By Jone Devlin, Sharon Orazi, Chuck T and CosmosCotillion

Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born in Clinton, Massachussetts (just outside of Boston) on December 6, 1900* to Dr. and Mrs. John H. Moorehead. Her father was a Presbytarian minister, and transferred several times while Agnes was in school.

Agnes first appeared on stage when she was three years old. By the time she was 12, she had joined the St. Louis Municipal Opera as a dancer and a singer. During her childhood years, Agnes's parents encouraged her interest in acting, often encouraging her desire to remain in character for entire days. She loved to imitate people, and would often get into the role of a neighbor or a member of her father's congregation while saying her evening prayers. She attended school for a few years in Hamilton, OH before her father was transferred to St. Louis, MO. This is where she graduated from Central High School in 1918. Her father was transferred to Reedsburg, WI in 1919 after Agnes graduated from high school.

Agnes Moorehead as a Child

Agnes attended Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where she majored in biology, yet she continued to perform in school plays and in the glee club. After earning her degree, she went on to the University of Wisconsin to be closer to her family in Reedsburg, WI. There she earned her Masters in English and public speaking. Later, she took her savings from various stage work and teaching jobs to enroll in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Here, she began her long and lustrous career in radio. Agnes would eventually perform in as many as six shows per day, and during this period she met the acclaimed actor, director, writer and producer, Orson Welles. They, along with Joseph Cotton, would form the renowned Mercury Players, which gave such fine performances as Abraham Lincoln, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island, and Julius Caesar, among others.

Agnes Moorehead in the 1940s

 

Orson Welles and Agnes' collaboration in radio soon turned into collaboration on film. When Welles decided to make a go at it in Hollywood, he remembered Agnes's talent and sent for her to debut in his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, as Kane's mother. Agnes also appeared in Welles' Magnificent Amberson's, Jane Eyre, and Journey Into Fear. Welles once said of Agnes, "Give the role to Agnes, she can play anything."

Agnes in a Publicity Still

This statement proved to be true throughout her career as she played numerous and diverse supporting roles in some of the best movies of the era. A self-proclaimed "character actress," Agnes played roles ranging from a slatternly old maid to a royal queen to a jet-set drug dealer, each with the same aplomb and talent as the next. As a result, Agnes received numerous awards for her roles and was nominated for five Academy Awards during her tenure. She continued to work in radio throughout her career, and received many accolades in this medium as well. She was involved in two of the most famous and well-received radio shows of all time, Sorry Wrong Number, which earned her the Golden Mike Award, as well as a Golden Record, and War of the Worlds, another Welles venture.

Agnes in a Royal Portrait

In 1950, Agnes joined Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke in Paul Gregory's stage production of Shaw's Don Juan In Hell. The production proved highly successful, and the group, billing themselves as The First Drama Quartette, performed in the United States, as well as England to sold- out audiences. Later in Agnes' career, she would direct another production of the play, as well as reprise her role as Dona Ana in a third production.

Agnes with Charles Boyer

 

Agnes began to use television to showcase her craft in the early 1950s. An Emmy Award winner for her performance in the "Night of the Vicious Valentine" episode of Wild Wild West, she appeared in numerous top rated shows throughout her career in television. She is perhaps best known for her role as the elegant, meddling mother-in-law on Bewitched. Agnes had appeared in countless television comedies, dramas, variety shows, and specials, but was hesitant to commit to a regular starring role in a series. Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the show, and the wife of the director, approached Agnes in a department store to play the role of Endora because she thought she would be just perfect for the part. She was right. Agnes agreed to do the pilot, thinking that such a bizarre premise for the show wouldn't sell, but a month after the pilot aired, she got a call from the producer. The show did indeed sell, forcing Agnes to cancel her popular one-woman show (The Fabulous Redhead) in order to do the series. She had the foresight to put into her contract that she would only appear in eight out of twelve episodes, in order for her to be free to pursue other acting jobs, and she had no regrets about her decision to do the series.

Agnes with Eve Arden on Bewitched

 

 

Agnes and Foster Son Sean circa 1964

Agnes Robertson Moorehead died on April 30, 1974, just two years after Bewitched had ceased production. It is widely believed that the cancer she contracted was a result of working on The Conqueror in 1956, which was filmed near an atomic test site in Utah. In the 25 years since her death, people have been entertained by her legacy in film, radio, television, and recordings, thanks to television's Nick at Nite, Turner Classic Movies, and other outlets. She was known as an extraordinary talent, a respectable actress, a devout Christian, a wonderful friend, and, taking the name from her enormously successful one-woman show, she was truly a "Fabulous Redhead."  

The Fabulous Redhead

 

 


Click here for a great article on Agnes Moorehead and her friendship with Debbie Reynolds from Photoplay, October 1966.

 

* Moorehead's death certificate indicates a birth year of 1900. Various other reports indicate the year of 1906. Paperwork found in her archives indicates that the correct year was 1900. She began hedging that date as early as 1926 when she submitted her audition report to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts on August 14, 1926 and said that she was 23 according to the reprinted application in Agnes Moorehead: A Very Private Person by Dr. Warren Sherk 1976.

 

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