Multi-Dimensional Life

One of the banes but also blessings of an entertainer's life has to be the interminable list of invitations. Here is just a sampling of the persons who wanted Agnes at some function or other: Rod McKuen, Ross Hunter, John Houseman, Walt Disney, Virginia Graham, Marcel Marceau, Glenn Ford, Ivy Baker Priest, Jimmy Durante, the Marriotts, L. A. Mayor Sam Yorty, President and Mrs. Nixon, Mervyn LeRoy, Rosalind Russell, Bob and Delores Hope, Dan Duryea, Mrs. Nat King Cole, Joan Crawford, Sharman Douglas, Jimmy and Gloria Stewart.

Mr. and Mrs. Quincy Jones invited her to a "two-fisted" fashion show at which Mohammed Ali would appear. The Edward G. Robinsons asked her to view their art treasures for Recording for the Blind. The Arthur Hays Sulzbergers and Arthur Ochs Sulzbergers asked her to meet with the Board of Directors of Associated Press (April 18, 1965). She was invited to meet Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowden (November, 1965). That Christmastide the Sinatra children invited her to their party at the Beverly Wilshire (December 12, 1965).

When she attended the opening of Montreal Expo on behalf of Screen Gems, the producers of Bewitched, she was described as looking regal. One description was, "She looked like an empress without a country, clad in royal purple trimmed in chinchilla."

Doris Warner Vidor invited her to a special meeting of Vietnam USO work at the San Souci Room of the Beverly Wilshire (November 7, 1965) with Raymond Burr and the under secretary of the Air Force. Ms. Vidor said she was flying out from New York just for the meeting. Incidentally, there is frequent use of Western Union messages for these kinds of invitations.

There is much evidence that Agnes took time to write many officers and servicemen in Vietnam, to judge from letters received from them.

One airman from George Air Force Base thanked her for holding the men spellbound when she appeared there to read from Shakespeare and the Bible. It was always her utmost best for God and country.

Several times we had little coincidences in our mutual lifetimes. The most recent for me was to note that she was invited to read from Shakespeare at the Hollywood Bowl on the 400th Anniversary of the Bard of Avon. The date: July 11, 1964. That was exactly ten years to the day that I began research of her lengthy career.

A little note was saved from her Shakespeare readings at Trenton, New Jersey (March, 1965). It said: "Expected excellence in your readings and poised presence, but was totally unprepared for the beauty and grace which will long adorn my memory. "

The Hon. James Roosevelt invited her to a premiere of The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. Agnes was the only woman to be allowed to imitate the voice of the late Eleanor Roosevelt on March of Time.

Invitations from Los Angeles Opera Guild's annual benefit Christmas show at the Beverly Hills Hotel (1964 and 1965). The settings were different, as were the chorales and the casts. The only repeat was Agnes Moorehead doing a reading.

The following is a menu Agnes saved from Ross Hunter's Shangri La Supper Dance at the Rainbow Room, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, following the world premiere of the film musical Lost Horizon.

Hors d'Oeuvres

Steak strips Marinated in lime Deep fried served
coated with juice served in in apricot sauce
sweet-sour sauce sauce
on skewers

Covered in Oriental Chicken livers and
Rice-style noodles Water chestnuts in bacon


Chicken with almonds and tamarind
Braised lamb shoulder with pineapple
Shrimp and Zucchini Curry
An assortment of vegetables with cinnamon
Assortment of exotic fruits and sherbets

Yes, there are blessings, too, with all the invitations galore! Although there was no date above, it must have been about 1972 or even early 1973. For Agnes telegraphed a friend: "After closing Don Juan in Hell, remaining New York for R. Hunter's Lost Horizon premiere. Then jetting London for film. Thence to Jacksonville April 7th for Festival. Back to California for Gigi rehearsals. "

On television, Agnes once did the life of Wanda Landowska, an unpublished journalist and later harpsichord artist. There were fine notices about her performance. Scores of letters poured in, including a touching one from a girl harpist with the pit orchestra in The Sound of Music. No wonder she was awarded the coveted human relations award of B'nai B'rith.

There was a beautiful Easter card from the Burt Lancasters among her mementos. Debbie Reynolds sent her a card from Las Vegas (April 1967):

Dear Sister Cluny [from Singing Nun],
Thanks for sweet wire on your old pal's birthday.
s. Deborah

Madame Shirley Saint wrote from Paris: "Miss our wonderful talks. "

Greer Garson sent her a tiny night-light. "Try this little night-light for a tiny glow in your glamourous dressing room. Big hug. As ever. s. Greer Garson"

Someone at Berea College in Kentucky sent her a copy of a poem entitled "High Flight."

Notes of thanks received from Dan Duryea and Mrs. Davidn Selznick (Jennifer Jones).

Liz Montgomery wired her at some distant place February 19, 1965: "Schedule prevented my being there. Thanks for your willingness to stand in. Fly home as soon as you can, but do take an airplane this time. Much love to you. s. Liz"

People wrote her constantly about their aches and pains. Perhaps this was because of her roles in many movies. Nevertheless, she would take the time to reply because she never for a minute forgot or neglected her fans.

Someone analyzed her handwriting once: "You are a person of refined tastes and are warm and generous. You are an energetic, persistent and sensitive woman. Finally, you are cultured and have a creative mind." That she did.

Another fan wrote:

Miss Moorehead:

You're only as pretty as you feel and with so many people loving you - you can't help but feel beautiful. Thank you for being the fine lady you are.

Orson Welles' daughter Beatrice once wrote her from Spain (April, 1967): "How I wish you'd come to Spain. If you do my friends would be isterical [sic]." (The letter was typed.) It was one of the secrets of her charm that she appealed to old and young alike.

Dr. Edgar Mitchell of the Noetic Science Institute, Palo Alto, wrote August 21, 1973, "During my flight with Alan Shepard on Apollo 14, 1 was indelibly impressed with a perspective of our planet that is different from one we usually consider. I have reflected upon the incredible panorama and turned my attention to inner space. Could you join me in this endeavor to pursue further this subject?"

One of her favorite bits of philosophy was, "The soul of a thing is the thought, the charm of the act is the actor." She loathed the ugly, nihilistic destructive theater which was being so often foisted upon the public.

Often backstage she would get into a religious or philosophical discussion, not because she wanted to proselytize but just to converse on something higher than the usual gossip.

After one such session, this note was received. "You asked me to define 'love.' How's this? 'Living with and striving toward increasing compassion and truth.' " She really did get some creative thinking across to others.

In our talks we were constantly discussing the fact that there is never any freedom without discipline of some sort. If you do not learn to control you emotions, you become a slave to them and hence your every mood can untrack you.

She loved to repeat in every interview and, after a while, in most conversations when asked about her profession, "You need the courage of a general under fire, the strength of an Amazon, the hide of a crocodile, and the patience of Job."

When people would twit her about some of the raggedy roles she assumed, she was quick to rejoin, "They could yank my teeth out if it would be good for the part."

Joe Pasternak sent out the following instructions regarding the 37th Annual Oscar Awards in 1965: "It is vitally necessary to smooth running of the show that all nominees occupy the seats designated for them. If you are not seated as indicated, the TV camera will not be able to find you at the proper time."

Scores of wires poured in from all over the U.S.A. after she lost the award for her brilliant efforts in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. One said, "We prayed, crossed fingers, even lit candles." Another, "You were so elegant, beautiful, charming and all the things you are, that I cried."

One interviewer divided her comments as: "Agnes is Performer, Perfectionist (up at 4:45 checking set lighting, etc.), Preacher and Philosopher."

That Agnes was a philosopher was evident from all who ever conversed with her for any length of time. Here are a few culled remarks regarding her craftsmanship philosophy.

"A true actress compliments, never competes."

"I've been offered parts I won't touch. I'm not interested in putting audiences in the gutter. If I can't contribute to something good, something imaginative and creative, I'll stay home instead [as opposed to working or going on tour]."

"There must be glamor and mystery where stars are concerned. At one time, I was against their conducting radio tours behind the scenes which showed how they made various sounds. They destroyed the magical illusions."

She liked to remind people that the reason she preferred fantasy to reality was that she was brought up on the Andersen and Grimm stories.

As I've interviewed people the length and breadth of the United States regarding Agnes, certain words repeatedly appeared. They were: "always stunningly dressed," "impeccably groomed," "poised," "forthright."

One of the nicest things I learned about Agnes' effect on persons was told to me by Judge William Eubank of Arizona Appellate Court. He said, "I've seen her for so long in the movies and on television that I count her as among my friends, even though I've never had the pleasure of meeting her." She must have affected many this way.

Arlene Dahl, in an issue of the Herald Examiner in 1964, said:

Agnes Moorehead said on advice to young actresses, "If you are interested in and dedicated to making motion pictures, diversification is more important than being attractive in every role. But I don't practice that in the theater (stage). When I'm on stage, I try to be as attractive as possible.

I tell the young aspirants to be immaculate and to keep that young fresh look about them. Don't mask it with makeup when it isn't necessary. Always walk like princesses, proud of their abilities. Develop imagination because if their thoughts are dull, their voices will reflect it. I tell them that to become important to others, they must make themselves interesting to others, each in their own individual way."

One of her long-time friends, familiar with her multifaceted career spanning all possible entertainment media, said of her:

"Agnes' flights of fancy were forgivable because she lived an 81/2dimensional life. Why, once when she was in New Orleans, she discovered an antique store which was still holding stuff she'd picked out on the trip before. She had made the usual deposit down and then completely forgotten it."

Moorehead magic could be either witchedly wicked or saintly sister as when she portrayed a nun.

Don't take my word for it. Chaplains wrote from all branches of the service thanking her for her inspiration and unfailingly adding, "Your father would be proud of you."

Dwight Newton (of the San Francisco Examiner, March 8, 1963) wrote: "I don't want to sound blasphemous, but I think Agnes Moorehead can create more excitement with her voice than ... with her voice and body combined. I'm not saying that just because Virginia Graham said recently that Agnes made Virginia think Lionel Barrymore never died. That voice! That crackling, snapping, sinister, paranoic, paralyzing voice, which captures your attention. She conveys authority, panic, distress, ... anything she wishes to convey."

Another of her famous preachings about the younger actors and current plots went something like this: "Today by the end of most stories you have to see an analyst. As to young actors, they want to start their careers backward. They expect to start at the top. The problem of the acting profession is really the problem of the generation. It's militant, rationalizing and insecure. Such things rarely sponsor great dignity and respect. One practically has to be a wandering minstrel ready to dash to far-off sets in distant countries. But, there's always hope that the theater can be cleaned up and get some dignity into it to touch the human heart as it always needs to be touched.

Go to chapter 13