For Margery 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.
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.
For weeks now it has seemed so odd not to be receiving the dozens of boxes which would arrive, some to open, some not to open. What a lovely time she had in all the shops. She often said, "This is my only joy on the very lonely tours -to shop." As Vic and I unpacked the Christmas decorations this year, there are several things she sent to use that sent me into a tearful afternoon, and again, I had to convince myself that she was really gone.
There is a set of little angel lights, and a string of circus cars with an animal in each one. There are a big stuffed Mr. and Mrs. Santa that stand up on the floor or a table. Last year at this time we were calling each other at least twice a week. She wanted to get to the Farm so badly.
I would tell her what we were going to decorate and what I was baking and cooking. Some of the airlines were having strikes and were cutting flights because of the fuel shortage. As gas was scarce she was afraid to take a chance.
I can hear her say to me as clear as day, "Don't open the boxes from such and such, they can wait until I get there. Then we will have Christmas no matter when it is."
So it ended up that Vic and I sat on the closet floor the night she died and opened the boxes. There will never be another Christmas that I will not think about that and the shopping she did-ill as she must have felt, only weeks before her final stay at the Clinic. I miss her so.
Agnes and Margery had many things in common in addition to their interest in religion and their philosophy of Americanism. Both grandparents of theirs were farmers. Marge liked to shop every bit as much as Agnes. And they loved to watch old movies.
Margery said: "Some people can get to know one another as well in four years as some in forty. People just couldn't accept it that we hit it off so well. For instance, when she was at New Place, she'd ring me up here at the Homestead and say 'Guess what's on as an old rerun tonight? Then she'd rip off the year it was filmed, the cast, and general plot. When she asked, 'Can you leave the family a bit and watch it with me? I'm so glad now that I never let her down.
"Another thing we had in common was the belief that the country is God's church. Everything on the ground, in the trees, on the bushes, and a-wing is part of the living sanctuary. We both loved twilight, eventide, and the early morningtide. If she came in from a long trip at four A.M., after grabbing a few wink's sleep, she would be out walking and drinking in the beautiful sky, fresh air, and all of God's lovely nature bright and early.
"She would say, 'I don't see how anyone can live on a farm and be an atheist. God's creative work is everywhere.' "
When I walked through the woods on the old wagon path to the open fields high on a windy hill, I was never so aware of walking in someone's footsteps. It was as if she walked right there with us again!
I had felt her living spirit in the New Place. She had left her imprints there. The only other home in which I have ever experienced this having-spiritof-owner after someone had departed was FDR's place at Hyde Park. I felt his presence still there. Walking and sitting in New Place, strolling about the spacious grounds and down through the woods was an actual spiritual experience. It was aided by the fact that everything had been allowed to be as close to its naturalness as can be. I have never seen such glorious beech trees, never walked in such sublime serenity and quietude. It is a worthy memorial to a great lady, a fine Christian woman.
Margery told me: "Like so many generous souls, some thought she was tighter'n bark on a tree. The nearer truth was that it was easier to get ten thousand from her for a worthy project than ten dollars for a handout.
"She was never Greta Garboish as a few thought, but she believed that her life offstage was different, and she aimed to keep it selective. She gave liberally, as you know, to personal appearances, which are a form of staginess. But when she was to herself, she preferred to do her own thing.
"Do you know what she'd do at the shoe store when she bought a new pair of shoes on the road? She'd have the old pair shipped home to the farm. When we'd open the box, there'd be a good laugh all around.... the truth was she loved to wear old ones comfortably about the farm.
"Vic and I believe we are two of the luckiest people in the world to have been let inside her private shell. We have been so enriched by her personality and character. She will never die where we're concerned. Not a day passes but we recall something she said or did.
"When she was told the New Place was finally ready, she and Freddie's husband, Rochelle, arrived with two truckloads of furniture. To our surprise, not even a toilet was working. She was nonplussed at first, but not for long. You know how fast she could overcome any obstacle, it just made it more challenging. "
I asked Margery if she ever got to make any trips from the farm with Agnes.
She replied: "When the rare occasion offered itself to travel with Agnes on either a speaking or reading engagement, I would drive her to her destination. We always stocked up on buttermilk. When we arrived at the motel, we would submerge it in ice, prop ourselves up, and watch old television rerun movies. It was more fun!
"I recall one trip to Milledgeville, Georgia. It was a real knee slapper at times. The motel sign said 'Vacancy.' We stopped. The man there said, 'We ain't got no room.' We replied, 'The sign says so.'
"'Nope. It don't work none.'
"'Can you help us find a place nearby?
"'Try (name of broken-down hotel in nearby town.)'
"While we were talking to the old codger, a drunk tried to pick us up. 'Howsabout a drink of cold be-er,' he said.
" 'No, thank you,' Agnes said very formally.
"'Don't ya know the geese are flying South? That's why there ain't no rooms.'
"Agnes said, 'This is one goose that ain't flying South because of the snow up north. I'm on business.' With that, we left.
"We arrived at her place to speak and discovered a beautiful old restored mansion. As she was going into a reception, a gentleman said to her, 'I sure enjoyed your lecture last night, ma'am.'
" ' Sorry,' Agnes replied, 'I just arrived. It couldn't have been me.'
"He persisted, 'Well, then, who are you?
"She screwed up her mouth in her famous way and raised her eyebrows in the gesture she was so renowned for, but before she could answer, he said, 'Now, now, Miss Moe-head, don't you git agitated none.'
"We went in one place and the host said, 'Aren't you-'
"'No,' she said, 'sorry, I'm just made up this way.'
"One man insisted we stop at Tallulah Gorge on the way back. As we gazed upon it -after reaching it with considerable difficulty -Agnes said, 'Humpf, first time I ever knew Tallulah had her very own gorge.'
"We went in another place and every time the table was touched, it spilled coffee because it was lopsided. The coffee was fetched at once, pronto. We never did get waited on. While waiting, Agnes took some sugar packets and balanced the short side of the table. Waited some more. Got more coffee. Never did get to eat, so finally left.
"There was one restaurant we ate in that a little girl came up to Agnes and said, 'Aren't you Endora? May I please have your autograph?
" 'Certainly,' Agnes replied. As she handed it to the little girl, the girl started off in a rush. Agnes reached out and grabbed her. She put on her witchiest look and said, 'And what do you say now?
" 'Thank you, oh, thank you.'
"Agnes let go her grip and the little tyke really took off then. "
After being led around the spacious grounds of New Place and having interviewed the Stovers the night before, I went inside the next morning.
It is beautiful -beautiful in a most unusual way. One can tell every bit of tender loving care went into the planning and construction of New Place. It's a privilege just to see it!
The parking for cars is in a circular driveway. There is a large two-car garage with a passageway or patio connecting to the main house. We entered through the kitchen. It is large, functional, and modern, but done to a turn in an old-fashioned way. It's the size kitchens used to be in the old homesteads and farm houses. No family room or such at the end of the island counter. Just a great big old kind of comfy kitchen with every appliance imaginable but done to taste and necessity.
One then passes through to the great living room. High beamed ceilings, very similar to Villa Agnese, but otherwise no mimicry or aping of the Villa. Rather a considerable attention to keeping New Place to its own individuality. There is a grand piano.
Her precious Maud Adams award is atop the piano. The award is an indescribable modern art piece representing free spirit. It is presented to an American woman who has made outstanding contributions in performing arts. She was introduced as "America's most honored actress."
Upon accepting, Agnes said: "I accept this award for my work which requires agony and resolve -not for profit or fame. But to create out of certain materials something that didn't exist before. An actress must have discipline and be dedicated to her work. Acting is not just a gifted art but must be developed into a craft that requires training, scholarship, learning of technique, and acquiring of experience.
"A character isn't a static thing and can't be built like a wall. The hardest job is to be sincere and detached. Young actors and actresses think all they need is sincerity-this is not enough. One of the ills is today's pornography. Sexual and social passion are both deeply self-indulgent and theatrical people have basic instinct to be self-indulgent. But they should realize that the theater itself is not immortal. There were centuries when civilization had no theater. TV and picture magazines are causing people to lose their capacity to listen to words or follow ideas. This is not true of great theater which envelopes the audience and makes it involved in what is happening on the stage. "
There are some elephants and knight's masks pieces similar to Villa Agnese. Otherwise antiques take over instead of Mediterranean villa style.
The elegant but functional fireplace at one end of the living room dominates the room. Many huge sofas, plus several groupings of chairs and pillows, round out the room. Near the fireplace is a hand-carved Austrian cherry bric-a-brac shelf that is indescribably beautiful. There is a huge brass angel in this room plus a beaded coral agglomerate.
Among the elegant clutter of books, knickknacks, and antiques, I observed several angel paintings, a pewter angel, a little loving cup with the words "World's Greatest Actress."
There was a miniature gilded director's chair, miniature dolls, and more miniature chairs. Above the one bookcase was a picture of Debbie Reynolds and Agnes with their director in the middle. Each actress was jokingly holding a dagger pointed at the director.
We've already established elsewhere that she liked animals living or effigies. I noted throughout the sitting room off the bedroom a huge bullfrog with a top hat, a monkey satyr, owls, swans, leopards, ducks, dogs, fish, and ceramic elephants from Asia.
The foyer of New Place has an Indian charcoal brazier, wall-to-wall Greek white shag rugs, and an antique ceramic umbrella holder.
Marge Stover told me that Agnes ran extension cords everywhere. She just somehow never got accustomed to using switches.
Agnes' mother's bedroom off the foyer is all done in pink. There are even pink wicker chairs, a pink wicker clock, and pink candle holders.
The lavatory is antique porcelain from Europe with goldplated faucets, whose handles are fish shaped.
Agnes' bedroom is Moorehead Mauve. Lilac, purple, and mauve abound. Even the doorknobs are pastel originals. The, towel rack has two hands gripping the rod to hold towels. The chandelier is a cluster of lavender grapes.
She loved collages and oil miniatures. They are all through the bedroom and sitting room. The Prayers of Peter Marshall, which Marge gave her one Christmas, is next to the bed on a little table.
Marge said, "We sort of played a game with her Bible. She would always leave a place marked for me to read after she left. The last time she was here last October, she left the Bible opened to Psalm 96:1-16, which was appropriate to harvest time in the fall. There was always a pen and one of her lavender hankies in the spot she wished me to read."
She loved to philosophize about her beloved religious beliefs. Agnes said: "I never knew of a will that any attorney drew up that another smarter attorney couldn't break. The only unbreakable will is the Legacy of Christ."
Another favorite quotation of hers (not necessarily original) was: "The atheist doesn't find God for the same reason a thief doesn't look for a policeman."
Marge recalled that Agnes' favorite book of the Bible was Proverbs. That figures.
Marge and she often discussed her childhood memories of formal worship, stained-glass windows, the music, the ritual. I chimed in that she and I often discussed her growing concern about the influence of the occult and Satanism. Marge replied, "True. We often talked about it, too."
Because she did not want to miss out on worship while on tour or studying lines, she subscribed to many religious tapes.
I told Marge how Agnes and I often discussed the idea of Protestantism being a separate faith. Each of us had noticed that in hospitals and other institutions that we visited - Agnes to perform and make personal appearances, myself in the tour of duty as minister or counselor - we were often misinformed that someone was a Protestant when they happened to be of no faith whatsoever. It didn't bother us except for the fact that the administrators were confused. They wrongly assumed that if a person wasn't a Catholic or a Jew, they must be a Protestant. Hence they called them such on entry cards.
As anyone knows who has thought about the matter, Protestantism is a way of life, a faith, with roots in both Catholicism and Judaism and yet quite separate. It is a faith of its own and should never be confused with labeling people solely because they aren't something else.
Agnes and I had many discussions on this. We had each run into it so many times. At first we each thought it was a mistake on the part of the institution. Not so. It's ignorance, and mainstream Protestantism itself ought to assert itself to correct the misapprehension. This is not to denigrate either Judaism or Catholicism. It is merely to correct an often-made mistake.
Another anxiety of Agnes was that early religious training of so-called free churches is not only neglected, but the Bible in all its fullest literary beauty is unknown and unappreciated. She was in absolute horror of the religious illiteracy of children and of the lack of word usage. If the youth do not learn to communicate better, how can they be expected to understand great literature?
I neglected to mention earlier that as one enters the great living room, one is confronted with a most striking portrait of Agnes styled as Queen Elizabeth 1. It was from a movie entitled Story of Mankind, filmed in 1948. Agnes appeared as Elizabeth Rex in it. The beautiful portrait hung in a Chicago gallery until 1973 when it was removed to New Place. It is six feet by four feet, in oils.
As Marge Stover spoke about Agnes both at the Homestead, at New Place, and in the car, I kept hearing certain words repeated: "gracious," "human," "fun," "mimic," "regular," "homey," "relaxed," "happy," "contented," "generous."
Before New Place was finished, Van Johnson was a guest at the farm in 1971 while appearing in a play in Cincinnati.
I had discovered several times that Agnes would research a part in a movie or play before she attempted the characterization. What I didn't know until I visited the farm was that, as Marge Stover said, "She was always anxious to add to her store of Americana. Whenever the setting was in a new locale or historical, she was anxious to add to her storehouse of America. No wonder she was such a solid American. Her Americanism was manifested in many ways.
"Did you notice the American flag waving from the flagpole in the circular driveway as we came in? It was one of the last things she did, that is, order a bright new flag for the new pole."
I heard many anecdotes about Agnes and pigs-yes, pigs. She liked them the most of any animal. She thought they were the most misunderstood.
Marge related: "We were stopped by a service station one time and a load of pigs was parked next to us in a huge truck. Agnes started mimicking the pigs. They snorted right back. They each kept it up until the truck pulled away. Then Agnes said, 'Sometimes I think I should become a vegetarian because I like animals so much.'
"She could mimic frogs to perfection. We called it her 'frog bit.'
"Once she arrived in the middle of the night at Columbus airport, in 1970. 'Please come get me,' she phoned. We arrived at 7 A.M. All she had was the clothes on her back and an overnight case. 'Where's your luggage?
" 'It's at the baggage turntable.'
"We walked over. First I grabbed a hold. Couldn't even budge it. Then Vic grabbed a hold. He could barely move it. We called for a Skycap. Together, the Skycap and Vic managed to wrestle the bag to the car.
" 'What on earth you got in there?' we asked. 'Doorknobs,' unabashedly came the reply.
" 'Doorknobs? You've got to be kidding.'
"'No, I figured with the shipping costs so high the only way I'd ever get those knobs here was to use all my allowable
allowance plus overcharge for poundage. So, here we are!' "
The library at New Place is a treasure for one interested in b ooks. The first to catch my eye was The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardiner of Boston. Agnes once thought she would like to do a story of her fabulous life. I noted another book about Mrs. Gardiner's famous home, which is now a noted museum in Boston.
Burke Davis was a favorite author of Agnes. She has several autographed copies of his books such as The Gray Fox, (-R. E. Lee), They Call Him Stonewall, Jeb Stuart, and The Summer Land. The last named is a quite comical novel about North Carolina tobacco growers.
She admired Jessamyn West books. As we noted at Villa Agnese, next to humorous books, her favorite light reading was mystery books. She really went all out for Agatha Christie stories, (especially her Hercules Poirot).
Two personal friends' biographies of Joan Crawford and Ruth Goidon were next to her reading chair.
Agnes liked biographies. The Dream King (Ludwig of Bavaria) was a favorite of hers. One Hundred Great Lives sat next to it,
I noted A Treasury of Italian Villas had a prominent place in the library at New Place. There was also the Encyclopedia of Paintings of the World. Add Gilbert and Sullivan (plus the World Library) and one realizes her broad diet of reading.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Longfellow's Poems, The Secret of Santa Vittoria were closely shelved together. Also, Zondervan's Answers to Biblical Questions and lots of children's books.
The children's books were for any visitors. Marge said, "Agnes liked to keep up on what was being put out for the children." This certainly is in keeping with her interest in better homes and families as bulwarks in American moral life.
For what was to turn out to be her last visit to the farm, Margery Stover prepared a sumptuous feast. They had baked sugar-cured country ham, mashed potatoes, vegetable soup, potato salad, homemade raisin bread, cinnamon rolls, black cherry jello, and German chocolate cake.
Young Heidi Stover once asked Agnes if she could really do all those things that Endora did on Bewitched. Agnes replied, "Only on Thursdays," then added, "after I've stirred the cauldron."
"You mean Sundays, don't you?" the child asked. That's when their part of the country got the program.
At New Place there were additional awards, other than those at the Beverly Hills home.
I noted that the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce complimented her on being a Great Living Bay Stater, since she was born in the Bay State.
The State of Texas made her an honorary citizen on February 6, 1971.
The Thalians awarded her a certificate on December 14, 1967.
The Hollywood Headline Club gave her their 1971 Award: "To a talented lady and lovely actress who has displayed amazing versatility and outstanding acting through an exciting career.
The Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service cited her on its golden anniversary in 1970.
The University of Wisconsin Greater Los Angeles clubs cited her in 1972 for her contribution to the entertainment field and distinguished professional achievement.
As we were riding to New Concord, Margery recalled Agnes' lifelong addiction to the famous washboard sidewalk at Muskingum College and what Agnes would call the "goofy" roads in her childhood farm days. (I believe she meant the Pinchot roads.)
Margery continued: "Agnes claimed her first performance was out at the old picnic grounds." Marge and I walked out there on a hillside overlooking a magnificent view. I could imagine Agnes walking in the silences of the great woods of towering beeches. The birds were singing, we saw hummingbirds, noted woodchuck holes. There were wild grapevines throughout the wooded area.
"Agnes always kept a salt block in the yard for deer and any other strays." As we walked back from the old picnic grounds, Marge regaled me with some travel anecdotes.
"Do you know she once hitched a ride at one o'clock in the morning from San Francisco airport to the intown Hilton? The driver was going to let her off down the street. She said, 'At this hour of the morning?' Gallantly, the driver deposited her at the very door. It was a semitruck!
"Once we were bringing a U-Haul truck with antiques to the farm. We parked at one of the poshest restaurants in Columbus. They were expecting Agnes to leave in the customary Hollywood-type limousine. Instead, she climbed into the rent-a-truck and gaily waved to gaping admirers as we pulled away.
"You know she preferred auto, train, or bus, I presume. She would only take a plane if absolutely necessary.
"Has anyone told you about the time they were doing Gigi in Detroit and the drapes fell down? She ad-libbed for five to six minutes until everyone could get collected."
"Were her fears that patriotism in home and family was at the bottom of the totem pole justified?" I said to Marge. "We often discussed that."
"She admitted she was a flag waver just as she was never ashamed to practice good manners, grace, and etiquette," Marge replied. "Her heroes were men like General McArthur, Ronald Reagan, and John Wayne. Did she ever tell you about the time they were filming The Conqueror in Hungary with Wayne? Times were pretty awful there, so she would sneak any clothing she could to the small children who crowded around the filming cast."
I took a very reluctant leave of New Place. I had noted a beautiful edition of G. C. Morehead (no relation), the Kentucky painter who is known as "the artist of property." His book was crammed with beautiful historical buildings. I've seldom seen such an exquisite volume.
As we drove away from the circular driveway with Old Glory proudly waving in the breeze, I noted some beautiful shrubs and flowers. "Vic, Jr. helps with these," Marge said. "As she left on her final visit, we have often recalled that she stooped down to Vic, Jr. working on flowers, and said, 'Could you give your make-believe-aunt a kiss good-by?"