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?

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