Part Three

For Margery Stover
Vic Stover

What have we learned about Agnes to this point? My wife says: "Agnes Moorehead, the regal realist, spent a lifetime making the world of make-believe seem like reality for her audiences.

"Even as a small child she created new characters at whim by answering her mother's 'Good morning, Agnes' with a matter of fact 'I'm not Agnes, I'm Maryann.'

"Agnes always prepared in depth for any situation. But all the preparation in the world couldn't prepare her against life's exigencies. She was severe with herself but ever forgiving of others.

"Each new challenge or experience would find her as totally prepared as possible.

"As a drama student she would spend long hours reading various types of material aloud, changing inflection, accent, and tones. She would memorize dramatic passages, practice facial expressions and gestures before her mirror, able to let herself go in recreating a character or a part in a manner in which she could not let herself go when being herself.

"In later life, after her reputation became established, she would find it easier to create the character of Agnes Moorehead, actress, for the world to see and would allow even less of her inner self to public view.

"She used all her experiences and observations of other people to improve and perfect her own life. Probably her most common thought was 'When I do that, I'm going to do it this way.'"

Summarizing what we have learned about Agnes I would say: She was first, last, and always a superb actress - beguiling, bewitching, demure, strong, confident-yet sometimes afraid-funny, comical, a wit when she wanted to be, a very serious person, sharp, testy, snappy, a great lady, courteous, kindly, thoughtful. She gave and gave and gave. Though basically strict, she could be lenient. She had a definite sense of humor, yet she was decidedly intellectual, philosophical; homey, but could sweep onto a floor with the awe of an Empress. She liked animals, played Scrabble, liked mysteries, ditto puzzles, enjoyed good theater and movies. She was a religious person who loved America. She was a very private person yet anything but a shrinking violet.

The Farm

Margery and Vic Stover are the caretakers of Agnes' farm down among the foothills of southeastern Ohio. The original land deed is signed by President John Quincy Adams. The farm has belonged to some part of the family for all these years.

Agnes had long wanted to acquire total ownership. She had wanted to build a new place down in the woods since 1942. 1 called it "New Place" to distinguish it from the "Homestead" up on the hill. It was finally begun in 1969. It was finished in 1972. It covers about 7500 square feet.

All I could think of as I visited New Place, walked where Agnes had walked in the primeval-like woods, was "If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here."

In an original first-time interview, the Stovers were most helpful. Margery Stover told me: "Agnes used to spend her summers here when her grandparents were still alive. During the Depression she would ride a horse into Cambridge, which is a long hard ride.

"She used to like to sit on the steps of the Homestead and dry her hair, and comb and brush it by the hour. She had a fantastic dislike for wigs, probably because she often had to wear them in movies and television. As she grew older, she disliked doing her hair, so I would help her when she was here."

Since the farm was willed to John Brown University in Arkansas, I asked if it was a working farm.

"Oh, yes," Margery replied. "We have 125 acres in baled hay (80 percent clover, 20 percent legumes). Vic has helped build up a herd of registered Black Angus cattle. You know how fond of animals Agnes was."

I had noticed a beautiful appaloosa mare just over the back fence by the barn behind the Homestead.

"Agnes named the appaloosa Endora. It was a great favorite of hers."

When we held our first lengthy conference inside the Homestead, Margery pointed to three beautiful colored decanters and said, "Those were our last Christmas gift from Agnes in 1973." She continued, "Her last visit here was October of '73. We knew she wouldn't be here for Christmas because of touring with Gigi. With the constant arrival of Christmas packages, we asked what to do with them. Agnes said, 'Please let them wait until I get here, whenever that is.' "

Sensing I was anxious to see New Place, Margery and Vic accompanied me by car. Just by the narrow lane from off the road leading past the Homestead stood a huge oak tree. Margery grabbed my arm and said, "Stop a minute." Then she told me that one time when Agnes was arriving, in addition to all the other treats the children and adults had prepared for her homecoming, they tied a huge yellow ribbon on the old oak tree. She was so happy with the reception.

Proceeding slowly down the little lane that Agnes love to walk upon, the Stovers pointed out dogwood, redbud, white trilliums, blood roots, spring beauty, lilac trees, yellow violets, and satiny purple violets. "Vic, Sr., would pick a small bouquet of fresh violets and hand them to her in the mornings."

There were fruit trees of every description indigenous to Ohio. There are the hugest beech trees I have seen anywhere in the United States. They are of tremendous girth and reach far higher into the sky than any beech I have ever seen.

Agnes had such magnificent respect for every living thing. The whole place is so naturally beautiful, all I could think of was Albert Schweitzer's reverence for life.

Margery said: "Agnes used to say, 'It's not God's will to ever stop learning all the time. We must never stagnate.'

"In the four years it was my privilege to know her, I came to understand her philosophy about getting along with others. She took what was good about them, even if she disliked their ideology. This was evident from her good works for others, whether Jew or Gentile, whether liberal or conservative. You know how fundamentalist she was religiously and how conservative politically. Her living her philosophy of seeking good in each was Americanism at its best, let alone living her religion.

"She used to repeat, 'We can't live another person's life. Some people just don't want to let anyone live their own life.'

"She was a most disciplined actress in her art and never known to give a bad performance. But would you believe she was a compulsive shopper?

"She especially loved good soaps. Soaps in every size, shape, description, smell, color. Do you know there are over forty Christmas boxes waiting to be opened for the Homestead, New Place, Stovers, and other persons?"

It seems appropriate to insert at this point a part of a letter I received from Margery Stover in December 1974.

Go to chapter 16