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.
"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.
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