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Moorehead as Endora in Bewitched, circa 1969
|Born||Agnes Robertson Moorehead
December 6, 1900
Clinton, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||April 30, 1974
Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.
Cause of death
|Dayton Memorial Park in Dayton, Ohio|
|Education||Duluth Central High School|
|Alma mater||Muskingum College
University of Wisconsin
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
Jack G. Lee (m. 1930; div. 1952)
Agnes Robertson Moorehead (December 6, 1900 – April 30, 1974) was an American actress whose career of more than three decades included work in radio, stage, film, and television.1 She is chiefly known for her role as Endora on the television series Bewitched.
While rarely playing leads in films, Moorehead's skill at character development and range earned her one Primetime Emmy Award and two Golden Globe awards in addition to four Academy Award and six Emmy Award nominations. Moorehead's transition to television won acclaim for drama and comedy. She could play many different types, but often portrayed haughty, arrogant characters.
Moorehead was born in Clinton, Massachusetts, of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry, to a Presbyterian clergyman, John Henderson Moorehead, and his wife, the former Mildred McCauley, who had been a singer. Moorehead later shaved six years off her age by claiming to have been born in 1906. Moorehead recalled her first public performance was at the age of three, reciting "The Lord's Prayer" in her father's church. The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and Moorehead's ambition to become an actress grew "very strong". Her mother indulged her active imagination often asking, "Who are you today, Agnes?", while Moorehead and her sister2 would often engage in mimicry, often coming to the dinner table and imitating parishioners. Moorehead noted and was encouraged by her father's amused reactions. She joined the chorus of the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company, known as "The Muny". In addition to her interest in acting, she developed a lifelong interest in religion; in later years actors such as Dick Sargent would recall Moorehead's arriving on the set with "the Bible in one hand and the script in the other".3
Moorehead graduated from Duluth Central High School in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1918. Although her father did not discourage Moorehead's acting ambitions, he insisted that she obtain a formal education. In 1923, Moorehead earned a bachelor's degree, with a major in biology, from Muskingum College (now Muskingum University) in New Concord, Ohio; while there she also appeared in college stage plays. She later received an honorary doctorate in literature from Muskingum and served for a year on its board of trustees. When her family moved to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, she taught public school for five years in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, while she also earned a master's degree in English and public speaking at the University of Wisconsin (now University of Wisconsin–Madison). She then pursued post-graduate studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, from which she graduated with honors in 1929. Moorehead received an honorary doctoral degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.
Moorehead's early career was unsteady, and although she was able to find stage work she was often unemployed and forced to go hungry. She later recalled going four days without food, and said that it had taught her "the value of a dollar." She found work in radio and was soon in demand, often working on several programs in a single day. She believed that it offered her excellent training and allowed her to develop her voice to create a variety of characterizations. Moorehead met the actress Helen Hayes who encouraged her to try to enter films, but her first attempts were met with failure. Rejected as not being "the right type", Moorehead returned to radio.
Moorehead met Orson Welles and by 1937 was one of his principal Mercury Players, along with Joseph Cotten. She performed in his The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio adaptations, and had a regular role opposite Welles in the serial The Shadow as Margo. In 1939, Welles moved the Mercury Theatre to Hollywood, where he started working for RKO Pictures. Several of his radio performers joined him, and Moorehead made her film debut as his mother in Citizen Kane (1941), considered one of the best films ever made. She also appeared in his films Journey Into Fear (1943), based on a novel by Eric Ambler, and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), based on a novel by Booth Tarkington. She received a New York Film Critics Award and an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the latter film. Moorehead received positive reviews for her performance in Mrs. Parkington, as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award nomination.
Moorehead played another strong role in The Big Street (1942) with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, and then appeared in two films that failed to find an audience, Government Girl (1943) with Olivia de Havilland and The Youngest Profession (1944) with the adolescent Virginia Weidler.
By the mid-1940s, Moorehead joined MGM, negotiating a $6,000-a-week contract with the provision to perform also on radio, an unusual clause at the time. Moorehead explained that MGM usually refused to allow their actors to play on radio as "the actors didn't have the knowledge or the taste of the judgment to appear on the right sort of show."3 In 1943–1944, Moorehead portrayed "matronly housekeeper Mrs. Mullet", who was constantly offering her "candied opinion", in Mutual Radio's The Adventures of Leonidas Witherall; she inaugurated the role on CBS Radio.4
Moorehead skillfully portrayed puritanical matrons, neurotic spinsters, possessive mothers, and comical secretaries throughout her career. She played Parthy Hawks, wife of Cap'n Andy and mother of Magnolia, in MGM's hit 1951 remake of Show Boat. She was in many important films, including Dark Passage and Since You Went Away, either playing key small or large supporting parts. Moorehead was in Broadway productions of Don Juan in Hell in 1951–1952, and Lord Pengo in 1962–1963.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Moorehead was one of the most in demand actresses for radio dramas, especially on the CBS show Suspense. During the 946 episodes run of Suspense, Moorehead was cast in more episodes than any other actor or actress. She was often introduced on the show as the "first lady of Suspense". Moorehead's most successful appearance on Suspense was in the legendary play Sorry, Wrong Number, written by Lucille Fletcher, broadcast on May 18, 1943. Moorehead played a selfish, neurotic woman who overhears a murder being plotted via crossed phone wires and eventually realizes she is the intended victim. She recreated the performance six times for Suspense and several times on other radio shows, always using her original, dog-eared script. In 1952, she recorded an album of the drama, and performed scenes from the story in her one-woman show in the 1950s. Barbara Stanwyck had played the role in the 1948 film version.
In the 1950s, Moorehead continued to work in films and to appear on stage across the country, including a national tour of Shaw's Don Juan in Hell, co-starring Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, and Cedric Hardwicke. She appeared as the hypochondriac Mrs. Snow in Disney's hit film Pollyanna (1960). Alongside Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Mary Astor, and Joseph Cotten, she starred in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), as the murdered maid, Velma, a role for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.
In 1959, Moorehead guest starred on The Rebel. Her role in the 1948 film Sorry, Wrong Number inspired writers of the CBS television series The Twilight Zone to script an episode with Moorehead in mind.5 In "The Invaders" (broadcast January 27, 1961) Moorehead played a woman whose isolated farm is plagued by mysterious intruders. In "Sorry, Wrong Number" Moorehead offered a famed, bravura performance using only her voice, and for "The Invaders" she was offered a script where she had no dialogue at all.
Moorehead also had guest roles on Channing, Custer, and The Rifleman. On February 10, 1967, she portrayed Miss Emma Valentine in "The Night of the Vicious Valentine" on The Wild Wild West, a performance for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
In 1964, Moorehead accepted the role of Endora, Samantha's (Elizabeth Montgomery) mortal-loathing, eccentric witch mother, in the situation comedy Bewitched. She later commented that she had not expected it to succeed and that she ultimately felt trapped by its success. However, she had negotiated to appear in only eight of every twelve episodes made, therefore allowing her sufficient time to pursue other projects. She also felt that the television writing was often below standard and dismissed many of the Bewitched scripts as "hack" in a 1965 interview for TV Guide.6 The role brought her a level of recognition that she had not received before as Bewitched was in the top 10 programs for the first few years it screened.
Moorehead received six Emmy Award nominations, but was quick to remind interviewers that she had enjoyed a long and distinguished career. Despite her ambivalence, she remained with Bewitched until its run ended in 1972. She commented to the New York Times in 1974, "I've been in movies and played theater from coast to coast, so I was quite well known before Bewitched, and I don't particularly want to be identified as a witch." Later that year she said that she had enjoyed playing the role, but that it was not challenging and the show itself was "not breathtaking" although her flamboyant and colorful character appealed to children. She expressed a fondness for the show's star, Elizabeth Montgomery, and said that she had enjoyed working with her. Co-star Dick Sargent, who in 1969 replaced the ill Dick York as Samantha's husband, Darrin Stephens, had a more difficult relationship with Moorehead, caustically describing her as "a tough old bird."3
In 1970, Moorehead appeared as a dying woman who haunts her own house in the early Night Gallery episode "Certain Shadows on the Wall". She also reprised her role in Don Juan in Hell on Broadway and on tour, in an all-star cast which also featured Edward Mulhare, Ricardo Montalban, and Paul Henreid.
In the 1974 Broadway version of Gigi, Moorehead portrayed Aunt Alicia, in which she recorded the song, "The Contract". She fell ill during the production and was so sick that she had to quit and let Arlene Francis take her place. She died shortly afterward.
In January 1974, three months before her death, Moorehead performed in two episodes (including the very first) of CBS Radio Mystery Theater, the popular series produced by old-time radio master Himan Brown.
Moorehead married actor John Griffith Lee in 1930; they divorced in 1952. In 1954, she married actor Robert Gist; they divorced in 1958. Moorehead had no children.
Within the entertainment community, Moorehead was widely believed to be a lesbian.7 In an interview, Paul Lynde, Moorehead's occasional co-star on Bewitched, said: "Well, the whole world knows Agnes was a lesbian--I mean classy as hell, but one of the all-time Hollywood dykes".8 Journalist Boze Hadleigh has reported an incident in which, when she caught one of her husbands cheating on her, "Agnes screamed at him that if he could have a mistress, so could she".9 In an interview, Moorehead acknowledged her same-sex orientation while identifying a number of other Hollywood actresses who "enjoyed lesbian or bi relationships".10
Moorehead died of uterine cancer on April 30, 1974, in Rochester, Minnesota; she is buried at Dayton Memorial Park in Dayton, Ohio. In 1994, Moorehead was posthumously inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.11
Moorehead bequeathed her 1967 Primetime Emmy Award statue for The Wild Wild West, her private papers, and her home in Rix Mills, Ohio, to her alma mater, Muskingum College. She left her family's Ohio estate and farmlands, Moorehead Manor, to Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, as well as some biblical studies books from her personal library. Her will stipulated that BJU should use the farm for retreats and special meetings "with a Christian emphasis", but the distance of the estate from the South Carolina campus rendered it mostly useless. In May 1976, BJU traded the Moorehead farmlands with an Ohio college for $25,000 and a collection of her library books. Moorehead also left her professional papers, scripts, Christmas cards, and scrapbooks to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Moorehead appeared in the 1956 movie The Conqueror, which was filmed near St. George, Utah—downwind from the Yucca Flat, Nevada, nuclear test site. She was one of over 90 (of 220) cast and crew members — including co-stars Susan Hayward, John Wayne, and Pedro Armendariz, as well as director-producer Dick Powell — who developed cancer; at least 46 died from the disease.12
No bombs were tested during the filming of The Conqueror, but eleven explosions occurred the year prior. Two of them were particularly "dirty", depositing long-lasting radiation over the area. The 51.5-kiloton shot (code name "Simon") was fired on April 25, 1953, and the 32.4-kiloton blast (code name "Harry") went off May 19. (In contrast, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons.13) "Fallout was very abundant more than a year after 'Harry'", said former AEC researcher Robert C. Pendleton.12 "Some of the isotopes, such as strontium 90 and cesium 137, would not have diminished much."12 Pendleton pointed out that radioactivity can concentrate in "hot spots" such as the rolling dunes of Snow Canyon, a natural reservoir for windblown material. It was the place where much of The Conqueror was filmed.12
Pendleton noted that radioactive substances enter the food chain. By eating local meat and produce, The Conqueror cast and crew were increasing their risk. Pendleton, director of radiological health at the University of Utah, stated, "With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you'd expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up even in a court of law."12 On the other hand, Pendleton's number has been questioned 14 by the National Cancer Institute, who states that a random group of 220 people, 96 should have cancer at some point in their lives, and that rate has been essentially the same throughout the 20th century, trending slowly upwards as longer lifetimes are experienced. Later inquiries into the deaths of the crew of The Conqueror have revolved around extreme cigarette usage among them.1215
Moorehead was one of the first members of the company to perceive a connection between the film and the fallout. Her friend Sandra Gould, who was featured with her on Bewitched, recalls that long before Moorehead developed the uterine cancer that killed her in 1974, she recounted rumors of "some radioactive germs" on location in Utah, observing: "Everybody in that picture has gotten cancer and died." As she was dying, she reportedly said: "I should never have taken that part."16
|1941||Citizen Kane||Mary Kane|
|1942||The Magnificent Ambersons||Fanny||New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|The Big Street||Violette Shumberg|
|1943||Journey into Fear||Mrs. Mathews|
|The Youngest Profession||Miss Featherstone|
|Government Girl||Adele - Mrs. Delancey Wright|
|1944||Jane Eyre||Mrs. Reed|
|Since You Went Away||Mrs. Emily Hawkins|
|Dragon Seed||Third Cousin's Wife|
|The Seventh Cross||Madame Marelli|
|Mrs. Parkington||Baroness Aspasia Conti||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|Tomorrow, the World||Aunt Jesse Frame|
|1945||Keep Your Powder Dry||Lieut. Colonel Spottiswoode|
|Our Vines Have Tender Grapes||Bruna Jacobson|
|Her Highness and the Bellboy||Countess Zoe|
|1947||Dark Passage||Madge Rapf|
|The Lost Moment||Juliana Borderau|
|1948||Summer Holiday||Cousin Lily|
|The Woman in White||Countess Fosco|
|Station West||Mrs. Caslon|
|Johnny Belinda||Aggie MacDonald||Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1949||The Stratton Story||Ma Stratton|
|The Great Sinner||Emma Getzel|
|Without Honor||Katherine Williams|
|Captain Blackjack||Mrs. Emily Birk|
|1951||Fourteen Hours||Christine HIll Cosick|
|Adventures of Captain Fabian||Aunt Jezebel|
|Show Boat||Parthy Hawks|
|The Blue Veil||Mrs. Palfrey|
|1952||The Blazing Forest||Jessie Crain|
|1953||The Story of Three Loves||Aunt Lydia||segment: The Jealous Lover|
|Scandal at Scourie||Sister Josephine|
|Main Street to Broadway||Mildred Waterbury|
|Those Redheads From Seattle||Mrs. Edmonds|
|1954||Magnificent Obsession||Nancy Ashford|
|All That Heaven Allows||Sara Warren|
|The Left Hand of God||Beryl Sigman|
|Meet Me in Las Vegas||Miss Hattie|
|The Swan||Queen Maria Dominika|
|The Revolt of Mamie Stover||Bertha Parchman|
|The Pardners||Mrs. Matilda Kingsley|
|The Opposite Sex||Countess|
|1957||The True Story of Jesse James||Mrs. Samuel|
|Jeanne Eagels||Nellie Neilson|
|Raintree County||Ellen Shawnessy||Laurel Award for Top Supporting Performance, Female (2nd place)|
|The Story of Mankind||Queen Elizabeth I|
|1958||The Tempest||Vassilissa Mironova|
|1959||Night of the Quarter Moon||Cornelia Nelson|
|The Bat||Cornelia van Gorder|
|1961||Twenty Plus Two||Mrs. Eleanor Delaney|
|Bachelor in Paradise||Judge Peterson|
|1962||Jessica (film)||Maria Lombardo|
|Poor Mr. Campbell||Adrice Campbell||Television movie|
|How the West Was Won||Rebecca Prescott|
|1963||Who's Minding the Store?||Mrs. Phoebe Tuttle|
|1964||Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte||Velma||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Laurel Award for Top Supporting Performance, Female (2nd place)
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|1966||The Singing Nun||Sister Cluny||Laurel Award for Top Supporting Performance, Female (3rd place)|
|1969||The Ballad of Andy Crocker||Lisa's Mother|
|1971||What's the Matter with Helen?||Sister Alma|
|Marriage: Year One||Grandma Duden||Television movie|
|Suddenly Single||Marlene||Television movie|
|The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove||Mrs. Pringle||Television movie|
|1972||Drop Dead Delilah||Delilah Charles|
|Rolling Man||Grandmother||Television movie|
|Night of Terror||Bronsky||Television movie|
|1973||Charlotte's Web||The Goose||Voice role|
|Frankenstein: The True Story||Mrs. Blair||Television movie|
|1974||Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love||Hercule's Wife||Television movie|
|1953||The Revlon Mirror Theatre||Martha Adams||Episode: Lullaby|
|1955||The Colgate Comedy Hour||Aunt Minnie||Episode: Roberta|
|1956||Matinee Theatre||Mrs. Barnes||Episode: Greybeards and Witches|
|Studio 57||Mrs. Tolliver||Episode: Teacher|
|1957||Climax!||Irene||Episode: Locked in Fear|
|Wagon Train||Mary Halstead||Episode: The Mary Halstead Story|
|1958||The DuPont Show of the Month||Madame Defarge||Episode: A Tale of Two Cities|
|Playhouse 90||Rose Ganun||Episode: The Dungeon|
|Suspicion||Katherine Searles||Episode: The Protege|
|1959||G.E. True Theatre||Ana Konrad Bethlen||Episode: Deed of Mercy|
|Alcoa Theatre||Mrs. Adams||Episode: Man of His House|
|The Rebel||Mrs. Martha Lassiter||Episode: In Memoriam|
|1960||Startime||Carmen Lynch||Episode: Closed Set|
|The Millionaire||Katherine Boland||Episode: Millionaire Katherine Boland|
|The Chevy Mystery Show||Elizabeth Marshall||Episode: Trial by Fury|
|Adventures in Paradise||Jikiri||Episode: The Krismen|
|Rawhide||Sister Frances||Episode: Incident at Poco Tiempo|
|Shirley Temple's Storybook||Hepzibah Pyncheon
Mombi the Witch
|The Rifleman||Alberta 'Bertie' Hoakam||Episode: Miss Bertie|
|1961||The Twilight Zone||Woman||Episode: The Invaders|
|My Sister Eileen||Aunt Harriet||2 episodes|
|1963-1965||Burke's Law||Pauline Moss
Dona Ynez Ortega y Esteban
|1964||Channing||Professor Amelia Webster||Episode: Freedom Is a Lovesome Thing God Wot|
|The Greatest Show on Earth||Millie||Episode: This Train Don't Stop Till It Gets There|
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1966, 1968-1971)
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1967)
|1966||The Lone Ranger||Black Widow||Episode: The Trickster/Crack of Doom/The Human Dynamo|
|1967||The Wild Wild West||Emma Valentine||Episode: The Night of the Vicious Valentine
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
|Custer||Watoma||Episode: Spirit Woman|
|1969||Lancer||Mrs. Normile||Episode: A Person Unknown|
|The Red Skelton Show||Bertha Bluenose||Episode: He Wanted to Be a Square Shooter But He Found That his Barrel was Round|
|1970||Barefoot in the Park||Mrs. Wilson||Episode: Pilot|
|The Virginian||Emma Garvey||Episode: Gun Quest|
|1971||Rod Sterling's Night Gallery||Head Witch
|Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color||Mrs. Pringle||Episode: Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove|
|Love, American Style||Mrs. Cooper||Segment: Love and the Particular Girl|
|1972||Marcus Welby, M.D.||Mrs. Ramsey||Episode: He Could Sell Iceboxes to Eskimos|
- Obituary Variety, May 8, 1974, page 286.
- Kear, Lynn. Agnes Moorehead: a Bio-Bibliography. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992). ISBN 0-313-28155-6. Page 2. Moorehead rarely spoke of her younger sister Margaret, who died when both were children, and was often thought of as an only child
- Kear, Lynn (1992). Agnes Moorehead: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press, Connecticut. p. 12. ISBN 0-313-28155-6.
- Cox, Jim, Radio Crime Fighters, 2002, p. 18, McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, ISBN 0-7864-1390-5
- Richard J. Hand, Terror on the Air!: Horror Radio in America, 1931–1952. McFarland, 2006. ISBN 0-7864-2367-6
- "Agnes Moorehead's recipe for TV success: The Strength of an Amazon..." TV Guide. July 17 - 23, 1965
- Creekmur, Corey K.and Alexander Doty (1995). Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. London: Cassell. p. 111. ISBN 0-304-33488-X.
- White, Patricia (1999). Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-253-33641-4.
- Hadleigh, Boze (1994). Hollywood Lesbians. Fort Lee NJ: Barricade Books. p. 179. ISBN 978-1569800140.
- Abrams, Brett L. (2008). Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream. Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 129. ISBN 978-0786439294.
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Michael D. Shaw (September 14, 2009). "Was The Movie The Conqueror Really Cursed? A Look At Radiation Paranoia". HealthNewsDigest.com. Retrieved 2013-09-09.
- "Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer". National Cancer Institute. 2013-08-23. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
- "The Tobacco Celebs: Wayne For Camels". 2010-01-29. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
- Karen G. Jackovich, Mark Sennet (November 10, 1980). "The Children of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell Fear That Fallout Killed Their Parents". People magazine. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved March 22, 2009.
- Lynn Kear, Agnes Moorehead: a Bio-Bibliography. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992). ISBN 0-313-28155-6
- Warren Sherk, Agnes Moorehead: A Very Private Person. (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1976). ISBN 0-8059-2317-9
- Charles Tranberg, I Love the Illusion: The Life And Career of Agnes Moorehead (Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2005) ISBN 1-59393-029-1
- Quint Benedetti, (My Travels with) Agnes Moorehead-The Lavender Lady (Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris, 2010). ISBN 978-1-4500-3408-1
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Agnes Moorehead.|
- Agnes Moorehead at the Internet Broadway Database
- Agnes Moorehead at the Internet Movie Database
- Guide to over 100,000 Moorehead documents spanning 1923–1974 at the Wisconsin Historical Society
- Interview with biographer Charles Tranberg from Harpies Bizarre
- Listen to – Suspense 1951-02-15 Agnes Moorehead – The Death Parade with new introduction.
- Listen to – The CBS Radio Mystery Theater 1974-01-06 The Old Ones Are Hard To Kill starring Agnes Moorehead.