Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dead Celebrity of the Month, November 2006: Agnes Moorehead

The only child of a Presbyterian minister, Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on the 5th December 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts (though she would later claim to have been born in 1906). Agnes did most of her growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, where she graduated from Central High School in 1918. Education was important to Agnes and in 1923 she earned a bachelors degree in biology from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. After Graduation from Muskingum she moved to Wisconson, where she taught public school for five years while earning a masters degree in English and public speaking from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. This was followed by a post-graduate degree in 1929 from the American Academy of Dramatic arts. Later in life Agnes would receive an honorary doctoral degree from Bradley University.

In the 1930's Agnes Moorhead would move to New York to pursue a career in acting. She ended up becoming a popular radio performer, working on 'the Shadow' from 1937-1939, and eventually falling in with Orson Wells and his 'deluxe Mercury Radio Theater on the Air'. In addition to all this Agnes inaugurated the role of the self-centered, neurotic who overhears plans for a murder on crossed telephone lines, in the radio play 'Sorry, Wrong Number'(which in the late 40's was made into a feature film staring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster). Her voice work would later land her a position as a dialogue coach for the 1961 movie King of Kings.

Orsen Wells would take Agnes, along with many of his fellow Mecury players such as Joseph Cotton, with him when he went to Hollywood in 1940. Wells cast Moorehead in the role of the title characters mother in his first film, Citizen Kane. Moorehead would be given an even stronger role in Wells next film The Magnificent Ambersons, as the old maid Aunt Fanny, a performance that would earn her 1942's best actress award from the New York Film Critices association and a best supporting actress Academy Awards nomination (she would receive additional noms for the latter in 1944, 1948, and 1964).

Agnes Moorhead would work quite regularly in film through the 1940's and 50's in such pictures as: Jane Eyre (1944), Since You Went Away (1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), Dark Passage (1947), Johnny Belinda (1948), The Stratton Story (1949), Fourteen Hours (1951), Show Boat (1951), and the Douglas Sirk films Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All that Heaven Allows (1955). She most often played busy bodies, spinsters, secretaries, and various puritanical types.

In the 1950's and 60's Agnes would continue to work in films (most notably Robert Aldriche's Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte for which she would receive her final Oscar nom), and sometimes on Broadway, but seemed to concentrate on television performances. Some of the Programs Agnes worked on include: The Colate Comedy Hour, Matinee Theater, Studio 57, Climax, Wagon Train, Playhouse 90, General Electric Theater, Alcoa Theater, and Startime. Some of her other notable film work of the late 50's and early 60's include: Raintree County (1957), The Story of Mankind (1957), Pollyanna (1960), and a rare staring role opposite Vincient Price in The Bat (1959).

The 1960's saw continued work, mostly on television, for Agnes, including a non-speaking role as a women doing battle with tiny astronauts in The Twilight Zone episode 'The Invaders'. In 1964 Agnes Moorehead was talked into accepting the role of Endora on the television show Bewitched by its star Elizabeth Montgomery. Moorehead expected the show to maybe last a season, but ultimately it was on the air from 1964-1972 and Endora became Mooreheads best rememberd role.

In the early 1970's Agnes began to suffer the effects of cancer, a condition that came to take the lives of many of her costars (including John Wayne) from the 1956 western The Conqueror, which was filmed near a nuclear testing site in southern Utah. Agnes Moorehead passed away in Rochester Minnesota on April 30th 1974. Among her last work was the voice of the goose in the 1973 animated film version of E.B. Whites Charlotte's Web. Agnes Moorehead was twice married and survived by one adopted child.


At 4:26 PM, Blogger Jay Hemvech said...

Glad there people still remember Agnes Moorehead . Love your blog. I also wrote about her last year in my lousy blog.


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