Villa Agnese

Somewhere about halfway through the sixty-five movies, Agnes was privileged to purchase the one-time home of music master Sigmund Romberg.

The graceful winding flagstone walk leads to a Mediterranean villa surrounded by towering trees and a multitude of high flowering plants and shrubs. A small ceramic insert plaque indicates that this is Villa Agnese. The entrance is a massive ancient Spanish oak door. Above the medieval door is an inlaid charming ceramic tile bouquet of violets, denoting the owner's favorite color and flower.

Stepping inside, one notes a zebra-skin rug on the floor of the highceilinged foyer, complete with clerestory windows two and a half stories high. Everywhere there are bric-a-brac mementoes of favorite pastimes and places. The medieval Spanish door has an outsized key and chain elaborately strung along its massive width. The peephole is genuine from an ancestral Mediterranean mansion.

The interior is cool and quiet. Even the barking of two French poodles in the inner patio does not disturb the calm. There is a serene air of permanence about the place. Anything added to or subtracted from the decor could not affect the feeling of solidity that prevails here.

Up a short flight of stairs to the left is the massive living room with twenty-foot-high beamed ceilings. A grand piano is almost lost in one corner. Large statuary with flower pots flank a great marble-topped table covered with pictures of movie star friends.

In another corner is a cluster of round French-style chairs and table. A grouping of very large comfortable sofas surround the marble fireplace at the end of the room. A gigantic but still exquisitely lacquered coffee table is between the sofas. Exotic pompons hang from each drawer in the secretary, buffet, and other furniture throughout the room.

A small den and library is entered from each side of the fireplace at the far end of the living room. A veranda and stairs descend outdoors to the terrace patio which is beyond the inner patio. This intimate den library has an antique harp with some broken strings, and an antique chair compliments it. The smaller fireplace in the den has smaller comfy sofas on each side. The library part of the den is replete with history books, and complete sets of great literature. One set outlines the history of the theater.

As one passes back through the engulfing silence of the great living room, one sees a lovely picture of the royal family of Monaco on one of the numerous sideboards, a smiling President Nixon greeting Miss Moorehead in the garden of the western White House, and antiques galore.

Stepping back into the foyer, one can then enter the formal dining room which is opposite the living room. There is a full-length oil portrait of Agnes on the far wall opposite the foyer entrance. The chinaware in the dining room is the equivalent of any royal or first family anywhere. The furniture is the finest without being elaborate. The serving rooms are beyond.

Off the foyer to the rear is the inner patio. Just to the right of the patio door is a descending winding stairway that leads through a small tunnel to the rumpus room. A heavy four-inch thick cord laced through large rings serves as a railing along the steps to the lower story. Posters from past triumphs line the walls of the tunnellike staircase.

It was here in the main area of the rumpus room that I spent most of the time researching the book, trying to fill out some missing parts and years.

The rumpus room is less formal than its counterpart above; nevertheless, it has a black piano and companion blacklacquered harp, complete with matching chairs. Objects d'arts from world travels and bookshelves line the walls on three sides. There is slide paneling to cover much of the downstairs library shelves. The fourth wall is windowed and looks up into the inner patio.

Favorites in the fiction line of the lower library shelves are humor, mystery, and drama. However, there is a sprinkling of every conceivable type of reading material, including the inevitable religious books which occupied much of the reading time of the owner.

Beyond the rumpus room is a smaller room equivalent to the den library above. It served as a semioffice and storage room for theatrical memorabilia. Awards line every inch of space on all four walls. There is a small mirror-topped desk and the workaday items such as appointment books, heavily referenced professional books, class notes and drama notes of her students. There is even the theological seminary notes of her father. From this private office, Agnes could go up the short stairs to the terrace patio, which was her favorite place to lounge outdoors.

Freddie Jones, her trusted housekeeper of over twenty years, told me: "Miss Moorehead would retire to the terrace patio of a Sunday morning and stay out there all day sometimes, rarely coming in until dark. She would take her radio, her special religious cassettes and tapes, her Bible, and her current scripts. Lunch would be served out there when she wished. It was what she called her sancto sanctorum. It could be reached just beyond the inner patio through an arbor or from her veranda stairway or even from her private office."

Villa Agnese is in the shape of an elongated U, with the living room and dining room comprising the front long side of the U. The short side is the kitchen and serving rooms downstairs and the long stairway, clerestory, and small rooms upstairs. The back side of the long part of the U is parallel to the front side just beyond the inner patio. Housekeeping quarters are on the first floor, and the bedrooms are above. Beyond the inner patio, at the end of the back side of the villa, one approaches the gardens and the swimming pool. The latter is long and deep. At the far end of the pool is a Roman wall, and set in at the top center is a beautiful ceramic tile Madonna.

Whenever Agnes entertained with garden parties, there were all sorts of segregated alcoves completely aloof from the rest of the gardens, each with separate Roman and Greek statuary complimenting the outdoor furniture.

When one looks at the autographed pictures of Marcel Marceau and Jonathan Winters, one recalls the stars of stage, screen, television, and radio who came up her flagstone walk to visit her. Marceau and Winters were at a party she once gave in the midsixties. She said afterward that someone should have taped the proceedings and antics of "those two." Winters wrote her on October 22, 1968:

1 can't begin to tell you what a joy you are to work with. As you well know, those long hours on a TV set are gruelling to all of us and your patience as a professional performer was certainly appreciated.

As always, you gave a tremendous performance. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed doing the Halloween sketch with you.
Jonathan Winters also thanked her for doing an Indian benefit. Here is a copy of the telegram he sent her for a supper invitation after the benefit:

HOW! Indian fans. Me invite you to big Pow Wow at Chasen's Tummy Tepee for much fire-water and yum-yum. We gonna pay honor to Great Chief, Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior and his medicine man, Robert L. Bennet, Commissioner of U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. They come here from big lodge in Washington. Day is Tuesday, October 15th 6:30 after moon come up. You call on voice machine to Wigwam 565 and tell if you gonna come or not. Better not speak with forked tongue, either. If you make treaty with me, no break it like John Wayne does in magic pictures. Me thank.
Jonathan Winters

On the lower level there are two beautifully decorated under plastic Christmas trees, mute testimony to the great parties she was famous for each December. Her scrapbooks contain hundreds of personal Christmas cards. Jerry Lewis sent the following greeting one year:
The best preacher is the heart The best teacher is time. The best book is the world The best friend is God. -The Talmud.

Among the Christmas telegrams she kept was one from Bette Davis:

Merry Merry Merry Happy Happy Happy
Bette Davis

From Pickfair came greetings from Mary Pickford and Charles (Buddy) Rogers saying "Mary and I wish you LOVE, HEALTH, FUN, HAPPINESS."

The Christmas cards and greetings are on every conceivable themeclassical, religious, historical, photographical. Among the most beautiful was a large Thai temple in color and the greeting was in Siamese.

Joan Crawford, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and many others thanked her for her touching notes to them. Kay Gable once penned: "Thanks for your beautiful Christmas parties which give me the spirit to get right on the Christmas path."

Because she was such a private person, it was not known that her annual Christmas party to launch the season was either on her birthday or on the Saturday closest to it. The annual parties became so famous that they were covered by Chicago, New York, and Palm Beach papers, as well as local and regional ones.

Two hundred twenty persons attended what proved to be her last Christmas party in 1971. She was touring on the road with the second group of Don Juan in Hell casts in 1972 and with Gigi in 1973.

Norma Lee Browning of the Chicago Tribune wrote December 7, 1971, in her Hollywood Today column:

Speaking of stars, what a shining contingent turned out for Agnes Moorehead's Happy Holiday Party at her fabulous home in Beverly Hills. Agnes is one of Hollywood's most superb hostesses. Her parties are out of the tradition of filmdom's golden era, complete with madrigal singers. The house was decorated like a winter wonderland both inside and out.

Among the wall-to-wall celebrities were the Jimmy Stewarts, the Henry Fondas, Fred McMurrays, Lucille Ball, Zsa Zsa Gabor, with daughter Franscesca, Steve Lawrences, Steve Allen, George Kennedy, Virginia Graham, George Maharis, Ann Miller-who looked absolutely smashing in long black velvet with white ruffled cuffs and jabot. Agnes looked gracious and regal.

Freddie Jones told me: "Miss Moorehead had a positive philosophy about being a hostess. She stood at the door each year and greeted each person when they arrived and as they left. She disliked people who ran parties, but one could never locate them. Her idea was to be at the door. She never strayed from her hostess spot. We brought her little goodies, but she stayed at her post like a sentinel."
Dorothy Manners' column:

It has always struck me as an anomaly that Agnes Moorehead, one of the most intellectual ladies of her profession, one of the best educated, fourtime Oscar nominee, a TV Emmy award winner, a founder and charter member of the famed Mercury Theater Players, is also one of the most indefatigable partygoers in town.

If Cesar Romero is our leading Man About Town, the veteran and venerable Agnes Moorehead is our leading Lady About Town. It's easy to spot her vivid red hair and colorful caftans at frolics and elegant soirees in Beverly Hills and at beach weiner roasts put on by Debbie Reynolds' children and their friends.

Freddie Jones said: "Miss Moorehead almost had a mania about being hostess and about guests. She used to dislike the ones who rang the doorbell before her dress was zipped up and the ones who left so early it was almost insolent. She liked them to enjoy themselves. She kept herself handy, at the door so people would find her if they had a question or a need."

Polly Bergen was a next-door neighbor for many years. She wrote me:

I can only think of a couple of stories about Agnes because I have spent so much of my time in New York the last several years. She was a delicious lady with a lovely sense of humor and the first anecdote is one that she related to me.... It was at a time when she was appearing in the series,Bewitched, and my son was quite young at the time, about six or seven years old, if I remember correctly. He had been told by his older sister that a witch lived next door. This, of course, was extremely exciting to him, and he spent hours standing out on the sidewalk hoping to catch a glimpse. You must understand that he had absolutely no idea who Miss Moorehead was. As the story was told to me by Agnes, one morning her black housekeeper went out to pick up the morning newspaper at the very moment my son was on his way to school. He immediately rushed over to her and said, 'Miss Moorehead, I love witches more than anything and I hope you will let me come inside your house someday and see your magic broom!' The housekeeper very sweetly said she would be more than happy to do that and went back into the house. Peter proceeded to tell everyone that he had finally met a real witch.

The other incident took place when my husband and I were giving a very large party at our house, and by large, I mean about 200 people. At the time, I really did not know our neighbors, but I felt it would be safer to invite all of them so that the noise wouldn't bother anyone living nearby. If I remember correctly, Agnes arrived with Cesar Romero looking her usual, marvelous self.

It was a massive garden party with a 19-piece orchestra and though it was a Saturday night, I obviously had not invited enough of the neighbors to cover the sound that was being generated by a 19-piece orchestra. By 10:30 the police started calling with complaints regarding the noise - by 11:30, the police themselves arrived at the door with a gentleman in his pajamas who was ready to make a citizen's arrest. At midnight, we moved all the guests plus the 19 musicians into the living room. Agnes watched all this with great amusement, and at 1 A.M. came over to me and said, 'I really must go home as the evening is getting quite late, but more importantly, I feel it my duty to go home in order to call the police and complain about the noise,' she said with that what-could-be-wicked-smile of hers.

This is really all I can offer in the way of anecdotes, except to say that I thought Agnes was a truly remarkable woman and enriched the lives of all the people who knew her.

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