Agnes Moorehead


Actor
Agnes Moorehead

About

Birth Place
Clinton, Massachusetts, USA
Born
December 06, 1900
Died
April 30, 1974
Cause of Death
Lung Cancer

Biography

Agnes Moorehead received her start with comic roles on radio that emphasized her bottomless versatility. After being hired to provide the voice of sidekick Margo Lane to Orson Welles' "The Shadow," the actress joined the ensemble of Welles' fledgling Mercury Theatre on the Air. Together the pair transitioned from New York to Hollywood for "Citizen Kane" (1941), Welles' innovative feature...

Photos & Videos

The Magnificent Ambersons - Norman Rockwell Art
How the West Was Won - Program Book
Johnny Belinda - Scene Stills

Family & Companions

John Griffith Lee
Husband
Actor. Married 1930, divorced 1952.
Robert Gist
Husband
Actor, director. Married 1953, divorced 1958.

Notes

Although most sources list Moorehead's birth date as 1906, her stage career and the book "Die Showbusiness Enzyklopadie" by Honig and Rodek indicate 1900.

Moorehead is one of the many cast and crew members who were rumored to have contracted cancer while filming "The Conquerer" near an atomic test site. Other alleged victims included director Dick Powell and co-stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Pedro Armendariz.

Biography

Agnes Moorehead received her start with comic roles on radio that emphasized her bottomless versatility. After being hired to provide the voice of sidekick Margo Lane to Orson Welles' "The Shadow," the actress joined the ensemble of Welles' fledgling Mercury Theatre on the Air. Together the pair transitioned from New York to Hollywood for "Citizen Kane" (1941), Welles' innovative feature film debut. Moorehead's tightly-coiled turn as the young Kane's cruelly pragmatic mother stamped the template for many of her subsequent film roles: the callous guardian of the young "Jane Eyre" (1943), the distant and disapproving aunt of traumatized "Johnny Belinda" (1948), and the unrepentant murderess who frames Humphrey Bogart in "Dark Passage" (1947) and dares him to prove it. Moorehead excelled in sympathetic roles as well, playing a reform-minded prison warden in "Caged" (1950) and Jayne Wyman's protector in "Magnificent Obsession" (1954), but her comic talents went largely untested until she was picked to play Endora, the witchy mother of suburban sorceress Elizabeth Montgomery on the long-running ABC sitcom "Bewitched" (1964-1972). Her death from cancer in 1974 halted a diverse career while immortalizing Moorehead in the pantheon of American pop culture icons.

Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born in Clinton, MA on Dec. 6, 1900. The daughter of Presbyterian minister John Henderson Moorehead, she moved with her family to St. Louis, MO, and performed for the first time at age three, reciting the Lord's Prayer from the pulpit of her father's church. Encouraged by her mother, a former singer, Moorehead nurtured a talent for mimicry by imitating parishioners and family friends. After graduating from Central High School in 1918, she sang in the chorus of the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company and entertained the dream of becoming an actress. When her father insisted that she obtain a higher education, Moorehead enrolled in Muskingum College in New Concord, OH, obtaining a bachelor's degree in biology while appearing in campus plays. After another family move to Reedsburg, WI, Moorhead shifted her studies to the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a master's degree in English literature while teaching public school.

Following her dream of a life in the theatre, Moorehead headed to New York. Graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Art in 1929, the would-be actress found her new career halted by the onset of the Great Depression, while tragic news from home informed her of the suicide of her chronically ill younger sister, Margaret. Alternating roles in stock with menial rent-paying jobs, Moorehead married in 1930. She found work in radio, appearing on such dramas as "Sherlock Holmes," "Terry and the Pirates," and "The Shadow," in which she was cast as sidekick Margo Lane to Orson Welles' mesmeric crime-fighter Lamont Cranston. By Welles' invitation, Moorehead joined the newly-founded Mercury Theatre on the Air. Though she had developed a reputation for comedy, she excelled in dramatic roles in adaptations of "Dracula," "Treasure Island," and Welles' infamous 1938 "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Moorehead's successes were tempered that same year by the death of her father, who suffered a fatal heart attack while preaching a sermon in his Dayton, OH church.

Moorehead followed Welles to Hollywood, where she signed with RKO Radio Pictures and made her film debut in "Citizen Kane" (1941), Welles' innovative first attempt at feature filmmaking. Her icy performance as Charles Foster Kane's cruelly pragmatic mother stamped the template for many of her subsequent film roles, establishing the 40-ish actress as one of Hollywood's go-to essayists of difficult women. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) and contributed an amusing cameo to the Welles-produced "Journey into Fear" (1943). Robert Stevenson's adaptation of "Jayne Eyre" (1943) allowed the actress to add to her résumé another acidic performance as the orphaned heroine's cruel guardian, while her turn as a French countess who vies with Greer Garson for the love of Walter Pidgeon in Tay Garnett's "Mrs. Parkington" (1944) earned her a second Oscar nomination. On the radio, Moorehead excelled as a bedridden woman marked for murder in "Sorry, Wrong Number," broadcast on the CBS anthology series "Suspense" (1942-1962).

On the other end of the law and order equation, Moorehead played an unrepentant murderer who pins her crime on fall guy Humphrey Bogart in Delmer Daves "Dark Passage" (1947) but pays for her sins via a fatal fall from the window of a high rise apartment building. She received her third Academy Award nomination for playing the distant and disapproving aunt of Jane Wyman's "Johnny Belinda" (1948), an early Hollywood film to broach the taboo subject of rape and its aftermath. In John Cromwell's "Caged" (1950), Moorehead was a reform-minded prison warden who attempts to protect an unjustly condemned Eleanor Parker. In a lighter mode, Moorehead was the spirited wife of riverboat captain Joe E. Lewis in George Sidney's Showboat" (1951) and widow Jane Wyman's best friend in Douglas Sirk's "Magnificent Obsession" (1954). Joining the cast of Dick Powell's "The Conqueror" (1956) on location in Utah, Moorehead became one of a number of the film's cast and crew - among them, stars John Wayne and Susan Hayward, and director Dick Powell - to be exposed from irradiated earth in the aftermath of atomic testing the previous year. The production of this box office dud, wherein hundreds were inhaling radioactive desert sand on a daily basis, quite possibly sealed Moorehead's fate as well as an overwhelming number of cast, crew and visitors to the set who would all develop some form of cancer.

Though she remained visible in such Hollywood epics as "Raintree County" (1957) and "How the West Was Won" (1962), Moorehead preferred the higher profits of work on the small screen. A highlight of her television career was her pantomime performance as a mute woman whose rural cabin becomes the beachhead for a seeming alien invasion in a 1961 episode of Rod Serling's trendsetting anthology series, "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964) while a guest shot as a felonious suffragette on "The Wild Wild West" (CBS, 1965-69) netted her an Emmy. In 1964, Moorehead won what would become her best known role recurring on the supernatural sitcom "Bewitched" (ABC, 1964-1972), as Endora, an old school witch who attempts to lure daughter Elizabeth Montgomery away from a life of suburban banality while she does her best to torture her son-in-law (Dick York/Dick Sargent). That same year, she returned to features for Robert Aldrich's campy "Hush. Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964) and her final Academy Award nomination.

Married and divorced twice by 1958 and abandoned by a son she had adopted during her first marriage, Moorehead settled into an eccentric solitude, while hosting lavish A-list Hollywood parties from her Beverly Hills home. Despite the financial security of a recurring role on a hit TV series, the actress loathed the early calls and long hours required for the production of "Bewitched" and struggled to hold her tongue in regard to the uneven quality of the scripts. More to her liking was a fiery bit as an Aimee Semple McPherson-style evangelist in Curtis Harrington's Depression era chiller "What's the Matter with Helen?" (1971), starring long-time friend Debbie Reynolds. The pair would reteam for the animated "Charlotte's Web" (1973), for which Moorehead provided the speaking and singing voice of the imperious Goose. Diagnosed with uterine cancer, she withdrew from a Broadway revival of the musical "Gigi" in January 1974. Three months later, while seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic, Moorehead succumbed to the disease, dying on April 30, 1974 at the age of 73.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Charlotte's Web (1973)
Voice
Dear Dead Delilah (1972)
Delilah [Charles]
Rolling Man (1972)
Night of Terror (1972)
What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)
Sister Alma
Marriage: Year One (1971)
Suddenly Single (1971)
Marlene
The Singing Nun (1965)
Sister Cluny
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Velma Cruther
Who's Minding the Store? (1963)
Phoebe Tuttle
How the West Was Won (1963)
Rebecca Prescott
Jessica (1962)
Maria Lombardo
Bachelor in Paradise (1961)
Judge Peterson
Twenty Plus Two (1961)
Mrs. Delaney
Pollyanna (1960)
Mrs. Snow
Night of the Quarter Moon (1959)
Cornelia Nelson
Tempest (1959)
Vasilisa Mironova
The Bat (1959)
Cornelia Van Gorder
A Tale of Two Cities (1958)
Raintree County (1957)
Ellen Shawnessy
The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
Mrs. Samuels
Jeanne Eagels (1957)
Mme. Neilson
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Queen Elizabeth I
The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
Bertha Parchman
Pardners (1956)
Mrs. Matilda Kingsley
All That Heaven Allows (1956)
Sara Warren
The Conqueror (1956)
Hunlun
The Opposite Sex (1956)
Countess
The Swan (1956)
Queen Maria Dominika
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
Miss Hattie
The Left Hand of God (1955)
Beryl Sigman
Untamed (1955)
Aggie O'Toole
Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Nancy Ashford
Main Street to Broadway (1953)
Mildred Waterbury
Scandal at Scourie (1953)
Sister Josephine
The Story of Three Loves (1953)
Aunt Lydia
Those Redheads from Seattle (1953)
Mrs. Edmonds
The Blazing Forest (1952)
Jessie Crain
The Blue Veil (1951)
Fleur Palfrey
Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951)
Jesebel Marriotte
Show Boat (1951)
Parthy Hawks
Fourteen Hours (1951)
Mrs. Cosick
Caged (1950)
Ruth Benton
The Great Sinner (1949)
Emma Getzel
The Stratton Story (1949)
Ma Stratton
Without Honor (1949)
Katherine Williams
Summer Holiday (1948)
Cousin Lily
Station West (1948)
Mrs. [Mary] Caslon
The Woman in White (1948)
Countess Fosco
Johnny Belinda (1948)
Aggie McDonald
The Lost Moment (1947)
Juliana Bordereau
Dark Passage (1947)
Madge Rapf
Keep Your Powder Dry (1945)
Lieut. Colonel Spottiswoode
Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)
Countess Zoe
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
Bruna Jacobson
Since You Went Away (1944)
Emily Hawkins
Dragon Seed (1944)
Third Cousin's wife
Jane Eyre (1944)
Mrs. Reed
Government Girl (1944)
Mrs. Adele Wright
Tomorrow, the World! (1944)
Jessie Frame
Mrs. Parkington (1944)
[Baroness] Aspasia Conti
The Seventh Cross (1944)
Mme. Marelli
The Youngest Profession (1943)
Miss Featherstone
The Big Street (1942)
Violette Shumberg
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Fanny [Minafer]
Journey into Fear (1942)
Mme. Mathews
Citizen Kane (1941)
Mary, Kane's mother

Cast (Special)

Rex Harrison Presents Short Stories of Love (1974)

Cast (Short)

Operation Raintree (1957)
Herself

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
Mrs Blair

Life Events

1917

Appeared with Municipal Opera Company in St. Louis, Missouri

1923

Radio debut, singing in St. Louis

1929

Broadway debut, "Scarlet Pages"

1938

Joined Orson Welles' "Mercury Theater of the Air"

1941

Film debut in Welles' "Citizen Kane"

1942

Had one of her best screen roles in Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons"; won first of four Oscar nominations as Best Supporting Actress

1953

TV debut, on "Revlon Mirror Theater" (NBC & CBS)

1964

Won fourth Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress for "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte"

1973

Last film, "Charlotte's Web" (voice only)

1973

Made final Broadway appearance in "Gigi" as Madame Alvarez

1974

Last TV appearance, "Rex Harrison Presents Short Stories of Love" (NBC)

Photo Collections

The Magnificent Ambersons - Norman Rockwell Art
RKO hired noted illustrator Norman Rockwell to paint portraits for the main ad art for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Here in black-and-white are some of those portraits and the poster art compiled using them.
How the West Was Won - Program Book
Here is the souvenir Program Book sold at Roadshow engagements for the 1962 epic in Cinerama, How the West Was Won.
Johnny Belinda - Scene Stills
Here are some scene stills from Warner Bros' Johnny Belinda (1948), starring Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres.
Fourteen Hours - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from Fox's Fourteen Hours (1951), starring Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Pollyanna (1960) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Disney's Pollyanna (1960). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Journey into Fear - Publicity Stills
Here are some Publicity Stills from Journey into Fear (1943). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Station West (1948) - He Picks A Good Fight Emerging from an Arizona saloon, sometime after a military gold robbery, Dick Powell, who’s still pretty much a stranger to us, follows a soldier (Steve Brodie) with whom he argued, when some neat exposition introduces Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Caslon, and Tom Powers as Capt. Iles, in Station West, 1948.
Summer Holiday (1948) - Our Home Town From the top, Walter Huston as dad Nat Miller introduces the gimmick, original tunes by Harry Warren and Ralph Blane serving as exposition in the musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness, bringing in Butch Jenkins, Michael Kirby, Marilyn Maxwell, Selena Royle, Frank Morgan and Agnes Moorehead, in Summer Holiday, 1948, produced by Arthur Freed for MGM.
Summer Holiday (1948) - The Stanley Steamer Graduation from Danville, CT High School, June 1906, Mickey Rooney as ebullient Richard hears first from Gloria De Haven as girlfriend Muriel, then joins Agnes Moorehed (“Cousin Lily”) and his dad (Walter Huston) as they board the genuine car, with another original song by Harry Warren and Ralph Blane, in the musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, from MGM’s Arthur Freed unit, Summer Holiday, 1948.
Since You Went Away (1944) - The Eternal Also-Ran Anne (Claudette Colbert) meets divorcee Emily (Agnes Moorehead) for a drink, social commentary overheard, and Tony (Joseph Cotten) appearing, in David Selznick's home-front saga Since You Went Away, 1944.
All That Heaven Allows (1955) - So Few Widows Wear It Escorted by stately Harvey (Conrad Nagel), Connecticut widow Cary (Jane Wyman) turns heads at the country club, cruelly greeted by Mona (Jacqueline de Wit), defended by Sara (Agnes Moorehead) then jumped by Howard (Donald Curtis), social tumult in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, 1955.
All That Heaven Allows (1955) - This May Be My Last Year Using the Universal backlot as suburban Connecticut, Agnes Moorehead as Sara conducts exposition regarding Jane Wyman (as "Cary,") at first hardly noticing the hunky gardener Ron (Rock Hudson), opening Douglas Sirk's celebrated All That Heaven Allows, 1955, produced by Ross Hunter.
Bat, The (1959) - The Cat Dropping Its Dentures New spooky-house tenant and mystery writer Cornelia (Agnes Moorehead) with her assistant-pal Lizzie (Lenita Lane) chatting it up, unaware that the doctor they discuss has murdered their landlord, written and directed by Crane Wilbur in The Bat, 1959.
Left Hand Of God, The (1955) - His Immortal Soul We know only that Humphrey Bogart is packing a gun and dressed as a priest, as he arrives at a mission in China, 1947, greeted by the Sigman's (E.G. Marshall, Agnes Moorehead) and nurse "Scotty" (Gene Tierney), early in The Left Hand Of God, 1955, also starring Lee J. Cobb.
Left Hand Of God, The (1955) - To Abstain From Carnal Desires First service by new priest O’Shea (Humphrey Bogart), in post-WWII China, Gene Tierney as “Scotty” and Agnes Moorehead as Beryl among those noticing something odd about him, but impressed with his Chinese, then puzzled by his encounter with an interloper (Leon Lontok), in The Left Hand Of God, 1955.
Caged (1950) - Open, Pile Out You Tramps! Opening sequence is in the wagon carrying Marie (Eleanor Parker), Emma (Ellen Corby) and friends to prison, from director John Cromwell's seminal women-in-prison drama Caged, 1950.
Caged (1950) - Being Here Is The Punishment Agnes Moorehead hasn’t been introduced but we infer she’s the warden, receiving panicked, pregnant 19-year old, probably wrongly-convicted widow Marie (Eleanor Parker), offering wisdom, in Warner Bros.’ and producer Jerry Wald’s Caged, 1950, from screenwriter Viriginia Kellog’s original research.
How The West Was Won (1962) - In The Spirit Of Your Forefathers Trapper Rawlings (James Stewart) is planning revenge on merchant bandit Hawkins (Walter Brennan) and crew, even as he’s fleecing bible beating Prescott (Karl Malden) and his clan (Agnes Moorehead, Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker et al), mayhem ensuing, in director Henry Hathaway’s segment of How The West Was Won, 1962.

Trailer

Swan, The - (Original Trailer) On the eve of her marriage to a prince, a noblewoman falls for her brother's tutor in The Swan (1956) starring Grace Kelly.
Fourteen Hours - (Original Trailer) Richard Basehart threatens to jump off the ledge of his fourteenth floor hotel room in Fourteen Hours (1951).
Night of the Quarter Moon - (Original Trailer) A San Francisco society boy learns that his new wife is one-quarter-black in Night of the Quarter Moon (1959).
Big Street, The - (Re-issue Trailer) Lucille Ball plays a selfish showgirl who ignores Henry Fonda's lovestruck waiter until she is injured in The Big Street, 1942, produced by Damon Runyon from his short story.
All That Heaven Allows - (Original Trailer) A lonely widow (Jane Wyman) defies small-town gossip when she falls for a younger man (Rock Hudson) in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955).
Citizen Kane -- (Original Trailer) The investigation of a publishing tycoon's dying words reveals conflicting stories about his life in this famous trailer for Citizen Kane (1941).
Johnny Belinda - (Original Trailer) Jane Wyman won a Best Actress Award portraying a deaf-mute girl who learns to communicate with the help of a small town doctor (Lew Ayres) in Johnny Belinda (1948), directed by Jean Negulesco.
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte - (Academy Preview Trailer) Heads will roll as Bette Davis fights to keep her family's secrets in Robert Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
Dark Passage - (Original Trailer) A man falsely accused of his wife's murder escapes to search for the real killer in Dark Passage, 1947, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Magnificent Ambersons, The - (Original Trailer) A possessive son's efforts to keep his mother from remarrying threaten to destroy his family in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).
Youngest Profession, The - (Original Trailer) A teenage autograph hound (Virginia Weidler) invades Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in The Youngest Profession (1943).
Magnificent Obsession (1954) - (Original Trailer) Director Douglas Sirk created the look of America in the 1950's in his romantic melodrama Magnificent Obsession (1954).

Family

Sean Lee
Son

Companions

John Griffith Lee
Husband
Actor. Married 1930, divorced 1952.
Robert Gist
Husband
Actor, director. Married 1953, divorced 1958.

Bibliography

Notes

Although most sources list Moorehead's birth date as 1906, her stage career and the book "Die Showbusiness Enzyklopadie" by Honig and Rodek indicate 1900.

Moorehead is one of the many cast and crew members who were rumored to have contracted cancer while filming "The Conquerer" near an atomic test site. Other alleged victims included director Dick Powell and co-stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Pedro Armendariz.