Bewitched @ Harpies Bizarre is pleased to present an interview with author Charles Tranberg as of June 5, 2005 regarding his book I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead and the Bewitched TV show.

Chuck has been a long-time contributor to, and has donated many images related to Agnes Moorehead's Bewitched correspondence to the Agnes Archives page on our site.


Melanie: Congratulations on your new book, I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead . How did you decide to get started on a biography and why Agnes?

CT:   Thank you.  I've always wanted to do something creative in my life.  When I was a kid I dreamed of being an actor.  I did school plays and such.  But I never really pursued that, and as I got older I still wanted to do something creative, so I thought that one day I would write a book  Well, I thought I would do a book on Fred MacMurray, and one day I visited the Wisconsin State Historical Society, because they had some papers on a friend of MacMurray's who was a screenwriter.  I went there and checked it out--only a couple of boxes, and nothing really very helpful.  So I went through their index and discovered that they held the papers of Agnes Moorehead--who I obviously knew due to Bewitched and many of the films she made.  I then noticed it was a lot more than a couple of boxes of material.  It was 159 boxes of scripts--with her notations, correspondence, invitations, cards, notes, newspaper and magazine clippings, scrapbooks--all kinds of interesting things.  I ordered a couple of boxes and was hooked.  I determined right then and there I was going to do a book on Agnes.  For one thing, there really hadn't been a comprehensive biography of Agnes Moorehead--despite the great career she had.   There had been, what I found to be a inconclusive memoir published a couple of years after her death and a wonderful book of her credits by Lynn Kear, which was a huge help to me in my research, but not a real biography. 

Melanie: You've really turned up some interesting information regarding Bewitched —especially regarding how Agnes got the role of Endora. Do you think it was Agnes's friend (Paul Gregory), Elizabeth Montgomery, or the money that convinced Agnes to take the role of Mother on the show?

CT:  The money.  She was still working steadily--but film roles were not as plentiful as they once were.  She was better off than some because she was a character actress, but still--she was increasingly making more money from her television appearances and stage shows.  So she was open to a series.  As I write in the book, she tried on a couple of occasions to get a television series.  The Agnes Moorehead Presents anthology series and then auditioning for Hazel.  Also, she was offered a couple of stage plays after doing the Bewitched pilot, but turned them down because as she wrote her secretary Georgia Johnstone, "Very little money--I'd better stick with the series."

Moorehead As Endora on Bewitched

Melanie: Fans of Bewitched may also be surprised to find that Agnes's own correspondence confirms what Dick York wrote in his autobiography about resigning from the show. Did that discovery come as a shock to you after the years of rumors that he had been fired?

CT: Not really.  I knew when I read that though that it did debunk some of what had been stated on some of the documentaries that have been done regarding Bewitched.  Also I had already interviewed Mrs. York, who stated to me that the network very much wanted Dick to come back to the show--that people came out to their house to plead their case.  After all, he was the lead actor in one of the biggest hits in television.  Replacing him is something that couldn't be taken lightly.  The bottom line is that he was just too ill to continue.  If he had it might have killed him.  Dick had his seizure either in late November or early December, 1968--and the network didn't announce his leaving the show until over a month later--it makes sense that they did want him back.

Melanie: I was most impressed with your handling of difficult subject matter involving the Agnes's foster son, Sean, her divorces, and her relationship with Debbie Reynolds. You really made no assertions and just presented the factual materials. Did you start out trying to resolve these mysteries or were you really just interested in presenting the facts as they came to you?

CT:  Sean is such a mystery because he seems to have vanished from the face of the earth.  People like Debbie Reynolds and Paul Gregory would ask me what I found out about Sean, so even Agnes's own friends didn't really know what became of him.  Luckily, I found Larry Russell, who knew Sean and Agnes and had a brother who was close to Sean.  Due to him we got him as far as Switzerland living with Paulette Goddard after leaving Agnes. 

But to answer your question, while I may have wanted to solve the mystery of Sean, I was always prepared just to present the facts as best as I could.  There are still lots of mysteries out there regarding Agnes that I couldn't completely solve, but I was able to shed some light on.  I think my book is a good first step, but I'm not so egotistical to think that it is definitive.  Some day I hope that someone will come along and answer some of the remaining questions.  Maybe I could even update my book as I discover more information--I've already heard from people since the book came out who knew Agnes--but I didn't have any idea until now.

Agnes and Her Foster Son Sean

Melanie: With the details provided in your book about how she reared Sean, Agnes comes off like Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame in some parts (regarding schooling and travel opening doors for him) and another part of her comes across as Faye Dunaway's portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (regarding putting her career first, the strict rules, and the ultimatums). It's no coincidence that she knew Rosalind and Joan well. Who do you think she was most like?

CT:  She certainly wasn't the stereotype of Mommie Dearest (how true that picture of Joan is I honestly don't know).  She certainly didn't beat Sean with wire hangers or otherwise.  But yes, her career did come first.  In that respect she wasn't much different than many other people in show business who have active careers.  She put him in boarding schools, and in the care of friends and relatives while she was working, but when he had problems at boarding school, she also brought him home--but by then he was really used to being his own person and thus the clash of wills.  Agnes being very old fashioned and Sean, in effect, being a typical child of the 60's--wanting to do things she disapproved of--wearing his hair long, associating with people she didn't approve of, and so forth.  I don't see Agnes as an Auntie Mame or a Mommie Dearest. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Melanie: Throughout the book, Agnes's primary motivations regarding her work ethic and career seemed so mixed. Did you struggle with how to present this information?

CT: No, not really.  I wrote the book the way they make movies.  I didn't start at the beginning and go in order from cradle to grave.  I just took the facts from the sources I got them from and wrote it as straightforward as I could.  Agnes was a contradictory person--I think that is evident through-out the book.  For one thing she liked to bitch.  She bitched all the time about Bewitched--the long hours and so on, but she stayed the entire eight years and was prepared to stay on longer.  If she hadn't really enjoyed "Endora" I don't think she would have.  Of course, money was a factor, but she was always getting offers for high profile stage shows during the Bewitched years, but always stayed with the series.  I mean she could have replaced Katherine Hepburn in Coco or played opposite Angela Lansbury in stage version of The Madwoman of Challot called Dear World, but turned them down to continue with Bewitched.  By the way, it was Jane Connell who got the part opposite Lansbury in Dear World.

Melanie: Some fans may find it shocking to learn that Agnes was a school marm before she became a leading character actress. What was the turning point in her career?

CT: Well, she was a school teacher for about four or five years to earn the money to go to the AADA (American Academy of Dramatic Arts), since her father was a parson, he didn't have the money to pay the tuition.  The real turning point of her career was when she temporarily gave up on the stage, where she was only getting bit parts or understudy roles--and went into radio.  It was radio that made Agnes Moorehead.  Her great voice--the way she was able to do many different types of dialects.  She justly became acclaimed as a "star" on radio, and unlike films she did do many leading parts on radio.

Melanie: In the book you refer to Agnes as spiritual, religious, and conservative. We know from Kasey Rogers that the cast members frequently wore their own clothes on Bewitched . What do you make of her flamboyant wardrobe?

CT: Obviously that is one area where she wasn't so conservative.  She liked to wear contemporary clothing.  She liked to wear colors.  But even though she did this, she always believed that what she wore was tasteful and chic, and usually I think it was.

Melanie: Agnes seemed to have an affinity for the company of gay men, from Rock Hudson, to Cesar Romero, and even her assistant, Quint. Do you think she would enjoy her cult celebrity status among drag queens if she were alive today?

CT: While Agnes was a fundamentalist, I think she would be totally against the homophobia of the extreme right wing in this country today.  She was in a business where many gay people held responsible positions and was friendly with many of them.  I think she would be like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were regarding their gay fans--highly appreciative.  I think she would say, "they have such good taste."

Melanie: At times, it seems like Agnes did not enjoy the success or popularity she found as Endora. Do you think she actually resented the TV role or that she just liked to gripe about her work and busy schedule, in general?

CT:  As I said earlier, she liked to gripe.  Yes, the working hours got her down and she considered it a "treadmill", but thank God she wasn't in Elizabeth's or Dick's role and had to appear every single week.  I think she loved the recognition and the new fans that Endora brought to her.  I named a chapter "A Star is Born" because one was--Agnes.  Yes, she was a kind of star prior to Bewitched, but nothing like the fame or fortune that Bewitched brought her.  Despite her griping, or bitching, I think she was quite grateful for it.

Melanie: You offer many photos throughout the book, my favorites are the 1950s “home” shots of Agnes wearing a strapless gown while dusting figurines and working out in the garden. Not even June Cleaver created that much of an illusion! What is your favorite photo?

CT: First I must give much thanks to two individuals who let me use their photo collections for this book, Wade Ballard and Jone Devlin.  Such wonderful photos.  Plus a friend of mine, Carl Dickson, took pictures of the home that Mollie Moorehead, Agnes's mother lived and the church that Agnes's father preached in at Reedsburg.  I like many of the younger pictures of Agnes because she was a very attractive woman.  She wasn't a Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner--but she had a unique beauty like a Hepburn or Davis.  I also like a picture in the book that Agnes isn't in--the one of her mother, Mollie, playing the cello and Mollie's companion, Grace Conkling, playing the piano. 

Melanie: As much as Agnes worried about getting stereotyped as Endora, she often made references to it herself. My favorite line was in the correspondence about all the troubles she had building the house on her farm in Ohio. She wrote “I fired the contractor—they have never seen a “witch” at work—and I use that term loosely.” Ha! Do you think she aspired to be more like Endora or did she just relish the illusion she had created as the all-powerful mother hen?

CT:  I think "Endora" was a lot like Agnes.  I think despite her claim that she was "always characterizing" that she put a lot of herself into Endora.  I think she did enjoy that persona and since it was a part of her as she got older she incorporated more of it into her "real life."

Endora Reading Harpies Bizarre

Melanie: You had so many interviews with Agnes's friends and associates, which was your favorite?

CT: Without a doubt, Mrs. Dick York.  Now Joey didn't really know Agnes, but she gave me some of Dick's insights on her and the show--and she is a very wonderful lady and one I admire a great deal.  I also greatly enjoyed speaking with Karl Malden.  He had many wonderful stories and put me at such ease.  Debbie Reynolds was probably the most significant interview I was able to get, and I'm grateful to her for speaking to me and being as frank as she was.  But I'm grateful to all of them. 

Melanie: Which interview was hardest to get?

CT:  Debbie Reynolds.  I sent her probably four or five letters.  I finally got a phone call from her secretary saying she thought she could line something up, and then nothing--for about two, maybe three months and then I come home one day and there is a message on my machine from Debbie Reynolds, sounding a bit doubtful--saying she is trying to answer the questions which I sent to her, but if I wanted to talk to her--I could give her a call.  It took about two years to finally talk to her.  But it was worth the wait.

Melanie: I found it interesting that some of Agnes's ideas for Bewitched were shot down. Particularly the one where she wanted Endora to give Tabitha a playhouse that looked ordinary on the outside, but was grand on the inside. Where did you learn about that?

CT: That was in a newspaper interview with Agnes. (Ed. Note: See Source section in book.)  

Montgomery, Moorehead, and Murphy on Bewitched

Melanie: Like most situations, Agnes demonstrated conflicting views on Elizabeth Montgomery. Part of the time, it appears that she was not overly impressed with Liz's acting abilities, but then we know that she continued on with the show after the 5th season, when she knew she'd have to step up the pace due to Dick York's departure, presumably because she didn't want to leave Liz and Bill Asher in the lurch. She also left Elizabeth the starburst brooch that she wore on the show. So, do you think it was gratitude for the lifestyle Bewitched, and Liz's support, provided her or do you think she saw Elizabeth's potential and had a motherly affection for her in real life?

CT:  One thing I think or hope I made clear in the book, is that Elizabeth went out of her way to be nice to Agnes.  Always sending little notes or flowers--remembering her birthday and so on.  I think part of Agnes' sometimes dismissive comments about Elizabeth's talent may have been because of a certain jealousy she had towards her.  You know how she always referred in her letters to "Bewitched" as "my show"?  I think she really did think it was her show.  And she was a bit jealous by some of the publicity that Elizabeth, in particular, as the star of the show received.  But she did appreciate and like Elizabeth as a person--a great deal, I believe.  I also think as the years went on she grew more appreciative of Elizabeth as an actress.  I often wish that Agnes had lived longer to see the range of roles that Elizabeth did after "Bewitched" and I truly believe she would have been very proud. 

Melanie: Two of Agnes's Bewitched co-stars questioned her sexuality in the press. Yet, you found nothing to support that she was a lesbian later in life. What do you make of that?

CT:   She was very discreet in everything she did and I would think especially in regards to her sexuality.  Even if she was totally heterosexual I don't think she would have been the type to brag about her conquests.  Paul Lynde's claims according to Quint were the utterings of a "mean drunk" wanting to get even with Debbie Reynolds.  I think if Agnes had been indiscreet that two people for sure would have been forthright with me about it--Quint Benedecci and Paul Gregory, because they had no problem speaking about Agnes as a real person.  I don't dismiss that she may have been a lesbian or even bisexual but I do point out that there is scanty evidence to support it.  Even the books which claim it to be true really don't have any proof to back it up.

Melanie: You've done a great job documenting the life and times of Agnes Moorehead. But despite all of the research and interviews, and ultimately this book, do you feel you really know who she was now?

CT:  I know her better than I did and I think people who read it will have a better understanding of her and certainly a better appreciation of her career and all she accomplished, but she is still a bit of a mystery--just as she wanted it to be.

Melanie: What's next for you?

CT:   Two books.  One is a biography of Marie Wilson who was a huge hit on radio in the My Friend Irma series in the 40's and 50's--and really personified the "dumb blonde" with a heart of gold.  The other is a biography of Fred MacMurray.  No book has ever been written on Fred, despite a great career which spanned well over 40 years and working in some classic films with the likes of Colbert, Hepburn, Crawford, Lombard, Wyman, Goddard, and so on--and also being one of the first really big stars to succeed in television while still having a successful film career.  Remember he did My Three Sons while starring in a string of box office hits for Disney.  Both will be for BearManor Media, which published the Agnes book.

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