearing for our future but how many of us have come through it unscathed? Very few I would imagine, very few indeed.
This is the point of it all. I was once told by a very wise person that each person in our world acts as a mirror for our soul. We are generally interested in those who, on some level, remind us of ourselves or reflect a situation we may be trying to deal with or are an idealized image of what we wish we might be. I felt by reflecting Agnes' humanity back toward us we might indeed find that we had so much more in common with this woman than we had ever dared to imagine. I found this to be true of myself during the process. I wanted to make her human and I believe I have to an extent.
I found her to be damaged by so many things. Her mother, her sisters death, her fathers death, her abusive husbands ( I make this plural because Robert Gist was just as abusive as Jack Lee ever thought about being but he did it without outward physical marks. He did it psychologically.), her money problems, her fame. She was emotionally crippled in the largest sense of the word. Terrified of what other people might do to her. Terrified of loosing control of her life. Terrified of loosing her youth, her money, her career. She lived in constant terror of so many things. The only creatures on this earth she really trusted implicitly were her animals and her love for them speaks of a person harmed by humans to the point of only trusting the unconditional love of an animal. Do you know what it takes to reach that point? How much damage must be done to the psyche for this to occur? It is symptomatic of several psychological disorders you know. I read over and over again, "Will develope an affinity for close emotional ties to animals because it is unconditional." Agnes herself said "You can't depend on human beings, you know." This sentence was one of the most telling of all of them save for Boze Hadleigh's interview. Humans are not dependable. They will find a way to let you down and to hurt you. How tragic an outlook that is.
Agnes was tragic. It is a part of her beauty. Look at her eyes in those candid pictures taken when nobody is looking or when she is tired. Those eyes are the saddest I've ever seen. They are the mirrors of her soul. Even when she's smiling there is something so distinctly sad in the back of them. But just think about the strength of this soul too. This magnificent phoenix of a soul that drags itself up time and again from the ashes of some occurence that would have killed a weaker person. She rises and keeps right on going forward even in the face of death. That is impressive people, so very impressive and without, so far as we know, one iota of psychoanalysis. Nobody there to put out a medical hand to hold her up. She stood up through sheer force of will.
On the topic of psychoanalysis why buy one when you can be one! Agnes said all the time, "I know what I'm about." I think the quick glimpse afforded us of her acting school by Quint Benedetti told us all something very important about Agnes, why pay for psychoanalysis when you can do it yourself. She says several times that you must understand psychology to be a actor. You must have a knowledge of it. She was a highly educated woman and she read all the time. Believe this, she read books on psychology. She understood what was going on inside of her better than anyone who might have attempted through guided conversation and psychological symptom analysis. Like every person with a mental illness there were times when it momentarily slipped beyond her control but unlike the rest of them she would right her ship and get it on course through self discipline. It blows me away actually...totally...I've never seen anything like it in all my years. It's like breaking an arm and setting it yourself because you've read every book on medicine you could find. Then when it's healed a professional says "What doctor set this for you? They did an amazing job!" Your response, "Thanks Doc I did it myself with some paper towels, a rubberband and duct tape!" "Hello 911 my doctor has just had a heart attack. Could you send an ambulance but not to worry I'm giving him CPR as we speak. He will be just fine but do hurry." AMAZING.
Agnes was so very aware of the dangers of mental illness that she did a large number of public service announcements about it. Stressing the need for care and concern. She understood what it did and how it did it. She watched her own sister self destruct because she was not strong enough to bear up under the weight of it. Agnes worked it like it was hers to control and not vice versa. Keen understanding of who you are. A willingness for self examination. Strength enough to steer around the rocks. All of this while maintaining a public image of coolness, control, and style. Like I said earlier the clinical, cold, calculated forensic examination goes right out the window when you are talking about Agnes Moorehead.
This is not to say she did not have the capacity for some immense failings because she did. Her isolationist personality put her in the position of having nobody to fall back on, ever. She lacked the intimacy that the average person has. She was unskilled in this behavior because she spent so much time not trusting anyone. Her volatile relationship with her foster son was a prime example. Agnes had no business bringing a child into her world. It didn't stop her from doing it but it should never have been allowed to happen. Sean was doomed from the moment she took him home. The only example of child rearing she had was that of her mother and in small bits her father. Agnes became as domineering as her mother had ever thought about being. She wanted total and absolute control over Sean without any thought of the changing environment he was growing up in. Her goals were unrealistic. Her style of raising him was unrealistic. Like her own parents she was gone for weeks or months at a time then back in his life with all the force of a hammer. He didn't stand a chance. He was emotionally damaged himself when she took him in and then as he grew confronted with the idea that this was not his mother and the idea of having parents who cared so little for him that they left him in a hospital to be adopted even more damaged. Then throw on top of that a very strong will to dominate coming from his foster mother, damage. But he's been loyal none the less. I think in his own way he loved her and respected her. He could have given umpteen interviews cutting her to shreds but didn't. He never profitted from his life with her and that says something about the sense of loyalty she instilled in him. The very same fierce loyalty she demonstrated to a mother and a father who had unwittingly damaged her. Again, the standards are out the window.
In conclusion, yes Agnes had some grievous mental issues. She had Emotional Detachment Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and perhaps a smattering of Borderline Personality Disorder. She had at least two perhaps three maybe even four different personalities in the same conciousness functioning on different levels at all times. Today if she had sought treatment, like that ever would have happened, but there are those who said the same about me come to think of it, she would have been on medications to assist her in day to day life and she would have promptly lost her magic. Agnes had it right when she said that actors sell fantasy and that to tamper with the psyche of an actor was to destroy his or her magic. I know it would have taken that sense of the fantastic away from her. It would have removed the part of her that so many people came to know and love at a distance. For all of her foilbles and issues I find that I am quite happy with the woman who had magic in her voice and mischief in her eyes but lived in a world so mysterious, so unreal, that it riveled the beautiful land of Oz. I know I loved going there with her. Didn't you?
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