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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the loving spirit of "Devil's Advocate", may one point out that Aggie already had her trademark flaming tresses(ahem) when she filmed, "Showboat" in 1951. Any "newspaper" accounts to the contrary, would have to be filed under "fluff." Agnes was a master magician, skilled in the art of misdirection. When the dissolution of her "marriage" to Jack Lee, became public, a new "beard" had to be found. Enter Robert Gist. Young, quasi-talented, and oh-so-ambitious. A deal was struck, that would be beneficial to both parties. Gist would get the "shove" that his moribund acting career needed, and Aggie would have her handsome arm candy. In the Hollywood of the 1950's Lavender marriages were not only the norm, they were tres' chic!! Not that things have changed that much...just ask John Travolta;) Remember, that most of the anecdotal information regarding AM's relationship with Gist, comes from Paul Gregory....himself involved in a pretty suspect union with Janet GAYnor. And I wouldn't make too much of Gist's crashing @ Aggie's mansion. Jack Kelk lived with her for years, and there was nothing between them. Agnes liked girls:) All of her best work points to this. Love and longing. All the rest is merely window dressing....

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