1. You see them in controlled situations portraying a character.
2. You see them in public situations portraying a character.
We have all come to "know" Agnes Moorehead as Endora. Have we ever seen Agnes Moorehead as Agnes Moorehead though? Yes we have but like so many things having to do with her we have had to learn to interpret what we are seeing. I've said before that the easiest way to know what she was really thinking was to look at her eyes. The eyes are, after all, the windows of the soul. Add to the windows the non verbal communication of the body and you may just have a reasonably clear picture of the woman.
From Head to Toe
Recently the picture above was posted to a blog I follow. The tag says 1972 but doesn't say where she was when this was taken or who she was talking to but the picture speaks volumes even without that information.
The first thing to look at is the position of her head. A sideways tilt of the head demonstrates interest and an engagement in playful conversation with someone that is well liked. A sideways tilt with a smile indicates interest, playfulness and perhaps even flirtation. Tilting can also indicate curiosity, uncertainty or query, particularly if the head is tilted forward as if the person were trying to look at the subject in a different way in hope of seeing something new. The greater the tilt, the greater the uncertainty or the intent to send the signal of uncertainty. Simple and straightforward right? No, not really, because of the position of her hand. The proximity of her hand to her mouth indicates that she wants to say something but feels restrained from saying it and needs to hide it. It also may indicate that she is uncertain about something. Hands at the mouth can also be used as a cover for the neck, where blushing, swallowing and tension may be seen. It is also used as a method for controlling the hands preventing them from giving other non verbal clues. The placement of the hand on her cheek intimates that she is thinking and evaluating the situation. Typically if the head is propped up by the hand it indicates either tiredness or an expectation of continued interest. Touching the chin can indicate that thinking is taking place involving decision making and judging of others.
Moving to the eyes there two things that stand out.
1. She's winking.
2. She is looking directly at someone.
Winking is a very deliberate gesture. We rarely do it without some thought behind it. The two things that are repeated over and over again about winking are that it is a sign of flirtation and is often conspiratorial, meaning "You and I both understand but others do not!" Follow that with a direct gaze with a semi smile and you have her speaking with someone she is very, very interested in. The eyes can rarely be camouflaged well by even the most experienced individual.
Then we move to body position and we are right back in Contradictionville. When your first glance at the picture you see what appears to be a casual posture. You would be wrong. The posture from the shoulders down is far from casual. Every vulnerable part of the body below the shoulders is covered and protected. The heart is covered with the arm supporting the chin. The pelvis is closed by crossed legs and an arm placed squarely across the lap. The stomach is covered by the arms and bent inward. All of these total up to a closed body position. But then you look at the trunk of her body and you see it leans forward and sideways. When you lean forward toward the person you are talking to you tend to increase the verbal output of that person, but, when you lean sideways it tends to indicate that you are interacting with someone you see as being a lower status individual. On the other hand you have a body orientation that turns the shoulders and legs directly toward the other person indicating a supportive climate. What this is called is the adoption of non congruent posture indicating attitudinal and perceptual differences or relationship distance.
The Body of Work
This process has prompted me to go back, yet again, through my pictures looking for patterns and similarities. Another eye opening couple of hours for me I must say. It never ceases to amaze me how much you can interpret a person by simply looking at photographs of them. Real photographs where they display their true selves unwittingly to those taking those pictures.
Take these photographs for example. They have something very important in common. Hand position.
Then we take a wild jump to the other side of the chessboard with the two pictures below!
The position of her hand here, near and over the chest or heart area, indicates a desire to be believed as well as being protected.
A common public combination for her is covering her upper body in a posture of defense and crossing her legs toward someone else while tilting her pelvis toward them. There are easily 20 years between these two photographs yet her body posture and non verbal displays are nearly identical. Non congruent displays can be found in many of her pictures demonstrating her duel nature.
Bottom line is that Agnes was a woman of contradictions. Contradictions that are there for those willing to look, willing to see past the strong characters she often played, willing to look at the woman behind the face.