Legendary character actress, Agnes Moorehead, was born Agnes Robertson Moorehead on Dec 6, 1900 in Clinton, MA. Moorehead died at the age of 73 on Apr 30, 1974 in Rochester, MN and was laid to rest in Dayton Memorial Park Cemetery in Dayton, OH.
Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6th, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts. Her father, John, was a Presbyterian minister who relocated the family to St. Louis not long after his daughter's birth. It was there that the young Moorehead would have her first taste of performance, singing The Lord's Prayer from the pulpit of her church. Her mother, Mildred, was once a singer and indulged her child's strong imagination and would later support her pursuit of the performing arts. While still in school Moorhead joined the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company, taking the necessary steps to further her dream of an acting career. After graduating high school in 1918, she attended Muskingum College, majoring in biology. Although Moorehead was adamant about gaining a proper education, she still held a strong passion for performance and would appear in her college's staged productions.
After her family relocated to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, Moorehead attended University of Wisconsin while working as schoolteacher. Still intent on becoming an actress, Moorehead decided to move to the Big Apple. She soon enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she would graduate with honors in 1929.
Although dedicated and talented, Moorehead's early venture into her acting was not an easy one, professionally or personally. With the depression in full swing, stage parts were difficult to come by and Moorehead was often out of job with little to no money. During this time she also revived news that her sister, Margaret, had committed suicide via Mercury Poison. Although her sister had had a history of mental illness, the new still devastated Moorehead. Despite these hardships she stayed dedicated to her career, and soon found steady work in radio. In 1930 she began making regular appearances on NBC's Seth Parker Family Hour. The work proved both enjoyable and fruitful for the struggling actress and soon she began receiving more and more offers for the radio. She would spend the next few years appearing on radio series such as Sherlock Holmes, Terry and the Pirates and The Shadow, working to improve her skills as an actress and radio personality. It was through her work in radio that Moorehead would meet the man who would irrevocable change the course of her career, Orson Welles.
While working on the radio series The Shadow in 1937, Moorehead met Orson Welles. Welles was so impressed with Moorehead's professionalism and talent that he invited to join his new acting company, Mercury Theatre on the Air, as one of their principle performers. By 1938 she was starring in the company's first broadcast, an adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula, as one of the shows lead protagonists, Mina Walker. She would follow that up with yet another book to radio adaption, this time with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. She would also participate in the infamous 1938 Broadcast of War of the Worlds, in which Orson Welles staged such a realistic portrayal of a possible Martian invasion that much of its listeners thought the program to be truth. In 1939 Welles was offered a Hollywood contract at RKO studios and brought the whole Mercury Theatre crew, including Moorehead, with him.
In 1941 Moorehead made her film debut in Orson Welles first film, Citizen Kane. In it she played the cold and calculating mother to a young Charles Foster Kane, Mary Kane, who willingly signs her sons life away to wealthy caregivers to ensure a would have a life neither she nor her husband could never afford him. Her portrayal of the icy but practical mother would establish her early screen persona as middle age women who relies on an almost cruel pragmatism, as oppose to sentimental feelings, to make her decisions in life. The next year she would appear in yet another Orson Welles film, The Magnificent Ambersons as the long-suffering and sympathetic Fanny Amberson. For her efforts she received a Best Supporting Academy nomination. In 1943 she would appear in yet another Welles directed film, Journey into Fear, written by fellow Mercury Theatre Actor, Joseph Cotton. That year she also worked with Welles on a non-Mercury project with Robert Stevenson's big screen adaption of the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre.
Although by the mid-1940's Welles had fallen out of the studios good graces, Moorehead managed to sign a contract with MGM. She also managed to negotiate radio-work into her contact, an unusual clause for the time. In 1944 she starred in the MGM melodrama, Mrs. Parkington as a cold French aristocrat stuck in love triangle with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. For her efforts, Moorehead was nominated for yet another Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Meanwhile the actress also remained busy over the airwaves. In 1943 she appeared in the Mutual Radio production of The Adventures of Leonidas Witherall as the motherly housekeeper Mrs. Mullet. She would remain on of the most in demand actresses for radio drama through out the 1940s and 50s with one of her most memorable roles being a selfish and overbearing invalid who realizes she is marked for death in the radio play Sorry, Wrong Number. The play was part of CBS's radio series Suspense and thanks to her consummate professionalism, Moorehead would subsequently appear in more Suspense episodes than any other actor.
In 1947 she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the semi-experimental film-noir Dark Passage. In the film she plays an unpunished and unrepeated murderer who attempts to pin her crimes on the innocent Bogart. The next year she received her third Oscar nomination for her role in Johnny Belinda, playing the cold aunt of the mute/deaf Jane Wyman. The film is noted for being one of the earliest Hollywood films to touch upon the subject of rape and its aftermath. In 1950 Moorehead shed her cold spinster persona to play sympathetic prison warden who works to help out the unjustly imprisoned Eleanor Parker. The next year Moorehead would score a big hit as the feisty wife of boat captain in George Sidney's Showboat. She would remain busy on the big screen for the rest of decade, playing supporting characters in a wide variety of genres. She would tackle melodrama in two Douglas Sirk film Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows. In 1955 she appeared opposite Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney in the religious drama The Left Hand of God. The next year she joined the ill-fated cast and crew of Dick Powell's The Conqueror, a highly fictionalized telling of the life of Genghis Khan, played by John Wayne. The film was shot near a nuclear test site in the American southwest and thus the set was contaminated with nuclear fallout. Much of the cast and crew developed some form of cancer, as they were breathing in radioactive soil day in and day out during shooting. The film was a resounding failure both at the box-office and in the trade papers with some even calling it the worst movie ever made.
Move to Television
Although Moorehead continued to act on the big screen for the rest of 1950s, appearing in films such as The Opposite Sex, Jeanne Eagels and Raintree County, she slowly began moving her career towards television. She had guest appearances on series like The Chevy Mystery Show, Adventures in Paradise and Rawhide. One of her best-known appearances was on the classic science fiction series The Twilight Zone as mute woman stuck in a cabin, which is to become the center for alien invasion. She returned to the Big screen in 1962 for John Ford/Henry Hathaway western epic How the West Was Won. Two years later she starred opposite Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and old Mercury Theatre pal, Joseph Cotten on the southern gothic horror film Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The film was hit and garnered Moorehead her final Academy Award nomination.
Also in 1964 Moorehead began her eight-year run as the fabulous magical matriarch, Endora, in sitcom Bewitched. Although Moorehead often complained about the series uneven and unsophisticated writing, she would go on gain six Emmy nominations for her role. The role granted her entrance into the lexicon of American pop-culture history as one of the most popular television characters of all time. Outside of Bewitched Moorehead also enjoy a major success with the guest spot on the series The Wild Wild West for which she won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
After Bewitched went off the air in 1972, Moorehead would only work in the entertainment industry for two more years. She remained on television, appearing in the made for TV movies Rolling Man, Night Terror, and Frankenstein: The True Story. Her final screen performance came in 1974 in yet another TV movie Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love. She had planned to return to the stage in the Broadway revival of Gigi however, was forced to withdraw when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Agnes Moorehead died on April 30th, 1974 in Rochester, Minnesota. She was 73 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Although Moorehead was nominated for four Oscars, she never won a competitive Academy Award.
|1942||Best Supporting Actress||The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)||Fanny Minafer||Nominated|
|1944||Best Supporting Actress||Mrs. Parkington (1944)||Aspacia Conti||Nominated|
|1948||Best Supporting Actress||Johnny Belinda (1948)||Aggie McDonald||Nominated|
|1964||Best Supporting Actress||Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)||Velma Cruther||Nominated|
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Dr. Malcolm Wells: Chauffer turned butler?
Cornelia van Gorder: [laughs] Yes, it's incredible, he can play any part in a moment's notice.
Jane Patterson: What's that noise? Miss Van Gorder, the garage is on fire!
Detective Davenport: Great Scot, look at that!
Cornelia van Gorder: [shuts off the light] Lizzie you put out the light in the other room...now where're you going?
Detective Davenport: To put out the fire.
Cornelia van Gorder: Will you just stay right here?
Jane Patterson: But Miss Van Gorder, the garage!
Cornelia van Gorder: Well let it burn, you watch the stairs.
Nellie Neilson: [after Jeanne has slapped a desk twice in frustration] Double emphasis... you don't need it.
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