Saturday, November 26, 2011

Miss Information

I  have done an exorbitant amount of reading about the life of my cousin.  I have read every book written about her, every article, every magazine piece, every quip, dot, comma, noun, verb and yet it never ceases to amaze me the amount of information out there that bears so little resemblance to reality.  It is hard to say exactly where some of the blatant misinformation began.  Some of it has just been repeated so many times that it has become accepted as fact.  Some of it is deliberate.  Some of it is a failure of people to accurately research their work.  All of it irritates me because it is an acceptance of an illusion that portrays this strong, passionate, sensitive, beautiful soul as a typical "Hollywood" star.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

What has lead me to this rant, surgery, yes, that's right, surgery.  When you are forced to be relatively still after having a huge portion of your interior removed you read and when you read things that you've read many times you notice the inaccuracies.  I do understand that work, a great deal of work, went into these books yet I'm stunned by the fact that each author seemed to stop just short of the truth.

Charles Tranberg wrote his book " I Love the Illusion" after interviewing some of Agnes' intimates and extensively reviewing her papers at the University of Wisconsin.  His book is filled with more inaccurate information than any of the others.  He put a lot of work into this vehicle but his information is seriously flawed.  His information garnered first hand from the likes of Paul Gregory is brilliant and an invaluable insight into the character of this magnificent woman but his willingness to pepper it with bad information does it a great disservice.   So, in the spirit of unmisinformation, I admit I just made that word up, I am going to dissect and attempt to illuminate the truth of the statements below.

1. Massachusetts Birth of Margaret
The section that alludes to Agnes' family life starts by providing us with information that both girls being born in Massachusetts, " It was shortly after Margaret was born that John was assigned to a new parish in Hamilton, Ohio."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Agnes was born in Clinton Massachusetts and when her family moved to Hamilton, Ohio she was an only child.  Margaret was born in Hamilton on the 12th of April 1906.  I have the birth record so there's no arguing this point.

2. Home Life
The next information provided was that the Moorehead home was the loving home that we all long for and that the two girls lived a somewhat idyllic life.  First of all we know that Molly could be cold and uncaring.  That statement comes from someone who actually knew Molly Moorehead.  The gentleman who made the statement chalked that part of her personality up to being a fundamentalist Presbyterian.  He also added the her life was lived for the glory of god.  I think it's going out on a limb when you make sweeping statements life the one below because your information is only as accurate as the people who give it to you and one thing I've learned about Agnes is that she was a chameleon.  She could adapt and cover herself no matter what it took.
I'm sure that they were loved but not in the way they should have been.  In the end the lack of understanding and love cost Margaret her life.  So you can take away from this whatever you desire but you have to be willing to read between the lines and apply basic psychology principals to the interpretation of these statements such as, "While they were brought up in a home full of love, music, books, and religion, Agnes and Margaret, like all children got into mischief."

3. Their Personalities
"Agnes developed a headstrong, lively personality and a sharp wit which reminded many people of Mollie, and, in fact, Agnes and Mollie would be remembered for being very similar in attitudes and behavior.  Margaret was more like her father, low key and shy."  From my own personal experience I know what it's like to be similar to your mother.  It usually adds up to arguments, disagreements and a lot of down time in your room reading.  Certainly Agnes was outgoing to a point but she hid her real self to protect it so in truth how much was she like her mother?  If you are out going, headstrong and lively you don't manufacture facades to keep the world at bay.  Similarly low key, mellow, shy people rarely go off the deep end and commit suicide.  I think that the surface of these two complex personalities has only been scratched at best.

4. Hiding in make believe
Agnes hid herself away in her make believe world.  In fantasy she was safe from the trials and tribulations of the outside world.  Again, I must labor on the point that someone with an Ozzy and Harriet up bringing doesn't need to hide from anything.  Nearly every person who speaks about her mentions her ability to detach and enter into a blatantly untrue story then act as though it were fact, for her it was, and yet nobody wants to understand that this type of escape is pursued by someone who has dealt at great length with trauma in their lives.  They say, "Unlike many other children she didn't get frightened when she read Grimm Fairy Tales.  She got caught up in the adventures without the side effects of nightmares. Agnes lost herself in the stories and could spend hours sitting alone reading and then, afterward would spend hours acting out what she read.  She would be in a fantasy world of her own and her best friend was her imagination."


5. Time in Hamilton
The Moorehead family lived in Hamilton until 1913 when John took a pastorate in Saint Louis.  They had been in Hamilton since about 1903.  If you do the math that's longer than seven years as is referenced in Tranberg's book.  It is more like 10 years and 9 for Agnes.  In addition Agnes lived with an Uncle and Aunt in Denver.  It was one of John's brothers that she stayed with.
"The Moorehead's spent seven years living in Hamilton, six for Agnes since she developed whooping cough and the family doctor advised John and Mollie to send Agnes to a dry climate.  She ended up spending a year with an Aunt in Denver."  "In 1912 John relocated to the First Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.  To move from the security of friends and family in Ohio to the big city of St. Louis was not an easy one for Agnes.  She later recalled crying herself the first two weeks after the family arrived."

 6. Death of Teddy McCauley
Agnes was no doubt close to her maternal grandfather.  But the idea that she was small child when he died is truly misinformation.  Teddy McCauley along with his wife Margaret moved to Canton Ohio to be close to Molly and her girls.  Teddy died after 1913.  This makes Agnes a teenager when she discovered her grandfather had died in his sleep.  I'm positive that it scarred her for life but she wasn't a small child as some biographers hint.
Agnes was also close to her maternal grandfather.  He was a religious man and used to speak to Agnes about God and the gospel.  One Sunday afternoon it appeared he was asleep in the big comfortable easy chair he often sat in when telling Agnes stories from the bible.  Agnes went up, as she sometimes did when he fell asleep in his chair, and tapped him on the shoulder.  However, this time he didn't wake up. Agnes would recall that she cried for days."


7.  The Real Municipal Opera story
There are so many huge holes in this story.  First of all Agnes was in high school which puts her age at least at 14.  By her own admission she had not gone there to audition herself.  She went to support a girlfriend of hers and got sucked into it.  She didn't try to look older than she was.  She always wore her hair up and had planned to feign fainting to get out of the mess but before she could do it she was selected.  She cut class to go with her friend to do this and now she had to go home to explain it to her father.  "The summer after her arrival, when she was twelve, Agnes tried out for the St. Louis Municipal Ballet. With her long legs and her red hair tied tightly in a bun, Agnes tried to make it appear that she was older than she actually was, already assuming a role she would often essay on screen.  She was chosen to perform in the ballet and, due to her fine soprano voice, in the choir.  But she needed her father's permission..."

Agnes was never one to give people what they might need to figure out what made her tick.  She guarded herself so closely that any information which came via her to a friend or acquaintance has to be considered suspect.  She didn't talk about her personal life.  She took that information with her when she passed away.  What she left us to unravel was a larger than life electric persona but as often is the case the person who goes to that much trouble to conceal themselves does so because they are fragile underneath the bravado.  They do it to protect their human hearts and souls from being compromised.  Still the strength it took her to master herself is a monument to the woman we have all come to sort of know but definitely love.

3 comments:

Miss Mildred Fierce said...

Thanks very much for this wonderful blog, you've done a fine job of amassing a wealth of information about Agnes that is much appreciated by her fans. I've yet to even scratch the surface of what you've collected here, but I'm looking forward to the journey.

In regards to the Transberg book, I think you'll find that many a critical reader is apt to take his work with a grain of salt. At the risk of seeming petty, I will admit that I, myself, had serious misgivings about the veracity of his claims merely from the numerous grammatical errors and random personal assertions that litter the book. From an academic perspective, you can hardly take someone seriously when they're using source material to present a "case" for their subject, rather than offering it in an objective fashion.

Yet, I find that to be the folly of many biographers, especially ones who deal with more "elusive" subjects, such as your cousin. It seems these types inspire all sorts of fantasies and illusions in their fans, and unfortunately, instead of doggedly pursuing the truth of their existence, they seem dead set on fitting their subject into the mold that is most comfortable for themselves.

Sorry to be so long winded, and thanks again for what you've shared with us!

tamela757 said...

Thank you Mildred! I appreciate the positive input and I agree with you completely. That is why I chose to do more with actual written documents as opposed to relying on the memory of individuals. Thanks again.
t

Anonymous said...

Tamela, since it seems like you've done so much research yourself, have you ever thought of writing a book about Agnes yourself? I didn't know the Tranberg book was so flawed and I was going to re-read it upon finding your site! -- Kate

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