ABC's - Animals, Books,Cooking
As I said, when at Villa Agnese, she loved to paint, putter, garden a bit, and do household and home chores.
Freddie Jones told me: "If she was going out of town, she'd call the dogs in and pet them and talk with them patiently, explaining how she had to go away. 'Be good girls,' she'd say. 'And above all, take good care of Polly and Freddie.'
"If she went out of an evening, the dogs knew she would call them upstairs to say good night when she returned. She would stand at the head of the stairs at the back stairway and greet them as she came in. They thought it was heaven itself to be able to go upstairs. It was a real treat. They sure liked it.
"She preferred phoning to writing. She would ring us up long distance and her first words always were, 'How are the dogs? Do they miss me? And how are you?' in that order. We never minded it." The black French poodle's name is Dusa. She is the mother of the apricot poodle called Sara.
Freddie and Polly were with her for over twenty years. At first Freddie was the only live-in housekeeper. When joined by Polly, it had become only too clear the house was too big for one assistant. At first Freddie became upstairs person, especially responsible for dressing, clothes, and upstairs housekeeping. Polly was downstairs and did cooking. However, as the years passed and they became used to total routines, they shared duties so that each knew how to cover for the other if illness or other interruptions occurred.
Agnes' favorite recreation was to attend fine movies and outstanding plays, especially when in New York City. She was a movie buff, and she never could get enough of good stage theater, either.
Her favorite vacation routine was to go on a ship's cruise or to be able to take a long voyage enroute to either movie sets or other theatrical business. She took the Queen Mary to Europe in 1961. She traveled extensively by ship to Greece, Egypt, and Israel in 1963. Even when traveling, she would make the most of the opportunity to attend plays, concerts, or add to her library and antique collection.
Next, after oceangoing ships, she loved to ride trains. She took trains whenever possible. One could stay a very private person while traveling even cross-country on the train. The bedroom or drawing room compartments on the Pullmans were a delight to stars who sought to preserve their privacy. They could read, work puzzles, sleep, and doze to their heart's content. Meals were brought to the compartment. It was quite a perfect way to travel, Agnes used to say.
She liked to walk, for a purpose. Sometimes when the girls would drive her to the Beverly Hills Hotel, she would say, "I think I'll walk back. It'll be easier for everyone. And the weather is so nice."
Freddie said: "She often mentioned how serene it was at the farm. Once the farm was ready for her, she would beat it there just as fast as she could. It replaced ships, trains, and everything as a private place. Once she stopped me at what I was doing and said, 'Freddie, don't you ever listen to silence?' That one threw me, and I said, 'Well, no, no ... I never have.'"
We happened to be sitting just beneath the huge superimposed gold-leaf cupids framed about the mirror above the fireplace. Continuing, Freddie said: "For instance, the cupids came crashing down at one of the parties she was giving. Everyone supposed it would be impossible to resurrect them. At the very next affair, they were restored in fine shape to their former setting. A guest who happened to have been present at the near debacle observed the restoration and said, 'Why, Agnes, where did you get those restored so beautifully?' She answered, 'Freddie and I put them back together.' They didn't want to believe her. She persisted. She liked to challenge herself."
I noticed there was a fresh fruit and vegetable portable truck that called mornings up and down their street. I asked if they patronized it by any chance. "Oh, no. When Miss M. was here, one of us drove her down to Farmer's Market on Third and Fairfax. She preferred to pick out the week's supply herself personally. If she was going to be gone awhile, she would come back with a tremendous stock to be frozen and used as needed."
What were her favorite preparations? I mentioned her telling about Northern fried chicken at the farm. Freddie said, "On rare occasions that she fixed a meal, her favorite was trout, which she prepared with a conglomeration of grapes, almonds, and herbs. Oh, and sometimes she liked to fix lasagna.
"Incidentally, in addition to enjoying buying fresh foods at Farmer's Market, she always had us drive her to a place on Alameda Street each pre-Christmas season where they bring the new cut trees. She delighted in choosing and picking several trees for her annual Christmas bash. Nothing but the best for her guests. She was like a child decorating the trees, too."
One of the rarest antiques is just inside the massive front door on the right wall. It is a funeral wreath made in England by families too poor to send flowers to a service, so they would sew beads as flowers and present it to surviving mourners.
Freddie informed me, "Agnes enjoyed setting the table herself whenever she entertained, especially at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or special guest dinners such as those with friends from abroad. She not only used all sorts of original place marks but would actually set the silver service herself. It added hominess to Villa Agnese.
"She painted the chandeliers in the entrance hallway. Had them removed to the garage and went right at it. She handpainted the chests of drawers, including sprinkling them with powder to give a more homey effect. It was her personal touch which can still be felt throughout the rooms and halls of her Beverly Hills home."
Generally speaking, her library seemed to divide itself into the following categories: humor, mystery, religion, drama, biography, and then the broadest possible range of reading. I noted that she often picked up secondhand books while on numerous tours. Many had bookmarks as if she had never completed them, because she was interrupted on tour, came back, and had new assignments or simply never got back to them.
She must have been very fond of the late Robert Benchley's books, because she had over a half dozen of them - Benchley Beside Himself, Inside Benchley, The Early Worm, After 1903 - What? and more.
The same could be said of Thurber. She had most, if not all, of Thurber's books. One of them, The Thirteen Clocks, is inscribed to Agnes by Charles Laughton:
To a pure artiste
To a beautiful creative soul
To a kind, good lady
A Lavender Queen
Best ever in Fairy Tales
My eternal love and admiration
s. Charles Laughton
Then, in The Thurber Album, which includes "Lavender with a Difference," Agnes had written numerous markings for speed emphasis, and added: "Learning how to do a thing is the doing of it, and as my father used to say, J am buying some sandpaper to sandpaper my soul,' for the tour that is looming ahead (Fabulous Redhead) hoping that I can in some way follow in Charles' (Laughton) wake trying to reach man's heart."
Tucked away in one of the volumes were notes of portions of Sorry, Wrong Number, written on St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, stationery. All creative travelers write on whatever is handy at the moment.
That Agnes was a mystery lover goes without question. It fits every facet of her personality, even to that of being a very private person. Bernstein's The Search for Bridey Murphy, Butler's Kiss the Blood off My Hands Chandler's The Lady in the Lake, Collins' The Woman in White, Crime Club books, Graham Greene books, and a complete eighteen-volume set of Edgar Wallace books were but a few of her wide variety of mysteries.
Her personal religious philosophy was such a dynamic part of her life one would expect to find religious books throughout her library. Both fiction and nonfiction religious books were sprinkled throughout. Auchincloss' The Rector of Justin, C. S. Lewis books-including a science fiction bookand books by Peter Marshall, Frank Laubach, Norman Vincent Peale, Emmet Fox, Hurlburt.
Professional books galore lined her various library shelvesespecially biographies of great entertainment leaders. There are three on her favorite, Ellen Terry. The Art of Mime, by Irene Maurer, happened to be near a painting of Marcel Marceau. The biography of Cedric Hardwicke had comments to Agnes "whose bark has inspired some of my most exalting moments in the theater, my affectionate greetings; here's to more Don Juans. s. Cedric Hardwicke."
In the upstairs library just off the main living room, there are many sets of great books such as those by Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Joseph Conrad, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde, Oliver Goldsmith, Robert E. Lee, George Eliot, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Also on the shelves were a book on the queens of England and The Theater 1902-08, 1927, 1930, among others. The Drama, which covered drama's history in the Orient, Greece, and France through the ages was also included. Naturally there were books on ballet and on art through the ages.
Poetry? Auden, Blake, Brooke, Frost, Nash, Parker, Milton, Masefield, and Millay.
Because of my long association with Pearl S. Buck I was happy to find many of her books. Of course, there would be
Dragon Seed, since she enjoyed being in the movie so much. Out of her sixty-five movies, she had one set of eight pictures of her many parts. Her part in Dragon Seed is one of the eight pictures.
Some other favorite authors through the years deck her various shelves: A. J. Cronin, Sholem Asch, Taylor Caldwell, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Truman Capote, Edna Ferber, and Lloyd Douglas, who wrote Magnificent Obsession. There were two copies of Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga.
I looked over several mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner and Levin's Compulsion, on the Leopold-Loeb case.
She must have been fond of Lewis's The Big Four (biography of Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins and Crocker). It looked much read. Walter Lippman's U. S. Foreign Policy, Sartre's Age of Reason, Thomas Wolfe books and many by Saroyan exemplified how universal were her reading tastes.
There were several author's inscriptions to her personally, including Harold Lamb's in The March of Muscovy Gavin Lambert's in The Slide Area, and in a first edition of Maxwell Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen.
Since Laughton mentioned her fondness for fairy tales, there were over two dozen copies of Oz books. Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady, and J. M. Barrie's collected works were there too. An 1832 copy of Fielding's The History of Amelia, Mary Poppins, and books by H. Allen Smith, Sagan, and Salinger were scattered among the shelves.
Martia Leonard had inscribed in The Moving Finger Writes (1946), "from one Dona Ana to another." Apparently she had once played the part too.
The rumpus room was a hodgepodge of magnificent clutter. Parts of it seemed like a jigsaw puzzle because everything fit in perfectly, as a whole.
Throughout the room were many inlaid wood and ivory tables. Brass tables, too, abounded.
There were antique chairs and reading stands-some real treasures.
Scattered here and there were zebra pelt rugs.
There was a Chinese footstool.
Two of my favorites were an ancient world globe built on its own stand and an elaborate wooden birdcage in the shape of the Milan Cathedral.
Two large ceramic elephant end tables, similar to those at the farm, stood near the marble fireplace with its huge brass andirons. They in turn were surmounted by grotesque medieval figures.
On various tables were old radio sets, an antique Victrola, as well as ancient ceramic figurines.
The black upright piano with matching harp had its strings intact (unlike the ancient harp in the upstairs library).
There were several small plain richly upholstered chairs in green and pink.
There were busts of Schiller, Shakespeare, Lessing, and Beethoven.
Numerous sketches and line drawings lined the walls. Above the great sofa was a painting of Marcel Marceau. Just beneath were antique handmade puppets. Currier and Ives also decked some walls.
A massive antique gilded table with a marble top held many pictures of her friends in show business, as well as animal miniatures of which we know she was most fond of collecting.
Magazines? In addition to every possible trade paper that one would expect one of her professionalism to subscribe to, there were: Town and Country, Harper's Bazaar, McCalls, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Review, Vogue, Coronet, and Readers' Digest.
Movie scripts of Johnny Belinda, Caged, and Singing Nun were back in her private office.
Her much-worked jigsaw puzzles were boxed in stacks in her private office.
I was particularly pleased to run across John Houseman's autobiography, Run Through, which he autographed for Agnes on September 3, 1972, in Los Angeles. It was beautifully inscribed "For Agnes with love and admiration - building and accumulating during a very long and inspiring association. Above all, with thanks for her incalculable advice and help with staging and production of Don Juan in Hell in its second time around tour. "
Agnes and John had been associated in the very beginning of the Orson Welles Mercury Theater of the Air. Howard Teichman recalled an anecdote of Mr. Houseman and Miss Moorehead reaching way back to the thirties. It had something to do with one of her numerous radio parts. Considering it was the depression years, and it involved money, all the drama was not always on the air.
In a small frame on her personal desk in her private office, there was a poem dated June, 1973. In the light of what was soon to happen, the words are particularly significant. Deep into the now forever awaits be still and remember...the great knowledge will emerge and your soul will take wings for He takes great joy in the singing of your heart.