The last documented conversation, if you can call it that, between Agnes and her sister Peggy ended with a verbal bucket of cold water in Agnes' face as Peggy told her "you have never loved a man like I have." The more I learn of the relationship between these two unusual women the more I am amazed. Just recently I learned that Peggy was an ardent fan of Isadora Duncan. We all have idols but given the alleged, I say that because of the new light in which I have begun to view these two. Today I read the following quote by Isadora Duncan it says; "Love is an illusion; it is the world's greatest mistake. I ought to know for I've been loved as no other woman of my time has been loved." It's so telling. Peggy idolized a woman who believed that love was an illusion and yet scolded her sister for having never loved a man like she had. It shows that Peggy too was as conflicted an individual as her sister. It strikes me as odd that these two lived in such a dream world while grounded firmly in the world of the Presbyterian church. Perhaps it was the world of the church that drove them both to be so outside the box.
Isadora Duncan was no typical woman. She was flamboyant, immune to scandal. She completely rejected Christianity for classical and Neitzchian philosophy. She was wrapped up in the idea of neopaganism and read tarot cards for her friends, complete strangers and herself. Took lovers like most people take showers and had female lovers as well as male. Not the least of whom was Eleanora Duse, Agnes' idol. How exactly does the daughter of a Presbyterian minister become enamored of a woman who believes that everything her father the preacher stands for is tantamount to wearing braces on the brain but feel constrained enough by her upbringing to scold her elder sister for her romantic choices and then proceed to dance nude in the outdoors. It leaves me boggled honestly. I would give my eye teeth to read a journal written by this woman.
You can't have a conversation about Peggy without addressing Agnes' complete worship of Eleanora Duse. Agnes wrote to Duse as a young girl and received a reply which she treasures her whole life. She even went so far as to name one of her beloved dogs Duse. Eleanora was an actress of great stature. She was considered one of the first ladies of the stage and like Isadora was eccentric, outrageous and way outside the box. She was married. Her husband died. Eleanora went on to have series of lovers male and female. In 1909 Eleanora began a relationship with a young feminist named Lina Poletti. Lina dressed as a man in public as well as in private. La Duse also had the relationship with Isadora that I had mentioned in a previous blog. She mentored several young actresses. One of them was Emma Gramatica who became totally devoted to Duse. Then there was Yvette Gilbert with whom La Duse maintained a very long lasting intimate friendship. Oddly enough Eleanora held the church in very high regard and often lamented that her life as an actress had subsumed her role as wife and mother. I see some very, very interesting coincidences here between Agnes and her idol.
I often ask myself if Agnes believed that love was even possible for her. She once said in an interview, a very telling interview, that "I don't know why I shut it out, she confesses, I don't know why. I haven't sought it, it would have to come to me. I can't go out and get involved in some scandalous affair..I owe something to the public that has kept me going. And, I'm not really alone. I have many pets, three dogs and three birds. And then there are the two who work for me. One has been with me for 20 years and the other 14. They look after me and take good care of me. As for personal loves you can't always depend on a human being, you know. Then again, I seem to need a certain amount of solitude. It renews me. Solitude enriches ones being..... " When I read this I read pain between the lines. "I don't know why I shut it out," it says volumes with her choice of the words "shut it out." Yet she remembers her past loves fondly in her interview with Boze Hadleigh intimating that she would not allow something to be ruined that was "beautiful and even spiritual." I read into the choice of shutting things out that she was confined by her sexuality and unable to openly express how she felt about any given lover because it could get you black listed, institutionalized and utterly shatter your existence like a brick through a window.
The interviewer that got the whole shutting out phrase out of her also said of Agnes, "She is gracious, professional, sincere, interested, and impersonal. Lacking the terrible hardness of many other long established celebrities, her flexibility of manner is something like that of a good fencing foil, which can be bent into a circle without breaking yet is made of finely tempered steel. For openers, she skates around for a long while on the edge of things." Bendable, flexible, adaptable she was all of these things and more. A chameleon who changed her personality to suit whatever was being thrown at her. Molly quipped " I don't know why Agnes twists the truth." I do. Would you look at your fundamentalist mother and talk about your personal life which involved being either bisexual or lesbian...don't think so...nope I sure don't think so. You'd learn the pronoun dance, as I like to call it, changing she to he, girlfriend to boyfriend and you'd learn to cover your tracks any way you had to because the wrath of a fundamentalist is not a pretty picture. Even though Agnes herself claimed to be fundamentalist she was merely, in my opinion, a convenient bible thumper. I don't question her faith one bit but she was open and accepting of things that fundamentalists will expound to you will earn you eternal damnation.
Perhaps it was Peter Opp Jr. that really gives us the true road map to Agnes. He said after she had passed away that, "A pretzel has less twists than our departed friend possessed." Most of the commonly told stories about Agnes are most likely fiction of some sort. Most of her life was made up in one way or another. She lived in her head and did it more successfully than anyone I have ever known, however, it appears that now she has not competition but a companion in the guise of her sister Peggy. I hope, pray, beg that the universe graces me with some more information on Peggy. Being a fellow free spirit with demons like her sister goes a long way toward explaining why Peggy's death hit her sister so very hard. Two pearls they are and with age, like pearls, they are growing a lustrous appearance that so many of us enjoyably envy!
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