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.