Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Warning Free Spirit In Full Flight

The Urban Dictionary defines a free spirit as someone who is not restrained, as by convention or obligation; a nonconformist. Dictionary.com defines it as a person with a highly individual or unique attitude, lifestyle, or imagination; nonconformist.  In every definition you read the word nonconformist comes up again and again.  What has this got to do with anything, I can see your eyebrows knitting together from here, well a great deal more than you might ever imagine.  What would you say if I told you that someone who has often been portrayed as quiet and unassuming was really a nonconformist "free spirit" in disguise?  It's a story with much to tell which makes some very important pieces of a puzzle fall into place further clarifying something that has been and doubtless will continue to be a mystery with all the twists and turns of an amusement park ride.

Any Pretty Thing That Came Into Her Head
The story begins with Isadora Duncan.  For those of you who don't know, I doubt there are many who don't, Isadora Duncan was a dancer, a teacher of dance, a philosopher, an artist and a bohemian.  She began teaching dance at the age of six using a method of incorporating fantasy into movement and teach "any pretty thing that came into her head."  Isadora went to Chicago where she auditioned for and was picked up by Template:Augustin Daly's Company.  With this company she traveled to New York where her ideas of dance clashed rather dramatically with the accepted norms of the time.  Ultimately she left the company moving to London in 1898.  She performed in drawing rooms taking her inspiration from scenes she found on Greek urns.  She was able to save enough to rent a studio which allowed her to expand her vision to a larger stage.   She went from London to Paris creating productions drawing her inspiration from the Louvre and the Great Exhibition of 1900. In 1902 she was visited by Loie Fuller and Fuller invited Duncan to tour Europe with her.  She did exactly that creating new works using her innovative dance technique.  Her style consisted of a focus on natural movement instead of the rigid controlled technique of ballet.  She danced bare footed and in a white Greek chiton.  Chitons are made of very sheer fabric and she was for all intents and purposes nude because she wore no foundation garments underneath as this would have inhibited her freedom of movement.

Way Outside The Box
Isadora Duncan was a revolutionary individual in so many different ways.  In both her professional and private lives, Duncan flouted traditional mores and morality. She was openly bisexual.  She believed in free love.  She had two children out of wedlock.  Her daughter Dierdre was fathered by theatre designer Gordon Craig and was born September 24 1906 and her son Patrick was fathered by Paris Singer and was born on May 1, 1910.  Both children died in an accident on the Seine River April 19, 1913.  After avoiding a collision with another vehicle the car had stalled.  The driver neglected to put on the parking brake and the car rolled across the Boulevard Bourdon down an embankment and into the Seine.  The two children as well as their nanny drowned.  During her recuperation she spent a great deal of time with Elenora Duse at the Viareggio seaside resort.  The fact that Duse was just out of a relationship with the rebellious young lesbian feminist Lina Poletti added fuel to speculation that there was a relationship between Duncan and Duse.  In fact the father's of both of her children can be tied to prominent lesbians of the era.  Gordon Craig's sister Edy lived in a menage a trois with Christabel Marshall and Clare "Tony" Atwood. They were referred to by Radcliffe Hall and her lover Una Troubridge as "the boys."  And Isaac Singer was the brother of Wineretta Singer who left a string of broken hearts across several continents.  Suffice it to say stories have placed Isadora in the bed of both Duse and Singer.  She lived so far outside the box of accepted Victorian normality that it was truly revolutionary.

Another Free Spirit is Born
Those of you who have read my blog for awhile know that my blog is generally about Agnes Moorehead.  Well darlings this one is no different and this is why.  We have all labored under the apparent misconception that Agnes was the family rebel with her acting and emoting and generally being the square peg in the round hole, not so much my sweets, not so much.  Charles Tranberg has made the statement that Agnes was an extrovert like her mother and Peggy was shy and retiring like her father.  It has made me scratch my head with wonder for years quite honestly because the whole idea of Peggy not living with her parents, spending the majority of her free time with her sister, and the apparent uproar that occurred before her death, at least with her mother, does not fit that shy or retiring pattern.  Lo and behold it seems that our Peggy was not the timid little quiet wallflower that we had been lead to believe she was.  Peggy had an idol.  An idol whose hose ideas and philosophies she apparently took quite seriously.  Her idol was non other than the grand mistress of modern dance Isadora Duncan.  So taken with Isadora's philosophy of dance was Peggy that she, allegedly, danced out side in the nude.  Now this comes from a reliable source to me and the source was told by someone who knew Mollie, Agnes, and obviously Peggy.  As far as I can tell Dr. George Perry the teller of the story lived in their neighborhood as a young man.  Since the girls spent time with their parents in the summer, a time that would lend itself to nude dancing in Wisconsin, he most likely witnessed it.  BOOOOMMMMM that is the sound of lots of illusions being shattered into a bazillion pieces.  We know that Agnes was a great fan of La Duse.  She named her dog after Eleanora.  It is obvious that both sisters were artistic in different ways.  And so many things make soooo much more sense if Peggy's free thinking nature is taken into consideration.  Isadora did not believe in marriage and if Peggy was attempting to incorporate Isadora's ideals into her life it is possible that she may have been living with the mystery man Frank.  What's more she may have potentially been pregnant.  It would explain the suicide.  It would explain Mollies self described crass behavior.  It seems that neither Moorehead girl was a paragon of virtue.  Agnes herself even said that years later.  I must add that this source knew Peggy had killed herself some forty years ago from the lips of the man, who by the way became a doctor, that had known them when they were younger.

This is, I hope, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  One that will shed light on this woman we all adore by shedding light on her life.  Neither of these ladies had any sense of fear.  They believed what they believed and did what they thought had to be done.  It makes me love Agnes all the more and so proud to share a genetic heritage with both of them.  Here's to you Peggy and your Free Spirited self !  Here's to you Agnes and your talent, determination and strength! In the words of those of us who tread the boards of the theatre  HUZZAH!!!




Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stephen I Think We Nee to Talk

Contact me at tamela271@gmail.com.  I would be fascinated to have you input and information.  I am attempting to organize this flag waving, neon sign over the door, hey does any body but me get this writing into as close to an accurate book of her life that I can.  I think you could give me some insight if you're interested
Let me know! Tamela

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In The Spirit of Debate

Thank you anonymous for your well made points.  But you know I wouldn't be myself if I didn't challenge one or two things. I do so love a good debate!

 First during the filiming of Showboat in 1950 Agnes did not have flaming red tresses.
Anything to the contrary is colorized.  The first big screen debut of the flaming red tresses in color was Magnificent Obsession filmed in 1953 and released in 1954.
Big difference in color, yes? The newspaper article to which I referred is indeed fluff but relatively correct fluff that is dated July 29, 1952.  The date is squarely between the two images above.  This speaks for itself I think so no need to belabor it.

Point two:
I have never debated Agnes' preferring the female gender.  It is obvious she was far more comfortable with women and gay men than she ever was with straight men. She flirted outrageously with both sexes. What I have debated and will debate vigourisly is that there is no more proof that she was purely lesbian than there is proof that she was purely heterosexual.  Everyone seems to be devided into the two camps and insisting that she fit into one or the other.  My point is, always has been, that there is more to sexuality than column one or column two.  There is a column three and that is bisexual.  I don't debate that Jack Lee was a lousy husband and did far more damage than we will ever know.  I don't debate that Robert Gist was a prick and basically blackmailed Agnes.  Nobody has ever used that word but let's call it what it was, blackmail.  Gist made out like a bandit when they divorced and I think the length of the divorce proceedings speaks to the level of information that he had about her and she had about him.  I think, my opinion of course, that Agnes fell between lesbian and bisexual actually.  Most actresses like Janet Gaynor had beards.  They were readily available in Hollywood because there was a market for them. More than likely all the men surrounding these women categorized as "boyfriend" or even "spouse"  were most likely gay themselves and simply were constant escorts.  What I doubt and will always doubt is that Robert Gist was amoung them.  He was a gigolo pure and simple.  He sold himself to further his career.  The whole genre of "beards" served many purposes and benefitted all who partook.  My point with all of my flag waving, neon sign above the obvious, hello does anybody get this but me, writing has been and always will be that Agnes was a sexual enigma.  Everything seems obvious but there is so much more to her than what appears on the surface regardless of how you interpret the surface.  She was, indeed, mistress of misdirection.  I know that because I wrote an entire blog piece about her pretzel like interpretation of reality called Miss Direction.  You are right my pieces do lead one to conclude that she had a strong preference for the female sex.  What I ask for with her, though,  is what I ask for with myself, don't rush to judgement because there is no simple answer.  I have straddled the same fence for years.  I've had long term, 20 plus years, relationships with women and then I fell in love with a man.  I ask for people to be open to the idea that there is no box one way or the other.  That people can go through life loving someone "who is this or that, male or female", as Agnes said in the Boze Hadleigh interview.  That gender is a suitcase and you can pack one as well as the other.  That humans fall on every point along the line of sexuality from straight to gay and back again.  That we formulate ideas and think about her sexuality without the urge to cram her into one box or another.  That we accept that what made her the idol of millions of women over her career, she was attracted to women and they were attracted to her.  Sexuality is fluid in nature as are human beings.

I appreciate the chance for debate.  I relish it.  I think debate is essential in drawing a clear picture of who or what someone was, is or might be.  Continue questioning.  Always look to the obvious and then beyond it.  As I said before there is no simple answer to any of it but knowing that there are people who look at my work and get the point is gratifying.  To all of you who do I applaude your willingness to think outside the box and challenge your own point of view!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Red and Hot!

July 29, 1952, according to the newspapers, is the day the woman the majority of us recognize as Agnes Moorehead was born.  Newspapers stated that on this date Agnes dyed her hair to match the flaming red color of Robert Gists' hair.  We have speculated for a long time exactly what the color of her hair was.  The answer is a dark mahogany color which is classified as a red brown.  Perhaps the more interesting question is why she dyed her hair to match Robert's hair.  The psychology of hair is fascinating and is one of the most researched obscure areas of the human psyche.

Let's begin with the length of her hair. In the book "Reading People How To Understand People and Predict Their Behavior" author Joann Dimitrius says, “Sometimes women with this trait are caught in a time warp and still think of themselves as teenagers or college students rather than as grown-ups. Such women may be fairly unrealistic in their outlook on life as well as in their perception of themselves.”  When I first read this I was completely startled because in retrospect it really fits her personality during her early career and into the 1950's. Agnes shaved years off her age as early as 1927.  At some point between her application to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the establishment of her motion picture career Agnes settled on shaving 6 years off her age.  We've speculated that perhaps the number of years had to do with the birth year of her dead sister.  We'll never really know for sure but one thing is obvious and that is her sensitivity to her age.  I find it fascinating that Agnes graduated from Muskingum with a rebellious bobbed hair cut and ultimately stopped cutting her hair for a period of thirty three years.  It's a demonstration of  the two completely separate personalities that inhabited Agnes.  It has been observed by psychologists that short hair that is carefully cut and styled may reveal an artistic personality. Most high-maintenance hairstyles indicate financial well-being; short hair that requires regular cuts and dyes may reveal that the woman cares about her appearance, and is willing to spend a significant amount of money to look good.  Short hair also a confidence in oneself with the willingness to expose oneself without the protection of hair. So, we go from one extreme to the other during this span of her life.  From artistic and confident to unrealistic and afraid of growing up.

I have colored my hair off and on for years.  I've run the gamut from short to shoulder length.  One thing I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that hair dye is complicated under the best of circumstances.  It takes a minimum of 2 hours to dye shoulder length hair.  Add  about 24 inches to my hair and you are talking 6 or 7 hours of work.  Now once the initial dye job is done you can get away with just doing the roots for a short period of time but hair color fades and color must be reapplied.  Add to that the natural loss of pigmentation, or going gray, that occurs over time and you have a butt load of work to maintain a color.  Color hue has to be managed.  Ends have to be trimmed.  Hair has to be conditioned.  It's a nightmarish amount of work.  Keep in mind that Agnes maintained this look from 1952 until the filming of "How the West Was Won."  That is 10 years of maintenance.  The going rate for a salon in Beverly Hills probably runs into the hundreds of dollars for an initial dye job to $85 for roots and you are talking an enormous amount of money.  Let's calculate shall we.  Roots are done every 6 to 8 weeks.  For the sake of argument we'll say 6 weeks.  That is about once every month and a half.  So roughly 6 times a year you have to spend money doing your roots.  Multiply that by today's rate of $85.00.  That is $510.00 a year.  Multiply that by 10 years and you have $5100.00 worth of hair work in today's money.  Mind boggling when you consider what that means in 1950's money.  One film roll to pay for one year of hair alone.  She maintained an enormous house, designer clothes, travel, a farm in Ohio, her mother, her school, a staff of help and a home in Malibu.  A huge amount of money, huge.

Next consider the psychology of dying your hair to match your mate's.  It is a marking of territory.  A really huge statement about the person's willingness to mark their mate and a really huge statement of insecurity about the relationship.  It is kind of like having your mates name tattooed on your body in a very prominent place.  This person is mine and I'm so scared of loosing them that I have to put their name on my body.  Ask anyone who has ink and they will tell you that inevitably it is a sign of doom for the relationship.    It will end once you tattoo someone on your body, no questions asked.  I've had ink for years and never, ever, ever have I put any one's name on me except my cousins.  I was comfortable with that because family rarely divorces you.  Why oh why would you have a press release drafted about changing your hair color to match your mates unless you wanted to make a point to someone, hmmm???

All the printed information about Agnes' relationship with Robert Gist places their marriage some time between February of 1952 and 1953.  I can tell you this, it wasn't 1952 and here is my reasoning.  Voting has always required identification of some sort.  It wasn't what we go through now but you had to use your legal name or your legally changed name to vote.  The 1952 voter registration lists Agnes as "Mrs. Agnes Moorehead Lee."  It also says that Robert Gist lived at the same address.  I find it hard to believe that she would identify herself as Mrs. Lee if she were already married to Robert Gist.  Nearly every record I can find seems to indicate she did not marry Gist until February 14, 1953 at the earliest and it may have been as late as February 1954.  Yet they openly traveled together as early as 1950.  In addition Agnes' passport was issued to Agnes M. Lee, at least it was in 1951.   At some point between July 23 1951 and the voter registration of 1952 Gist moved into Agnes' home openly.  Prior to that he lived at 3649 Buena Park Drive in Hollywood.

Okay, I see the look of confusion on your face.  You are asking yourself what any of this has to do with hair color and I say stay with me I will get to it, promise.  In November of 1949 a random little article appears in the Southeast Economist newspaper in Chicago.  It talks about Robert's parents visiting him in California and staying with Agnes Moorehead while visiting their son.  I know that I've mentioned this before but it strikes me as odd that they would have stayed with her while visiting her son unless their son was also staying with her.  It adds several years to their relationship that are completely at odds with published information and lends, unfortunately, credibility to Jack Lee's yarn in divorce court about at strange man at their home.  Now it is true that Agnes owned two homes and an apartment building at this point in her career.  Jack got the apartment building in the divorce settlement.  What it does mean is that by July of 1952 this relationship was at nearly 4 years old.  Time enough for the cracks to start showing.  Over and over again newspaper articles mention that the two of them didn't like to be apart.  Paul Gregory mentions Agnes' desire to keep Gist on a short leash.  It all fits with her insecurity about the relationship and her insecurity about herself.

Agnes was granted her divorce from Jack Lee on June 11th, 1952.  As early as February of 1950 she indicated she would marry Gist as soon as she was divorced from Lee.  You can also find contradicting reports quoting her directly as saying that none of it was true.  I do believe that she was aware of Robert's infidelities and that in response to them she became more possessive of him.  She bought her home on Roxbury Drive before she married him.  She never put him on the deed.  Everything she owned was in her name but he still ended up with a substantial amount of her property and money in the settlement.  Did you ever stop to wonder why?  I do.  I also wonder why with her relationship with Gist so evident before she was granted a divorce from Jack Lee why he ended up with so little.  Gist essentially lived with her and yet he is never actually named in the divorce suit.  In addition Gist's infidelity is openly documented by birth records of children born before he is ever divorced from Agnes and yet neither mother is named in a divorce suit.  It all seems rather odd to me.  She says that 17 months after they were married Gist came to her and said she should get a quick Mexican divorce so he could remarry.  17 months equals July 1954 and yet even with another woman calling her up to 3 times a day she doesn't file for divorce until December of 1954.  It appears that she was trying to hang on to his relationship. 

One thing is for sure she hung on to the hair color.  It would be come a thing she would be identified by for the rest of her life.  It commanded attention and she commanded respect.  She found herself again under the ruin of two ruthless relationships.  She reclaimed the defiant young woman who graduated college with bobbed hair by again cutting off the signature long hair.  She stood up and became a beacon for outrageous fashion in the 1960's.  She became Endora and Endora became her.  We all fell in love with her in a way that would continue to claim people for forty years beyond the demise of her physical self.  I thank heaven for whatever insecurity drove her to claim that color and I respect the strength of an indomitable woman who became more than an actress, she became a legend.



Saturday, May 5, 2012

In The Booth In The Back In The Corner In The Dark

Not to long ago someone commented in a post in their blog that they "Wondered when we'll ever see a picture of Margaret."  Another random thing that has led me back to my pile of pictures.  We know that Mollie had photographs of both of her daughters at her home in Reedsburg for all to see.  We know that Mollie occasionally mentioned Peggy, "I had two daughters!" being a retort to a comment about how proud she must be of Agnes.  If Agnes had any pictures of her sister they were not for public consumption and kept away from the eyes of, well, everybody including her housekeepers.  As I was looking at a picture of Agnes taken in 1919 at River View Boat Landing in Racine Wisconsin before she left for college in Muskingum I was struck by the photographs lack of Peggy.  There are all kinds of family in this picture.  Her elusive father is seen kneeling with Mollie seated or rather leaning on his knee.  Agnes is standing next to Aunt Cam.  Mollie has her sister standing on the other side of the woman next to her and her mother on the far right side. It may be the woman standing next to her is also a sister. John has a brother in the back row on the right, his sister Camilla and what may be another brother on the right as well.  Other relatives but no Peggy...or is there.  I had someone tell me once that they believed Peggy wasn't in the photo because there are no children in the photo.  Well yeah that's obvious but wait just a doggone minute define child....seriously define child in the Victorian sense of the word.

Children during the Victorian age and the early years of the twentieth century were considered to be small adults.  They were to be seen and not heard.  It was more than common for children to leave school and work to help support the family as young as 6 years old.  More than that a girl was considered to be of marrying age as soon as she began her period and if that happened young as it did for some, 9 or 10 years old, you could expect to be married off fairly quickly once you turned 13.  13 the magic number...hey wait a minute wasn't Peggy 13 when that picture I referred to was taken?  Yes, yes she was.  I believe that while we've been beating our heads against the rocks looking for Peggy she was right there in front of us all the time.  I've had this picture forever and never noticed it but today, well today is different because I see it now.

Agnes is up front with immediate family but what intrigues me most is the young girl way in the back in the shadows.  How could you have a family celebration with grandparents, parents and cousins but not your sister.  13 was practically marrying age and it certainly was the age at which a young girl became a young woman...so feast your eyes on Peggy.  It's a pity that a mere ten years from this she would be dead but at least there is a face to a name.  I've asked the two cousins who remain that would know and trust me that was hard as hell because they are older than Jesus.....97 and 99 respectively.  But they agree that it is her......at last a hunch pans out!