Friday, November 25, 2016

What You Find When You Aren't Looking

I love this time of the year.  When you finally have time to just sit and spend time looking at all the stuff you haven't been able to read or paging through posts you've been pushing aside for months.  It takes days, hours, minutes and then it hits you between the eyes like a rock.

The woman on the right is Tanya Hills and the woman on the left is her twin sister Sandra.

It turns out that in August of this years it came to light that the two sisters were living in a conversion van in Sonoma County, California. It took me a few minutes to even grasp what I was looking at before I started reading the article.  As I read it I was touched.  It turns out that Tanya had suffered a brain injury and her sister had moved her in with her to look after her.  As I read I wondered what if anything Tanya would be will or able to tell anyone about Agnes. Then out of the blue during the middle of a conversation with Sandra, Tanya volunteered this:

"Tanya adds, "Agnes Moorehead, I met her at a play. She saw me and wanted me to be with her for the rest of her life."

I don't know about anyone else but it was kind of like "FINALLY."  I have no idea what Tanya's brain injury entailed or how it affects her but I do know that often memory is affected and that there are certain types of injury that affects the triggers that might normally stop us from saying something that we might not want to be known.  The fact that Tanya has been silent for all these years leads me to believe that perhaps this was the case with Tanya. I believe that what Tanya remembers is as lovely and peaceful as what she said.  I believe that the relationship was a loving one, maybe not physically but emotionally, and I believe it has sustained Tanya Hills for all these years.

This is the link and I'm just going to leave this here.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

One Of Those Lovely Details

I was just looking at some records online and I found a sweet detail I wanted to share:

This is John Moorehead's signature on his 1911 application for a U.S. Passport

This is Agnes' autograph:

They both use an unconventional e in the last name before the regular e.  She did not learn that in school, she learned it from her father and that is a lovely detail.  I know how much she revered her father and this one little detail speaks volumes on her love for her father.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tediously. Anonymous

Once again thank you for the perfectly pointless waste of my time anonymous troll with nothing better to do than post a blazing piece writing proving that you have absolutely no command of the English language.  The word "yawn" was genius really. Never have I grasped a concept so quickly, not. Courtesy of you once again the comments will be limited to people with actual courage to express their opinion and sign their name to it. Tata darling and the best of luck with your one word sentence attempts.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Home Is

The Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn New York
16 October 1932
Page 62

And the address is 41-42 44th Street Sunnyside.  The building is called the "Cambridge" and was built in 1931.  It is a building with 6 floors and 94 apartments.  I find this very interesting actually because I believe we've all seen the inside of this apartment in photographs taken in the 1930's.

See that molding at the top of the wall?

I'm sure it's the same molding and I believe it was taken in her apartment.  So we have seen the inside of this place before.

A Shotgun Wedding For Jack?

You do the math.  Jack Lee married his second wife, Joanna Jayne Johnson, on February 18, 1956 in Los Angeles.  Joanna and Jack's first child, a son, who was named after his father, was born on May 14, 1956 in Los Angeles. This means that Joanna was just slightly over 6 months pregnant when they got married.  Shot gun wedding perhaps?  It also means that Jack was a bad boy and more importantly Jack was an extremely fertile bad boy.  Within 3 years of their marriage there were 3 children born to them.  Agnes and Jack were married for almost, 1 month short actually, 20 years and there were zero children, zero.  Agnes and Jack talked openly about adopting in their 40's but the only child Agnes would ever have living in her home was a foster child.  What am I getting at?  Jack was apparently a man who did choose not to use protection, obviously since he had a woman pregnant before they were married. Yet there are no children for the 20 years of marriage with Agnes.  Either he was a zealot about using protection with Agnes or Agnes couldn't get pregnant or they didn't have sex at all.  The form of cancer Agnes died from most often strikes women who've never been pregnant.  As I said you do the math.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Things May Not Be What They Seem With Robert Gist

The newspapers have, yet again, handed me a rather bizarre bit of information regarding Agnes and Robert Gist.  May 8th, 1956 in The Algona Upper DesMoines newspaper on page 22 there is a little blurb that goes like this:
"All hands were gleefully discussing a forth coming straw hat theatre venture to open its first summer stock season next June 4th at the Little Mill Creek Theatre of Hinsdale, Illinois.  The incorporation papers list the stock company officers as: Sidney Blackmer, President; Ruth Birch, Vice President; Robert Gist, Treasurer and Faye Roop, Secretary.

Bob Gist and his famous wife, Agnes Moorehead, and Sidney Blackmer were busy lining up top Hollywood names and plays.  The lovely, talented darling of newspapermen, Joan Fontaine, will team with Blackmer in "Kind Sir." Paul Douglas and Jan Stirling will star in "Born Yesterday." Dana Andrews is scheduled for "The Glass Menagerie."" 

Well damn, now I'm really confused.  This is the only mention I've found of this venture.  The divorce rumor and speculation surrounding Agnes and Robert Gist was in every single newspaper beginning in 1955.  This blurb leads me to believe that one of two things happened:
1. Robert did this and threw Agnes' name around to pull in some folks who might not have invested just in him.
2. The whole marriage was a charade and so was the divorce.

I have absolutely no further information on the venture and I'm throwing my rule book out the window because this entire 8 year stretch that seems to be the beginning, middle and end of a marriage has me more tense than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  It appears as though the search will be never ending!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What A Tangled Web We Weave

To be honest ladies and gentlemen I really thought, key word is thought, that I had read just about everything readable on about the life of Agnes Moorehead.  I've read books, documents, letters and other such goodies.  I've poured through stacks of things looking for information about Aggie's life.  I've found some things that I didn't really want to know and just as many that made my respect and love for this talented woman grow all the more.  I thought, thought, thought I knew everything there was to know and then I read a little article with Robert Gist's name in it, boom, new information. Enter Helen Jane Van Duser of Indiana Pennsylvania.

In 1942 an actress from Indiana Pennsylvania named Jane Van Duser, alias Helen Jane Van Duser, was cast in a part opposite Ethel Barrymore on Broadway in the production "The Corn Is Green." Jane was a graduate of the Carnegie Theatre Department.  Her abilities were highly touted and it seemed as though she was on a rocket to stardom.  She continued in the part for a couple of years and in 1944 she was cast opposite Frank Fay in the Broadway production of "Harvey."  Jane was the daughter of Harry and Marion Van Duser.  She was an only child and frequently returned to Harrisburg, where her parents resided for visits.  Those visits were always mentioned in the local news.  That was very common practise back in the day.  She appears to have been very devoted to her parents and returned every year around Thanksgiving to her parents for at least a weekend to celebrate the holidays.  Then on November 28th 1945 she brought a guest with her.  He too was in the Broadway production of "Harvey."  His part was that of the cab driver and his name was Robert Gist.

It appears as though Jane brought him home to meet the parental units in 1945 and he too is happily mentioned as their weekend guest on November 28th.  Our boy Robert was quite the Casanova wasn't he.  Hooked up with important women from start to finish.  In the article he's mentioned as Captain Gist who just having been discharged with oodles of stars on his bars having participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal, the invasion of Bouganville and the invasion of Rendova. He earned three of his stars there.  Um, okay, except was the guy like on the fast track to Captain or what.  Robert enlisted in January of 1941 as a private no an officer and if he became an officer I have yet to find those records. That would mean that somewhere between January of 1941 and November of 1948 he was promoted to the rank of Captain.  It has happened and it was a bloody, bloody war so, I must admit that there is a remote possibility that it was the truth.  Just as I must also admit that the extremely small chance that the Army has no record of it is true.  But I sincerely doubt it.  But I digress so ever onward.

Fast forward to March 4th 1948.  In the Harrisburg Evening paper an announcement is made of the engagement of Helen Jane Van Duser to one Robert M Gist.  The later a former Captain in the 11th Airborne Division of the Army and the holder of two Presidential Citations.  He is listed as the son of Mr. and Mrs. M. Gist of Chicago and as a graduate of the Goodman School of Theatre.  No date is given for the marriage but notes that both have been appearing in "Harvey" for the last three theatrical seasons.  Moving on to November of 1948 we find that Jane Van Duser has abandoned New York to go to Hollywood to be with her fiance Robert Gist, who is also breaking into the motion picture business. Jane's parents announce that they are going to Hollywood to visit Jane and Robert on December 15.  They are taking Jane's dachshund "Hi- Pockets" to Jane since they are driving.  Yes indeed she followed him there and likely had every belief she would be married to him post haste.  By May of 1949 Jane is mentioned as having gotten a bit role in the movie "It Happens Every Spring" and by September of 1949 Jane is mentioned as having hosted her parents for a month long visit.  Robert Gist, well, we all know where he ended up by 1949.  He was squiring Agnes around and playing an enormous role in the upcoming divorce of  Agnes and her estranged husband Jack Lee.

An article in a Chicago paper mentions that Roberts parents were hosted during a month long visit to their son by Agnes Moorehead.  On September 14, 1949 Agnes boards the Queen Mary for a voyage to Cherbourg France.  On December 17, 1949 Robert travels to New York and boards the Queen Mary also bound for Cherbourg.  Agnes and Robert list their stay as 3 months. however, there is no indication that they returned until February of 1950.  In fact Robert misses his boat the Queen Elizabeth on February 20 of 1950.  He missed the Queen Mary on Valentines day of 1950.  What he does catch is a flight from France on February 20, 1950 and Agnes Moorehead is his flying companion.  Way undercover, well it was then anyway.  I'm pretty sure that given the record keeping of today everybody would know they slipped off to France for a few months.

Jane left Hollywood in February of 1950 to travel to New York where she was to be cast in a movie called "Whirlpool" and there is no mention of Robert Gist being a part of her life at all.  Jane's mother passes in September of 1950.  Jane went on to tour in "Auntie Mame" and maintained a life in the theatre at least until the late 1950's.  By 1958 she was married to band leader Jay C Cahill and by 1976 she was divorce from Jay C Cahill.  Meanwhile the erstwhile Robert Gist continued his exploits.  He tagged along for the "Don Juan In Hell" tour of England.  He went to New York to do theatre for Paul Gregory.  He fiddled around with at least two other women at the same time he was married to Agnes.

Boggles the mind does it not?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

I Have Always Wanted To Be A Wicked Woman

This title is a statement from Agnes herself during a snippet of her one woman show performed on the "Hollywood Palace" show in 1966 just as she is launching into a reading of Proust's piece "Swanns Way" from his publication "Remembrances of Times Past."  The main character is Odette de Crecy, a courtesan, who ultimately marries a wealthy man named Charles Swann. The character of Odette Swann appealed to Agnes for many possible reasons.

  1. Odette De Crecy Swann was the original Madame Mauve.  It was her color she wore it in some manner with every single outfit she put on or as Agnes would say, "As often and as safely as I can."
  2. Odette was a real woman.  A courtesan in Paris at the end of the 19th century Odette was famous for her flamboyance and outrageous behavior,  
  3. Odette was a courtesan, a scarlet woman, sold by her own mother as a child
  4. Odette was a sexual adventurer. She loved men and women.  She was bisexual and Proust was very open about the lesbianism in the story of Madame Swann.
  5. Odette was successful and ultimately or unfortunately she ended up at the top of society in Paris at the turn of the century.
Remember that Odette was courtesan and that was immensely different that being a prostitute who is a street walker.  Courtesans are prostitutes with very wealthy clients.  They often carry on very public relationships with their clientele who were either male or female.  They were a part of the demimonde or half world.  They lived with incredible freedom and in very opulent homes.  They operated public and often had salons of followers who joined them for various and sundry private events.  This is all hinted at in the piece delivered by Agnes.  Doesn't it make you wonder why on earth she would select this of all things to deliver on a public television broadcast?

Well I Have Been A Wicked Woman Many Times
Not a statement casually spoken by Agnes during the performance but a fact as she goes on to say "on the stage, in movies, on television, it felt wonderful and I got it out of my system that way, thank goodness."  Well, in all honesty I think that at the age of 65 most people have gotten it out of their system and it's more a condition that anything else.  Our bodies work that way as we age.  The wickedness of our youth becomes a thing of the past because of hormones.  We would rather read a book than climb into bed and frolic about.  We tire of sex because our bodies are built to do so.  Just as they are built to enjoy the sexuality and sexual experiences of our youth.  Where am I going with this?  Read on my dear, read on.

Recently my attention was directed to an interview conducted with the character actor and stand up comedian Will Jordan.  It was long and discussed many well known people and their personalities from Jackie Gleason to Douglas Fairbanks Junior.  It discusses things we already know like Maurice Chevalier's famous cheapness and things we may not have known like Louis B. Mayer pumping John Barrymore full of morphine to keep him going.  I read it and then, then I ran into a blurb that, quite frankly, blew my mind.  I put it down and walked away from it.  I came back reread it and then walked away again.  Ever since my mind has been going a million miles per minute.  I've debated discussing it here for hours at a time.  Then finally I made up my mind to write this piece.  But not without hesitation and much consideration.

In My Most Exotic Moments
First, I think it's important to define the word exotic,  Why? Because it is a word used repeatedly by authors of every ilk who have written about Agnes since she started her rise to the top of the genre of radio.  It is particularly common in newspaper bits about her in the 1930's when she was a voice who required description.  She was described as beautiful, exotic, elegant, regal and the list goes on making impossible to provide every reference here.  They describe her hair in great detail, her movements, her clothing, her eyes, which by the way are described as blue green and stunning, her speech, the way she walked.  Every possible thing about her was described vividly so that audiences got a picture of who they were listening to.

So, what does exotic mean? This: "strikingly, excitingly, mysteriously, different or unusual."  Now I know that many people only associate Agnes with the films of the 1940's and 50's or with bewitched and while she is beautiful in each of those periods she was drop dead gorgeous in the late 1920's and 1930's.  Just amazingly seductive, listen to "Dracula", every single time she spoke on the radio.  Listen to her work with Orson Welles as Margo lane.  She had a voice that would melt chocolate with a face and body that worked it like a room at The Sands.  Honest to god she was freaking AMAZING.

It is worth noting that I listened to all of her vocal work in the 1930's and I have a large collection of photographs from that time period.  She oozes sexuality in every photo and her voice backs up what the body shows.  If you have ever listened to "Dracula"you'll understand but for those who haven't let me explain.  Dracula was produced in 1938 by Orson Welles and performed by the Mercury Theatre of the Air.  In it Agnes plays Mina Harker.  In one scene where Dracula first visits Mina she produces a sigh as Dracula makes her "flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood" that is positively orgasmic and if it doesn't make you warm all over when you hear it you have no soul.  I could rewind and listen to just that sigh for the rest of my life and never cease to blush!  Trust me and get a copy.  You will not be disappointed. Forgive me and let me get back to where this all makes sense.

I've Always Wanted To Be A Scarlet Woman
So, the article, well, there is no way to ease you into this so I'm just going to lay it on the table with the blurbs and please do not, do not be offended I am just sharing exactly what was written by somebody else:
Will Jordan: Oh, it's worth seeing. It shows you what you can do without sound. I'll give you an example of a great voice and a great actress. I'll tell you a woman that did the greatest things on radio and yet she did a TV show, didn't say a word, and was just as good. How many times has that happened? Agnes Moorehead. She did Sorry, Wrong Number. With all respect to Barbara Stanwyck, Agnes Moorehead was very hard to beat. But what about the Twilight Zone where she doesn't say one word? How's that for acting!
Will Jordan: The rumor goes she used to give sex shows for Orson Welles. She was gay or bisexual and her lover was Debbie Reynolds. Debbie told Eddie Fisher that if he ever mentioned it that she would kill him. In both of his autobiographies he does not mention it - but he did mention it to the biographer that he fired - Herb Goldman - who wrote the great books on Jolson and Cantor. He was the editor of Ring Magazine. He did tell Herb Goldman that Debbie did have an affair with Vic Damone's wife, Pier Angeli. She came in one night and I can tell you, she was gorgeous, no question about that. The story goes - again this is rumour now (but when I hear it two or three different times there must be some truth to it) I do believe she was bisexual. But in order to keep Orson entertained she would have sex shows between women. I think Orson would have been amused (laughs). He never struck me as super macho, but I never heard that Orson was gay. Look at his wives. None of his wives looked like... oh, well, why get into this...
Will Jordan: Anyway, I did a television show with her in Los Angeles, a George Jessel show. At that time I was not in tune to how really interesting Jessel was. Much more interesting than most people say. He was a very incredible guy, actually and [Agnes Moorehead] was there and she was so nice and so beautiful. I know people think she was ugly, but at this point she was not ugly. You saw her when she was older - you didn't see her when she was younger. She was stunning. When she worked for Welles he didn't make her look attractive in Citizen Kane or Magnificent Ambersons. She must have been tremendous and, of course, they all loved her. 

Are you on the floor? Get up, we aren't done here and for heavens sake pull yourself together.  Get some coffee and a tranquilizer then get yourself back here.  OK.  Think about these blurbs for a minute, lord knows I did.  If you're shocked don't be you have a right to be.  I was and I'm still a wee bit shocked.  My first reaction, as well as the person that brought this to my attention, was OMG, what, did I really just read this?  Aside from the obvious conflicting time line, Orson and Debbie were not part of her life at the same time, It simply states that Agnes gave sex shows for Orson Welles and that she was bisexual and that she was gorgeous.  Only one thing in that sentence is a face slapping "SAY WHAT."  When I first read this I was gob smacked.  I kept running the scenario in my head with the same result and that was "No way that ever happened."  Then I began paying attention to the sound of her voice as Margo Lane with Orson as The Shadow/Lamont Cranston and  I really began to notice that she repeatedly talks about loving Lamont but not understanding him or even knowing him.  I found in these moments, which occur randomly throughout "The Shadow," that the tone of her voice changes.  It sounds as if she's making a real statement, a declaration if you please.  I began then opening my mind to what may have been, Orson and Agnes.  An affair that may have gone on in her heart for many, many years and was right in front of us all along.

Cool And Luxuriant
Let's break down the Will Jordan blurb to its basics.  "The rumor goes she used to give sex shows for Orson Welles....she was gay or bisexual and her lover..."  In June of 1935 an article was written about Peg LaCentra and her room mate Agnes Moorehead enjoying a night out at the Ziegfeld after a steak dinner.  Not out of the ordinary right?  Yes, yes it is because Peg ditches the man who has just sent her orchids to wear out dancing for an evening with her "room mate" Agnes Moorehead and because at that time Agnes had been married for five years to Jack Lee.  Yet here she is room mate of Peg LaCentra.  The most common reason for Agnes sharing a flat is that Jack was on tour.  I've searched and searched and searched one thing I can say with great certainty is that Jack was not on tour at that point is his rapidly declining career. I can say that because of an article published on June 5, 1935 commenting on the upcoming journey of Jack Lee's aunt Harriet S Lee to New York to visit her brother and her nephew.  Marshall Lee is currently on the stage and Jack is allegedly a radio actor as is a niece living there also.  No place in the article is Agnes mentioned as being included in the visit and yet 3 years earlier during a California leg of tour involving Agnes that Jack was traveling with her she is described as Jack's wife and she is mentioned to have visited Jack's family with him.  Just saying that in 3 years 100 percent mention to zero mention and the Peg LaCentra article was published July 1, 1935.  Mind you that would have been pretty much at the same time his family was in New York to visit with him and yet his wife isn't with him.  I'm sure you see where I'm going with this right?  For the remainder of 1935 Agnes and Peg are mentioned together in many articles and blurbs as spending their summers together taking in shows in New York because radio won't let them get away together.  The rest I leave to your imagination.

It isn't until 1937 that it appears Agnes begins an association with Orson Welles that will alter her life forever. During 1936 she tours the country with Phil Baker and performs individually at different functions around the east cost from New York to Florida.  After the end of 1935 Peg LaCentra disappears from mention in anything involving Agnes Moorehead.  Every article written after 1935 seems to indicate that Agnes is a single person living in New York enjoying the high life. I have found record of Agnes working with Joseph Cotton as early as January 3, 1937 on radio and I think that it could be safe to assume that her association with Orson actually began in late 1936.  In any case her media is highly controlled at this point by either herself or a very excellent agent.  Jack is finally mentioned only as her "husband" in an article dated December 13, 1936.  My point is that Agnes appears to be tied to Jack by some very weak threads between 1932 and 1938.  The article from December of 1936 actually states that Agnes has been just a shade behind the fashion trends because "because my husband won't take me out if I'm wearing anything in my hair:even a diamond tiara, if I had a diamond tiara."  All I can say is good luck sorting out who was living where and when but do not for one minute believe that Jack ruled Agnes with an iron hand, yet.

"The story goes-again this is rumour now( but when I hear it two or three different times there must be some truth to it) I do believe she was bisexual. But in order to keep Orson entertained she would have sex shows between women.  I think Orson would have been amused (laughs)."  So this intimates that this "rumour" has been repeated two or three different times.  Repetition is often based on truth or at least a portion of the truth.  In order to figure out how the rumour started we would have to know who started it.  In my opinion there are only 3 or 4 people who could have repeated and they would have been there.  I am reasonably sure Agnes didn't repeat it.  That leaves the other women involved and Orson Welles.  Wrap your brain around that I dare you!

For the moment I am going to stop here and try to get back to this tomorrow.  As it sits I've been writing for 5 hours and it has gotten late.  In addition the more I read the more I want to really have a good look around in the papers.  Plus I'm sure you need to take some aspirin and rest your brain because this is a whole bunch of stuff that is just super mind blowing.

Cool and Luxuriant....indeed, indeed.