Monday, March 19, 2012

Behind The Veil Lay A Heart Of Gold

Much fuss has been made over Boze Hadleigh's book "Hollywood Lesbians" published  in 1994.  There have been teaming numbers who engage in debate over whether the interviews are real or not.  Some have suggested he was practically a teenager and it wouldn't have been possible for him to have interviewed some of these women because of his tender age.  For the record Hadleigh was born in 1954 and the earliest interview in the book was done in 1973 with Agnes Moorehead.  He was 19 years old and writing for the college paper in Santa Barbara.  He knew that Agnes often came to Santa Barbara to lecture to women's groups or visit friends.  He tried and failed to get put on her schedule in 1972 but was advised to try again.  He did in 1973 and this time he got the interview.  He went to Villa Agnese with tape recorder in hand. He says that by the time he went to do this interview, "I'd read up on her and been told by those who knew or worked with her that she was gay, lesbian, asexual, bisexual, frigid where men were concerned, a prudish bull-dyke, a closet femme, or a latent heterosexual."  Seems all over the map and really in his interview she displays the talent for side stepping the facts but then comes as close to saying the real truth of it all as she would ever get.  Let people believe what they will and do nothing because doing nothing is doing something.

Now I'm perfectly aware that people will choose to believe whatever makes them more or less comfortable and this isn't being done to attempt to convince anyone of anything.  I am simply doing this to allow anyone who wants to read it to make their decisions on their own.  Hadleigh starts out his lengthy preface with a somewhat haunting statement, "Leading ladies sometimes have golden faces or tresses and hearts of stone.  Her friends said Agnes Moorehead had a face of stone and a heart of gold.  Here is his interview with Agnes:

BH: My mother's favorite star, and she resembles her, is Susan Hayward, one of your most memorable costars.
AM: Susan is one of the best.
BH: And a rare mixture of beauty and toughness.  I remember you both in Untamed and an earlier, ethereal picture in Venice where she wore a beautiful gown and looked stunning.
AM: Yes, and I was an old, old crone.  It was "The Lost Moment", a class of movie they don't make anymore, with  romance and beauty,  culture--wonderful music piano--and fantasy.  What is wrong with fantasy?
BH:  Nothing.  There should be room for fantasy and realism.  With so much realism, sometimes one welcomes the really old movies.
AM: I think anything in black and white has a fantasy quality.
BH: Even film noir.  Speaking of realism, it was a jolt to see you as Velma, the maid to Bette Davis in "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte."  You even wore rags, your hair was ratty.
AM: (Laughing) My dear boy! I hope you didn't think I'd come down in the world!  I had a wonderful time doing it.
BH:  Wasn't Joan Crawford supposed to costar in it?
AM: Robert Aldrich wanted it to be a sequel to "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", but Bette had them change the title, and I believe some of the script.  She also made it possible for Miss Crawford to exit the film., then replaced her with her friend Olivia de Havilland.
BH: I met an author at a cocktail party who said that the screen's two greatest character actresses were you and Thelma Ritter.  Did you two get along?
AM: (Startled) I'm we must have. Why?
BH: He said you never competed for the same roles because you specialized in ladies and she in dames, as he called them.
AM: (Amused) That is so, with exceptions.  As you saw I could and did play a maid, and Miss Ritter was versatile enough to play a--a Mrs. Rittenhouse type.
BH: Margaret Dumont's role. Do you know anything about the private life of Ms. Dumont?
AM: No. Why do you ask?
BH: Because we often learn more than we care to about starts but next to nothing about more interesting supporting players.  All I've heard is that Dumont had one husband, no kids and was bald as a cue ball. None of which really says what the woman was like.
AM: So you find when you like an actress you want to know more about her?
BH: Definitely.  The same with authors.  After several books or films, one wants to know more about the source of that pleasure.
AM: You're not afraid of finding out something disappointing?
BH: It can happen.  I know people who can't stomach a Ronald Regan movie, but I know that while I'm appalled by Vanessa Redgrave's anti-Israel cant, her talent is often fascinating to watch.
AM: I could not care to be one of these younger actresses now.  We worked on our work.  They work on their image--their public life and publicity.  What has that got to do with acting?
BH: It just has to do with celebrity.
AM It's a lack of class.  If an actress cannot become a personality through her work, she cannot or should not become one through her comings and goings.
BH: Either one has personality or one doesn't?
AM: Yes.  It shows up in the performances.  It does not accrue from dating or marrying and divorcing famous actors.
BH: Elizabeth Taylor is one star who is famous for her work and her personal life.
AM: A good actress, but I would say more famous or a big star at the box office for her personal life.
BH: For her men....
AM: I would never care to have my work compete with my latest relationship connubial or otherwise.
BH: Does it seem odd not to be doing "Bewitched" anymore?
AM: It was a lengthy stretch.  In a way it's a relief to be done.  I hope to move on to other things.
BH: Do you think Endora stereotyped you at all?
AM: No. How many witches can I play?  What's a shame is that fewer movies are made now.  Far fewer.  This results in less work.  I was prepared to work less at my age, but not...not this much less.
BH: Most of your recent work is on TV, including telefilms.
AM: You're going to ask about  television versus film.  I do know that most of my good work is behind me.  But I am an actress, and to act, I have to accept the best of what is offered.  I do prefer and miss motion pictures, but there is very little room in them for older people now.
BH: Which seems old when the average American is older now.
AM The "graying " of  our population (sarcastically). One wouldn't know it from what gets made these days.
BH: Lately you've done some horror films like "Whats the Matter With Helen?" and "Dear Dead Delilah." (She grimaces at the titles' mention) Would you have done such movies in the old days?
AM: (Bristling) I did a film called "The Bat" long ago with Vincent Price.  Unlike Mr. Price I did not immerse myself in that genre, but  it was a respectable movie, from a popular play.  In the one with Debbie, I was a guest star, as a lady preacher based on Aimee Semple McPherson.  None of my scenes were bloody.  Nor in the film with Bette Davis; I don't know what's in every movie I make because I don't watch them all.  These days , one can get a nasty shock watching some of them....But I do avoid playing the same parts to where the public thinks of me as nothing else.  It's very sad that stars like Miss Davis and Miss Crawford can do little other than chillers.
BH: Somebody told me she felt your character of Kim Kovak's coach and mentor in Jeanne Eagles was a lesbian.
AM (Eyebrows higher lids lower)  It was not written that way.  She was a composite character, and Jeanne Eagels was a real person.
BH: Yes, but you know that non-heterosexual characters, based on real people or not, weren't permitted on the screen from 1934 to 1959.  However, the coach was fiercely protective of and did seem to be in love with Eagels.
AM: With two women, it's more difficult to know where love leaves off and the other begins.  With men it's clearer.
BH: You mean love and yearning.  But love often includes yearning and yearning sometimes includes love.  Your character had no man in her life, her life revolved around Jeanne.
AM: Well, have it your way.
BH: Not my way, but realistically.  It isn't necessarily so, but it's probable.  I know there have been lesbian acting coaches, one famous one was Minna Wallis, Hal's sister.
AM: (Smiles) You're well informed, my boy.  But she became a famous agent.  Few are content merely to coach it's very humbling.
BH: Really? I think the difference between your character's that the maid is loyal to Davis while the coach is loving to Novak.
AM: Kim is more comely than Miss Davis, but at any rate I played the parts as written.  The scenarist would have to tell you if either character  was conceived as being in love with another woman.
BH: Did it ever bother you being labeled "vinegary," "acerbic," or the other adjectives reviewers and interviewers use?
AM: My colleagues tell me things they read.  My friends know that most of the time I prefer not to bother.
BH: A friend of mine who's a musician said she saw you in the 1950's on TV-Camera Three?--reading from the diaries of harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.
AM: (Remembering....suddenly delighted) Did she!! And she remembers?  That's very nice.  It was "Camera Three." Yes, television had much more class...it was blatantly cultural.
BH: If not realistic. Did you know that the great Landowska was a lesbian?
AM: Was she really? (surprised) She was married.....
BH: Pardon me but that means nothing
AM: Nothing?! Marriage is a....
BH: I meant that most famous lesbians have been married at some time....
AM: I see. Well, thank you for informing me.  I suppose you read this in a book.
BH: Yes, a Landowska biography.  A complete one not the sort that omits what is disapproved of.  Before I forget what was the original title of "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte?"
AM: Let's see...."Whatever Became of Cousin Charlotte"
BH: Did I hear correctly that you sing?
AM: I have always used my voice.  I can sing--most people don't know that.  I do readings, recordings, I teach acting....
BH: You should teach acting.  You were much more believable in "Dragon Seed" as a Chinese than Katherine Hepburn.
AM: Why thank you.
BH: As you said, you used your voice.  You sounded like what Chinese are supposed to  sound like in the movies.  Ms. Hepburn sounded Bryn Mawr all the way. (She smiles widely) Do you agree that most supporting actors have more talent than star?
AM: There are exceptions, but most stars are hired for their looks, and we despite ours.  We have a better chance to grow, in more variegated roles.
BH: Star actresses basically play themselves, or not?
AM: Many of them earn more but act less ( With a fixed smile)
BH: What do you think of men writing most women's roles?
AM: I think we need more ladies at the typewriters. (Grins)
BH: Three of your first four films were via Orson Welles.  Do you think if it hadn't been for him, you might not have worked much on screen until you turned forty?
AM: But you see, I began in movies in my mid thirties.  Very late.
BH: Would you have been offered as many screen roles in your twenties?
AM: Not as many as I later was.  There's the actress who works mostly before forty and the one who works mostly after forty.
BH:You costarred in two movies which teamed Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson as lovers.  Did you know he was gay? (Nods) How?
AM: An informant.  Our profession is full of wanted and unwanted informants...He's a good actor.  Whatever you think of his and Jane's chemistry, the first film, "Magnificent Obsession" made him into an idol.  A "sex symbol" for the ladies.
BH: For the interested public Do you think a gay or lesbian star has more enemies than a heterosexual star?
AM: I've certainly never been asked that question before! (grins) On the question of enemies, it's difficult.  Everyone says he or she is your friend. No one is willing to admit to malice.
BH: Even in an industry so full of it?
AM: Especially!
BH: You almost played a lesbian in the "Revolt of Mamie Stover".  As the madame to Jane Russell.
AM: I would have but for censorship.  They got cold feet. It could have been done five years later.
BH: But in the Eisenhower era no? Your character was not only stripped of her lesbianism, but her profession.  In the finished movie it's not even clear you're a madame.
AM: It's clear to some people...Hollywood likes to profit from sensational topics without being sensational.
BH: Other than the madame's dialogue, how if at all would you have conveyed that the woman was a lesbian.
AM: I wouldn't have resorted to anything old fashioned...I'd wear high heels, regardless.  I might have injected an extra dose of severity into her dealings with men and a little more tenderness when she was with Mamie or her young favorites.
BH: In 1961 Barbara Stanwyk did a play clearly lesbian madam.  What did you think of her performance in "Walk on the Wild Side."
AM: I....never saw it.
BH: Did you ever hear rumors about Ms. Stanwyk (Blank Reaction) You know, from an informant? Like about Rock Hudson?
AM: (Shocked or Alarmed) We're not here to talk about other stars....
BH: You were in what has become a lesbian cult classic. Caged, the women's prison movie.
AM: An important movie because it helped ameliorate conditions throughout the penal system, I was assured.
BH: That's right.  It was also one of the first movies to bring up lesbianism, although in an unsavory context and even though each sapphic character had to express interest in men.
AM: As I said, Hollywood likes to have it both ways.(Smiling) My character was the films conscience...that had nothing to do with sex one way or another.
BH: Hope Emerson, as the huge matron, is a standout in "Caged."
AM: She certainly was.
BH: Did you play Debbie Reynolds mother in "How the West Was Won?" ( no reply)  I remember you did a voice in Charlotte's Webb which also had Debbie Reynolds (no reaction)....Ms Reynolds and Susan Hayward are probably most frequent leading ladies aren't they?
AM: (Teeth somewhat clenched) I don't want to discuss other actors.
BH: May one inquire as to what your husbands did for a living? (silence) Or why you divorced?
AM: A divorce is a regrettable action, not a fit conversational topic.  Nor has it anything to do with Hollywood.
BH: Marriages often do have to do with Hollywood. But divorces often correct a mistake.
AM: A mistake that big may take more than a divorce to set it right.
BH: Were your marriages happy?
AM: If they were I'd still be in them.
BH: Do you think actresses should marry?
AM: Only if they want children.
BH: I understand you have a son?
AM: I don't discuss my family.
BH: What do you think of Hollywood lesbians?
AM: Which ones?
BH: So there are lesbians in Hollywood?
AM (smiles) Of course there are.  Everywhere.  Most of them are nice people and not promiscuous-like the men.
BH: Gay men:
AM: All men.
BH: What do you think of the word lesbian?
AM: (shrugs) I think "Sapphic" is an improvement, but I don't care for  "Homosexual" at all.  Women are not homosexual at all.  It's a very masculine word.
BH: How can a lesbian not be homosexual? Unless she's bisexual?
AM: I don't like all the comparing...I mean, not that it matters to me.  Men are this sexual or that sexual, but females, in that sense, are a different species.  A woman may love a person who is this or that, male or female. Love doesn't have a sex.  It's men who always have to bring sex and activities into everything.  They can't help being heterosexual, homosexual or the other one.  Women operate on a different plane; the feelings are emotional not physical.
BH: So you're pleased that homosexual men are called gay and women are lesbians or.....
AM: Or not lesbians, it doesn't matter so much with females.  It's not the same difference as with men.
BH: There's not lust? (She shrugs). Have you always thought this?
AM: One comes around to certain conclusions or hopes.
BH: So in other words, a woman can have lesbian feelings and not be a homosexual?
AM: I think so.  Why bring up sex?  That's men's concern. Or habit.  They talk that way and want to drag women down to their level, to have no class.  Young women are often very willing.
BH: Have you loved many women?
AM: I have loved women. Of course.
BH: More than your husbands?
AM: That's rather rude.  But love and marriage don't always go together.  Despite the song.
BH: So marriage is often a duty thing?
AM: Of course it is.  But now I think you should....
BH: Just one more question.  Numerous Hollywood actresses--Garbo, Gish, Dietrich, Jean Arthur, um Kay Francis, Stanwyck, Bankhead, Del Rio, Janet Gaynor, etc..etc..have enjoyed lesbian or bi relationships.  Have you ever...?
AM: Yes, you'd love to put me in their excellent company!  Even if I don't belong in the same category. (Smiles wryly)
BH: You don't?
AM: Those ladies were more beautiful than me.
BH: Off the record? I can turn off the tape recorder.
AM: Leave it on, leave it on. (Sighs) You apparently have your own informants.(Half smiles) I don't know what you've heard, and I don't want to hear, and some of it may even be true.
BH: The truth gets around.
AM: Somehow......
BH: Would the truth hurt you professionally, now?
AM: Now? Probably not.  But I don't want anyone misinterpreting what was beautiful and even spiritual.  I haven't penned my memoirs and doubt there will be--I hope there won't be--a book purporting to represent my life.  My work, anyone can see.  I never really cared to share anything with the public, or very many people, beside my work.
BH: As a supporting actress, you'll be a part of many books and biographies of major Hollywood stars.
AM: That was rude, too.
BH: I meant that having been in so many famous movies, with so many legendary stars, your name and face in movie stills will be in so many books yet to come.
AM: You've just presented my case, in a way.  Let's suppose a biography is written of...Jean Arthur.  She had her life, her work, a husband or two, no children, and  different people thought different things about her.  She was emotionally intricate.  Most women are.  Actresses, more so.  An entire book, could put much of Jean Arthur, and what she did and who she loved, into perspective.  It would take an entire book, at least.
No such book is forthcoming for me.  If I make a statement to you now, it will be used and misinterpreted, and one way or another will represent me, if it's controversial or shocking enough, in who knows how many future books?  On the screen or in a book, even a famous supporting actress never receives the same in-depth....the amount of time that any star, great or indifferent always receives.
As an actress, I'm used to this.  I have no option.  As a person, I do.  My life has been as long as any, I've had to struggle more than most people in my very privileged profession, and although my career might be described or capsulized in a few paragraphs by some writers, I won't let that happen to my life.  Certainly not to my own private life...having others try to understand or illuminate me, all in the space of one or two pages or less--in a book about someone else. (Eyes have moistened)
BH: (gently) The solution is to write or collaborate on your own book.
AM: It's one solution.  The other is to do nothing, and inertia is the result of most of our struggles, my boy.
BH: Your golden age of Hollywood career deserves its own book.
AM: I think it deserves it too! And if I ever seriously consider doing my memoirs, I'll be in touch with you.  You'll be older then. (Pause and grin) I won't be.
BH: Don't you think as one gets older, there's more time to reflect on oneself and devote to one's memoirs?
AM: More time, but less energy.  Life tires one out--not alot but increasingly.  One can't underestimate inertia.
BH: Do you think fear of death inhibits some actors from writing an autobiography?  The idea that if one is putting one's life on paper, most of it must be over?
AM: Most of it is over.  If someone writes his memoirs, he can't be that far from the end.  For some, it's a fear of death.  But I think for most people, there's more fear of life.
BH: Fear of one's life?
AM: And of exploring it fully or feeling everything one would like to.  It's an unavoidable truth: fear of life closes off more opportunities for us than fear of death ever does.

Here ends the interview. 

Hadleigh presents some statements in his preface to the interview regarding Agnes' sexuality.  Several of those came from Paul Lynde.  I liked Paul Lynde but he did have a reputation for drinking and talking out of turn about all sorts of things.  Those can not be proved or disproved.  The one I did find particularly interesting came from Elsa Lanchester via her husband Charles Laughton, who worked with Agnes extensively in "Don Juan In Hell" and on her one woman show.  She says "Miss Moorehead was the soul of discretion.  More than she needed to be...secondary actresses don't dwell in the same goldfish bowls reserved for stars...Someone who knew her extremely well says that Agnes is no longer "active" that way, but she's always had romantic friendships with other women.  Another statement was made by Lee Van Cleef who was in the picture "The Conquerer" with Agnes.  He stated, "Agnes had it bad for Susan, but she could always mask it with motherly affection, and Susan didn't seem to mind.  They went way back."  He's refering, of course to Susan Hayward and supposedly other people noted that Agnes had an enduring crush on Susan but they remain unamed..

I've said it before but it bears repeating.  We will never know who Agnes really was, who she loved, what she felt because the only person who could say for sure what went on inside that beautiful mind is dead.  I think that this interview comes dangerously close to allowing us to glimpse her.  The fact that she alludes to her own demise when telling Hadleigh with regard to her memoirs and his assistance "you'll be older. But I won't" says to me that she was already aware of her terminal illness.  Perhaps that's why she let the veil down a wee bit.  Behind that veil lays a heart of gold and a wounded soul.

1 comment:

Toycoon said...

Amazing read about Agnes Moorhead By not fully disclosing any specific details either way, her story can remain enigmatic and therefore still be compelling today. Love her!

Post a Comment