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.