Saturday, December 14, 2013

An Article of Truth

I posted an article yesterday that was published February 2, 1936.  I've just been sitting here reading it for the hundredth time and lamenting the fact that it took me so long to get it posted.  When I first found this, and I must admit it was several years ago, I briefly glanced over it then filed it with all the other bits I've collected over the years.  I recently relocated and have been forced to go, bit by bit, through the enormous amount of stuff that I've packed away over the years.  As I go through it I come across gems like this that give a more accurate glimpse into the actual life of Agnes.  I have decided to break this article down, section by section, and talk about the things that evolved in her recollection into things that were completely different from the actual situation.

But If She Tells You The Opposite
The first thing that struck me about this article is the utter willingness of Agnes to say she really doesn't like what she's doing.  It speaks loudly about her opinion of what was actually happening in her life.  She was playing dizzy dames and hard broads.  This was not any challenge to her skill.  She could do it all day and all night without breaking an acting sweat.  It tells us that her work was irritating, she turned parts down out of frustration.  It tells us that she was completely unchallenged.  It tells us that she was, in her youth, willing to say yes I work and yes I actually dislike what I'm doing.  I'm bored.  I want something I can sink my teeth into.  How refreshing.

Agnes spent a good portion of her Hollywood career not being able to say any of this.  Starting her film career with "Citizen Kane" put her in the position of having to shut up and play nice in order to keep her film career from sinking like a rock.  During her early years in Hollywood she had to cultivate her exposure by working diligently to keep the Hedda Hopper's of the film world on her side.  This 1936 article doesn't smack of any of that.  It's just Agnes saying she wants something different.  She's issuing a written, public challenge to any director reading to give her a chance at something, anything!
I can tell you this I don't think it's coincidence that Agnes was recruited to the "March of Time" program in 1936.  I think it was a direct result of this article and her willingness to say exactly what she was thinking.  She ended up portraying every fascinating woman of the time including Eleanor Roosevelt.  Think of the career of Agnes Moorehead in radio and what you see being publicly hailed as her golden age, when did it really begin, 1936.  All of the machinations that would catapult her to fame began with this article and her willingness to say she didn't really like what she was doing.

Manna From Heaven
The phrase "manna from heaven" was pure genius on the part of Agnes.  It was her catch phrase for her early days.  She was hungry and was blessed with finding change in the telephone, or not.  This article is the only time in Agnes' life she actually admits to doing something a great many folks were doing during the Depression, pawning a piece of her jewelry for money to live off of.  Nowhere in any stories she tells later does she ever mention the act of pawning her diamond to by oatmeal, let alone apples.  It becomes a sort of Fanny Minnifer story later on.  The boiler scene where Fanny cries about having walked all over town and refusing to spend a nickel for the trolley.  She walked and walked until the heels were worn down on her shoes, so did Agnes, or so we are told.  Agnes often told the story of of one of the casting agents on her rounds insisting that she call instead of coming in and how she walked forever to a diner to use a pay phone.  In that diner she had to change her last dime in the world into two nickels for the phone.  That nickel would have bought a white roll and butter but she had to sacrifice it to a phone that, in the end, didn't work.  But she found in the phone enough money to by oatmeal and rice enough to feed her until she got her first part. What she had actually done was pawn a diamond ring for oatmeal and apples.  That she even had a diamond ring to pawn was highly unusual for the time.

Her talk about her first parts on Broadway are equally different from what would become the story of her youth later on.  Some biographers intimate that Agnes kept busy with bit parts and understudy roles until she got her first break with Seth Parker.  This article says, not so much.  It intimates that she was out of work the majority of the time until she got a nod from Joseph Bell to come and play the part of Sally, the tough girl, in an NBC program "The Mystery House."  It also says she did that role for over a year before Seth Parker and that once Seth had finished she auditioned repeatedly without any success. Finally, she landed the role of Nana on the program "Evening In Paris."  The length of the Seth Parker tour at some point is shortened to 16 weeks from 20 and Agnes admits,for the first time every, that the tour was something the gave her "the thrill of my life."  As well all know she went on to be known by many in the industry as the "Queen of the Road."  In any case, Agnes repeated, frequently, that she had trod the boards many times as a young woman in New York but this article seems to contradict that by her reference of being often at liberty.

Aloof and Self Contained
Frequently the terms aloof and self contained  were used to describe Agnes.  These terms were used by reporters, acquaintances, friends, and family repeatedly.  This is the first reference I can find to those qualities in Agnes.  Mary Jacob, who wrote the article, states that her first impression of Agnes was that she was "aloof and self contained."  She also observes, as many would over the years, that Agnes warmed up to Mary and the reticence left her once she began to speak.  I've often wondered how much of that time was spent by Agnes sizing up the person she was about to speak to and judging what she would say as the conversation progressed.  But the remainder of the interview is so candid that it seems to contradict that altogether.  I'm not so sure she was judging what she would say but more likely judging the person she was talking to.

The other thing I noticed about this article was the indication that Agnes was just very matter of fact. There appears to be none of the eccentric, larger than life personality we came to know later.  She shrugs her shoulders, taps her foot nervously, and is distracted all at the same time.  Miss Jacobs makes reference to Agnes frowning at the fireplace as she speaks.  It seems as though she was a million miles away at that point, just talking aimlessly.  Then a few sentences later she references the fact that Agnes looks up and smiles then her eyes wander straight back to the fireplace.  It made me think of the story that Agnes told to Joseph Cotton's wife about giving birth to Sean.  Staring off into space and then just leaving the room as if she had never said a word of it.

Finally there is the stunning reference to Jack Lee as John G. Lee.  Who introduces their spouse like that?  As if that isn't enough, she follows that up with "...He's in the movies.  And the swellest person you ever met."    We all know that her marriage to Jack was less than blissful and that during divorce proceedings Agnes admitted Jack had been a hard drinker since 1936.  Jack swans in kisses her and announces that he will return at six.  I almost fell out of my chair when I read that.  The only person I've ever seen Agnes kiss is Joe E. Brown and yet here she allows a complete outsider to witness an unprecedented public display of affection.  The other random mind blowing statement is that Jack is in the movies.  He hadn't even been to Hollywood let alone near a movie camera.  Agnes made an easily verifiable, blatantly untrue statement about Jack to a reporter and it wouldn't be the first time.  Some forty odd years later she would do the same thing by blatantly stating to a reporter that Jack was dead.

The Original Wallflower
I don't know about you but I had never thought of Agnes as a wallflower.  It really stunned me to ready that she honestly believed that everyone thought she would turn out that way.  She has always struck me as vivacious and impish, a little devil, if you will.  But a wallflower, honestly?  I get the whole idea of being a preachers kid and how one might appear to be a wallflower because they couldn't go wild like the other kids.  It makes sense that a preacher's child would be expected to appear conservative and religious, especially when you consider the time period.  I am sure, though, that Agnes never suffered from a "martyr complex."  Perhaps she felt like a martyr because she was unable to attend parties being given by friends but, other than her penchant for straying from the truth, Agnes did not suffer from a "martyr complex."  Her sister, well that's a different discussion all together.

I'll tell you something else a boxed up child wouldn't do and that's skip school to audition for an opera company.  In addition she confessed that to her father who responded by asking if they could get tickets for the show.  I don't see this as being the typical religious preacher, let alone father, response.

I think this article may be as close as any of us will ever get to seeing who Agnes was.  It shows various sides of her in a way that would not ever be seen again.  She doesn't insist she was 12 when she auditioned for the opera but, instead, has obviously told the interviewer she was 15.  She is distracted and focused. She is honest and dishonest.  She is outgoing and withdrawn.  She is lively and quiet.  She is every single different facet of her complex personality without apology.  She bubbles like a volcano ready to go off but you don't know just when.  She is in control and out of control  She is like a snowflake and there just never was or will be anyone quite as brilliant as she.

Friday, December 13, 2013

She Admits She Doesn't Like Her Work

Oakland Tribune
February 2 1936

Agnes Moorehead Longs To Escape ZaSu Pitts Roles
By Mary Jacob

You're going to interview a radio star, a young, feminine star.

You make your appointment, you get there on time, and after a while SHE arrives.  That's fine; you're glad she got there at all.  So you get set to hear how wonderful her work is, how she simply LOVES radio, how happy she was when she got her present role, and how everything is perfectly adorable. She will probably wind up by telling how, when she was five and making her debut in the Sunday School class play, that she knew she would never be happy unless she could become an actress and do just what she is doing now.

If she tells you just that you sigh and shrug your shoulders; that's what you expected anyway.  But if she tells you something else, tells you, in fact, just the opposite, that, folks, is something to write about. And that is what Agnes Moorehead told me.

Since Agnes came to radio in 1930, she has played one dizzy female role after another including her present jobs.  She is, you may know, one of Phil Baker's stooges on CBS and the nosey Mrs. Van Alastair Crowder on Helen Hayes' NBC show, "The New Penny." And how does she feel about it all?

"Invariably," she said with a sigh, "when there is a pain in the neck role for a girl to play, the directors start yelling, 'Agnes.' And Agnes comes running, except once in a while when I get so fed up I refuse the job."

"If I could get one decent dramatic role to play, it wouldn't be so bad. But do I get it? No! I'm ZaSu Pitts of the radio, and apparently I've got to keep on being ZaSu Pitts until my hair is white and the bones of my fingers rattle when I wring my hands."

We were talking in Miss Moorehead's sitting room, a huge paneled white room, very modern and not at all ZaSu Pitt-ish. She sat on a brown linen box like sofa, one foot restlessly tapping on the floor as she spoke.  Dressed in a simple white flannel suit trimmed with navy braid and a navy sailor tie she looked about 18.  Actually she is in her twenties.

Tall, blue eyed, titian haired , Agnes Moorehead is the kind of girl the men are just so k-krazy about.

My first impression of her was that she was very aloof and self contained.  That was when I entered her apartment.  But as she warmed to her subject this reticence left her.  She went on:

"When I got my first chance on the air I felt grand.  You would too if you were an unemployed actress down to your last nickel and a job on the air landed like manna from heaven."

"I had pawned my diamond ring.  I lived on oatmeal soup and apples. Nourishing enough," with a shrug of her shoulders, "But no diet for little Agnes."

"Joseph Bell, who had been one of my instructors at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, started to work for NBC and sent for me.  He gave me the role of Sally, the tough girl in 'The Mystery House."
She was so tough she seemed worse than Capone to me.  But I played the role for over a year."

"My next job," she says, "Was Lizzie Peters, the sharp spoken New England spinster on the Seth Parker program.  I toured with Phillip Lord in the Seth Parker shows for 20 weeks." A smile lighted her face, "I got the thrill of my life then," she confessed.

Agnes offered me a cigarette.  "Don't mind my not smoking," she said, "just a remnant of my childhood days.  I'm a Presbyterian minister's daughter and when you are a minister's daughter you don't smoke or do a lot of other things."

"After the Seth Parker stint was finished," she continued, frowning at the fireplace in front of the sofa, "I tried my best to get a dramatic role on the air.  I auditioned and I auditioned. "

"And I landed up as Nana, the most fluttery, helpless, half wit who ever lived. I was Nana for three years on the 'Evening In Paris' program.  Somebody, with nothing but the the best of intentions, I'm sure, phoned CBS after the show one night.  She wanted to talk to ZaSu Pitts, she insisted. 'But,' the attendants told her, 'Miss Pitts is in Hollywood.'  She kept insisting that she had just heard the movie star broadcast from their New York studios."

"It wasn't til she mentioned Nana on the 'Evening In Paris' program that they realized she thought I was ZaSu.  Then all the directors began to say I was the ZaSu Pitts of radio and I've been that ever since."

Looking up for a minute she smiled, then her eyes wandered back to the fire again.  "When Mr. Griffith, the famous movie producer who had discovered ZaSu, went on the air, " she continued, "he clinched matters.  He wanted someone to impersonate ZaSu." Dozens of actresses were tried out, including, Agnes Moorehead.

After he heard her, he said, "She's more like ZaSu than ZaSu is herself. It's amazing."

"You know," Miss Moorehead told me, "I almost did play one swell emotional row on the air.  I was ambling through the halls of NBC when a director came running out of one of the studios and literally pulled me after him.  'You've got to help us out,' he gasped, 'Miriam Hopkins hasn't appeared for the dress rehearsal of her program yet and the sponsor is listening in.  Please, Miss Moorehead go in and act for all you're worth.  The sponsor must be pleased.'"

It was an original dramatic sketch prepared for Miss Hopkins.  Agnes Moorehead did her best.  The sponsor was pleased.  Everyone patted her on the shoulder and said she was superb.

But that was only for the dress rehearsal.  When the show went on the air that night Miss Hopkins played the role.  No one outside the studio ever heard of Agnes acting.

" I almost got a break that time," she told me grimacing, "but almost doesn't count."

Just then a tall, slim, blond man entered the room and said to Miss Moorehead, "I'll be back at 6," as he leaned over and kissed her goodbye.

"That's my husband, John G. Lee," she said, "We met when we both attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  He's in the movies.  And he's the swellest person you ever met."

Agnes glanced at her wrist watch.  "Goodness." she exclaimed, "I'm due in rehearsal at NBC in 10 minutes.  I've become to engrossed in talking about myself.  I've forgotten about the time.  Do you want to come along to the rehearsal?  It wouldn't take long and we can finish our chat there."

The NBC studios were just a few blocks from Miss Moorehead's apartment.  We walked quickly and soon we were in one of the rehearsal studios on the third floor of the NBC building.  There wer about 10 actresses sitting in a semi circle.  The production man sitting in front at a table with his assistant.

I retreated to the piano stool.  They were rehearsing for "Dot and Will," that long lived sustaining feature at NBC.  Perhaps you will listen in.  If so, you'll recognize Agnes as Rosie, the wholesome ordinary, housewife.  She doesn't like that role either.

Soon she said her few lines in the days program, and we sat out in the lobby.

"Tell me was there any single role in radio you really liked" I asked her.

"Yes," she told me "Jeanne, the sweet ingenue, on the 'Lady Next Door' program.  Of course, it wasn't a particularly dramatic part, but Jeanne was a nice girl instead of a witch like female.  That lasted over a year."

"I also played," she added smilingly, "the role of Betty on that program and Betty was as nasty a cat as ever lived."

"What is the most unsympathetic role you've ever played?" I asked.  "I think my present role as Mrs. Crowder on the Helen Hayes show, " she said.  "I am the most terrible malicious cross patch you ever heard of.  For shear hopelessness, though, I think my role at CBS with the Street Singer a few years ago was the worst.  I was Lonesome Lulu the original wallflower."

"When I was a youngster, " she told me "everyone thought I'd turn out that way. I had a martyr complex as a child.  I longed to attend the parties my classmates gave.  But, I was a minister's daughter.  I couldn't stay out after 9:30 at night.till I went to college.  I never went to a dance until I was grown up and away from home."

You can imagine what went on in the Moorehead household when, Agnes, a naturally gifted dancer, secretly tried out and was accepted for the ballet of the St Louis Municipal Opera Co. when she was 15.  And you can imagine how her family felt a few years later when she announced she was going to be, not a teacher, but an actress!

"I came to New York to study at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts," she said, "I fell I was on my own and could do as I wanted. I liked acting better than dancing-that was all there was to it."

She graduated in 1929 in the heart of the depression.  "John and I, without a cent between us, got married as soon as we graduated."  And then......

"I had an awful job getting placed," she said " I got my first job by pestering Al Woods, the producer, til he got tired of seeing me around so he gave me the part of the French Maid in 'Scarlet Pages.'  When that was ended I couldn't any work to do.  Aside from a few brief engagements in dizzy parts, like the Hindu in 'Soldiers and Women', I was at liberty all the time."

Then along came radio.

"I think radio is O.K," Miss Moorehead concluded, "but how I would like to be something besides a hard hearted Hannah or dumb Dora combined."


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Side Effects May Include

I have recently taken up, again, my search for Agnes' "foster son" Sean.  More importantly, I have decided to attempt to understand what may have actually gone on between Agnes and Sean.  The termination of contact between them was immediate, complete, and has all the indications of being a scar on the soul for both of them.  I think it is safe to say that Agnes' age had as much to do with it as Sean's childhood neglect, before joining Agnes' household, did.  It seems a logical place to begin as any.  So let's start with Agnes' style of parenting.

Victoria Regina

Agnes was born in 1900.  Her mother, Mollie, was born in 1883 and her father, John, in 1869.  Both Mollie and John would have been reared in a Victorian household.  The Victorian era encompasses the years 1837 to 1901 placing John and Mollie's childhood squarely in the middle of it.  Victorian society was rigid, to say the least, and their mode of child rearing would scare the pants off of any child walking the face of the planet today.  It appears harsh because it was harsh and the psychological damage done to children would take a lifetime worth of psychoanalysis to over come.

The morally strict Victorian age presented the conviction that anything that remotely smacked of feeling, desire or need in children was something that required repressing and controlling.  Often children were controlled via the infliction of guilt, threat or spanking, however, Victorian parents were definitely not above using other forms of punishment such as locking a child in a closet or tying them to a bed.  They became stellar at inflicting mental and emotional abuse as a means of control though because it was so very effective.

Victorian parents weren't strict because they didn't love their children.  Victorian parents would, in fact, insist they were strict because they did care for their children.. For them it wasn't about rearing a child who was happy on the inside, it was about rearing children to look good and do well on the outside.  The perfect Victorian child was well taught and well mannered

This style of parenting evolved at the beginning of the twentieth century to include a scientific approach to  child rearing which included the mind set that showing love and and affection was actually dangerous.  Having too much affection from a mother would lead to a spoiled child.  Assorted manuals began to be published during the early twentieth century.  They were overly occupied with the emotion of the child, in particular fear, anger and jealousy.  These manuals were not written to advocate for the acceptance of emotion in children, instead, they advocated just the opposite by insisting that emotion was destructive of order, predictability and sound moral judgement.  Even something as positive as love was potentially dangerous. Emotion was a sign of weakness, a sign of not being in control of oneself.  A Victorian parent displayed an outward detachment and coolness toward the child.  It is an unfortunate fact of human nature, though, that you cannot control emotion forever.  The parent would only be successful until they had bottled themselves up to the point of explosion then BOOM, off comes the lid.  The end result would be roller coaster like swings of complete detachment followed by anger and intrusion.  I doubt that anybody came out of a childhood like this without emotional scarring.

This then would be the style of parenting that Agnes would have been exposed to, familiar with and subsequently emulated.  This combined with Sean's early childhood experiences would be an emotional Molotov cocktail.

Fire and Gasoline

We know from Agnes that Sean had been in two or three foster homes before she took him in.  We also know that Sean was in poor physical condition suffering from malnutrition, vision problems, anemia and a spot on his lung.  Reference is made to the fact that his family was quite large and could no longer afford to care for either Sean or his sister.  It is pitifully apparent to anyone that a child doesn't suffer malnutrition or anemia in a normal setting nor would a situation affording that little concern for a child's well being be in a position to maintain a large family of any variety.  I'm sure if we could find any record at all of any of this we would find that many children, if they actually existed, from the same family would have ended up in foster care or hospitalized.  In addition it speaks volumes about any foster care that Sean may have been inflicted with that they would allow him to remain malnourished and anemic.  This boy and his sister had been in some deplorable conditions for either or both of them to be ill enough to be hospitalized.

Sean and his sister, like many before and since, were likely removed from their environment because of neglect.  The impact of neglect and , potentially, abuse will scar a child for years to come even if they are very young when they are removed.  A child who suffers neglect usually will respond in different ways depending on developing characteristics of the child.  There are two types of these characteristics: active and outgoing and the reserved cautious type.  The outgoing active child will become assertive and attempt to control their experiences.  The reserved cautious type will become anxious and withdraw.  Regardless of which type of child receives the neglect it will lower their sense of self worth.  If the parent is unresponsive to the needs of the child the child develops a sense of worthlessness.  If the parent is unreliable and inconsistent the child develops the sense that the environment is unsafe and will experience anxiety.  If the child fears the parent the response will be to view themselves as weak and ineffective.  The cautious child will likely become nervous, upset and develop mental health problems.  The active child will become aggressive, controlling and develop behavioral problems.  Often times a sense of inadequacy demonstrating a dependency more pronounced than would be typical of the age of the child will present itself.

There is always an large amount of transitional stress when a child is first removed from a home.  These transitions can leave and emotional mark on the child adding to apprehension and anxiety.  Often a child will begin to react in the same manner they reacted in their original home once they have transitioned to a new environment.  If they were aggressive and demanding they will likely become that way again once they are placed in a new environment.  If the child learns they will have their needs met without displaying these traits then they will learn the traits are not needed, however, if they are not conditioned that way they will continue to act out.

The signs of problems can be many and varied.  Four categories are typically identified and they are:
1. The anti-social child may initially present as charming and compliant but after the shock of transition wears off, will become passive-aggressive, manipulative, resentful and untrusting.  They may demonstrate:

  • Sadistic behavior and violence
  • Compulsive lying and stealing
  • Sexually obsessive
  • Seemingly lack empathy or conscience
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Defiance
  • Controlling behavior

2. An overanxious and insecure child may demonstrate panic when separated from caregivers. They many develop school avoidance, night terrors, thoughts of losing a parent and frequently ambivalence in the relationship with a caregiver.  They may demonstrate:

  • School anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Fear of being alone
  • Depression over separation from a parent
  • Nightmares with the theme of loss
  • Intense love/hate relationships with caregivers

3. The asocial and withdrawn child may become cool and indifferent.  They may demonstrate a remarkable lack anxiety about being isolated from others.  They will likely develop a thick emotional barrier to protect themselves.  They may appear emotionally blunted, socially inept, and have a deep distrust of others.  They may demonstrate:

  • Defects in their capacity to develop relationships
  • Lack of strong social desire
  • Lack of concern over isolation
  • Few observed needs for affection and emotional attachments
  • Obliviousness of others
  • Lack of self awareness

4. The inadequate or dependent child clings to caregivers and exhausts the foster parent with needs.  They can cling to anyone instantly but will usually be superficially attached.  They require guidance and constant attention.  They can be submissive and unwilling to show signs of rebellion or a difference of opinion.  They will demonstrate very little confidence.  They may demonstrate:

  • Insatiable neediness
  • Flatness of emotions
  • Unwillingness to negotiate the environment
  • Submissiveness
  • Low self esteem and confidence
  • A sense of apathy

There are still other children who demonstrate a combination of factors, and, as such, their behaviors may be hard to predict. Children may demonstrate differing degrees of reactions, with some strong in their reactions and others milder. It is likely that most children who are placed in care will demonstrate some reaction to the transition to care and carry over their legacy of responses from the home of origin. 

Infants and toddlers very quickly come to view the caregiver providing for their daily emotional and physical needs as their primary attachment figure and subsequently a return to their parents or placement in an adoptive home constitutes an attachment disruptions.  Disruptions in attachment relationships has been associated with and increase in mental health issues.  Repeated disruptions can lead to Reactive Attachment Disorder of Infant or Early Childhood.  This disorder can result in severe disturbances in relationships with caregivers.  

The quality of care children receive in foster care is a huge factor in the type of relationship they develop with their foster parent and their basic psychological adjustment.  Care that provides for physical need but is relatively insensitive or unresponsive to attachment signal and emotional need can lead to an insecure caregiver attachment.  There are many factors associated with the quality of the child's attachment with the caregiver including the foster mother's attachment style, the foster mother's responsiveness to the child's needs, the commitment to the child and the foster mother's delight in the child.  

The combination of Sean and Agnes appears to have been the same effect as throwing gasoline on a fire.  Agnes was largely absent when Sean was young.  She provided for his physical needs but her upbringing, Victorian, combined with the likeliness of him having an attachment disorder doomed them from the beginning.  She was never going to be what he needed and he was never going to be what she required.  


The fact that Sean was able to walk away without ever looking back is indicative of a detachment most people don't understand. He was tremendously damaged and I don't think he ever became that emotionally attached to Agnes.  It appears that he had only one close friend and that he was not well liked by most.  Sean apparently had great emotional problems.   As a child he sent pleading letters to Agnes begging her to come home.  As a teenager he couldn't get away from her fast enough.  He turned his back on her and she on him.  Not even the knowledge that she was dying prompted her to reach out.  I think she knew, she understood that he was not emotionally attached to her and it broke her heart.   She was a kind woman but I think child rearing was so far out of her depth that the damage done to both of them was something that could never be recovered from by either of them..  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fostering Affection For Sean

The boy we have all come to know as Sean Moorehead has been one of the greatest mysteries to have occurred in the life of Agnes Moorehead.  Many of us have taken a run at finding out who he was, where he came from and, most importantly, where he finally ended up.  Last night as I was backstage during our annual Christmas concert I had an epiphany of sorts.  It happened, oddly enough, during the performance of the song "What Child Is This."  My epiphany was this:
We have all operated under the illusion that "foster care" was the relationship that "Sean" had with Agnes, but what if it wasn't?  I put it to you that Agnes was not "Sean's" foster mother but his legal guardian.

To understand the difference between the two I launched myself into the history of "Foster Care" and "Legal Guardianship."  I had no idea that what I would find would completely alter the way I viewed this chapter of not only "Sean's" life but Agnes' as well.

In the beginning of the movement toward placing children with families unrelated to them who would not be adopting them the aim was to remove children from institutions.  The institutions were not conducive to establishing any kind of mental health for a child.  We've seen it today in children adopted from eastern European countries who have attachment disorders as a result of being institutionalized.  Foster care was an excellent option for these children but  it was considered temporary because ties were maintained with the birth parents of the child.  This meant that in theory the placement was temporary but in actuality it could be lengthy depending on the circumstances. By 1950 the statistic show that children in family foster care outnumbered those in institutions for the first time.  Adoption meant wholesale family substitution.  Foster care did not attempt that at all.
What does this have to do with Agnes and Sean?  Simple.  Foster parents were not autonomous.  They were expected to provide safe haven and love for the child at risk, but they were also responsible for keeping that child in contact with relatives and agency workers.  This is something that appears to never have happened with Sean, at all.  I, for one, cannot see Agnes submitting herself to the scrutiny of any kind of social worker.  Given the time Sean came into her life that scrutiny would have resulted in him being removed because of the instability in the home. We know that Sean and his twin sister had allegedly been in "two or three foster homes."  If they had already been in two or three foster homes scrutiny was happening.  So, Jack was allegedly an alcoholic and abusive, Agnes was having an affair with Robert Gist and by the time Sean was living with her so was Robert, yet Robert and Agnes were unmarried.  All of this would have been completely clear to a social worker.   A social worker would not be amused and Sean would have been removed.  We know he wasn't.  That is a fact.

The key word that struck me was autonomy.  A foster parent has to have permission to obtain health care, education, etc... but Agnes appears to have had total autonomy with Sean.  She routinely talked about health care needs, dentist appointments and his education.  Sean was sent to boarding schools in Switzerland and Wales.  None of this could have occurred if Agnes was merely a "foster mother."  I began exploring other alternatives because we know Sean was was never legally adopted by Agnes and I came across something that had never once crossed my mind, legal guardianship.
We know or have been told via Charles Tranberg's book that Agnes said the first thing she did once she got legal custody of Sean was to take him to a pediatrician.  It is not necessary for a legal guardian to have custody of a child but it does occur.  Guardianship suggests a higher degree of both leeway and obligation regarding major or significant decisions about the care of a child.  When a child is adopted the birth parent's legal rights to the child are dissolved and the child becomes a member of the adopting family.  That means that this child has the same rights to support and of inheritance as a birth child.  When guardianship is granted the birth parents rights are merely held in abeyance.  The guardian has no obligation to support the child, although we know Agnes did support Sean, and the child enjoys no inheritance rights to the estate of the guardian.  Because the birth parent's rights are not severed, the child's formal and legalities to the family origin remain intact.  It also means that, like foster care, once the child comes of legal age they guardian is no longer responsible for them.  Guardianship has been a means of not taking the final step of adopting for years and is often used as means of having a child without having the permanent tie of adoption.   The one thing it does require is a court issuing the order of legal guardianship to the legal guardian.  For this one needs a lawyer.   Perhaps that lawyer was Franklin Rohner?  He did work exclusively for the entertainment industry.  Agnes once used the excuse that she couldn't adopt Sean because she was a single woman.  Well, Joan Crawford was a single woman who successfully adopted children and I'm sure not the only one.  Point is she could have adopted Sean at any point but chose not to and I think in the end actually having legal responsibility for another human being is daunting.

That Agnes had no legal responsibility for Sean comes to us from her own hand; "After graduation , Sean left home. “Sean is nowhere to be found,” Agnes wrote to Georgia Johnstone. “The police have a warrant out for his arrest as he evidently was cited for a traffic violation and didn’t show up. As far as I know, he hadn’t a license to drive. It’s quite a heartbreak — he is absolutely out of his mind — but I’ve done all I can. I’m only grateful I didn’t adopt him. My lawyers say I am not liable for anything he might do. It’s tragic — life deals some difficult blows. It’s depressing, Georgia.” This comes from Charles Tranberg's book.

The other thing that struck me is that foster children are not placed out of state.  I think perhaps initially Sean was a foster child and that Agnes very quickly got legal custody of him.  Again, all of this would have to have happened in the state of California.  That means Sean was born in California and most likely in Los Angeles.  There are some things about Sean we have to accept as truth, or as near to truth as can be.  He was sickly.  He had a twin sister.  He had been in foster care before.  He graduated from Le Lycee Francais in 1967.  He was from California and his birthday is allegedly January 6, 1949.  He didn't like being called Sean and wanted to be called Eric but we don't know if either were his legal names.  He disappeared.  Perhaps this is where we begin to find out who Sean was and foster an affection for the child who became the enigma.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Unretouched picture

Since you asked here it is.  Somewhere I have a much better quality scan but this will give you an idea of what I was talking about.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Louisiana Connection, Velma and Moses In the Bullrushes

I remember someone saying a long while ago that the character of Velma from "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" reminded them a great deal of Cousin Daphne the original story teller of the piece "Moses In The Bull Rushes" which Agnes used in her one woman show.  Now everybody knows what a consummate actress Agnes was but I've often wondered when in the world did she every find time to hang around Louisiana and pick up that slow Louisiana drawl.  After all Agnes was a Yankee born and bred, wasn't she?  The answer to that is yes she was but her family tree meanders this country like a gigantic kudzu vine.

Agnes, it turns out, had family in Louisiana.  Real live plantation living family whose names where, Vachel Michael Stevens, Louise Premise Verret and Godfroid Verret.  These folks were planters and lived on enormous plantations prior to the civil war.  They bought and sold enormous numbers of slaves.  They were very, very wealthy people.  Keep in mind that these folks lived before Agnes was born but she may have been aware of the existence of the heirs and she may have had contact with them.  By 1870 their wealth and their vast plantations were gone.  Many moved to New Iberia where they became common farmers.  To date I haven't proved that "cousin Daphne" was a real person but in spirit she is just as the character of Velma Carruthers is.  Somewhere out there in Louisiana are folk related to Agnes Moorehead and I'll bet they don't even know it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beyond the Veil of Mystery

It has been nearly two years since I wrote "Missinformation" and it contained these words;
 6. Death of Teddy McCauley
Agnes was no doubt close to her maternal grandfather.  But the idea that she was small child when he died is truly misinformation.  Teddy McCauley along with his wife Margaret moved to Canton Ohio to be close to Molly and her girls.  Teddy died after 1913.  This makes Agnes a teenager when she discovered her grandfather had died in his sleep.  I'm positive that it scarred her for life but she wasn't a small child as some biographers hint.
"Agnes was also close to her maternal grandfather.  He was a religious man and used to speak to Agnes about God and the gospel.  One Sunday afternoon it appeared he was asleep in the big comfortable easy chair he often sat in when telling Agnes stories from the bible.  Agnes went up, as she sometimes did when he fell asleep in his chair, and tapped him on the shoulder.  However, this time he didn't wake up. Agnes would recall that she cried for days."

Had I but known then that eventually I would find the death record for Teddy it would have changed my perspective on the life of Agnes Moorehead forever.

The true story of the year 1929 has only just begun to be told.  For the Moorehead family it is a year of tragedy that plowed into them in the space of 6 months.

January 20, 1929 at 4:20 in the morning Robert Edward (Teddy) McCauley passed away of chronic myocarditis.  Agnes claimed for years that she found him in his favorite chair where he had been reading the bible when he fell asleep and passed away.  The chances are quite good that this actually occurred.  Perhaps he was an early riser and she found him when she woke up.  In another of my blogs I discussed the fact that she had come home in January of 1929 for a visit.  Her maternal grandparents lived in Canton Ohio and she was likely visiting them.  She was not a small child but a young woman of 28.  Teddy was buried on the 23rd of January in Canton.

April 28, 1929 at 8:00 in the evening Robert Henderson Moorehead passed away of infirmities caused by old age.  Robert's decline had begun on January 20, 1929 according to his doctor and he remained under that physicians care until he passed on April 28.  Now keep in mind that Agnes' maternal grandfather died the day her paternal grandfather fell ill as a result of a thigh bone fracture.  Robert was buried May 1, 1929 in Muskingum County Ohio.

July 14, 1929 at 7:50 in the morning Margaret Ann (Peggy) Moorehead passed away from ingestion of bi chloride of mercury by her own hand. She suffered extensively as did her sister and her parents.  Peggy was buried July 16, 1929 in Dayton where her father, sister and mother would be entombed with her.

Keep in mind that these deaths were closely proceeded with the death of Agnes' great uncle Hugh Moorehead in January of 1928 and her beloved maternal grandmother Hannah on 11 November 1927.
Two grandfathers and a sister with a death occurring roughly every 90 days is an overwhelming thing and would do a great deal of damage.  If Agnes found her grandfather dead then she had extra stress thrown into the deal.  I have lost all my grandparents and my mother but the gaps between their passing were great in addition I have never had a sibling commit suicide so I cannot even begin to fathom how she managed to stay on her feet.  I think it speaks loudly of the character of the woman.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


IMDB has this to say about Robert Gist:
"Robert Gist was a tough kid who grew up around the Chicago stockyards during the Depression. Reform school-bound after injuring another boy in a fistfight, Gist instead ended up in Chicago's Hull House, a settlement house where he first became interested in acting. Work in Chicago radio was followed by stage acting roles in Chicago and on Broadway in the award winning "Harvey."

As far as I can tell pretty much everything written above outside of stage roles in Chicago and appearing in "Harvey" on Broadway is absolute tripe.  Robert Gist was no more a tough kid who grew up around the Chicago stockyards and was reform school bound than my chihuahua, although the latter is inclined to bite people in the face when they try to kiss him, which could be interpreted as "reform school" behavior.  Let's talk about some of the information from opposite land that I've found.

Opposite 1: Robert grew up around the Chicago stockyards during the depression.  Not so much.
In 1920 when Robert was 3 years old he lived with his parents at 355 East 71st Street in Chicago. That is 10.1 miles from the Chicago stockyards.  In 1930 at the start of the depression Robert lived with his parents at 7187 Paulina Street 11.9 miles from the Chicago stockyards.  He was 7 miles from Hull House.  Suffice it to say that he grew up in a much nicer area than his biography would lead anyone to believe.

Opposite 2: Robert was Reform school bound after injuring another boy in a fist fight.  I'm not saying Robert didn't get into fights but his junior year information at Calumet High School just doesn't sound like someone who was reform school bound  According to his high school Robert was involved in:
A.C.C.L. The All Calumet Civic League
Public Speaking Club
Welfare Delegate
Commercial Law Club
Fencing Club
Student Forum
Civic Forum
Mixed Chorus
Thespians, President
Track Team

See for yourself:

Not exactly Reform school bait my friends...nope not at all.

3.  Worked in Chicago radio and theatre.  I can find record of him working in theatre but in radio, not so much.  That is not to say he didn't but in all honesty I just can't find it.  He did appear in a production at the Goodman Theatre. "Robert Gist of the Rhodes Avenue Gist's has a leading role in "Gangster" which opens Monday at the Goodman Theatre."
November 3, 1938
Southeast Economist
I can't find mention of him in any other productions outside of this.

Robert was a creative boy and we'll leave that as it is.

In addition, at some point, Robert found time to go to college for four years, according to his enlistment documents.  Nothing is ever mentioned about his college career so I don't know if he graduated or not.  He did graduate from Calumet High School in 1936.  In 1938 he was still listed as living at home as his parents not only moved but took time to post that in the Southeast Economist newspaper. "Mr. and Mrs. Marion Gist and their son, Robert, formerly of 461 East 83rd St., are now settled in their new home at 7930 Rhodes Avenue."
November 10, 1938
Southeast Economist

7930 Rhodes Avenue, Chicago Illinois

I have not found any documentation of a college career but I have found documentation of a military junket and given the miraculous nature of his surviving malaria and 3 battles, according to him, none of it is even mentioned in his bio at all. "First Lieutenant Robert Gist was a gunnery officer during the Guadalcanal invasion and went through three major engagements without a scratch although in one of them his company suffered 73 percent casualties. Then a mosquito got him down.  Recovering from a malaria attack he went from 175 pounds to 128.  Now he is coming to Broadway in Frank Fay's supporting cast of "Harvey," which opens in New York on November 1."
November 1, 1944
Hayward Review

What survivors guilt he must have had.  You would think that something this impressive would have made its way into his biography.  Yet we never see a mention of it anywhere.  It is important to note that Robert enlisted on the 28th of January 1941 11 months before Pearl Harbor.  He is represented on his enlistment document as an enlisted man not an officer and his branch is Warrant Officer.  He is listed as single with four years of college and his occupation is actor or actress.  A reasonably far cry from the First Lieutenant of the 1944 article.  You don't go from enlisted man who is a Warrant Officer to First Lieutenant in less than 3 years while fighting umpteen battles at Guadalcanal and contracting malaria.  Typically a First Lieutenant isn't a Gunnery Officer that would be a Warrant Officer.  In straightforward terms Robert is full of crap.  He elevated his status pure and simple.  That is likely why it was left off his bio as he became a name in Hollywood.  It would be a lot easier to portray himself as a bad boy with a bad reputation that nobody would likely question.

The other thing Robert hid reasonably well was his first marriage to Louise Van Dyke.  On the 18th of August 1943 in Cook County Illinois, Robert M Gist married Louise Van Dyke.  The marriage license number is CA5BAECA-BDD8-4AE9-9EA7-E1A057F5CC57.  Strangely enough the 18th of August is about four months after the battle of Guadalcanal so he must have been a really fast healer.  Perhaps Louise was nurse?  Don't know.  What I do know is that by November of 1944 Louise ceases to be. Come to think of it she's never mentioned so, at least, in Roberts mind she has ceased to be.  Makes me scratch my head in confusion just thinking about it.

By 1949 Robert had hauled ass to the big league by landing Agnes.  Heaven only knows what enormous line of crap he fed her.  We know he told her about the malaria because many years later when they were in the midst of the lengthy divorce proceeding she referred to him in a conversation with Paul Gregory as the "malaria kid."  I would hazard a guess he neglected to mention Louise at all especially since he neglected, later on, to mention the fact that he had fathered children with two different women.  But Agnes played host to his parents, "Mr. and Mrs. Marion Gist, 7930 Rhodes Avenue, have returned from a motor trip to Hollywood where they were guests of Agnes Moorehead.  They visited with their son, Robert, who played a role in the motion picture "The Stratton Story," as did Miss Moorehead."
November 3 1949
Southeast Economist

He was on his way and Agnes would be used by him as a foot stool to greater things.  By 1952 he was using Agnes' address as his voter registration address, 1952 California Voter Registrations
Robert Gist 2720 Monte Mar Terrace,Democrat.  Agnes was registered at the same address as Mrs. Agnes Moorehead Lee 2720 Monte Mar Terrace, Republican.

Robert appears to have been a prevaricator in oh so many ways.  It is unfortunate that so many people were left in his wake.

And Baby Makes Three, Four, Five, Six.......

I have no doubt that O.L. Colon got out of bed and went to work on November 19, 1955 at the office of the County Clerk Harold J. Ostley in Los Angeles without ever knowing that a license for marriage issued that day would be come the subject of in depth interpretation some 58 years later.  You see two people applied for a license to marry on that day, Jack Griffith Lee and Joanna Jayne Johnson.  To the average reader unimpressive.  The names are rather typical, ordinary names, however at least one of those two people had some four years earlier been embroiled in a contentious divorce with an actress named Agnes Moorehead.   That is where my interest in the unassuming piece of paper began.  Until I read it a few months ago I had no idea that Jack Lee had ever remarried.  Then last night at about 3 am I sat bolt upright in bed after a rather peculiar dream and said out loud "What if they had children?"  I got up this morning and after coffee I sat down to my computer to search.  A little while later I found myself sitting in front of my computer with my mouth hanging open saying "Oh my GAWD" over and over again.  Not only did I find a child but his name was Jack G Lee Jr.

Jack G Lee Jr. was born on May 4th 1956.  What makes that date so damn special is that Jack Lee and Joanna Johnson had just actually been married on February 18 1956.  Do the math folks.  Joanna was over 7 months pregnant when she married Jack Lee.  In fact, Joanna was pregnant when they got the marriage license in November and why it took them that long to get married is beyond me.  But there you have it Jack G. Lee Jr.  He was the first addition to the Lee family.  The second addition to the Lee clan was Susan L Lee.  Susan was born August 3 1958 in Los Angeles.  Susan was apparently named after Jack's mother Susan Ping Lee.  So we are up to two children so far.  The third addition came in the form of George M Lee a little less than a year after Susan's birth.  George, named for Joanna's father, was born on the 26th of July 1959 in Los Angeles.  Dad, Mom and the 3 little Lee's were all on their own until 1963 when the fourth and final Lee joined the family.  Joanna Virginia Lee was born on the 30th of December 1963.  So Jack's legacy was assured with the four children he had with Joanna.

A newspaper many years ago had run a short snippet that Agnes and Jack were going to adopt four children.  The same article contended that Jack was readying the farm for their soon to be brood.  I find it extremely odd that when Jack did, in the end, have children he had four children.  As I was doing this research the very first thing I wondered was if this might have been the reason that Agnes told people that Jack was dead.  He managed to have the very thing he had likely wanted all along, a family.  Perhaps that was part of the dysfunction in their marriage and she resented him for it.

That Jack's marriage to Agnes was an unpleasant abusive 19 years is not at issue.  Jack drank.  Jack was violent.  Agnes earned the money and suffered, apparently for an extended period of time at Jack's hands.  What I find confusing is that Jack's marriage to Joanna lasted from 1956 until his death and produced, without any apparent difficulty, four children.  I think it bears asking why Jack and Agnes never had children. Jack was obviously capable of producing offspring.  He was 16 years older than Joanna and yet they had four children within 7 years of their marriage.  Of course we'll never know why Jack and Agnes never had children since neither of them is talking but it does add even more mystery to their already peculiar relationship.

In the end Jack had a family and Agnes had her career.  Since Jack died when his youngest daughter was 11 years old he never got to see her grow up but in the end he did manage to leave a genetic legacy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Interpretive Interpretation

I know there is no such thing as interpretive interpretation but there should be.  How else can one explain the complete lack of cohesiveness in the life time line of Agnes?  It simply boils down to who writes what, who reads what, and how one feels about what.  Just for the sake of my own sanity and that of my fellow man I attempted, with not one wit of luck, to figure out just what happened in the public arena called Agnes' life from 1952 to 1958.  This involves, divorce, marriage, career, adoption, domicile shifts, and, of course, more divorce.  Sounds like the plot of a fabulous movie but it is real life my friends, real life.

You all know I have piles of articles about our Aggie.  I turned to the medium of newsprint to track the alleged happenings in her life.  I began in 1952:

January 18, 1952, Mansfield Journal, Mansfield Ohio:
Agnes Moorehead now has the final adoption papers on her one year old son.

Okay, adoption, well, alrighty then.  We all know, now, that Agnes never adopted Sean.  He was her foster child, period.  If there is adoption paperwork out there it was consumed by some paper eating bacteria because many an intrepid biographer has attempted to find it and guess what, it does not exist.  I must take a moment to point out that at this point Agnes was still in the process of finalizing her divorce from Jack Lee.  If that child had been adopted Jack would have been involved because even in Hollywood adoption takes a little while.  But none the less the majority of the newspaper reading folk in America in 1952 would have believed that this was true because we all know everything that gets printed in newspapers is true, ahem.....

March 29, 1952 San Antonio Express
Agnes Moorehead bought the home of the late Sigmund Romberg.  And when a lady buys a big house cherchez a soon to be husband.  I didn't have to cherchez too far to come up with Bob Gist. Okay engaged and not yet divorced it does happen.  The house underwent a major renovation at some point in 1952 and we know that Agnes did her fair share of renovation on the property.

June 11, 1952
Agnes' divorce from Jack Lee becomes final.  It is reported in all the major newspapers and is a matter of court record.

July 2, 1952 Albuquerque Journal
Agnes moved into her new home, the Sigmund Romberg house, Saturday. Helping her was a handsome Robert Gist.  Living together?  Yes, they had been for some time.  Not married yet and wouldn't be, at least according to the divorce paperwork later filed by Agnes, until February 14, 1953.

July 31, 1952
Agnes and Robert are now sporting matching red hair.  I know he was a red head as well but honestly I don't know if she dyed to match him or he dyed to match her.  It really doesn't matter anyway.  But it was considered news.

October 28, 1952 Pottstown Mercury
It says that Agnes and Robert Gist have been married for some time?  Define "some time."

March 12, 1953 Daily Redlands Facts
The grapevine has it that Agnes Moorehead and Robert Gist, secretly wed, have adopted a red haired baby. They're both fire tops.  What, I'm confused.  I thought that baby was adopted in 1952 by Agnes and now Robert is a father?  Well, technically, not yet but he will be, eventually.

January 13, 1954 Nevada State Journal
The Journal reports that Agnes has postponed her upcoming performance of  "The Fabulous Redhead" in Reno until April.  Robert Gist was to perform with her but because of conflicts involving the production "The Caine Mutiny" he is unable to be in Reno for the performance.

April 20, 1954 Nevada State Journal
Agnes will be performing a one woman show of monologues and dramatic readings sans Robert Gist. Surprised?  Me neither.

June 14, 1954 Winona Daily News
Agnes Moorehead and her husband are adopting six kids.  No, really, you read that correctly six kids and with Robert Gist, prolific pro creator at large.....or soon to be prolific pro creator at large anyway.

July 14,1954 Long Beach Press Telegram speaking on the divorce proceedings dated  April 2, 1957
Agnes separates from Robert Gist and only thirty days ago they were talking about this couple adopting six children.

December 10, 1954 Long Beach Independent reported by Johnson In Hollywood
There may be fireworks over their adopted son if Agnes Moorehead goes through with her reported plan to divorce Robert Gist.  He's in the New York Company of "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial," and yes that is how the newspaper reports the title of  "The Caine Mutiny." From 150mph to zero in nearly four months to the day of the report of adopting six kids.

April 22, 1956 Nevada State Journal byline Walter Winchell
They say Agnes Moorehead and the husband she divorced (a few months ago) may give it another whirl.
Nope, nope, definitely nope. Robert did give marriage a whirl again 3 more times.....but that is another volume unto itself.  In actuality the divorce would not occur for nearly two full years.

April 2, 1957 Long Beach Press Telegram
Agnes has filed for divorce from Robert Gist.

March 12, 1958
Agnes is granted a divorce from Robert Gist

I can see you scratching your head and thinking what is this all about anyway.  It is about perception and information.  As far as most of the average public reading the news of the day this was all true. Fifty plus years after the fact we now know it just isn't the case.  This was the public interpretation of what was going on in her life.  It was more like a game of telephone where information is shared and shared and shared again until it doesn't actually resemble fact.

Here are the tangible facts:
1. Sean was never adopted by Agnes and certainly not by either of her two husbands.  He was reared in a single parent environment the majority of his young life.
2. Agnes' marriage to Jack Lee was a nightmare.  He beat her.  They separated in 1945 and got back together.  On June 15, 1949 Agnes separated from Lee and they counter sue each other for divorce both alleging cruelty in 1950.  It takes three years just about to the day from separation to divorce.
3. Agnes hosted Robert's parents as her guests at her home in 1949.
4. Robert M Gist was married before Agnes in 1943 to a Louise Van Dyke and I can find no record of a divorce, however, Louise did die in Tallahassee, Florida in 1981 and is listed as Louise Sedore. Louise is listed in the 1940 census as the "partner" of one Evelyn Lucinda Graves, a trained nurse.  It is a possibility that term didn't mean then what it does now but that they are recorded as partners is a fact.
5. Robert Gist had seven children with two women.  The first was born in 1956 while he was legally married to Agnes.  Two women had two children in 1958 with him.  Frankly, it's mind boggling but there you go.
6. Robert was married, that I know of, a total of five times including Agnes.  Agnes did say during divorce proceedings that she was harassed by telephone by a number of women asking her to get a divorce.  Who knew he'd married at least two of them, I think.
7. Agnes plainly said her first husband had died and the second one she divorced.  We know that Jack Lee died a few months after Agnes.  Perhaps she mentally killed him off.  Robert continued to work in Hollywood.  Jack actually remarried in 1956 to Joanna Johnson and stayed married to her until his death.  Joanna never remarried and was buried in 2005 as Joanna Lee.

Agnes was a deeply complex woman.  She hid so much of herself from people that I doubt that any one person, including her mother, knew every little detail about her.  We are able to view the timeline of her life as it should have happened now because of the Internet and because of newspaper archives that are available for research from our living rooms.  To assume, however, that any one of us is an authority on her public or private life is just us wishing.  I've read as much ,and in most cases more, about her than anybody else I'm aware of .  Even so, I could not and would not say for certain that she thought or felt or behaved in any particular way about anything.  She was phobic about allowing people to get too close, she didn't trust them, her own words not mine, and she made an art of being aloof.

Her words:
"My profession is sacred to me.  I'm happy when people like a performance.  I can't help it when they don't.  This is a responsibility I have to shoulder.  I seldom read any criticism.  There seems to be a human tendency to destroy.  Destructionism seems to be one of the foibles of mankind."

We, none of us, own her memory.  We are, instead, graced by it and allowed to bring our interpretation to new audiences with the fervent hope that they, like us, read all of the archives, the books, watch the films, listen to the recordings and love her for exactly who we all, in spite of ideological differences, know she is.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Ties That Bind

Every now and again I get the random comment from someone claiming that Agnes was either their aunt or great aunt.  I dismiss them generally but I've gotten so many of late and some are actually claiming quite fantastic as well as technically impossible things.  Recently I had one claiming that Agnes had a brother and was this individuals great aunt.  For this reason I feel compelled to once again set out the real family tree.

One Branch, Two Leaves
Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born December 6, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts.  Her father was John Henderson Moorehead and Mary Mildred "Mollie" McCauley.  Margaret Ann Moorehead was born April 12, 1906 in Hamilton, Ohio.  There were absolutely no other children born to John and Mollie Moorehead.  So the branch of the family tree containing the offspring of John and Mollie has two leaves, just two.  Margaret Ann Moorehead died in the Miami Valley Hospital at 7:50am on July 14, 1929.  Agnes had no children and neither did Margaret.  So every other scenario that exists out there just simply isn't a fact.

Mother and Father
John Henderson Moorehead was born on April 22, 1869 in Muskingum, Ohio.  His parents were Robert Henderson Moorehead and Hannah Mariah Humphrey.  He had three brothers, one died in its infancy and was never even named, and one sister.  His living brothers were Marcus and Alfred. His sister was named Camilla.

Mary Mildred McCauley was born on August 25, 1883 in Pennsylvania.  Her parents were Edward J.McCauley and Margaret I. Doyle.  She had two sisters named Cecelia Agnes and Emily.

These are the immediate family members.  I would love to post the entire tree but it is simply to time consuming.  These are facts backed up with documents.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Peggy Moorehead Revealed


Cleveland High School Ukulele Club

Friday, May 17, 2013

Let Me Be Frank

I have been beating my head against so many brick walls and finally, I think, I have pushed my way through one.  We all know now that Peggy Moorehead committed suicide.  We all know that Molly refers to "Frank" telling Peggy out of the blue that they would "quit."  I have scrutinized every single Frank, Franklin, Francis or anybody having an F in their name in Dayton Ohio and I think this man is the Frank that Peggy ended her life over.

Here is my logic.  I know there is such a thing as public transportation and I know that in the late 1920's that it was commonly used, however, unless you were a social butterfly with a big income you just didn't go wandering out of your neighborhood looking for love.  Typically romances begin when you have contact with somebody during your everyday life.  We know that Peggy was a nurse in Saint Louis at the Jewish Hospital.  We know that she came to Dayton in the fall of 1928.  We know that Peggy would be familiar with the substance she used to take her life and we also know that it was not readily available to the public but was something that a nurse would come into contact with often.
I put it to you that Peggy continued her nursing career once she relocated to Dayton.  Her parents lived less than a mile from the Miami Valley Hospital.  This hospital has been in operation in the same location since the turn of the 20th century so the building that is there now has always been this hospital.  It has grown and changed but it is the same place.  Daily, if you worked there, you might travel that distance with a walk to work.  If you did you would pass the same people at the same time every single day.  On this route are two notable things that lead me to my conclusion.  The first is the hospital itself and its location.  The second is an address that happens to belong to Frank G Belanich.  Between 1002 and 1010 South Main Street there was an apartment building called Fairlawn Apartments.  In that building lived Frank George Belanich.  He had an apartment with one room mate.  He was a teacher and had attended Dayton College.  Peggy died in July of 1929 and the census for 1930 happened slightly less than 9 months later.  Even then a lease would be signed and it would cost you money to break it and Frank did not make that kind of money.  It is worth noting that by 1931 he had moved further away but continued in his profession as a teacher and by 1932 he had moved again.  He remained single while in Dayton.  Frank did not marry until 1943 and by then he was living in Cleveland.  Frank continued his teaching in Cleveland and by 1960 was dead.  He was about 56 when he passed away.  Of course I cannot prove any of this but this Frank was the closest in location to Peggy and her family.  There are none others as close to their location or a location that Peggy might work at.  Something to think about anyway.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I've Got This "Ringing" In My Ears

Isn't it amazing what you notice when you think you aren't really paying attention to anything?  Today on another of my blogs someone I follow posted a picture of Agnes holding an adorable cat.  It was taken in the early 1930's.  I was gazing at it thinking "Isn't that lovely!  Just look at the adoration on her face!"  Then I had an attention deficit moment, "What a gorgeous cat and just look at that beautiful....oh what's that a ring, a wedding band?"  Hey, what a New York minute!  A wedding band???  That started me on  a backwards trip through a pile of pictures and gave me a brand new facet to the complex image of my beautiful cousin.

All The Chapel Bells Are Ringing
Thursday, June 5 1930.  The weather is extremely hot.  Like every other day in Manhattan people are getting married.  At the Little Church Round The Corner a wedding is taking place.  The groom is John Griffith Lee and the bride Agnes Robertson Moorehead.  It is a traditional ceremony.  Rings are exchanged symbolising a commitment to live together as man and wife.  Everybody who marries, at least in 1930, exchanges wedding rings.  It seems to me that it would be especially true in this case.  Agnes was the daughter of the minister and to her weddings were sacrosanct.  It was her upbringing.  These were something her father performed regularly uniting people until "death do us part", however, by 1932 Agnes began not wearing hers on a regular basis.

This last photo was taken the same day as the above and yet the ring is clearly not visible. 
You've Got A Ring Around Your Finger
The years move forward.  Life goes on and Agnes begins her meteoric rise to a career that will leave a legacy denoting her as one of the best character actresses ever to grace the stage, screen and radio.  Agnes did not have all that many photographs done while she was in radio, head shots I mean.  There are several candid moments that appear over and over again.  There are somewhere between 15 and twenty head shots that exist of her during this part of her career.  The majority  of them are taken in the mid thirties as she became more widely known.  Of these the ones I posted above where actually taken in her apartment.  Her piano stayed with her until she died.  These were intended to show her "home life" and it was something that she did many times over throughout her career.  You will find groupings like this in the forties, fifties and sixties.  The were generally very relaxed in nature but you only saw what she wanted you to see.  For example she is casually pictured with her wedding ring on and then just as casually with it off.  Why remove it for a photo?  Why indeed?

In the other well known head shots of Agnes from the thirties only two show her ring finger and they are quite telling in themselves.

In the top photo her ring hand is clearly visible and she is wearing an enormous ring that appears to be a clear stone of some sort.  The same ring is just visible on the bottom left of the second photo.

Behind that ring is a band, an eternity band of diamonds, that is not her wedding band.  Now true enough that these type of bands have been given in honor of anniversaries for years.  Perhaps it was Jack that gave to her but then again Jack would have had to have been extremely wealthy to have given it to her, wouldn't he?  We have all been told that Jack came from a wealthy family but alas that is not all that true.  Jack's family had land, true, but monetarily they were just as average as anyone else.  His father died not long after Jack married and was an actor.  His mother lived in San Francisco in a nice place but was not rolling in cash.  Jack was average in every way.  His wife was most likely the least average thing about him.

Ring Around The Rosie
The next time you see Agnes with any kind of wedding band on will be in "Citizen Kane."  I don't think it's the same one.  But it's use is indicative of the story of Agnes' life, it is a prop for a performance.   The next time you see a candid photograph taken of Agnes in the forties she will be wearing one of two rings on her left hand.  Either the dark purple hued stone we have all come to recognize as her trademark or a ring with dark and light stones.

Most tellingly the first photo above was taken at another candid at home photo shoot.  It is one of two known taken in that striped dress.  The other photos taken on the same day show her ring finger empty.  No wedding band.  No big stones.  No nothing.
Jack, on the other hand, never appears without his wedding band.  In all of the known photographs of Jack Lee taken in the forties where you can see his left hand, there is a wedding band.  Poor Jack had no clue, no clue at all, that he was the only one in his marriage who still thought of it as a commitment.  He was a drunk and he was abusive that we all know.  What I find a little sad is that he was clearly not living in the same world as everyone else.  He had honestly believed that the ring was a symbol he should not remove and so he did not.  He was clueless in every sense of the word.

The Bells Are Ringing For Me and Myself.....
This ring became her trademark.  It graced her finger in nearly every public appearance from this photograph until she died in 1974.  She always wore it on her left hand with one exception and that was during her brief marriage to Robert Gist.  After they were married in Yuma Arizona she moved her large ring to her right hand.  It is only shown in one photo that I know of and it was during that brief illusion that she had entered a committed relationship with Robert Gist.  Everything came full circle at that point.  She was where Jack had been.  Robert, well, he was on an entirely different level of existence.  What is important is that the big ring went straight back to the left hand.  It became a symbol of Agnes' marriage to her public and her commitment to herself.  She endured and for that we should all be more grateful than we will ever have time to demonstrate.


Friday, March 8, 2013

To Be Or Not To Be Mr. Agnes Moorehead

William Shakespeare once wrote that " Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage."  I used to chuckle at that line, who wouldn't, but today, well, today I'm feeling some serious pity.  Today, I feel pity for a man I did not know.  I feel pity for a man who lived his life so back ass wards that you would have to be made of steel not to pity him.  The man is non other than Jack Griffith Lee.  Jack the drunkard.  Jack the wife beater. Jack the psychologically broken.

As many of you are aware I had a substantial breakthrough  with the legacy of Jack Lee yesterday.  I discovered he was married a second time.  I discovered his mother's last name and that his second wife was so totally devoted to him that she did not remarry after his death despite the fact she was 17 years his junior. I mulled all this over last night and decided that an entire story cannot be told about anyone without all of the puzzle pieces.  I thought about Jack and Agnes.  I ruminated on how dysfunctional they were as a married couple and why Jack never sought to question it, ever.  If you really think about it he seemed to be totally blindsided by Agnes filing for divorce.  For years I wondered how he pulled off that completely stunned, holy shit I never saw this coming performance and today, with out any hesitation, I can say I got it.  I totally got it.

I Dote On His Very Absence
In this world only the very talented are able to convince people that they feel this way or that.  Let's face it Jack was not talented and when compared with Agnes he was even less so.  What can replace that talent is having actually experienced what you're living through previously.  Jack did this with great aplomb.

Those of us looking in from the outside have been aware for ages that Agnes and Jack lived separate lives. When they were together in public it was always a photo opportunity, period.  In a normal marriage where two people were deeply in love prolonged absence often drives a wedge between the couple very quickly. You see it happen every day in Hollywood.  Two people divorce over irreconcilable differences.  In the aftermath interview both lament on how being away for extended periods of time as a result of work created a chasm that could not be bridged.  With Agnes and Jack it was the reverse that created a chasm that could not be bridged.  They remained successfully married while he was in New York and she in California or while he was in Ohio and she in California.  They both toured with various and sundry shows when they were both in New York rarely, if ever, spending any extended time together.  It was when Jack moved full time to California and they had to live together that their lives began unraveling.  Why oh why do you suppose?

Well, I'll tell you because the marriage was an illusion to begin with.  Agnes flourished when she was away from Jack, she bloomed, she blossomed and her career took off like a bottle rocket.  Jack, on the other hand, had lived this illusion of an existence his entire life.  His father, Robert Marshall Lee, was an actor as well.  His father toured all over the place all the time and was rarely around to inconvenience his wife, Susan, with his presence.  She lived, she flourished and she reared her child or children, the existence of his sister is not documented with all the appropriate facts yet, so anyway, she reared her offspring on her own.  His father was an absentee parent and he was mamma's boy.

They Stumble That Run Fast
As I began to plumb the depths of Jack's family I began to uncover some very peculiar things.  I have documented through voting registrations what Mr. and Mrs. Lee claimed were their residences.  While actually hunting them down I discovered that in one instance in 1923 Susan Ping Lee listed her address as 29 Belcher.  Today I discovered that 29 Belcher was never her residence but that of her sister Eva.  I also found that in 1914 Susan is listed as living at 2466 California, yes indeed, address for her sister Virginia.  Honestly, I thought, could it get any stranger?  Yes, yes it could and did.

In 1916 we find one of the rare instances of Susan and her husband being listed on the voter registration list together at 1633 Webster.  By 1918 living at the same address is one Harry O'Neill.  Not strange until you realize that Harry is the man that Susan marries after Robert M Lee dies around 1934.  In fact the Lee's disappear from San Francisco between the end of 1918 to 1922 or there about.  Susan is registered as living at an address in Modesto oddly enough there is no record of her actually having lived there but you know what Harry disappears around the same time and returns to San Francisco around the same time as well.  We have, ladies and gentlemen, a triumvirate, a trio, a threesome.  Wither thou goest so goest I!

In 1918 Robert was in Chicago and lists his home address as 1633 Webster.  In 1918 Susan is god knows where and gives her home address as 418 13th Street Modesto!  Harry, well I'll be damned if I know where Harry is but one thing is for sure he is not in San Francisco!  Am I the only one here sensing a pattern?  I think not.  Shakespeare says " They stumble that run fast" and oh how right he is!  A person can get ahead of themselves and then impale themselves on the the truth accidentally!    If the age of information had never come about we would know none of this at all.  I'm not saying whose lover Harry was but you don't migrate with people unless you're in love with one of them!  By the time of the 1930 census Harry O'Neill lists himself as married, he never was..there is simply no record of it anywhere, and he is significantly well off in terms of the Depression.  Harry owned 841 Corbett and was worth $7000.00.  Living with him in 1930 while her husband was in a hotel in New York with his son Jack was Susan.  She is identified as "border" but nobody else lives there my friends, nobody.  Voter registration still lists it as her address in 1934 but she is still Susan Lee....hmmm, scratching head vigorously...hmmmm.

Nature Hath Framed Strange Fellows In Her Time
Okay, so now I've reached the epitome of odd, right?  Wrong, oh soooo wrong!  By 1940 Susan has married Harry O'Neill and they live at 841 Corbett.  Harry is ridiculously well off, although he is listed as a "taxi driver",  and Susan is reaping the reward of having dedicated herself to Harry, or not.....By 1944 Harry is living at 841 Corbett all on his lonesome and Susan, well, Susan is practically next door, actually sort of literally next door.  Susan lives by herself at 853 Corbett but she's still Mrs. Susan O'Neill and she's still a "housewife" for someone anyway.

No wonder her son grew up with no idea what in the name of blue blazes a marriage was!  His family apparently put the "fun" in "dysFUNctional."  It appears that Jack grew up in a very, very, very liberal home...or an idea of a home because you cannot bloody tell where these people really lived until after 1930! Of course he would pick out a woman who had as much use for him as a fish does a bicycle because that is exactly who he had lived his whole life!  Of course he would have no idea that things weren't right because he had no idea what "right" meant.  Jack was a twisted wreck of a man before he ever got married and it most likely was a result of his gypsy like rearing.  I don't find his drinking all that odd now because I can tell you this if I had grown up like that I'd be drinking everything I could get my hands on.  Who knows what kind of crazy temperamental outbursts he witnessed and I'm sure the violent side of him has its roots in this disaster area of a childhood as well.  Jack was a product of his environment plain and simple.

He dealt with some seriously stressful stuff his whole life and the end of his marriage to Agnes was not one bit different.  I have dealt with several traumatic deaths over the last 5 years but I never managed to pull this off, ever.  The year is 1949.  Jack has been separated from Agnes once on record that we know of in 1946.
On February 28, 1949 after 8:10 pm Jack's mother dies at Saint Luke's Hospital in San Francisco.  On Thursday March 3 the funeral for Susan O'Neill is held and she is buried at Cypress Lawn.   Three limousines are used in the funeral.  One car is arranged for simply to carry flowers.  An organist is requisitioned to play at the funeral and a clergyman asked to perform the service.  The entire funeral is billed to Jack Lee at a cost of  $1018.50 and the bill is sent to him at Monte Mar Terrace in Los Angeles. I know it doesn't seem like a lot but think of this way:

In 2009 we buried my mother at a cost of $6500.00 and we had to have her remains flown to Pennsylvania.
In January of this year we buried my father in law at a cost of $7500.00 and it was a modest funeral that didn't involve travel of any kind.  My mother's funeral would have been over $10,000.00 today.  An increase of $4000.00 in 3 years.  That averages out to $1333.00 per year.  Jack's mother died in 1949 that is 64 years ago. In those terms his mother's funeral would have cost around $85,000.00 today.

Mother has died and is buried on March 3rd.  The Academy Awards are on March 24, 1949.  Agnes is not only the first woman to act as co host but she is also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  That is 3 weeks between the death of Jack's mother and the Academy Awards.  Keep in mind the size of the funeral.  It was his tribute to Susan.  He's stressed and he's drinking.  Unbeknownst to him in slightly less than 3 months his wife is going to file for separation from him.  This is Jack unrehearsed and captured candidly on March 24 1949 at his wife's side on the red carpet.

There's a smile on his face but his eyes are completely blank, at least that is how they look to me.  So, here I sit feeling sorry for him.  Was he a victim of his own upbringing, most likely.  Is that an excuse? No, because we are all victims of something that happened to us.  Do I feel for the man? Yes I do.  I have also have a whole new respect for the level of the knowledge that Paul Gregory had about Agnes.  Paul said she was a meat grinder and that Jack never stood a chance with her at all.  Paul said Jack was actually a nice guy away from Agnes. Nobody will ever really know for sure's some sympathy for the poor devil and may he rest in peace!