Fabulous Redhead

With the inspiration of Charles Laughton and the production know-how of Paul Gregory, Agnes was literally pushed into going on the road with her famous One Nighters. She changed the material to suit the audiences regionally, daytime or nighttime, whether all student, all adult, or mixed. Once she was encouraged to step forth as only she could have done, who knows how many more miles of touring she racked up to make her undisputed Queen of the Road? It must have been hundreds of thousands of miles, when one includes her overseas One Nighters, too.

She worked the readings from 1954 to 1970, although once she was committed to Bewitched, she had neither time nor the energy to perform as much in what became her favorite media.

Hardy Price, formerly of Texas and now of Phoenix, recalls her reading from the telephone directory on one occasion. Her voice, her diction, and dramatics held him enthralled even with such lowbrow reading. Mostly she read selections from James Thurber, Ring Lardner, Rupert Brooks, de Maupassant, Marcel Proust, the Bible, Don Juan in Hell, and, on request, Sorry, Wrong Number.

As time passed, she added new material and dropped former favorites. Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, George Bernard Shaw, and particulars like Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and "Ballad of the Harp Weaver."

She never tired of doing Thurber material. Some of his books are prominent parts of her personal library. She liked to recall that she used to lunch in a corner of the Algonquin Hotel with James Thurber. "I asked to use some of his material," she said. "Do you know what he said? 'You and Lionel Barrymore gave me so much pleasure that you can use anything of mine. Free.' The last time I saw him he was blind. When I neared his table, he said, 'I'd know that voice anywhere, Agnes Moorehead. And I want to thank you because I sold more books just because of your popular readings.' Wasn't that sweet of him?"

Repeatedly, whenever she was asked if someone should go into acting, she would give them her grande dame look and say, "Only if you have courage, strength, and patience. And always remember, no matter how successful you become, if you do not keep working at it, you can soon fall by the wayside."

When she was touring, she had a pat philosophy to give each interviewer. It went something like this: "An actor is like a wandering minstrel and thus must sell his talent to the whole country. Touring is an eye-opener because the culture is not just in New York City and the West Coast. There are marvelous audiences all over our great country. [No wonder she loved America so much.] I always say you haven't played an audience until you've played Stillwater, Oklahoma."

One reviewer in her souvenirs, speaking of her One Nighters, said : "Miss Moorehead demonstrated the sometimes forgotten truth that people, not gimmicks, make the theater."

Another of her favorite philosophies that she shared over and over again was about actors and actresses staying aloof. "The reason some actors tend to socialize with their own is not snobbism but merely a case of protecting themselves. My profession is sacred to me. I'm happy when people like a performance but I can't help it when they don't. This is a responsibility I have to shoulder. Some kind of protection from the public at times is absolutely necessary. Because we give and give and give, one must keep something for oneself. It is imperative one doesn't exhaust himself forever in private life, too. I believe the artist should be kept separated somewhat to maintain glamor and a kind of mystery. Otherwise we'd be just like three meals a day, and that can be pretty dull."

It would be impossible to list the many places Agnes did her crowd-pleasing one-woman show. I came across a reference to her appearing at Odessa College in Texas in 1965.

Pat Stout, the executive secretary of the Scottsdale, Arizona, Dinner Club, wrote me that Agnes had appeared there October 23, 1969. 1 recall the evening vividly. Mrs. Stout added to my memories by mentioning that Agnes refused to eat the customary dinner for speaking guests. Instead she paced up and down, up and down, in a secluded passageway at Mountain Shadows Resort. When they were ready for her, she walked quickly to the podium and launched into an unforgettable series of readings.

It was not until after the presentation that Agnes would even dream of eating. Before she sat down to eat, I mentioned to her that our children had helped to elect her the favorite actress of their school. Bewitched was mostly responsible, of course.

I came across another mention in her files of appearing at the Cherry County Playhouse, Traverse City, Michigan, that same year of 1969. What was unusual was she actually appeared there all week in a series of readings only. The other weeks starred: Anne Jeffrys in Anniversary Waltz, Tom Kennedy in There's a Girl in My Soup, and Maureen O'Sullivan in Butterflies Are Free.

Of all the references to Moorehead's One Nighters, I liked the following from an old San Diego Evening Tribune. It was done by Karen Gustafson, but had no date. She headlined her column: "Agnes Moorehead Turns Old Into New."
A great act can make a familiar old story sound like a new one. That's what Agnes Moorehead does [with her 'Fabulous Redhead' reading].

She gives the Biblical story of the Flood, heard so many times before, or, Robert Frost's "Stopping By The Woods" and makes everyone hear them in a new way. What was witnessed last night was one of the country's few great ladies of the Theater at work. She brought us out laughing with household hints of the fourteenth, sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her stage manner, movement, improved by generations of actresses is unforgettable. The sweeping gesture, the casual pacing of a Greek chorus. I thought her rendition of George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell was outstanding. It was a natural for an actress of her stature. A real crowd pleaser was her telling of a fictitious cousin, Daphne, retelling her version of Moses in the bullrushes. Either way, as grande dame or crowd pleaser, the audience loved her. After all, she'd earned over many years the right to that love.

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