Tired Into the Future
Orson Welles, Charles Laughton, and Paul Gregory were credited by Agnes as the three most influential men in her career.
Welles brought her to Hollywood in 1939 for the movie Citizen Kane. She appeared in sixty-five movies over the next twenty-five years.
It was Charles Laughton who encouraged her to go on tour with her "Fabulous Redhead" readings.
Paul Gregory produced the First Drama Quartette's Don Juan in Hell, starring Laughton, Boyer, Hardwicke, and Moorehead. Mr. Gregory also produced Caine Mutiny and many other great hits.
Since Welles was out of the country and Laughton was deceased, it was axiomatic for me to try to locate Gregory. He is married to Janet Gaynor and has homes in Hawaii, Mexico, and Palm Springs. We finally set up a meeting in Palm Springs.
Paul Gregory very graciously filled me in on various aspects of Agnes' career. He at once mentioned he wished she hadn't struggled with Gigi, which was to be her final role on the stage.
Gregory told me: "When I learned Agnes was in New York last January , we arranged to have dinner at Twenty-One. As we came out, she said, 'Could we just walk up Fifth Avenue a bit it struck me as odd. Then she said, 'Paul, I'm never going to see you again.' I said, 'Do you know what it is? In her characteristic strong but elusive manner, she shook her head from side to side.
"Very soon after that she entered the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Sure enough, we never saw each other again.
"Agnes didn't drink, you know, but she would take a touch of champagne on occasion. Her religious belief allowed her that indulgence since she liked to allow as how the Bible said Jesus took wine.
"That night before we left Twenty-One, we had a drink of champagne. She then teased me about calling Janet and me right after our wedding to please come to her home in Beverly Hills for a post-wedding supper. She said, 'It'll just be a small affair. You bring the drinks, though, since you know I won't be serving any.'
"We arrived with a few bottles, assuming it was to be a small affair. To our surprise there were about 110 there. We laughed as we recalled the occasion. We're not likely to see her kind again." He shook his head. "Never, never again."
Mr. Gregory kindly brought out a copy of Shaw's Don Juan in Hell that showed the original First Drama Quartette on the cover. As he lovingly gazed at it, he said, "Do you realize they toured eighty weeks in that vehicle? What a trouper Agnes was! She was indefatigable."
When he mentioned Gigi again, I told him of my interview with Cesar Romero, who had long known Agnes and often squired her to various film colony functions. I mentioned that Romero, too, was sad that she had toured with Gigi.
Romero told me: "We talked often during the final months of what was to be her hardest show tour. She was so strong willed, but even Agnes began to wilt from the endless rehearsals and the gruelling touring. I'll never forget one night on the phone when I asked her how she felt. She said, 'I'm tired into the future.' That wasn't like Agnes at all. Not at all."
On one of my research trips to New York City, I learned through old friend Hans Conried that Ruth Warrick, also in the cast of Irene, had played the wife of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. It was arranged for me to see Miss Warrick after a matinee of Irene. Jane Powell was the leading lady in that particular production.
To my immense surprise, when I asked Ruth Warrick if she had seen Agnes last winter, she replied, "Of course. We had a party for the combined casts of Irene and Gigi at my apartment. "
I asked her if by any chance she had a picture of Agnes. "Isn't that strange you should ask that? I just came across one the other day that must have been one of the last ones-if not the last one-taken before she entered the clinic." "May I have a copy if you can relocate it?" I asked.
"Of course. Can you come by again tomorrow? I'll bring it with me then, just before the evening performance."
It seems I ought to mention here some bewitching experiences through the months of research. I never knew Ruth Warrick before. No one had even told me to see her. I called Hans Conried because I was wondering how he was doing after a long winter illness. He introduced me to Miss Warrick and I thereby received the coveted recent picture of Agnes.
On another trip to New York, the director of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Charles Raison, put me in touch with a person who had known Agnes at AADA fifty years before. The moment I spoke to her on the phone to ask if she recalled Agnes, she replied, "Oh, yes, we called her 'Bobby.' "
I said, "I never knew she had a nickname." I had never encountered it in thousands of letters, wires, notes, mementos. Yet suddenly, out of the past, here was a voice telling me of her nickname. It was bewitching!
On the next trip to Beverly Hills, I mentioned the nickname to Freddie Jones, her housekeeper of many years. She couldn't believe it either. At first she acted like she was shot or had seen a ghost. She put her hand to her throat and said, "Where did you hear that name?" I explained.
She sighed and said, "We found a trunk with that name on it in the garage. We had absolutely no idea where it had come from or who Bobby was, as Miss Moorehead had never mentioned it to us in living here over twenty years." I call that bewitched. Just recently I decided to check back with see if he had located an old picture of Agnes that he thought was very chic. The day I phoned he said, "I just located it yesterday. Funny thing you should call today. Where are you?" I explained. He kindly said, "If you can come right over, I'll get the picture for you."
Repeatedly while I was researching, I'd pick up a book at random in a hotel, motel, or airport bookstore and quite often I'd run across something about Agnes or relating to her past. It was always something no one had previously mentioned to me.