Madame Mauve

Violet, purple, lavender, mauve, lilac - her favorite color or shade. Freddie and Polly each sent her birthday cards on mauve stationery addressed to "Madame Mauve." She had their complete wardrobes done in what she liked to call "Moorehead Mauve.'' These dresses included their morning dresses and pinafores.

Anything violet or purple mauvish won her instant adulation and praise. Her purple Thunderbird is still parked in the back driveway. She loved Parma violets. She had a spot of the color somewhere in every room at both the house and the farm.

If she liked violets, there was never anything shrinking about her. With her red hair and part-Irish ancestry, she was renowned for her fiery wit. She always looked taller than her actual height of about five foot three. When one first met, her, there was a charming combination of the reserve of a private person and yet somewhat expansive personality. She was bewitching.

Agnes loved animals. The French poodles have already been noted. Her favorite was an old English bull terrier named Cluny. She kept in one of her more intimate files a clipping about bull terriers. It said of her favorite dog: "Keen intelligence, good judgment, delightful sense of humor, sincere craving for human affection. Seldom barks or is noisy. Has legendary strength and tenacity. Doesn't require much exercise and short harsh coat is easily maintained." Every one of these traits appealed to her. Cluny seems to miss the mistress of the house, whereas the French poodles have adjusted to her absence.

Returning to Christmas cards and parties for a moment, I should mention that the Edward Robinsons, the Edgar Bergens, and the Basil Rathbones annually invited her to their Christmas feasts. David and Jennifer Selznick always replied by telegram if they were unable to attend her Christmas party.

Cesar Romero said: "The annual party was not just for entertainment people. Besides movie, television, radio, stage, and recording stars, she always invited politicians, artists, industrialists, writers, producers, directors, business tycoons, and very often, just plain folks."

Agnes liked to describe her home as a Mediterranean villa but Venetian in character. In addition to drapes, chandeliers with odd-shaped shells protruding from the ends, antiques and knights' masks, which only a compulsive collector could amass, she liked to call her general decor a "mass of clean clutter."

There is an interesting story of how she obtained the seashell chandeliers. It was her intent to try to mask the beamed ceilings that were part of the late Sigmund Romberg's home.

Villa Agnese is in the same block as the homes of Polly Bergen and Lucille Ball. Oscar Levant and Ira Gershwin, and Jack Benny also lived nearby. Jimmy Stewart and Rosemary Clooney still do. I kidded her once, "I'd sure like to have a block party here in your block."

Just as Sunday was usually her disciplined day of rest and renewal of spirit and mind, Saturday was usually shopping day, errand day, and general catch-up day. She painted. She liked to play the piano. She liked to putter around. I asked Polly Garland if it was true that she even liked to rake leaves.

Polly Garland told me: "Oh, yes. She liked to putter with the broom. She even used to climb a very high ladder to wash the windows up there [pointing] at what you call the clerestory. She must have inherited the trait of cleanliness, because although it was clutter, it was always clean clutter."

Her stern faith would also appear in the cleanliness trait inasmuch as there is the saying "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." On the topic of personal cleanliness, she used to admit to being both a shower and a bath person. She once dubbed her kingsize bed "Moorehouse Stadium."

Throughout her home, as at the farm, there is a constant reminder of her fondness for animals. There are two large ceramic lions at either side of the massive ancient front door. Her long-time friend, Cesar Romero, is very fond of elephants. He has a fascinating collection of them, including a favorite given to him by Agnes. Among her kept telegrams is one from Romero that mentions elephants. I've already mentioned the two tile ones she has in her rumpus room.

With her affection for things purple and mauve, it could be said that she was born to the purple, for her nobility of heritage was always precious to her. She came from a long line of prelates who brought esteem to the cloth. Over and over again she was to mention with gracefulness her religious faith. We discussed this many times. In practically every interview she ever gave anyone, she would mention her faith. For example, she told me: "The religion of my parents and of the generation before no longer prevails in a world of cold wars and atomic explosions. That may be enough for some persons, but I find I can't accept such thinking. I read the Bible first thing each morning and the last thing each night."

What prompted her to testify so much about her faith? She was proud of her heritage and of her beliefs. She often said, "I believe in the old-fashioned notions about the efficacy of prayer." But what caused her to always mention her Presbyterian minister father?

Was it because of the vinegary women she often portrayed? Was it fear that others might think she was as bewitched as many of the unladylike characters she portrayed? Surely these women were anything but the very private person Agnes was - anything but the ladylike woman with purely private cherished beliefs and a personal philosophy of her craft and the will and wit to practice what she believed. Her Americanism could be aroused with the slightest criticism of a president (any president), of her beloved country, of our American way.

One cannot help wondering if the deep thrust of her faith and fundamentalist religion may have cost her far more deeply than she may have been privately aware of. That she was wont to "keep her counsel" as Mary of old only solidified her being a very private person. She often reiterated, "My life has been ruled by my beliefs."

Her philosophy was never limited to her religious faith. Her belief in her craftsmanship was also paramount. Though a private person, she was a many-faceted person. Just as there was a little of Agnes in every character she played, there were also different dispositions.

If you were to meet her at a late supper party, she might seem demure, beguiling, and, as one person put it, "a favorite aunt." She could also be sharp, testy, snappy. If anyone remarked about this, she'd rejoin: "I'm a redhead and ScotchIrish. I admire people with drive and ambition." And when she put on her regal, glamorous movie bit, look out. There has never been anyone quite like her.

Agnes really believed there was too much mediocrity in the films and on the stage. She often repeated she was not interested in feeding people tawdriness, chaos, and confusion.

There was entirely too much use of foul language. Words were important in her credo. She invariably spoke of the necessity of reverence for words.

As for method acting, she said: "No such thing as a method. You can't stereotype talent. You can train what you have, though. It is difficult for young actors today, where there is so little time for beauty and true romance."

She liked to rhetorically ask, "How does one fit art into the atomic age?" This was constantly on her mind from Sputnik onward. "The arts are being crowded out when they should be companions instead of rivals." Then she would lament about the dearth of mysticism. (More on that later.) Then she would return to art, in that quicker- than-lightning mind of hers, saying, "Where is the corner from which all art is born? Much of it comes from the home, the family. Alas, children are not taught respect and reverence as they once were. Hence very little attention to creative art and creative living, let alone any attention to the Creator of it all."

Persons who knew her at all always caught something of her magic of humor, in addition to the magic of her intellect, philosophy, and charm. There are many humorous cards sprinkled throughout her mementoes. One said "Fear not, some day your SHIP will come in and you'll be waiting at the railroad depot. "

Lucille Ball, her Scrabble partner, once sent her a card from Hawaii:
Dear Agnes - Scrabblehead,

We are sitting here on Diamond Head - soon heading for home. Will beat card home even though I'm giving it a head start.
(1967) Lucy

Agnes not only received thousands of fan letters, cards, wires, notes, and every possible means of communication but sent out thousands. She took time to write managers of hotels, motels, inns. They in turn would compliment her for her thoughtfulness, which was way beyond necessity or duty. What always impressed me was that she took time. The little more and how much it is (the little less and how it whiles away). A postcard from a fan in 1962 said:

Like the Lion is the King of the Jungle, you are a Queen of the Stage.
Like Rodin was a master in his field, you are a master in yours.

If this were from a drama student, there are hundreds of records of persons telling her how thankful they were for her visit to their drama class-whether it was in a private school, public school, college, or university. Not once did she ever mention or complain of the heavy extra burden of time, effort, and physical, mental, and nervous power carried to meet these additional strains on her being. Another card bore this little idea:

Every motion picture star, television and stage personality must receive requests from every kind of person for just about every conceivable purpose. Agnes was no different. Letters poured in asking for her favorite recipe, rules for success, pets' names ad infinitum. One person actually sent her a list of twenty questions relating to a former co-star. There were scores of requests regarding term papers, theses, and dissertations. That she must have favored many of these requests is testimony to volumes of scrapbooks filled with letters of appreciation and gratitude for favors extended. When one realizes how few ever show courtesy or thankfulness and gratitude, it shows all the more how fantastic her answers and helpfulness must have truly been.

She must have liked languages. There is evidence that she taught herself French. She had several other language books (Greek, Italian, Spanish). She kept several language newspapers, including those of the above mentioned plus Israeli and Arabic. It seems likely that she would learn enough of each to "get by on" in her travels.

Her fan mail came from the remotest as well as the exotic countries: Iceland, Ireland, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Haiti, Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, and Colombia, just to mention a few.

My favorite card was an eight by ten colored card from Switzerland from Paulette Goddard (Mrs. Erich Remarque).

I can testify to her being a sparkling conversationalist and among the bestread persons I've ever known, including Clare Booth Luce and the late Pearl S. Buck. It's always nice to hear it repeated by other admirers.

Every successful person is apt to get on the appeals lists. Agnes received appeals from every conceivable charity. On the same page that there was a thank-you note for speaking to a gospel mission in downtown New York, there was a letter from a friend using such words as: clerisy, solecisms, malaprops, sycophancy. What a woman!

On one of the tables in the rumpus room were the following autographed photos: from Lucy Ball -"For Aggie - my favorite Actress. My pleasure to know such a beautiful lady. s. Gary & his favorite wife, Lucy." From Mickey Rooney - "To Agnes - one of the real people in the business. I hope we will work more together. s. Mickey." From Henry Fonda - "For Aggie - with all my love. s. Hank." From Marcel Marceau - "To Agnes-with admiration and devotion. s. Marcel." From Jerry Lewis - " For a great lady, Agnes -Thank you for giving my film the touch of class it has. Always. s. Jerry."

Go to chapter 10