Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas

The Holiday Season

The Mystery of Love

In 1890 a book was written called "The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained."  It was intended to be a guide for young men and women, primarily women, that would educate them in the "science" of love.  I stumbled across a picture of the cover in another blog and decided to read it for myself.  While looking at it I suddenly realized that this would be the kind of reading that a young woman in the 1900's would peruse.  The copy I found on line was a 1920's reprint so it was still in use at that time.  Agnes was a forward thinking woman and I am sure she would have taken it upon herself to learn the things she should know about life.  However, a learning experience is only as good as the information one can obtain.  Agnes studied biology and was undoubtedly aware of the nature of human reproductive mechanics but what biology couldn't teach her were the mechanics of emotions, feelings, urges and how to act on them.  She came from a religious environment that viewed sex as original sin.  She lived in an emotionally dysfunctional environment that taught the value of abstinence, virginity and the sanctimony of matrimony and yet her life was an emotional roller coaster probably because she spent it attempting to reconcile her feelings with her spirituality.  I thought we should take a walk through this manual and see how it compared with Agnes.

"Prudery and Flirtation are both equally culpable, but between these two extremes there is a happy medium.  Neither religion nor the properties of life require a young lady to be ascetic and disagreeable; and if she has recourse to prudery as a safeguard she must be strangely afflicted with that weakness of conceit..."  This is a lesson that Agnes learned well.  You can watch nearly any of her movies made in the 1940's or 1950's and see how well she mastered it.  She used flirtation in a way the majority of people cannot.  Throughout her career most of her die hard fans were women.  She learned the power she had and she used it.  It flowed off the screen and into the audience where young women became enraptured by this powerful woman.  Agnes managed to find the midpoint between prudery and flirtation.  She was skillful at figuring out how to broadcast those intentions that were never made clear via scripting and she captured her audience with them.  She openly flirted with women especially as she aged because the intentions were so well hidden that only people looking for it would find it.  To her dying day the majority of her fans were women and still are.

How To Know That You Are Really In Love
"Many young people, particularly the male kind, imagine themselves in love when in truth they are not."    A lesson not well learned by Agnes.  She never learned how to trust someone enough to truly love them.   Perhaps it was her dual nature and the fact that she was very aware that behavior that does not conform to societal norms is dangerous.  She admitted herself that she had  never sought love out and it would have to have come to her.  I don't think if love had driven up in a bus marked love she would have really trusted it to be what it said it was.  An interview in the 1960's revealed her opinion of people, she said that they always let you down and you cannot trust them.  She loved her sister and her sister left her.  She loved, worshiped, her father and he left her.  Love was never something she was going to find because she didn't look for it she hid from it.

"This is a powerful weapon in the art of making love."  Agnes mastered flattery the minute she learned that a look was powerful beyond words.  Any glance at a photo of a young Agnes Moorehead shows you that she knew this device and knew how to use it.

Pet Names
Bobby...enough said.

The Love Code
Art 1: The source of love lies in two of the purest sentiments admiration and hope.
I think Agnes understood this and I think it is why she never sought love after the death of her sister.  I think Agnes loved her sister in the purest way, admiration, however, I also think that her sister's betrayal of that pure love is what drove her away from actively seeking someone to love her as purely.  Agnes knew that her sister understood her, hence the reference to "you have never loved a man like I have," in her postmortem letter to her sister.  Agnes loved on a different level and like every close set of siblings she discussed it with her sister.  Her sister used her trust as a weapon when they fell out over it the year before Peggy's death.  Agnes' ability to trust anyone died right along with Peggy.  Without trust there can be no admiration or hope.
Art 2: Love is difficult to define; what we can say is, that in the soul it is a ruling passion, in the mind a lively sympathy, and in the body it is only a secret and delicate desire of possessing the object beloved, after many mysterious preliminaries.
Agnes believed that a woman loved on a different plane than a man.  That she could love someone who was "this or that, male or female" and that it went far beyond the "mysterious preliminaries" referred to above.  In her mind love was empathic and came from the soul not from the body.
Art 3: Love is like a fever; it begins and ends without volition having the least part in the matter.
This baffles me honestly.  Yes love is fickle but I believe it stems from the lack of true connection on a spiritual level with the person you love.  I think Agnes thought that as well.  She commented in an interview with Boze Hadleigh that she didn't want people peering in on her love life because she didn't want them to misunderstand what was "beautiful and even spiritual."
Art 4: The deepest love betrays itself by the most ridiculous appearances; by extreme timidity, for example, or awkward bashfulness.
In other words don't let your feelings show in untoward ways.  People will know how you feel and whom you feel it about.  Mask your feelings and show them privately.  Agnes took this to heart and learned to spend her entire life masking her feelings.
Art 5: The lover is near happiness who begins to doubt of the bliss which he had promised himself and reflects most severely upon the reasons he had seen for hope.
Question your bliss and look for what you hoped you might have.  I cannot say if Agnes really took this to heart, but, I suspect she might have understood it.  She lived with Jack Lee for nearly twenty years and that is something she could never had done if she hadn't hoped for something else.
Art 6: In love contrary to almost all other passions the memories of the past are always superior to the hopes of the future.
Agnes lived on her memories in her later years.  She clung to them and used them as strength to carry on in solitude.  Even though she protested to need a certain amount of solitude her reference to beautiful and spiritual love shows that she had some type of relationship that she deemed worthy of living for.
Art 7: The moment most fatal to love is when the lover finds himself treated with contempt and when he must destroy the beautiful chimera, which he has taken so much pain to construct.
I found the definition of chimera to be most interesting, especially when used in this context and very illuminating on Agnes' view of herself.  The definition of chimera is " A chimera or chimaera is a single organism that is composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated from different zygotes involved in sexual reproduction." 
A chimera is by its very nature duel.  Agnes had a duel nature she admitted it freely during the Hadleigh interview.  I think this may be how she saw herself.  A single individual made of two or more entirely different things.

Tomorrow the remaining Arts...and their interpretation......Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 23, 1956

Agnes Moorehead sent her friends old English style mistletoe balls, 15 inches in diameter trimmed in red velvet ribbons and antique ornaments.  This is the seventh year she has followed this custom.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Through The Mirror of The Mind

A man named Eric Hoffer once said, " With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves.  For they see in the eyes of others only a reflection of themselves."  I was watching a clip of Agnes performing a piece taken from Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" in which she talks of Madame Swann the former Odette de Crecy.  She recounts the reaction of Odette to different men in the crowd and how regal she was.  She also mentions Odette's fondness for the color mauve.  Agnes wore mauve or lavender every opportunity she got. What is never mentioned in the piece is something I'm sure that Agnes herself was very aware of having read Proust's works, Charles Swann suspects Odette of liaisons with other women. It struck me that like Odette Agnes observed life from a distance and like Odette she was quite the chameleon adapting to every situation presented to her with great aplomb. Like Odette she lived beyond the bounds of accepted sexuality.  It made me sit back and take a look at the people Agnes often spoke of or performed works by or even idolized as a teenager.  It proved to be quite an interesting and illuminating exploration.

La Duse
Let us begin with the actress that idolized as a teenager, Eleonora Duse.  La Duse was one of the greatest actresses of her time.  She played many Shakespearean roles.  She portrayed heroines from nineteenth-century French dramas.  She also introduced the drama of Ibsen and d'Annunzio to the stage.  She was an incredible woman.  She was also equally well known for her love affairs with men but she was infamous for her affairs with women.  In 1909, La Duse began an affair with a  feminist named Lina Poletti.  Lina dressed as a man.  The affair was an intense romantic inferno that consumed Duse.  Aside from Lina Duse was involved with Isadora Duncan as well as several young actresses she mentored among them Emma Grammatica and a singer named Yvette Guilbert.  As a young girl Agnes wrote Eleonora a letter and asked for a signed picture which she ultimately received.  It became her most treasured possession.  Ultimately Agnes ended up naming one of her beloved dogs Duse in homage to the woman herself.

Another actress that Agnes speaks of and actually portrayed herself was Sarah Bernhardt.  Sarah was a very vivid and complex individual.  Her name became synonymous with glamor and drama.  She was often called "the mother of all divas," Sarah was nearly as famous for her sumptuous, flamboyant style as she was for her skillful portrayals on stage.  Sarah was so much more than just a stage personality.  She was an accomplished painter, a sculptress, an outstanding business woman who ran her own theaters and acted as producer for her own plays.  She wore pants.  She played men on stage in many plays.  She had numerous love affairs not only with men but with women.  She was somewhat of a template for Agnes I think, right down to the hair color.

One of Agnes' favorite musicians was the incredible harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.  Agnes did a reading from a book by Landowska and it was televised.  Many of us have seen it and it can be found on YouTube.  Landowska herself was a lesbian.  Landowska frequented the salon of Natalie Clifford Barney in Paris.  Natalie was an expatriate American who held regular soirees at her salon in Paris and Landowska often played at these.  The gatherings themselves were organized to promote the works of women writers.  Landowska herself, like many of these women including Agnes, was well known for her exquisite dress and stage decorations.  Her music was sublime as well.  Landowska had a beautiful voice and it is said that many just wanted to hear her speak, especially when she spoke French with just a hint of her elegant Polish accent.  Sounds a great deal like our Agnes doesn't it?  In 1933 Landowska met a woman named Denise Restout.  Restout would be her companion for the rest of her life.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
In her one woman show Agnes did a piece from one of her favorite writers, Edna St. Vincent Millay, called "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver."  Millay was a free thinker.  She published a book of poetry in 1922 called "A Few Figs from Thistles."  In this book Millay put forth the idea that a woman has every right to sexual pleasure and no obligation to fidelity.  Millay was very outspoken about her view of sexuality.  In "Great Companions," Max Eastman tells a story that reveals something of Millay's attitude toward her own sexuality.  While at a cocktail party Millay discussed her recurrent headaches and was asked by a psychologist, "I wonder if it has ever occurred to you that you might perhaps, although you are hardly conscious of it, have an occasional impulse toward a person of your own sex?"  Millay responded with, "Oh, you mean I'm homosexual!  Of course I am and heterosexual too, but what's that got to do with my headache?'  Honestly it bears an overwhelming resemblance to Agnes' own statement of, "A woman may love a person who is this or that, male or female..."

In The End
As humans we tend to like the things that remind us of ourselves.  We idolize the people we would like to emulate.  Agnes was no different in most ways.  She did isolate herself, her true self.  She was more solitary than most in Hollywood but then she had more to loose if she exposed her true nature.  Some folks are content to believe she had no idea, in the words of Debbie Reynolds, what the word lesbian meant.  I think they are afraid to look at the big picture.  They don't want to know that this brilliant, erudite woman was a free thinker, a person who had lived beyond the boundaries of what they perceive as normal.  But she did and she did it so beautifully, so spiritually, so magnificently that it is a disservice to the woman not to recognize how complex and brilliant she was.


From Renascence:
She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.
She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun `tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.
She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.

Edna St. Vincent Millay