We have seen this extraordinary woman's profile in radio, movies, television, stage, and readings. Now we will mention a few of her further conquests in what has to be the most incredible entertainment record in the history of the American theater.
Just as few realized that Agnes was a pioneer in many radio serials and a pioneer in many television parts, practically no one realizes she once appeared in vaudeville with long-forgotten Baker, Bottle and Company (or something like that).
Fred Carmichael said: "Somewhere back in the twenties Agnes not only appeared in Vaudeville with Phil Baker (and the above-named company) but actually got away with doing a simplified version of the bumps and grinds in Boston, of all places. How did she manage it? Because she was Agnes Moorehead, that's how. As she said, she did it like a lady"
So, add vaudeville to the above-mentioned five major forms of entertainment.
Next came recordings. One of her most popular albums was The Psalms of David. Her recording of Sorry, Wrong Number was a hit. Goodness knows how many albums of Don Juan in Hell with the cast of Laughton, Boyer, and Hardwicke were sold. Agnes also did Nancy Hanks, Barbara Fritchie, and Common Heritage. Thus we learn she added a seventh field of entertainment. The jacket on the Psalms of David says:
Agnes Moorehead, master of her craft, is a dramatic star of seemingly unlimited abilities. Her awards in the media of drama have been many and varied, including the New York Film Critics Award, Academy nominations and the International World Award. Miss Moorehead's classic recording of Sorry, Wrong Number is used for many studies in many universities and colleges throughout the country.
Her nationwide tours of Don Juan in Hell, the recent play The Rival, and her brilliant one-woman show. The Fabulous Redhead will long be remembered. The artist's rare gifts of talent and deep spiritual faith give new beauty and meaning to her interpretation of The Psalms.
Would you believe she also did voice-overs? In a movie entitled Charlotte's Web, she was the voice of the stuttering goose. Debbie Reynolds was the voice of the spider, Tony Randall was the voice of the rat, and Henry Gibson was the voice of the pig. This was her eighth field of entertainment.
From my research of Agnes Moorehead's touring in many stage plays, including Don Juan in Hell, and her tremendous one-night show across many many years, I believe her to have set a never-to-be-duplicated record of appearing in more cities in more states than any performer, actor, or actress, in American theatrical history.
When we add her personal appearances, I'm sure she set a never-to-be-equalled record as a trouper. For example, look what she did as judge of American GI plays for our Army:
Itinerary - May 2-13, 1968:
Dep. London 1115 2 May
Arr. Berlin 1340 2 May
Dep. Airport for Hqs. 1430
Hqs. 1500 - 1520
Hqs. Brigade 1530 - 1535
Berlin Hilton Hotel 1615
Armed Forces Radio 0930 3 May
Armed Forces TV 1100
Hotel 1200 - 1300
Checkpoint Charlie 1330
East Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie 1630
Outpost Theater 1930 - 2330
Hamburg, Bremerhaven, 4 May
Hamburg, Frankfurt, 5 May
Worms 6 May
Heidelberg 7 May
Goeppingen 8 May
Munich 9 May
Verona 10-11 May
Verona-Munich 12 May
Frankfurt 13 May
Daily parades, judging plays, visiting clubs, and a host of public appearances. All this in twelve days!
There is mention of her appearing at Hermosa Beach, California, at the 1912 Days. Stuart Whitman was grand marshal of the parade. Agnes was honorary mayor.
She also appeared at the famous New York Herald-Tribune book and authors luncheon that was held on April 23, 1952. (She probably was touring with Don Juan in Hell at the time.)
While in Bewitched, it was requested that she attend the annual Akron, Ohio, Soap Box Derby.
Her campus visits were always over-scheduled, but never was a complaint heard from Agnes.
While appearing on the Buffalo telethon for children's philanthropy, she was heard over the radio February 25-26, 1967, over stations in Jamestown, Lockport, Olean, Niagara Falls, Batavia, and Dunkirk. At this time, one of her fans wrote, "I watch you on 'Andora [sic]' "
At the tenth annual Thalian Ball in October, 1965, she helped raise one hundred thousand dollars for emotionally disturbed children by giving readings with Raymond Massey, Angela Lansbury, and Sam Jaffe. Debbie Reynolds and Donald O' Conner were co-hosts of the ball.
C. Gershenson told me: "Agnes cheerfully appeared at a Fiddler on the Roof benefit party in November, 1971. Despite an eye infection, she was the hit of the evening. What a trouper. "
Phil Breedlove, Jr. told of seeing Agnes at Palm Springs on various tours. Her involvement in good causes always impressed him.
While doing personal appearances, there were always the inevitable interviews. Many complained that she would talk about Laughton, Welles, and Gregory instead of about herself. This was her way of keeping her private life separate from her public image.
James Corcoran of the Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service wrote her in January 1972: "Would you please favor us again with your unforgettable rendition of 'The Master Is Comin'? Bishop Sheen will be the speaker. As in the past, you will be furnished with a limousine."
Francis Lederer wrote her in August 1972: "Your rendering of the poem as a tribute to the Lunts was one of such supreme craftsmanship, skill and exquisite taste that it will remain forever in my memory as one of the finest performances I have ever seen.... I never cease to be thrilled by something as exquisite as you have offered. Alas, such artistry is only too rare. "
Agnes served as grand marshal of the San Jacinto Christmas parade in 1971. In 1968, the Los Angeles Opera Guild starred Agnes in their annual Christmas program. She gave special Christmas readings. So, whether it was for Christmas, Easter, for charity, or whatever, she always gave her best. No one who ever heard her forgot how fine and how great, how exquisite her best was.
She served during these years on the Arthritis Fund Drive Committee and the Glendale, California, Charity League Board. She was also honorary chairman of the Illinois Cancer Society.
Anne Baxter thanked her for serving on the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Glenn Ford wrote to thank her for serving on the 1967 Eye Dog Foundation.
Agnes never neglected her religious duties, no matter how busy she might be. The pastor of the Hillside Baptist Church at LaMirada, California wrote her in March 1967:
The Holy Spirit used you mightily to speak to the hearts and minds of our people. We praise God for your love for His Son and your willingness to share your faith with us. s. D. E. Reiter, Pastor.
Helen Blair of Longview, Texas, told in a letter in 1968 of a long evening's discussion on church and Christianity.
There is a reference in the same period of weeks to her attending the Monte Carlo Film Festival and appearing at Cacoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Maryland.
She appeared at the sixteenth annual Variety Club Telethon at the Allegheny Center Mall in Pittsburgh.
A student in Ontario, Canada, after seeing her in Don Juan in Hell, wrote: "You're a very special lady. Please take care of yourself. When you act, you look so beautiful and oh, that glorious voice. My friends only see the perfected look of haughty disdain which you have made so famous in so many movies and plays. I close my eyes, hear your glorious voice and see the radiance that permeates your whole being when you are on stage. "
On the more humorous side, a friend wrote, "Why must you always undermine my hysteria [hysteria was crossed out and vacillation was written in] with your logic?" I have rarely met anyone so devastatingly logical as Agnes was.
I've frequently mentioned the avalanche of letters she would receive after just one appearance on a television show. Some beautiful ones were received following her Red Skelton and John Gary shows.
As with all famous people, she was not spared, either, when it came to being confused with someone else. There was one letter addressed to "Ms. Natalie Moorehead," which found its way to her.
Her kindnesses when she visited campuses, even writing to thank student hosts and hostesses, caused them to reciprocate with innumerable letters to her. The little more and how much it is; the little less and how it wiles away.
As if she wasn't busy enough with all the versatile entertainment media phases, Agnes had long dreamed of her own acting school. I found a reference to her Saturday teaching schedule, October 18, 1969 to June 27, 1970. She would rent a studio and devote her precious Saturdays to her school. Eight A.M. was given over to techniques. Shakespeare was at either ten, eleven, or at twelve-thirty. Apparently they took early lunch breaks, One fortyfive was screen plays.
There is mention of Al Hirt's daughter attending, and, at perhaps an earlier form of the school, there is mention of Mia Farrow.
The Moorehead acting philosophy did not ever include the idea that acting could really be taught, but the rudiments and the techniques of acting could at least be interpreted. Speech, body movement, integration, interpretation and reading techniques were very essential. In addition, there must always be something more than personality. That indefinable something - call it spirit, call it psyche, call it thesummum bonum, whatever - it is a certainty that Agnes Moorehead exuded it.
I like to think that perhaps one of Agnes' greatest personal achievements in her sight was something that very few people ever even knew about. Because it was connected with the production of The Life of Christ, it must have brought her much personal enjoyment to have been chosen to tutor Jeffrey Hunter in his vocal attempts to somehow simulate the very voice of Jesus. How that must have seemed right and proper to Agnes. How closely she must have felt to her earthly father, let alone to our Father, as she endeavored to refine and spiritualize the voice of Hunter so it could be a sterling credit on the film.
Agnes was a writer, too. The only thing she ever had published follows exactly as printed in Guideposts, August 1965.
MY FAVORITE SCRIPT by Agnes Moorehead
I was asleep in my home in Beverly Hills, California, the
other night when the telephone rang. It was my mother, in
"Who," she inquired, "was Moses' mother?"
For the moment I'd forgotten the name "Jochebed" but believe me I never will again. Mother often checks up on me by phone this way, just to make sure I'm not neglecting my Bible.
She needn't worry. I may forget a Biblical name occasionally but I'll never forget that I need this Book every day of my life. For me, as for my parents before me, the Bible is as current as today's newspaper. When I was small I loved the story of the Israelites in the desert. My father was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and from the pulpit he would make very real the cloud by day, the fire by night, and the manna that God sent from heaven. This was more than ancient history to Father; it was a description of God's caring here and now. He firmly believed that God has a sign in His sky for us this very day, and guidance for us tonight, and manna for every need of our lives.
How I tested these passages during my own desert days in New York City! I'd gone there with the goal of every young actor: to make my way in the theater. To make my money last, I ate almost nothing: hot water for breakfast, a roll for lunch, rice for dinner. It was hungry work, making the rounds of casting agents, mile after mile on the unyielding sidewalk, and I used to wonder fervently just how God was going to provide manna in this man-made wilderness.
At last came the day when I was literally down to my last dime. I stood in front of an automat gazing hungrily at the plates of food behind their little glass doors. The trouble was that one of the agents had given me clear instructions, "Phone, don't come in," which meant that five of my ten cents would have to go into a telephone box instead of opening one of those little doors.
With dragging feet I went into the drugstore next door and changed my worldly wealth into two nickels. I shut myself in the phone booth at the rear of the store, inserted one of the precious nickels-and then waited in growing alarm for the operator's voice. Half my fortune was in that phone, and nothing happened-the coin was not even returned to me! I jiggled the hook. I pounded the box, but it held tight to the coin that would have bought me a big white roll-and a pat of butter on the plate beside it. As always when I let myself think about food, a kind of desperation seized me. I thrust two fingers into the coin return, clawing the cold metal sides of the tube. They closed on a piece of paper.
Though I didn't know it then, I had stumbled onto a familiar racket of those days. Pay phones were built in such a way that a piece of paper inserted from the bottom would trap the money in the chute. All I knew was that as I drew out the paper, a little river of money streamed into my lap: dimes and quarters as well as nickels. In all, when I had finished my incredulous count, I had $4.25.
1 knew, of course, that the money belonged to the phone companyand I paid it back with interest as soon as I could. But I never doubted, also, that this money was manna direct from heaven. The oatmeal and rice it bought lasted until I got my first part.
Does God drop manna through phone boxes? Of course. Anyone who spends much time with the Bible recognizes humor as one of the surest signs of His presence. And the Bible-reader also comes to accept this loving involvement with the details of our lives as a fact about Almighty God. The non-Bible-oriented mind reels before a fact like this. That the Force which flung out the universe should also stoop to feed sparrows is too much for our unaided intelligences, and so we devise descriptions of the universe other than the Biblical one, mechanical and naturalistic theories that better fit our own mansized understanding.
These philosophies are particularly hard on young people. I can still remember what my father said when I first encountered them in college. I would come home puzzled by a lecture or a book that flatly contradicted the Bible-centered world in which I'd been raised. Father never attacked the argument itself. He would simply ask one question:
"What interest does it pay?"
The thing that you believe in, he used to say, is the greatest single investment you can ever make. Before you invest, he would tell me, check on the kind of return you can expect.
Father believed in the Bible, in every word between its covers, and for him the return was joy, peace, victory, a serene and unassailable love of God and men. This didn't mean that he understood every word of Scripture.
"When I come to something I don't understand," he would say, "I leave it for later. Perhaps I'll have to leave it till this life is over. But I don't doubt it. In my hands I hold a holy thing."
I had dramatic proof of this when I did a one-woman show recently in Israel. After the performance an official of the national museum asked me if I would care to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. For an hour and a half I wandered through the vaults where these treasures are kept, marveling at the scholarship which assembled them. But the true marvel, the revelation which sends you to your knees, is that the "Isaiah" so recently unearthed here is the "Isaiah" in your own King James Bible. Every actor knows how hard it is to be sure exactly what Shakespeare wrote, less than 400 years ago. Different manuscripts of his plays disagree. But in thousands of years of travel, turmoil and translation, nothing has been lost from God's word.
My father is dead now. He died in his pulpit at the close of a Sunday sermon some years ago, and I like to think of him now sitting at the foot of the Author Himself, learning at last every secret of the Book he loved. But the love itself lives on: in Mother, in me, in the congregations he served.
The Bible is the first thing I read every morning of my life, and the last thing at night. Most mornings now I have to leave the house at 5:30 for a six o'clock call at the TV studio. This means that my Bible reading time comes at 4:45 a.m., but I would no more skip it than I would skip dressing. Again at night, when I've read the next day's script, I open the Bible. There I find rest for my weariness, strength for the job ahead, a pillar of fire to guide me through the night.