Monday, January 30, 2012

Agnes In Wonderland

Did you ever have a moment when you found that all the things you thought you knew were true suddenly began to mutate into something you didn't recognize, didn't know?  Well kids, you aren't alone!  Color me stunned, immediately!

No doubt you've read the previous post about a mysterious college "flame" who was brought to light by an innocent anonymous post on Find A Grave.  I did track down his name, John Collins Ballentyne, but today I looked into his past with my magnifying glass.  What I have discovered has totally left  me scratching my head, no seriously, scratching it to the point of actually yelling out "WHY." 

In a past post mention was made of an alleged remark quipped by Reverend John Moorehead about Agnes' penchant for attracting gentleman who were truly unworthy of her.  Personally I don't believe he ever made the remark but that aside I would have to actually agree with him had really he said it.  All due to the events of the last three days.  When looking at the man Agnes left behind and the men she actually married made me weep with aggravation and a desire to bang my head against the wall.  It has left me searching for meaning in the "Wonderland" that Agnes wove around herself over the years as protective cover.

Down The Rabbit Hole
I find, when doing research, that facts contradict themselves with great regularity.  You literally have to Sherlock Holmes your way into a solution by eliminating things until only one thing is left and it, however improbable it may seem, is your solution. 

So little is known about Agnes' youth outside broadly known competing statements and snippets expressed by Agnes herself in interviews or documented conversations.  We know she played a "hot" ukulele courtesy of password.  We know she taught school courtesy of herself, former students, and the great state of Wisconsin.  We know she had a burning desire to act, that she was highly intelligent, that she sang, that she was athletic and so forth.  All these things are widely known.  What we didn't know was kept, quite successfully,  behind the veneer of her personality.   It seemed for many years that we would never crack that veneer.  We have begun that process courtesy of anonymous.

Agnes had a beau her final year in college.  A "flame" as it were,  His name was John Collins Ballentyne.  He was born in India to American parents.  In the 1924 Muskingum year book he is identified as having hailed from Xenia Ohio.  He was born on the 11th of October 1899 in Punjab.  He graduated from Woodstock high school in India.  This was a boarding school in the Himalayan mountains geared toward college preparation.  He graduated from Muskingum in 1924 with a Bachelor of Arts in oration.  His blurb in the yearbook says he was interested in either teaching or attending seminary school.  He enlisted in the National Army during the first world war but never saw action and was discharged honorably in 1918.  He was the class vice president his sophomore year.  He was class president during his junior year.  He was president of the "M" club, was a debater, an orator and he played football.  He was tall, according to his draft registration card, with black hair and blue eyes.  I've been an academician for many long years and I can tell you this is the kind of young person who succeeds.  He pinned Agnes, which was the early twentieth century version of "going steady."  In every way he absolutely did not fit the description attributed to Agnes' father of being a man unworthy of her.  The type that she typically attracted and the type she actually married, twice.  This is the part where I grab my hair and scream "WHY!"

"What was going to happen next."
In the story of Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll  offers the following;
"Either the well was very deep, or she fell slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and wonder what was going to happen next."  Agnes, like Alice, had plenty of time to wonder what was going to happen next.  Sadly enough it appears she actually had so much time she chose to engineer her life straight into emotional disaster.  What follows is mind boggling, so prepare yourselves.

John C. Ballentyne left Muskingum with his degree.  Agnes left with hers.  He falls off the radar for a few years between 1924 and 1927.  During this same period of time from 1924 to 1927 Agnes teaches in Soldier's Grove, Wisconsin.  She completes a Masters Degree in English and Public Speaking.  Agnes leaves Soldier's Grove to live in New York and study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  John C. Ballentyne is a student studying for his Masters Degree in English Literature at Columbia University in New York at the same time that Agnes was studying at the AADA.  Columbia is on 116th street and Broadway and AADA is at 120 Madison Avenue.  They were there at the same time and given his fondness for Agnes, whom he called his "First Lady" according to anonymous, it is more than likely she was aware he was there.  Still standing?  I wasn't believe me!  Agnes claimed years later to have known not one single person in New York when she went there in 1927.  That is the sound of glass breaking folks, the veneer is really cracked this time.  The screeching sound you're hearing is me still screaming "WHY."

John Ballentyne was every bit the capable man Agnes' father was and then some.  By 1929 he was a published author.  The book entitled "John Taylor-the water poet" was published under the name John Collins Ballentyne the year the stock market crashed.  For those of you who don't know John Taylor was the first poet to mention the death of Shakespeare and Francis Beaumont in print in 1620.  This is not a book one would take up writing on a whim.  I think it was probably John Ballentyne's masters degree thesis.  The topic is heady to say the least, actually positively cerebral.  This man was a thinker, an accomplished thinker.  John Ballentyne had his sights set on an academic career that much is very plain.  He also taught at the Julliard School of Music during his tenure in Manhattan.  So what in the name of heaven happened?  Why in the name of all things holy would you turn your back on a man like this and marry Jack Lee?  Jack Lee, whose claim to fame amounts to :
1. Being an outstanding corpse on stage.
2. Being an outstanding clerk in a candy store.
3. Being an abusive alcoholic smart enough to stay married for an insanely long time to Agnes Moorehead.

Do we see the problem yet?  Do we?????  Tall, blue eyed, raven haired, cerebral, athletic, dramatic (forgot to mention in his list of accomplishments earlier he acted in the Senior play at Muskingum), educated, world traveler, musician versus tall, dark haired, blue eyed, pseudo actor, candy store clerk from a wealthy California family, who thinks you have a straight back and enjoys liquor.  Seems a wee bit out of balance to me does it not?

The Pool of Tears
Lewis Carroll describes Alice's falling into a pool of saltwater by saying she fell into a pool of tears she had cried when she was nine feet high.  Alice offers this:
`I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That WILL be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.'  Agnes was punished alright and it was self inflicted punishment to boot!  I would think that we could safely say she drown herself in her own tears.  The only difference is nobody saw her pool of tears.

The year 1929 was a pivotal year for Agnes.  She graduated from AADA.  Her career lay ahead of her but then the stock market crashed.  Most importantly her sister died.  This was a year that would change her life in more ways than she had ever imagined.

Agnes wrote this note of anguish a notebook about a week after Peggy's death. 
“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, 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.”

We have all seen this and all read it.  We've wept with her at the loss of her sister.  But there has always been a portion of this letter that has struck me as odd.  What comparison does Agnes have for the statement "Men are so heartless, so cruel."?  What is she basing this decision on?  If you believe the biographies Jack Lee was it as far as men went outside of her father.  The likelihood of Agnes using her father as a basis for this statement is nil, nada, zip, zero.  The likelihood of Agnes using Jack Lee as a basis for this statement is on the high side but why marry someone you know is going to be cruel to you?  It may be a blanket statement about the man "Frank" who, according to Mollie, dumped Peggy without notice.  I really don't think so.  I think if it had been about "Frank" Agnes would have used his name.  She would have called him out as being responsible for her sister's demise.  She generalized the statement to include all men.  Something else was at work here.  Something we know nothing about with someone we knew nothing of.  Agnes continues in the note to her sister talking about Peggy's words of last year ringing in her ears, "you have never loved a man like I have."  What does that mean?  Is Peggy referring to her sister's dual nature?  Had Agnes claimed to have fallen in love with Jack Lee that quickly?  Remember we are referring to 1928.  Agnes came to New York in August of 1927 and according to her one of her professors at the Academy began forcing Jack Lee on her by deliberately seating her next to him in class.  Doesn't sound like love at first sight to me.  I think the topic of conversation may have been John Ballentyne not Jack Lee.  Perhaps the disagreement was a result of Peggy pointing out the obvious, John Ballentyne was dream come true, well at least in Peggy's opinion he would have been.  Words of frustration from Peggy to Agnes "you have never loved a man like I have."  Makes way more sense to me.  Whose to say the reference to Jack is even about Lee in any case.  Jack is a very common nickname for John and I'm sure a published author who was also teaching at Julliard wasn't about to roam around using "Johnny" as a moniker.

Curiouser and CuriouserSuffice it to say that whatever the cause was John Ballentyne was not married to Agnes.  I suspect that it had more to do with the disproportionate nature of their feelings for one another.   He had deep feelings for her as opposed to her less passionate feelings for him.  He cared very much about her.  He cared so much that he told his children about her and described her to them as his "First Lady."  He was married to their mother and still talking about Agnes.  Unusual to say the least. 

By April of 1930 John was married.  His wife was a woman named Aileen Campbell.  Aileen was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister.  They were living in Washington City Pennsylvania while John taught at the Pace Institute.  At the time of the census they were literally newlyweds.  Daughter of a Presbyterian Minister.....I'm sensing a small pattern here.  I found a photo of Aileen and she actually strongly resembles Agnes.  Dark haired, high cheek bones, slender, but without any of the glamour, without the "Actress."  Aileen is Agnes as she might have been if she hadn't gone to New York or been a natural actress. 

In June of 1930 Agnes married Jack Lee in New York.  By doing so she forever altered her life in more ways than she could possibly imagine.  She left behind the brilliant mind of John Ballentyne settling for the somewhat unremarkable mind of Jack Lee.  We will never know what prompted her to do what she did.  Perhaps John loved her too much and she was uncomfortable with that.  There's a big difference between college "flame" and the rest of your life.  I think it intimidated her because she did not share the passion that John felt for her.  Perhaps she felt she would be short changing him and he didn't deserve that.  Jack Lee was an expendable commodity in the end in any case.  The unremarkable candy store clerk come actor remained just that unremarkable. An unremarkable, abusive drunk who beat the living tar out of Agnes on several occasions.  It's okay to be totally confused because her behavior doesn't seem logical.  I trust in her ability to "know what she was about", a statement she used with great alacrity, to understand what she needed to do in order to get where she wanted to be.

John Ballentyne returned to Ohio.  In 1945, he moved to Dayton with his wife and children where he joined the ranks of the Aeroproducts company, a division of Allison Engine, General Motors Corporation.   He died on April 25th 1959 in the same hospital as Peggy Moorehead had in 1929.  He was described as an "honest and moral man, one who cared very deeply for his family."  He never forgot his "Fist Lady" though and he's buried in the very same mausoleum as Agnes.  Not very far at all  from where she was laid to rest, according to anonymous.

I am certain of one thing at the end of this discourse.  Agnes was literally like an onion, you peel back a layer and there is another one underneath ever so slightly different from the one above it.  At the heart of it all lays the soul of a real human being...protected, camouflaged, fragile and oh so full of a light nobody has ever seen.

By wondrous accident perchance one may

Grope out a needle in a load of hay;
And though a white crow be exceedingly rare,
A blind man may, by fortune, catch a hare.

 A Kicksey Winsey (pt. VII)
John Taylor
The Water Poet

John Collins Ballentyne

Aileen Campbell Ballentyne

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Anonymous Post to Agnes' Find a Grave Memorial

Regarding the Anonymous Post
Just recently I took up the challenge of locating this man…
My Dad, your old flame Johnny from Muskingum days, is also interred at the same Dayton mausoleum and quite near to you. He never forgot you, his first “first lady”.

I did it with logic.  I took the 1924 yearbook from Muskingum and started reading.  It would only figure that Agnes would “date” someone or be close to someone that she saw with regularity.  Considering that she spent the majority of her spare time doing plays or singing it would have to be have to be someone she did one of those two things with.  She sang with the Glee Club, all girls but dramatics, different story!  She performed with two men named John.  John Fred Bell and John Collins Ballentyne were their names.  I continued to read the yearbook and what do I find in the back? This:
Muskingum Diamond Ring Club…it lists charter members all were young women who were graduating and engaged, no Agnes wasn’t on that list but she is listed below as a “pledge” with the statement “notice their pins.”  The only way you got “pinned” is to go with a young man who was in an group, like a fraternity, that issued pins.  That dropped the list of potential “Johnny’s” to five and of those five only one died in Dayton Ohio and is buried in the same mausoleum with Agnes.  He would be John Collins Ballentyne who married and had two children,both of whom are still living,  before his death in 1959 in the same hospital where Agnes’ sister had died thirty years before.  John Collins Ballentyne was born to American parents in Punjab India in 1899, probably missionaries. 
Johnny is no longer a mystery…………

 John Collins Ballentyne

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Life With All Its Pain And Sorrows

I came across a transcript of a radio broadcast given by Agnes in the 1950's.  It was from a series called "This I Believe." I was struck by the circumlocutory nature of the piece.  She spent a good long while proclaiming her fundamentalism and then immediately contradicting it with statements about success, anonymity and a great many other things that in the end really had little to do with anything except Agnes evading the issue of saying what she really felt or believed.  She does make mention that in her profession the "punishment for transgressions is great."  She was keenly aware that she had to color between the lines.  Every so often when you least expect it she shows you a glimmer of her real personality.  This piece was no exception to that.  She makes this statement, "I believe life with all its pain and sorrows is a beautiful, precious gift and I believe that I must strive to reproduce its beauty by holding fast to this ideal by doing my duty without regard to personal ambition.  I  believe that in the course of living a life, of embarking on a goal and the certain truths that go with honest living, after these precepts have formulated-then one must set out alone, single handedly, uncompromisingly in these tenets.  No one else can do it for you."

I have read some sorrowful things in my time most of them I wrote about myself but this paragraph breaks my heart.  It is a glimpse inside of this beautiful fragile soul that you rarely ever see.  Think about the description of life she gives as being one "with all its pain and sorrow" not one with pain and sorrow balanced by joy and love.  For her that was life , something that had to be carried, something that was a duty.  She makes no mention of joy of any sort in the essay.  It seems in her personal view of the world it was something that she lacked.  She also makes a point of saying you must live life alone, single handedly without any compromise.  Dedication can play into that but to me it reads more  like a person who saw themselves completely alone in this world and that the only person she could depend on was herself.  She actually said that "human beings are never reliable."  Every single time I read these bits and snippets I am so emotionally moved by how lonely this woman was.  I'm also amazed at what a consummate actress she was and not just before a camera , on the boards of a stage, or in front of a microphone but every moment of her life when she was in plain view of others.  I think it is in Charles Tranberg's book where it is mentioned that Agnes was on 23 out of 24 hours a day.  I wouldn't go that far but I would say without hesitation that she was never herself in front of anyone, not even her mother.  It's why there are so many contradictory statements about her personality.  I believe that Paul Gregory may have been the only living human being to see beyond her veneer to what he called "troubling parts of her personality."

What drives a person to this?  I still continue to read, theorize, take notes but I rarely get any further than the death of her sister.  Today I was reading an article by " P,. Gill White, PhD."  The article is about loss of an adult sibling and it has some views that tie in quite well with some of Agnes' behavior patterns. 

Dr. Gill talks about disenfranchised grief.  Meaning that when an adult loses a sibling they feel like society abandons them by giving all the sympathy to their parents.  They sibling is basically forced to "get over it" quickly so that they can operate as a support system for their parents.  Dr. Gill says this is one of the reasons why adult sibling loss falls into the category of "disenfranchised grief."  The bereaved sibling is made to feel guilty for grieving too long.  Society doesn't offer any support to these individuals.  Their grief and sadness is never validated and they don't get the chance to heal.  The result of this is for the sibling to "go into hiding with their feelings."  This typically results in a low grade depression which the sibling struggles with for many, many years to come.  Does this sound like anyone we know?  I surely think it does.  I know I've addressed this before but this article by Dr. Gill is so eloquent and really shines some light on the darkness of Agnes' personality.

Dr. Gill makes the statement that "Life changes in an instant."  It is really true if you think about it.  Life simply stops being what it was and changes without your permission into something you have to learn to cope with.
Dr. Gill gives the following as issues that must be dealt with or worked through:
  • Seeking a new identity.  "When someone has been a part of your life since their birth, your identity is based on having him or her there.  They form a part of the field or background from which you live your life, and as such, they are essential.  They make up part of the unbroken wholeness that defines who you are.  This relates to the concept of birth order.  When the first child is born he or she develops certain characteristics and talents.  Other siblings will most likely choose characteristics to develop in order to differentiate from each other.  The first child may be a star athlete, while the next sibling excels in academics.  The siblings support each other by their differences.  In doing so, siblings actually loan each other their strengths, and when one of the siblings dies, that strength is lost, and the survivors identity with it."
  • The loss of a future with the sibling. "Not only have you lost the actual person and your relationship with them, but you have lost the part they would have played in your future.  You may go on to marry, have children, buy a house, succeed or fail, and each event underlines the terrible reality that your brother or sister is not there.  Forever after, all events, no matter how wonderful, have a bittersweet flavor.  Anniversary reactions plague the surviving sibling on birthdays and holidays and other special occasions.  They may unwittingly be "acting out" the loss unless they are conscious of the date."
  • Compulsive care giving. "What prevents many bereaved siblings from an uncomplicated grief process is their desire to protect someone--perhaps their parents, spouse, or their own children.  The focus on being there for someone else helps them put their own grief process on hold.  One of the most commonly noted responses to sibling loss is that the surviving sibling learns not to fear the grief of others.  They have been there--they know what it's like so they can listen to others who are grieving.  This can be carried too far.  When bereaved siblings project their own hurt feelings on to others, and then take care of those others, it becomes counter productive.  Compulsive caregivers live on the periphery of their own existence, focusing so much energy outside of themselves that they become empty, over stressed and ultimately clinically depressed.  Often they appear brittle, speaking in short quick sentences, while they deny the underlying pain.  The unfelt feelings then become a heavy burden that prevents the sufferer from becoming their best selves."
  • Dealing with trauma. "A related issue that is particularly troubling in certain kinds of death is that of trauma.  Our minds can only process so much information at one time.  When the event is of a magnitude to create excess stimulus, it is traumatic.  When a brother or sister dies suddenly from an accident, suicide, or homicide, this is definitely too much for us to take in at once."
  • The aftermath of loss, guilt. "Guilt is a feeling that builds with time.  It appears that you feel responsible for violating some unwritten rule of society, or failing to meet your own standards of behavior.  That is the surface.  Underneath this lies the fact that we, as humans, do not like to feel  powerless or helpless.  We could not prevent our sibling's death--we were utterly powerless.  So we pretend to ourselves that if we had been there, or if we had taken some particular action, things would have been different.  Then we blame ourselves for having failed our deceased sibling.  As time passes, we examine our memories of the relationship with the deceased sibling.  We find that we failed before, not having been as kind or generous as we "should" have been; we have not lived up to our own code of behavior.  So we end up feeling even more guilty."
  • Survival guilt. "Sometimes bereaved siblings punish themselves simply for living when their brother or sister is dead.  It almost feels like a betrayal of the sibling, if we go on living.  Many bereaved siblings don't know about survival guilt, and don't believe they feel it.  And yet, they wonder why they seem to attract difficult, painful situations into their lives.  This kind of guilt can be explained with simple math.  You have 100 pounds of guilt on one side of the scale and you need to get 100 pounds of punishment on the other side to balance the scale."
  • Guilt about the death. "This kind of guilt stems from the dislike of feeling helpless.  Perhaps there was something you could have done to prevent your siblings death.  If you had done one thing different this would not have happened.  It goes on and on."
  • Violating your own code. "Sibling relationships are ambivalent by nature.  This means that we both love (sometimes) and hate (sometimes) our siblings.  Having lived with them for many years, we have fought a lot.  Thus there are many reasons to berate ourselves when they die."
This section basically describes Agnes to a tee.  She saw the world as a place of pain and sorrow.  She did her duty in terms of marrying and tolerating the violence thrust on her by her husband.  She fell from painful situation to painful situation with great alacrity.  Her whole life was governed by July 14th 1929.  She never moved past it.  She never grieved her sisters passing.  She held it inside for 45 years.  I think she felt she atoned for it by dying.  She knew she was ill years before she died and did nothing but the minimum and when she finally decided to try to live it was too late to save herself.  She died in April just 7 days or so after what would have been her sister's 67th birthday. 

Here I sit marveling still at her strength, her will, her talent and wishing in every way that I could have been there to relieve her pain, to assure her that she had every right to grieve.......what I wouldn't give for a time machine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In The Beginning

St. Louis Post Dispatch Friday January 8 , 1943
Harry Niemeyer Jr.
Early in the Spring of 1917 Aggie Moorehead quietly "cut" her physics class at the old Central High School and slipped out to Forest Park in company with another young lady of teen age.  Before their teacher even noticed their absence they were standing in line with some 200 other stagestruck girls waiting for tryouts for an opera about to open in Forest Park.  Aggie, who had danced a little in school, didn't really hope to tryout.  After all her father was the Rev. Dr. John Moorehead pastor of the Carondelet Presbyterian Church.  Aggie had a feeling that the Reverend Doctor might have some objections to his daughter becoming a chorus girl.
More to keep her friend company than anything else Aggie went through the first tryout with her and passed.  Then went through the second and passed again.  Aggie's girlfriend failed to make the grade leaving a terrified preachers daughter on the stage in company of with some 40 other youngsters who had pleased Musical Director Charles Previn.
Before she could conveniently faint and back out of the whole thing, Aggie was give a stage pass and told to report the next night for rehearsal.  Trembling she put the pass in her purse and went back into town.--not to the physics class at Central High, but to her father's study at the Carondelet Presbyterian Church.
"Aggie," he said, "Why aren't you at school?"
"I cut class papa," replied the girl.
The good doctor was worried.  Aggie had never cut class before.  In fact she seemed to realize that as a minister's daughter she had a certain dignity to uphold.
"What did you do?" he asked.
Nervously Aggie told him what she had done and waited for the reverends wrath to descend.
For a few seconds Dr. Moorehead studied his daughter.  Then he smiled and said:
"When does the show open, Aggie?  I'll want to get a couple of seats for your mother and myself."
A month later Aggie Moorehead made her professional stage debut in the chorus of "Aida," playing one of the dancing slave girls.  In a front box were Dr. and Mrs. Moorehead accompanied by several of the Presbyterian flock.
Since obtaining the parental sanction to a stage career Aggie had been deliriously happy.  She worked like a Trojan at rehearsals and as a consequence had been put in the front line of the dancers.  She squinted nervously through the opera's footlights trying to catch a glimpse of her parents as the dance began.
Then it happened.  In her over enthusiasm in kicking she managed to kick off her right ballet slipper.  It sailed gracefully over the footlights, past the orchestra, and landed in the lap of a gentleman in row three of the pass section.  The happy gentleman, flushed from a few beers at Tony Massa's bar, stood up and exhibited his catch to the rest of the 8000 people viewing the opera.  Aggie, who was the end girl, fled into the wings where she promptly had a tantrum.
In an effort to console the unhappy girl stage director Previn admiringly watched her go through her contortions of mental agony and the said:
"Honey, you don't belong in the chorus.  Acting like that should put you out with the principals."
Last week, for "acting like that" in a similar tantrum in the motion picture version of "The Magnificent Ambersons," the New York film critics got together and voted Aggie Moorehead the best actress of the year.
This honor, in which she competed with and won over such actresses as Greer Garson and Katherine Hepburn cam entirely unexpectedly to the actress who, when she received the telegram notifying her of the award thought it was a gag and threw the wire away.
Only now a week or so later, is she getting used to being pointed out on the streets as the Number One Actress in Hollywood.  A year ago when Orson Welles brought her out here to play the Mother role in "Citizen Kane" no one in the film city ever heard of her.  Now she working in two films at once and has offers from every major studio in Hollywood.  Although she's billed as "Agnes Moorehead" in the screen credits she's still Aggie to everyone on the sets from her leading men to the make up girls and prop boys.
Aggie recalls her St. Louis childhood with no small amount of nostalgia.  She moved there from her birthplace in Clinton, Mass, when she was 6 years old and her father had been called as the pastor of the United Presbyterian Church.  the Mooreheads moved to a home on McPherson Avenue and Aggie was installed in the Eugene Field Grammar School.
"Even then," she says "I had the acting bug.  With other girls I'd slip downtown after school and watch the actors coming out of the stage doors after the matinees at the Shubert-Jefferson.
"Every Friday I night I went to the Pageant Airdrome out on Delmar and watched the actresses like Gloria Swanson and Colleen Moore.  Then I'd go home and walk through the entire picture playing their parts.
"Once I went down to the Gayety Theater and asked everybody for their autograph as they came out the stage door of a burlesque house.  I shudder to think now what would have happened if a friend of my father's had seen me soliciting autographs at the stage door of a burlesque house.
Finishing the Eugene Field School, Aggie moved on to Central High, where she joined the Lambda Alpha Lambda Sorority a very theatrical group of young girls at that time.  Some of these ladies still keep up a correspondence with the actress and she renewed her acquaintance with them a couple of years ago when she sopped off in St. Louis to visit a distant relative Jacob M.Lashleywhom she calls "Uncle Jake."
Despite the embarrassing incident of the flying slipper, the actress later survived four seasons at the Municipal Opera working  in virtually all of the Gilbert and Sullivan and Victor Herbert shows so popular in the years immediately after the first World War.  During her last season she had fulfilled Director Previn's prophesy and was "out in front" with the principals.
Finishing high school and her opera years at the same time, Aggie went into stock roles in various Midwestern stock companies working her way East and to her ultimate goal Broadway.
As a stage actress her record is one to be envied, while more recently, in the radio field she has portrayed more roles than any other actress her age in the country.  It was through her radio roles that she came to the attention of the Boy Wonder Orson Welles, who immediately signed her up for roles in the Mercury Theatre of the Air.
Welles, too, is responsible for bringing her to Hollywood and for directing her in the extremely hard role in "Magnificent Ambersons," which won her the New York critics award.  Having completed "Journey Into Fear" for Welles at RKO she's now working with him again in "Jane Eyre" at Twentieth Century Fox.  She also has a swell role in MGM's "The Youngest Profession."
With her husband, Jack G. Lee, also an actor, Miss Moorehead lives quietly in a small home in the Cheviot Hills district.  The have a 320 acre farm outside of Zanesville, Ohio, to which she hopes to commute "between pictures" when the war is over.
No matter what happens she expects to drop back to St. Louis next summer to have a look at her theatrical birthplace the Municipal Opera.
"Not so much the show itself as the seat 32, row 3 in the pass section." she says "The man in that seat who caught my shoe and exhibited it to the audience.  God bless his soul, made an actress out of me."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coincedence??? I think not!!!

Aggie's Star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame: Location 6604 Delmar Boulevard!

Lost In Re-Retranslation

You know, I have spent so much time chasing loose ends with my wonderful family.  Genealogy is not for the faint of heart because heavens only knows exactly what you'll find and who it's going to contradict.  It seems that every branch of my beloved family, for reasons as yet undetermined, conspired to delude those of us determined to track them down  It is as though they knew people would someday look beyond the veil of reality trying to determine what their roots were and strung together a web of prevarications that would set Sherlock Holmes to beating his head on a brick wall until he lost consciousness.  My lovely cousin's branch of the tree is no exception to this.  They do, in fact, make a real art of concealing the details.

You may be asking yourself what has started me ranting, yet again, about this plate of spaghetti full of twists, knots, and turns masquerading as a family tree with clean neatly populated branches.  High schools!  Yes, I said  high schools.  More appropriately their proximity to churches, former addresses and distant cousins.  As if the education system itself doesn't do enough to cloud the history of those that pass through it my family has to go about adding flourishes of their own!  The tale begins with Jacob "Uncle Jake" Lashley the noted Saint Louis lawyer.

Some years ago I came to possess a full page article written about my cousins winning the Golden Globe Award.  It details a good portion of her early life.  She talks about her days with Municipal Opera and her time at "Central High School" in Saint Louis.  Ever since I found this article I have been diligently looking for her appearance in a yearbook from that institution.  Imagine my shear joy when I found the 1919 yearbook for "Central High"!  I could hardly stand to wait for it and was totally beside myself when it arrived that I nearly cried with anticipation during the trip from the mailbox to the house!  I cracked it opened....NO AGNES!!!!  NO AGNES!!!! NO AGNES!!!!  I felt like Charlie Brown when Lucy pulls the football out from in front of him at the last minute.  I made were sooooo expensive....perhaps she was sick the day they were taken.......or they forgot to print her name!!!!!!  You name the excuse I repeated it.  But I strengthened my resolve to follow this through until I found my cousins high school annual.

After all the foolishness, time, and energy I am not even about to turn this loose!  I emailed with another researcher who mentioned, mind you I haven't thought about it in quite awhile, that a fellow they had been in contact with mentioned that Agnes didn't go to "Central High" she went to "Soldan High."  Today I began trying to link together all of the information with family research I've done over the years and tie it all together to try to find a yearbook with Peggy or Agnes' photograph.  I had no idea when I started today that after years of reading things literally, translating them to Agnes-speak, and trying to connect the dots I would come to the realization that a statement made about my gorgeous cousin's pretzel like twists would be the understatement of a lifetime.

Today I started reading the Lashley information with an eye to their address.  I found it to be 35 Windermere Place.  Then I perused the directories I had earmarked for John Moorehead.  4466 McPherson Avenue.  While looking at a map with both addresses marked it dawned on me their close proximity to one another.  Then I keyed in "Central High" expecting it to be within walking distance from the not near but I'll tell which school is "Soldan High School."  This blew me away believe me.  I forgot to mention before that while diligently searching for Agnes' high school information I came across reunion information for Peggy.  It lists her as a graduate of  "Cleveland High School" in June of 1925.  Posthaste I began searching for her yearbook and, yes I'll bet you guess this without a hint, I found the June of 1925 "Cleveland High."  I promptly purchased that as well....waited with baited breath.....only to find NO PEGGY!!!!!!!!!! NO PEGGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!NO PEGGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Yet again I find myself led astray like Charlie Brown by Lucy with the damn football.

I grumbled, groaned, tapped the desk irritably, took a walk, ate some sugar, then waddled back to the desk with my resolve bumped up by an overdose of chocolate.  I sat down.  I typed in the address of "Cleveland High" and waited for Google to confirm my worst fear.  There it was "Cleveland High" at the other end of the world from the common thread that linked all these people together, Delmar Boulevard.  In all honesty I cannot say for sure where Peggy stayed while attending high school but I have my suspicions.  My suspicion is prompted, in part, by the former location of  "The Jewish Hospital."  It was located at 4515 Delmar Boulevard until 1927.  To add to that John Moorehead's former pastorate was near Delmar Boulevard and the families address was also within two city blocks of Delmar Boulevard.  Jacob Lashley, "Uncle Jake" to Agnes, lived within two city blocks of Delmar Boulevard.  Finally, "Soldan High School" is within two city blocks of Delmar Boulevard.

Our modern world is unfettered by the constraints of locale.  The world of the early twentieth century was quite a different place.  Your neighborhood was your world then.  You lived, worked, shopped, got your education. sought health care, and attended church within a very short distance from one another.  Transportation was not cheap especially on the limited salary of of a pastor.  It is more than a likely bet that the Moorehead family did not live far from the church or far from the schools attended by the Moorehead girls.  The last piece to connect these dots was the St. Louis Municipal Opera.

Reading the article about Agnes that I mentioned before makes clear her view as a teenager who cut class to go to an audition with a friend for the Municipal Opera that she traveled to, what she viewed, as the other side of town.  The truth of the matter is that "The Muny", which is still in operation as "America's Oldest and Largest Outdoor Theater", is about three city blocks off of, guess, yup you got it, DELMAR BOULEVARD.

Unbeknownst to all of us the world is or was centered around Delmar Boulevard.  The lives of all of these people revolved around Delmar Boulevard.  It is difficult to downsize our super sized view of the world to try to comprehend that our lives have changed so very much since the births of our grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandparents.  We live in an age of technology where the planet grows smaller everyday.  Our ability to even do something as basic as blogging that would have befuddled Agnes and completely would have seemed like something written by Jules Verne to her sister or her father, we take for granted.  We can assume that the past is written in stone but it isn't.  How would we know what passes for written in stone anyway, we live online in a digital universe.  We live now, as Agnes would say, "in the sparkle of a star"  and "our home has no boundaries beyond which we cannot pass."  Next stop Delmar Boulevard located in "The Twilight Zone."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Young Woman

 Agnes is the one with the wide white collar and hat on the left.
Agnes is sitting on the step in the center with the wide white collar and hat.
 Agnes is on the end at the left with the wide white collar and hat.
 Agnes is the one on the right