“The British never seem to do anything until they’ve had a cup of tea, By which time it’s too late.”
After the death of Humphrey Bogart in 1957, Lauren Bacall followed a path that would lead to a career lapse before embarking on a treacherous train journey through rebel-held territory in British India.
Legendary actress Lauren Bacall endured a successful tenure in motion pictures. Although she is best remembered for her story-book marriage to Humphrey Bogart, Bacall was steeped in acclamation outside of their relationship. After her four-film collaboration with Bogart, Bacall decided to nurture a solo career of her own. It was during this period that she starred in such classics as, How To Marry A Millionaire ( 1953 ), Written on the Wind ( 1956 ) and Designing Woman ( 1957 ), in which she made while Humphrey Bogart was deteriorating from esophagus cancer.
While Lauren was celebrating the success of Designing Woman, tragedy struck the home front when Humphrey Bogart passed away on January 14th, 1957 from esophagus cancer at age 57. In spite of the tragic turn of events that eclipsed all the fond memories of making the film, Bacall often reminisced about her time on the set and her lifelong friendship with co-star Gregory Peck.
Humphrey Bogart’s death caused major heartbreak in the family, and with all the emotional turmoil she was enduring, Lauren found her career capsizing. For the rest of the decade, Bacall would only appear in two more films. In 1958, she starred alongside Robert Stack in The Gift of Love, a remake of the 1946 film, Sentimental Journey, and the following year she was cast in the British production, North West Frontier, titled Flame Over India in the United States. Both films were positively received at the box-office, especially the latter, which was a major hit in Britain.
North West Frontier is one of those films that plunges straight into adventure. Masterfully directed by J. Lee Thompson, and starring Lauren Bacall, Kenneth More and Herbert Lom, this glorious technicolor production came from the pen of Robin Estridge and Frank S. Nugent, who provided a screenplay that was infused with an undercurrent of suspense and razor-sharp dialogue.
The film opens in British India in the year 1905. The country is at the brink of rebellion. The moral focus is five-year-old Prince Kishan, the leader of the Hindu population. After Kishan’s father is killed, the young boy becomes the target for Muslim rebels whose motive is to end the family line by murdering Kishan. All plans prove to be impenetrable when Captain Scott ( Kenneth More ) is assigned the dangerous task of rescuing Kishan and taking him to safer territory in Kalapur. The adventurous escapade begins the next morning when Captain Scott along with the boy’s governess Catherine Wyatt ( Lauren Bacall ), two upper-class British aristocrats, a Dutch journalist and potential traitor, plus a team of others embark on a perilous journey through enemy lines on board a dilapidated old train. With the rebels in full pursuit and an engine that is liable to break down, the question is – will the Empress of India manage to successfully escape through firing lines? or will they be vanquished by the enemies?
Two years before the film went into production, Kenneth More announced that he was planning to play a romantic adventure part in a film adaptation of Night Runners of Bengal, but when the film never came to fruition, legend has it that More transitioned into a similar role in North West Frontier, where he portrayed Captain Scott, who is charged with the duty of escorting a young Indian prince to safety.
Initially, Olivia de Havilland was scheduled to play the female lead, but at the time de Havilland was tied to other work commitments and was unable to break her contract. Finding another actress whose talents closely mirrored Olivia’s was an erroneous task. The films requirements would not be suitable for all stars, and almost all possible candidates were attached to other motion picture engagements.
Finally the unquestionable search was over when Lauren Bacall was approached about taking on the role. For Bacall, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. When she was handed a copy of the script, Lauren was enduring hardships back home in Los Angeles. She was still mourning over the death of Humphrey Bogart, and she had recently ended her relationship with Frank Sinatra, but while she was struggling to come to terms with her series of mishaps, the news of the tragic passing of her aunt Rosalie who was killed in an air-line disaster fueled even greater problems.
Along with all the excitement about filming abroad, came the worries that was attached to this sort of assignment. Bacall realized from the onset that it was not going to be easy making a movie outside of her native country. After all she had two young children to care for, and it would be hard on them when their mother is jumping between cities for work, but after much consideration, she enrolled Stephen and Leslie at the American School while she lent her efforts to the film.
Despite the fact that she was carrying a burgeoning load on her shoulders, Lauren Bacall embraced the project with utmost enthusiasm. Work was her soul focus at this point and being in front of the camera gave her a sense of security that she felt was lacking in her personal life. The most challenging obstacle she faced was the separation from her children, but as much as she wanted to have Stephen and Leslie with her, she also felt that it would help prepare them for the future.
Adding to the worries of leaving her children for a few months were the emotional strains inflicted by a house robbery that left her tormented. Although, Bacall knew she had a trusted confidante in Stephen and Leslie’s carers, she still feared for the safety of the kids after hearing that the burglar had reportedly entered through Steve’s bedroom window late one night while he was sleeping. What disturbed her the most though, is that she was warned that there was a strong possibility that another home invasion might occur. To ensure that Steve and Leslie wouldn’t be exposed to danger, Bacall hired a detective to watch over the house at night, but fortunately, no other event of this sort came to fruition.
“You’ll have to forgive me for speaking my mind. I happen to believe that’s what it’s for.“
By now the films commencement date was fast approaching. In order to prepare for the location shooting, Bacall conducted many hours of research into the destinations she was visiting. She was especially interested to learn more about the Indian culture and after her studies she was left with an ingrained knowledge on the subject. Her astuteness transcended the vast information that the rest of the cast and crew had on hand, and the fact that she was transmitting all sufficient details onto them sure made her feel like she was embodying the image of a consummate professional.
The thought of filming in foreign territory could be nerve-wracking, but nothing hints at Lauren displaying even the slightest fears of the project. If anything, she was marred with waves of excitement, which was caused by meeting the Queen Mother at the Royal Command performance of The Horse’s Mouth prior to shooting. This particular moment was forever etched in her memory, and for a long time after she realized that her life was beginning to be re-shaped.
After undergoing rehearsals in London, the cast and crew sprang right into action. The first destination was Bombay, which is now known as Mumbai. This lively city is nestled in the state of Maharashtra, and is famous for being the second most populous city in India and the fourth most populous in the world. For Lauren Bacall, India was a world away from home. The country was unlike anything she ever envisioned. If Lauren wasn’t initially apprehensive about visiting India, she soon lost her equilibrium on her arrival. In her autobiography By Myself and Then Some, Bacall reflected back on the experience and wrote “I felt the impact of a totally different world. There is no way to imagine it – veiled women in saris, red dots in the center of their foreheads; colored turbans on men dressed in white; cows – sacred, of course – walking in the street. The streets teeming with humanity. In India, awareness grows of how many people are alive on this earth. We get so caught up in our own worlds, we forget. And some of us never know.”
No photo could capture the exotic beauty of India. You have to physically be there to witness the many natural wonders the country has to offer and to appreciate its majestic charm. The destination is surreal, and its culture is so linguistically diverse. Lauren Bacall was that transfixed that she thought about eschewing all work commitments to explore the region as a tourist. Fortunately, the production allowed the cast and crew time to sight-see. Lauren took great advantage of the opportunity and devoted all her free days to embarking on an odyssey of discovery. As their time in India drew to a close, Lauren and Kenneth More wanted to avail themselves to one last final picture-perfect day before that chapter of their journey ended.
That final picture-perfect moment was captured in front of one of the world’s most iconic monuments. The Taj Mahal is the main tourist attraction in India. Millions of visitors’ flock to the famous landmark each year. Built with an optical illusion and perfect symmetry, the red stone and gleaming white marble facade dazzles any time of the day, but it is believed that the Taj Mahal is even more magical at dawn or dusk when the colors glisten over the moonlit waters. Based on recommendations from natives, Lauren and Kenneth More made sure they were present at the prominent architecture at the aforementioned hours. The Tah Majal as Lauren describes was “breathtakingly beautiful and better than she had ever imagined.”
“I went to see a woman in Delhi who told my fortune – she was so convincing I almost believed I might really be a blade of grass or a butterfly next time around. And I met a wise old man who sat guru-like on a raised platform in his house, greeting people who had been sent to him or whom he had known in another world.“
( Lauren Bacall )
Most of the India locales were filmed in Jaipur, the capital and largest city in the state of Rajasthan. Voted in a 2008 survey the seventh most popular city to visit in Asia, this exotic destination offers a wide array of cultural activities for tourists. One of the main attractions are the desert themed buildings, an artifact that adorns almost every vicinity. The uniqueness of the area provokes a strong interest in many visitors. Lauren Bacall perfectly captured the essence of Jaipur in her autobiography and considered it to be the highlight of her journey.
Lauren Bacall may have enjoyed her time on Indian soils, but Kenneth More on the other hand, was on a different wavelength. In his memoirs, More recalled how physically grueling the filming process was. The many obstacles that the cast and crew endured were intensified with frequent bouts of illness. Almost every member of the cast was sick with Dysentery and other health issues. This meant that production was often delayed until everyone was well enough to resume work. The constant hold-ups were a major impediment – especially since location shooting was a key component and that relied heavily on time.
The rail sequences took six weeks to complete. The filming of these scenes commenced in the Province of Granada on May 10th, 1959. Finding the perfect locales was often time consuming, but the dry Arid Steppe was an ideal backdrop for British India. The Anchurón Bridge that crosses over the Solanas de la Carreta, situated near the hamlet of Belerda in Granada was used for the bomb-damaged bridge in one of the films most electrifying scenes. After the work in Spain came to a close, the cast and crew returned to London for final preparations. Lauren Bacall looked back on the makingof the picture as an experience of a lifetime. Although the long separation from her children was a challenge, the six-week shooting schedule in India was monumental for her.
While Lauren Bacall enjoyed basking in all the Indian glory, she was anxious to return to London to spend time with her children before traveling to Spain for the rail sequences. It was during her time in Granada that Bacall started plotting her next move. She knew that it would be impossible for her to live in California and face the same hardships she endured after Bogart’s death. What she really wanted was another career path to follow. Her problem was solved when Leland Hayward called and told her that he was producing a stage play titled Goodbye Charlie, and asked her to read it.
If Lauren Bacall pursued a part in Goodbye Charlie, she would be stepping out of her horizons – though she soon realized that in order to further succeed in her career she would have to charter different territories. The idea of appearing on Broadway had always appealed to Lauren. After all, the theatre was her initial destiny, and chasing after her unfulfilled dreams was one of her most pivotal goals. This sort of work also meant that Lauren would not have to return to Los Angeles – a city that she could no longer bare to live in. She saw the idea as her one way passage to New York, where she was serious about setting up permanent residency.
At last, Lauren Bacall felt like she was back on the radar. She had just attained a role in Goodbye Charlie, and she was elated about reestablishing herself as a New York citizen. Perhaps her biggest thrill though, was the news that North West Frontier was a major success in the United Kingdom, and was considered to be among the six most popular films of the year. Considering that Bacall’s last few pictures had floundered at the box-office, this was quite an achievement, and many believe that it helped set the next chapter of her career in motion.
Although it is believed that North West Frontier made a significant impact on her career, the 1960’s would hardly be considered a monumental decade for Lauren Bacall. This period was particularly notable for her successful venture on the stage in the 1965 production of Cactus Flower, which earned her critical acclaim and would help pave the way for her future work in the theater. The very few films she did appear in did nothing to enhance her motion picture work, and instead she decided to embrace a more domesticated life on the home front by caring for her son Sam Robards, who was born in December of 1961.
At the mention of Lauren Bacall or Kenneth More, North West Frontier is never the first film that springs to mind. Audiences consider it a viewing experience that will always be embedded in their memory and the stars who made it call it a great picture with a lousy title.
Lauren Bacall: Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16th, 1924, inAfter the death of Humphrey Bogart in 1957, Lauren Bacall followed a path that would lead to a career lapse before embarking on a treacherous train journey through rebel-held territory in British India. The Bronx, New York. Died: August 12th, 2014, in New York. Aged 89.
Kenneth More: Born Kenneth Gilbert More on September 20th, 1914, in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom. Died: July 12th, 1982, in Fulham, London. Aged 67.
This post was written for the 2022 edition of the Rule, Britannia Blogathon, hosted by Terence at A Shroud Of Thoughts.
“To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.“
( Bette Davis )
Bette Davis was one of the most celebrated actresses to ever grace the silver screen. Her indomitable presence coupled by her sheer intensity were among her greatest assets that helped signify her reputable star status, but as powerful as she was, Davis had to struggle and fight her way to the top of the ladder.
From the moment she arrived on Hollywood soil in the Winter of 1930, Bette Davis discovered that she would have to reach high for her dreams. As she was growing up, Davis had become accustomed to getting things her way, but in the early days of her cinematic career, Bette soon realized that Hollywood was not willing to cater to her strong demands.
For years, young Bette Davis had dreamed about visiting Hollywood and conquering the world, but on her arrival in the sun-drenched paradise with the palm-tree lined streets, Davis could feel her dreams shattering. Los Angeles was not the place she had envisioned. She had expected to receive full movie-star treatment and a warm welcoming. Instead, she disembarked the train at foreign territory with no studio cars there to greet her.
Bette Davis’ entrance into motion pictures can be described as tumultuous and often times humiliating. After the harrowing train station ordeal when Davis and her mother Ruthie stepped foot on an empty platform and were forced to find their own way to the studio, Davis was summoned to the office of Carl Laemmle who immediately quipped, “She has as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville”. Episodes like this really bruised her confidence, but as the criticisms mounted, Bette learned that the only way to survive in Hollywood was to be tough.
Hollywood was always eclipsing talent and experience with sex appeal and beauty. When Bette Davis arrived on the scene, she was viewed as awkward, unattractive and automatically she was made to feel like a misfit trapped behind those iron gates of Universal. All she wanted to do was act, but when nobody wanted her, she desperately searched for a way to elude her miserable situation and return to New York, but the problem was, she was tied to a three month contract.
As hard as it was, Bette managed to endure the boredom. She spent her days posing for photos and doing screen-test after screen-test until Carl Laemmle announced that he was considering terminating Davis’ contract. Bette couldn’t be happier when she heard the news. Her experience in Hollywood was full of misfortunes, and with no acting roles being offered, she wanted to leave. Coincidentally, Karl Freund had other ideas. He thought Davis had unique eyes, and wanted her for the role of Laura Madison in The Bad Sister ( 1931 ).
After spending weeks biding her time on the studio lot, Bette Davis finally made her film debut in The Bad Sister, a Hobart Henley directed production that also brought Humphrey Bogart to the spotlight. Neither Davis or Bogart made a considerable impression, but it did land them roles in other films, though success and critical acclaim was not imminent.
Her film appearances that followed failed to do anything to enhance Bette’s reputation, and after making a total of six unsuccessful films, Universal decided to terminate Davis’ contract. Bette Davis had once conjured up the highest fantasies of becoming a prominent and extremely revered motion picture actress, but here she was, despondent and ashamed that her days in Hollywood were over. She would have to return to New York a failure.
The chapter of events that ensued next are the stuff of legend. As the story goes: A teary eyed Bette and her mother Ruthie were packing their cases ready to return to New York that same day when suddenly the telephone rang. On the other end of the phone was legendary actor, George Arliss, who told Bette that she would be the ideal female lead to play opposite him in The Man Who Played God ( 1932 ) and wanted her to report to Warner Bros. that afternoon.
George Arliss not only rescued Bette from destruction. He became the instrumental force behind the resurrection of Bette Davis. If it was not for Arliss saving her that day, Davis would have returned to New York, and the world may have never discovered the unparalleled unique artistry that Bette possessed.
In the years that proceeded, Davis always credited George Arliss for establishing her career. The Man Who Played God garnered Bette the recognition that she so rightly deserved, and Warner Bros. was that impressed with her performance that they signed her to a five year contract.
For the next eighteen years, Bette Davis called Warner Bros. her home. She would go on to make some of her most acclaimed productions with the studio, but like a large majority of newcomers, immediate prosperity was not on the doorstep. She was cast in a succession of films that fared moderately at the box-office, though Bette Davis was yearning to be acknowledged.
After appearing in sixteen films for the studio, Bette Davis made her breakthrough performance as Mildred in Of Human Bondage ( 1934 ). The film was a hit at the box office, and Davis’ performance was revered by both critics and the general public, but to get this far, Bette had to be loaned out to RKO to attain the accolades that she was desperately seeking. Initially, Jack Warner was reluctant about sending Bette to RKO. He thought that playing a shrewish character like Mildred would destroy her glamorous image, but to his amazement, the film restored Bette’s reputation.
Of Human Bondage cemented Bette Davis in a reputable position on the cinematic charts, and for the first time in her life, she felt that success was looming. Davis couldn’t have been more correct. The following year she received an Academy Award for Dangerous. In the film Davis played Joyce Heath, a washed-up former Broadway star whose destructive path of alcoholism sends her on a downward spiral.
Her next project was The Petrified Forest ( 1936 ), which teamed her with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart, her co-star from The Bad Sister. The film was based on the 1935 Broadway production that featured both Howard and Bogart in his first leading theatrical role. On it’s release, the film garnered critical acclaim, and helped established Bogart’s career in motion pictures.
Despite the success of The Petrified Forest and all of her previous achievements, Bette Davis was cast in a series of undistinguished films that had the capability of decimating her eminent status. After attaining her first Academy Award, Davis had confidence in herself, and her hopes of starring in a prestige production had elevated, but when she was obtaining mediocre scripts, her dreams began to unravel.
Shortly after, she was assigned the role of Valerie Purvis in Satan Met A Lady ( 1936 ), an uninspiring adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Maltese Falcon, which was remade into an enduring classic five years later with Humphrey Bogart as the lead. Upon reading the script, Bette was incensed. She vied for quality material and did not want to have anything to do with the film. The only way to escape the project was to consult with Jack Warner, who assured her that she would have pivotal assignments on the horizon if she agreed to make the film.
Once again, Bette had developed high hopes, but was let down with the arrival of the next script for a film titled, God’s Country and the Woman. This time Bette was not about to let anyone persuade her to star in the picture. As much as Jack Warner enticed her, Bette continued to stay firm on her promise. As a result, her salary was stopped and she was put on a three months suspension, but Bette didn’t care. Instead, she embarked on a vacation to Leguna Beach while the cast and crew for God’s Country and the Woman left for location shooting in Washington.
After a long vacation at Leguna Beach, Bette refused to leave. If she couldn’t influence decisions and have full control of her career, she was not about to crawl back to the studio that never gave her the power of selectivity. For a while she considered accepting other offers from production companies that would allow her the freedom she yearned for, but with the standard contract that she was currently on, this was deemed impossible.
In her absence, Warner Bros. was having a field day. Fabricated stories that depicted Bette as a greedy and ungrateful antagonist were being printed. These articles left Davis feeling like a villain instead of a victim who was constantly relegated to secondary roles in menial low-budget productions. This kind of publicity was degrading and could have easily sabotaged Davis’ career if the delicate situation was not handled appropriately.
The altercations between Bette and Warner Bros. were only exacerbating with each printed article. She tried to reason with Jack Warner by requesting a new deal – a one year contract that came with the option of renewing for another five years. The salary would be $100,000 for the first year and rising as high as $220,000 as the years progressed. This deal also came with other bonuses that included: Three months of vacation, a work schedule that would allow her to star in no more than four films per year. After designing her proposed contract, Bette stated that if her terms were not approved, she would refuse to work until something more plausible gets set in concrete.
Unfortunately for Bette, Jack Warner was not about to accept her proposal. His reply came in the form of a three month suspension notice. This ordeal also spawned a deluge of printed publications that painted Bette Davis as an overly demanding and rebellious star whose most pivotal goal was to chase after a large sum of money. The accusations that were made against Bette threatened to thwart her career as well as putting her in a bad light. As a result of all this, her chances of being hired by any other producer in the country was impossible – nobody wanted to be embroiled in a legal showdown with Warner Bros.
The chapter of events that happened next have been documented that many times. As the story goes – Bette was left in a quandary, and with nobody willing to take their chances on her, she had to pursue other avenues. Her next venture was to make movies abroad, but with all the tarnishing publicity that she was receiving, this could have easily been plagued with difficulties.
By now, all the unfavorable publicity was running at full speed. The only way to elude all the chaos was to flee the country and hide out in solitary. Finally, a wave of hope headed in Bette’s direction when the Anglo-Italian movie mogul, Ludovic Toeplitz entered the picture at the height of all the drama.
Ludovic Toeplitz was in Hollywood to save Bette Davis from destruction. From the moment he approached her, Davis had a slight inkling that something positive was around the corner. She didn’t exactly know what was going to happen, but she knew that Ludovic had plans for her. Bette was right about this – Ludovic Toeplitz had mapped out a two picture deal for her. This deal would have Bette filming one movie in Italy and the other in France. She was offered twenty thousand pounds plus both scripts would have her stamp of approval.
At last, Bette had found the answer to all her problems. After a long suspension, she was eager to work, but in order to do so, she had to step foot into foreign territory before she would reach her final destination. The prospect of making pictures in Europe seemed exciting to Bette. She had never traveled outside of the United States, and she was euphoric to see what the other corners of the world had to offer.
Now that Bette had made up her mind, she was not going to let anybody prevent her from pursuing that offer. She was anxious to get her career back on track, and fortunately her mother Ruthie supported her decision, and encouraged her to sign the contract with Ludovic Toeplitz. That was exactly what she did. Shortly after Bette and her then husband, Harmon Nelson flew to Vancouver late one Saturday night, where they were to travel to Montreal by train. Once in Montreal, Bette and Harmon boarded the Duchess of Bedford and embarked on their journey to England.
From the onset, Bette maintained that there was something special about this vacation. She didn’t utilize the entire holiday for work related activities. She used it as part honeymoon for her and Harmon. Bette and Harmon arrived in Europe on their fourth anniversary, and more than anything, she wanted to spend quality time with Harmon, something that she was often denied with her profession.
The first destination was the Firth of Clyde at Greenock in Scotland. Bette and Harmon were greeted by a deluge of fans and critics, who welcomed them with a warm reception. In her autobiography The Lonely Life, Davis states that the Scottish press called her an “unemployed movie star”. At the time those words didn’t seem to phase Bette – she was more impressed by her popularity and her worldwide fame than her current employment status.
After a memorable visit to Scotland, Bette Davis and Harmon Nelson touched down in Liverpool. This was perhaps the most fascinating place Davis had seen during the vacation. She had heard so much about Liverpool in the past, and now she found herself right in the heart of the city. Bette later summed it up as an amazing experience and embraced all the sights with child-like enthusiasm.
Bette Davis had anticipated the entire vacation to be memorable. Her biggest thrill was that she was privileged enough to be working under the strings of Ludovic Toeplitz, but along with all her excitement was a devastating piece of news that instantly confirmed that part of her dreams were crashing down. The last thing that Davis was expecting was an injunction notice from Warner Bros. that prohibited her from working anywhere and under the guidance of any director. Needless to say, Bette was incensed with anger. The thought of being denied the advantage to work under the helm of a top European director deeply perturbed her.
Bette Davis was known for exuding fierceness and being intractable. She realized from the start that her latest crisis with Warner Bros. was not the end of the world, and she was certainly determined to put up a fight. Bette had reached the point in her career where she was not about to play a puppet on a string to Warner Bros. If they were going to put a huge restriction on her, she was going to free herself from their restraints. As a result, Davis stuck to her initial plan and met with Toeplitz and Monty Banks at the Claridges Hotel in London to discuss her upcoming work schedule.
To the chagrin of Warner Bros., Bette finalized her contract with Toeplitz. She was scheduled to begin her first picture in a few weeks, which meant that Davis had ample time to continue on with her honeymoon. While they were away, the news of Davis’ meeting with Toeplitz spread fast, and soon Jack Warner himself was on his way to Venice to have the most unpleasant consultation with Ludovic Toeplitz.
It didn’t take long for Bette to find out about Jack Warner’s meeting with Ludovic Toeplitz. From the moment she heard word of their consultation, she knew something was fishy and that Jack was only in town to sabotage her chances of working in Europe. As it turns out, Bette couldn’t have been more correct. Warner was irascible when it came to Davis’ legal obligations and wanted to take the matter to the English courts. The whole situation indicated trouble. Bette realized that there was no easy road out. Every avenue she could possibly follow contained many uncertainties. Defying Warner Bros. and remaining under contract to Toeplitz would jeopardize her career, but if she returned to California there was a chance that she would still be relegated to secondary productions that lacked prestige. No matter what it could have cost her, Bette was a hard target. She constantly thought about her position as an actress and where she wanted to stand on the pedestal. Instead of swallowing her pride and taking Jack Warner’s advice, Bette finally arrived at the decision to stand her ground and stay in Europe.
“I had been living abroad in the naive knowledge that I was about to prosper with the now maligned Signor Toeplitz. See you in court! I was so cocksure of myself. Right always triumphed.“
( Bette Davis: The Lonely Life )
Bette Davis’ decision was met with dissatisfaction from Warner Brothers. To prevent Bette from seeking temporary work, Messrs, Denton, Hall and Burgin, solicitors for Warner Bros. and First National Pictures, issued Bette an Ex Parte Injunction on September 9th of that year. Meanwhile Jack Warner and his wife Ann had set up momentary residence at William Randolph Hearst’s commodious property outside of London. Convinced that the whole situation was being blown out of proportion, Mrs. Warner earnestly tried to persuade her husband to put a stop to the action, but Jack remained adamant about going ahead with proceedings. As a means to confirm his power, Jack Warner enlisted Sir Patrick Hastings as the barrister. Noted as one of Britain’s most renowned barristers, Hastings served as a model for Sir Wilfrid Robarts, the lawyer in the 1957 film Witness For the Prosecution.
If Jack Warner was going to hire a barrister of authority, Bette made sure that her lawyer would be of equal supremacy. Signor Toeplitz recommended Sir William Jowitt, one of the best legal minds in the country. Bette was impressed with Jowitt’s experience in the field and felt confident about him handling her case. However, she soon found out that attached to his services was a ten-thousand-dollar retainer. In Hollywood, Bette was the subject of criticism. Gossip moguls for newspapers and magazines had continuously contextualized on Bette’s affluent wealth and had painted her as a spoiled rich girl, but in truth, she was financially broke. That kind of money was out of reach for Bette. There was no way that she would be able to afford the cost of hiring Jowitt without assistance. To make matters worse, both Bette and Ham were receiving no income. The only way out of this perplexing situation was for Ham to return to New York to try and pursue employment as a means to acquire money to help support his wife. Although Bette largely depended on Ham, she soon realized that Ham’s decision was the most sensible thing to do. In the meantime, Bette had to survive on the minimal savings she did have, and this meant downsizing to a tiny cell at the Park Lane, where she insisted on absolute silence.
Since Ham’s departure, Bette seemed to dwell over the court case. She knew she was facing an uphill battle. The entire motion picture industry would be backing Warner Bros. Given her notoriety for declining scripts that she deemed inferior, no other studio in Hollywood were willing to take a chance on her. What some of these top movie producers didn’t understand is that Bette cared about her career. She just wanted to be treated equally like a star and have more control over her projects. If any form of slavery on her part was to continue, Bette would not fulfill Warner Bros. demands. Trying to get Jack Warner to understand this was the hard part. He constantly underestimated Bette’s dedication to her craft. It was only on the day of the trial that Jack Warner would come forth and openly admit that Bette was a serious actress who fully embraced her work.
On the day of her hearing, Bette felt like she was pitted against top authority figures. As she entered the large English courtroom that was fitted with wood-paneled walls and leaded windows, Bette began to cower. The entire room emanated a foreboding and intimidating ambiance. Years later, Davis described the situation as one of the most painful experiences of her life. It was clear from the start that Bette would have to fight hard. She was dealing with the elite who succeeded in tearing shreds out of your self confidence. Throughout the hearing, Bette was depicted as being spoiled, uncooperative and demanding. These words were demoralizing. Bette had worked like a slave driver for the studio and now she discovers that Jack Warner displayed no ounce of gratification for her services. It was obvious that Warner had failed to look at the big picture. Bette was eager to appear in films that had substance and that was guaranteed to be financially successful, but she refused to work against her will in what was destined by critics to be a disastrous flop.
The entire court battle lasted three full days, but for Bette Davis the nightmare seemed to be never-ending. During this time everyone involved had a chance to express their plight in a open court room. Amidst this on going crisis a lawyer named Gerald Gardiner appeared out of nowhere and proceeded to close in on Sir Patrick. He was representing Signor Toeplitz. According to Davis’ autobiography The Lonely Life, Gardiner was condemned to silence. His speech was deemed irrelevant and his presence there was highly unnecessary. Before he could utter another world he was quickly reminded that his client was not on trial and was not among the parties concerned in the case.
Sir William was the perfect representative for Bette’s case. He delivered his speech with such heart and really fought for his clients rights. Although he was no authority in the acting industry, he clearly understood Bette’s plight and addressed the fact that it was wrong to force an actress or any employee to work against their will. Perhaps the most crucial point was when he detoured away from Bette’s impotency in choice of material and evoked the topic of freedom. He distinctly outlined that the studio was holding Bette prisoner. It was acceptable for a contract to come with a few stipulations, but he viewed Bette’s contract as a life sentence. Among the rules that were reinforced was that Bette was denied access in to any theatrical shows and was banned from making private appearances. Even a simple candid photograph taken at home was deemed improper and considered an appearance or arranging a party for a charity was more or less breaking the guidelines. Whatever Bette wished to pursue she would be required to seek permission before proceeding. At the core of this scenario was that Jack Warner owned Bette, which often made her feel like she was his guardian.
In The Lonely Life, Bette remembered that Sir William’s speech stultified both Jack Warner and Sir Patrick. Deep down Jack Warner knew he was partly to blame, but he was not one to openly admit that he was at fault. Instead he sat through the entire hearing looking uncomfortable. As Sir William hammered every aspect of the contract, he cringed more and more. Patrick Hastings looked as though he was ready to tear Bette apart, but the only way he could unleash his feelings was by taking off his wig and throwing it across the courtroom. He’s actions caused quite a commotion and its a scene that was permanently ingrained in Bette’s mind.
The verdict came as no surprise to anyone. It was decided that the final decision would be announced after the weekend. The thought of waiting to hear the unwelcoming news only increased Bette’s anxiety. She knew she was going to lose, but she would have preferred to hear of her defeat sooner rather than later. During this time Bette was residing at the Tudor Close in Sussex. Her mini apartment was less expensive than her previous dwellings and its ideal location boasted absolute seclusion and privacy, an aspect that was a necessity at this particular period in her life. In an attempt to elude her frustration and anguish, Bette found pleasure in taking leisurely walks along the beach. Coincidentally, Bette was basking in the sunshine at the beach when the results of the court case were reported. Although she had an inkling of what was going to happen, she was still overcome with sudden waves of melancholy. Her biggest worry was her financial status. She owed a large fortune to Sir William for his services and coupling this was the fact that she was morally bound by law to pay Jack Warner’s costs, which alone would make a tremendous dent in her bank account. After taking all this into account, Bette regretted her decision to fight. She wished she could turn back the clock, but that was not possible.
During her time of despair, Bette relied on a great support team to help carry her through. Her savior at this point was her mother Ruthie. Although Ruthie was back in the United States, she was a pillar of strength for Bette and remained her tower of comfort. This experience certainly made her realize the importance of a mother. Absolutely nobody could fulfill Ruthie’s role. She always replied to Bette’s letters, offering her sage advice and assuring her that everything will turn out alright in the long run. Ruthie tried her hardest to instill positivity in her daughter. Her words may not have fully alleviated Bette’s feelings, but they were a tremendous help.
Back in Hollywood, the studios were having a field day celebrating Bette’s defeat. The sardonic behavior of others really increased Bette’s dysphoria. She was determined to fight the case, but her current loneliness was weighing a heavy burden on her. At that instance she called her mother and insisted that she come over and stay with her while she appealed. Ruthie never gave it a thought nor did she need convincing. Her place at that moment was with Bette and that was the only thing that mattered. Those days before Ruthie’s arrival were punctuated with sorrow. Bette was alone and depressed. When she wasn’t walking along the beach or cycling she was hounded by the press who kept descending upon her tiny hotel situated by the sea.
In the midst of this gloomy situation entered an unexpected visitor who had arrived to rescue Bette from ruin. Standing in the lobby was no other than George Arliss, the man who was responsible for launching Bette’s career. Once again Arliss was here to release Bette from all her troubles. From that moment on, Arliss became the instrumental force behind Bette’s career resurrection. The two sat down and engaged in a long discussion. He advised Bette to return to the United States. She would be in a much better position if she accepted her defeat and went back and faced the music than if she decided to stay in the United Kingdom and fight for justice. Arliss convinced Bette that the key to success was positivity and failure is the root to negativity. Bette needed to have complete confidence in herself in order to further succeed in the acting business. These were the most encouraging words Bette had heard in a long time. Finally she came to the realization that George Arliss was right. Shortly after, Bette cabled her mother Ruthie about her homecoming and told her to stay in New York.
On a cold November day, Bette boarded the Aquitania and sailed to the United States. By the time she arrived home, Ham had released one record with Tommy Dorsey, but he was still adamant about launching a successful career of his own. Due to the very few opportunities Ham had in California, the most sensible thing to do was remain in New York, where he had a greater prospect to achieve. This arrangement meant that Bette and Ham would be separated again, though that was the least of their worries at that point. Ham was more interested in making a name for himself and Bette was overwhelmed with nerves about what was awaiting her in Los Angeles.
During the flight home to California, Bette sat nervously next to Ruthie. She was constantly weaving different scenarios into the chapter of events that she depicted will happen when she arrived back in Hollywood. Ruthie kept reminding her to eclipse all negativity and focus on the positive. If Bette had a slight inkling of what was awaiting, she wouldn’t have the spent the entire journey in a worrisome state of mind. Fortunately, her return was met with surprising results. Not only did Warner Bros. give her a warm welcome, they relieved her of all financial pressure by paying for the Kings ransom and Sir William’s retainer. For once their feelings were shifted towards Bette. They knew that Bette was serious about her career and only wanted to accentuate her star power. They also realized the dire situation she would be in if she had to pay the large sum of money. Bette was comforted to know that she was an asset to the studio and not just another employee. This sort of reception really made her change her outlook on her future as an actress.
At first the court situation threatened to thwart any plans that were on the horizon, but in the long run, Bette was not completely vanquished. Failure was a word that was not in Bette’s vocabulary. Success was her destiny and she was determined to conquer the world. That was exactly what she did.
“In a way, my defeat was a victory. At last we were seeing eye to eye on my career. I was aching to work and they were eager to encourage me.”
Instead of feeling restricted, Bette was now experiencing the newfound joys of being a Warner Bros. employee. Compatibility in the workplace is important. If your boss is not compliant of your every wish, it often impacts your ability to succeed or furthermore, forces you to become demoralized and lose inspiration. In Bette’s case, the close affinity between her and Jack Warner was a stepping stone to eminence. Bette’s career was her life’s blood. She was yearning to get back in front of the camera and the studio made sure that there were no barriers in her way.
In 1937, Bette Davis made her motion picture comeback with Marked Woman. Warner Bros. had recently purchased the screen rights for a film based on the Italian born gangster and bootlegger Lucky Luciano. Jack Warner reportedly found inspiration in the story and envisioned it to be the perfect material to bolster Davis’ career. Upon reading the script, Davis herself was impressed and seen Marked Woman as the springboard to endless dramatic possibilities that will enhance her potential as an actress. The predictions were right. The public reacted positively to Bette’s performance and Warner was generally pleased with her ascending popularity.
Marked Woman was of symbolic importance to Bette Davis’ career and opened up doors that led to a world of opportunities. Her next picture was 1937’s Kid Galahad, a prizefighting film, which pitted her against acting veteran Edward G. Robinson. There are a myriad of parallels between these two productions. Both vehicles gave her the boost she needed to build her public image. Once she had generated enough favorable publicity, the studio decided it was time for her to make a splash in the comedy genre. Bette always maintained that she would have liked to have been given more of a chance to explore her comedic roots. When she did venture into that territory, she was cast in farcical roles that didn’t suit her type of acting. Although, Bette stated that farce was not her forte, she was elated to secure the part of Joyce Arden in It’s Love I’m After. This was the third movie she made with Leslie Howard and it was the first time she shared the screen with close friend and soon to be frequent co-star Olivia de Havilland.
After starring in a succession of critically acclaimed films, Bette Davis had a premonition that luck wouldn’t remain on her side. As it turns out, Davis’ forecast for the imminent future were accurate. That same year Warner Bros. cast her in That Certain Woman, a remake of Gloria Swanson’s 1929 film The Trespasser. The end result was disastrous. The picture was a financial failure. The only redeeming feature was that Bette was given Henry Fonda as her leading man. Bette had known Fonda from her early days in the theatre, but once they became famous they traveled down separate career paths. For Bette, working with Fonda was a real blessing, but the inferior script hindered any chance of success.
At the studio, Bette Davis was working on full speed and was ascending to the top echelon of players, but on the home front, Bette was fighting a tumultuous battle with her first husband Harmon ( Ham ) Nelson. Although their marriage had been crumbling for a while, Bette continued to cling to hope that a divorce would not come to fruition. Despite the fact that she still cared for Ham, the light had burned in their relationship. At the core of their marital crisis was Bette’s success and accomplishments. Ham was a struggling musician who was fighting for recognition. He often felt like he was competing against Bette and was losing the battle. Exacerbating these problems was Bette’s heavy schedule. Harmon’s perspective on married life was that a wife should be dutiful twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When Bette was unable to fulfill his wishes, he moved out of the Coldwater Canyon house they shared together.
Instead of staying home and letting her marital problems with Ham weigh on her, Bette returned to work in the midst of crisis. No man was ever going to try and tear her away from her career. Her determination knew no bounds and whenever an opportunity came along, Bette was always the first to pursue it. Around the same time Paul Muni was in preparation to play the titular role in 1937’s The Life Of Emile Zola. Bette’s latest endeavour was to land the small part of Nana in the film. Davis reportedly put forth her proposition to the studio and approached Muni himself, but her requests were denied.
Shortly after, a bigger and better opportunity arose. There was a nation wide search for the perfect actress to play the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in a civil war epic entitled Gone With The Wind. Warner Bros. had initially promised Bette the lead, but her hopes had vanished when Warners had dropped the option. Almost everyone in Hollywood had tested for the part. The hunt was over when Vivien Leigh was cast. Once again Bette’s feelings were crushed. This would have been a dream come true for Bette and now that chance was shattered. At this stage in her career, Bette was use to hard knocks, but what infuriated her the most was the broken promise. To Bette, this was pure robbery; though deep down she realized that Leigh exuded the fragility and all the right qualities that was needed to portray Scarlett.
As it turns out, Bette Davis’ screen test for Scarlett O’Hara served as a stepping stone to an opportunity that was on the horizon. Warner Bros. had recently acquired the rights for the 1938 production Jezebel. The films protagonist Julie Marsden closely mirrored Scarlett in many aspects. She embodied the manipulative Southern Belle, who defies societal rights and dominates everyone around her. When she missed out on the role of Scarlett, Bette felt like she was ascending to the bottom heap, but once she was assigned the part of Julie, she was taking a step in the right direction. Her consultation prize was a second Academy Award.
Throughout the years, Bette Davis often exclaimed that Julie Marsden was the best part she had since playing Mildred in Of Human Bondage. She also credited William Wyler for being the first director to make her realize that she was an actress with full potential and not just a personality. Wyler instilled a great deal of qualities in Bette and she was forever in debt to him for his sound advice and all that he taught her.
For Bette Davis, Jezebel was the beginning of a lot of things. It was the beginning of career fulfillment and happiness, but more importantly, it was the beginning of the triumphant path that she would follow for the rest of her life.
The story of the infamous court case battle weaves tales of hope, sacrifice and triumph to produce a compelling portrait of a great dispute that would ultimately end in victory. Less than ten years later a similar event transpired when Bette Davis’ close friend Olivia de Havilland challenged the studio system and took Jack Warner to court over an immoral suspension clause and won.
Bette Davis died on October 6th, 1989, at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine in France, from breast cancer. She was 81 years old.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Patricia Nolan-Hall – known by many as Paddy Lee. She was a prolific blogger, a talented writer and a friend to all. Her passing on March 7th was a tremendous loss to the classic film and blogging community, but the many hours of reading she left behind is a gift to us bloggers. I will always value her constant support and encouragement. Rest In Peace Paddy.
For those of you who did not see my previous post, I want to fill you in on my whereabouts before I proceed. As most of you are aware, I suffer from severe headache attacks, which have resulted in me being hospitalized more than once this past year. During my first stay that lasted for four months, I experienced by far the worse headache in my entire life. The pain was that serious that it instantly made me fall into a coma. Needless to say, it was an extremely terrifying situation that I hope I never endure again. In addition to my incapacitation in hospital, I am detained with my research for my Katharine Hepburn book, which I am under contract with Pen & Sword for, and I’m also a freelance journalist for the entertainment section of an online publication. Juggling two careers is not easy and sometimes its near impossible to write for my blog, even though I try to allocate some time for blog maintenance.
Now that I’ve explained the reason for my absence, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the honoree of my next blogathon. The legendary Anne Bancroft would have been celebrating her 90th birthday on September 17th. For the occasion, I’ve decided to pay tribute by hosting a blogging event dedicated to this endearing actress whose name will continue to echo throughout the decades.
Many people remember Anne Bancroft for donning the famous roles of Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” ( 1967 ) and Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker” ( 1962 ), but in addition to these two ground-breaking films, Anne’s prolific career in motion pictures was punctuated by continuous bouts of success – thanks largely to her versatility that transcended genres. Away from the cameras, Anne enjoyed a peaceful life with her husband Mel Brooks, who she first met in 1961. The couple remained married until her premature death from uterine cancer on June 6th, 2005. Fifteen years later, audiences worldwide follow her ingenious trail of artistry that she left behind and are forever reminded that her flawless embodiment of characters is a testament to her diverse talents.
Without further ado, bloggers and writers in general are invited to join me on September17th – 19th, as I salute one of the greatest actresses to ever grace cinema screens. Let’s make this a popular event. Anne Bancroft more than deserves it.
1. Bloggers are welcome to write about any topic pertaining Anne Bancroft. You can cover her films, her career on stage, her story-book marriage to Mel Brooks or all aspects of her personal life, as long as its kept truthful.
2. Due to the diversity of the subject matter, I am only allowing no more than two duplicates per topic. I want to give everybody the chance to participate. Act fast.
3. If you wish to write multiple posts, that’s fine. The more articles showcasing Anne’s diverse career is the merrier. However, I am proposing a three entry per person rule.
4. The purpose of this blogathon is to honor Anne Bancroft. Any post that appears to be derogatory and disrespectful towards Anne will not be accepted.
5. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts are verbatim.
6. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, please leave a comment on my blog, along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by selecting one of the banners created by me, and advertise the event on your blog.
TOPICS NO LONGER AVAILABLE
DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK ( 1952 )
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood :TBD
The Stop Button : 7 Women ( 1966 )
Taking Up Room : How To Make An American Quilt ( 1995 )
It’s been a long time since I last updated my blog, but now after several months I’m ready to make a comeback. Before we get down to business, I want to fill you in on my whereabouts. As some of you know, I suffer from excruciating headache attacks, which have resulted in me being hospitalized more than once this pass year. During my first stay that lasted for four months, I experienced by far the worse headache in my entire life. The pain was that serious that it instantly made me fall into a coma. Needless to say, it was an extremely terrifying situation that I hope I never endure again. In addition to my incapacitation in hospital, I am detained with my research for my Katharine Hepburn book, which I am under contract for and my freelancing work for an online publication.
Now that I’ve explained the reason for my absence, it’s time to get to the core of this post. September 29th was recently inaugurated National Silent Movie Day. The idea was initially coined by Chad Hunter, the executive director of Video Trust and director of the Pittsburgh Silent Film Society, Brandee B. Cox, archivist of the Academy Film Archives, and Steven K. Hill, one of the leading archivists at UCLA Film & Television Archive. For the occasion Lea from Silent-oligy and myself are hosting a blogathon dedicated to the lost art of silent cinema. This event serves as a great excuse for us to honor the bygone era and its an occasion for newcomers to take their first steps into the world of silents.
Anyone can participate! Ask your local cinema to show a silent picture with live music; watch a silent movie on a streaming platform or on disc; write a blog or an article for your local newspaper; read a book about your favorite silent movie star; or create a podcast. Use your imagination and post on your social media on September 29 to show how you celebrate the day. This is our moment as silent movie fans, academics, programmers, and newcomers to share our mutual love and appreciation for this unique period in motion picture history. It is also an opportunity to rally around surviving silent pictures that are still in need of preservation.
Without further ado, bloggers and writers in general are invited to join Lea and myself on September 29th, as we flashback in time for this fun one-day event that is guaranteed to thrill movie audiences worldwide.
1. Bloggers are welcome to write about any topic that pertains to silent cinema. You can choose any film, an actor or an actress whose career harkens back to the silent era, a director from that particular period in time, or even a top list. Whatever subject piques your interest. The sky is the limit.
2. Despite the diversity of the subject matter, we are allowing duplicates. We realize that not all silent films have been preserved and not all folks have easy access to these movies – so duplicates are 100% allowed. Besides, everybody has a different take on things.
3. We are not proposing any hard restrictions. We only ask that there be no more than two posts per participant.
4. The purpose of this blogathon is to honor the films and the stars who graced the silent screen. Any post that appears to be derogatory and disrespectful will not be accepted.
5. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts will not be accepted.
6. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, please leave a comment on my blog or on Lea’s blog, along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: email@example.com. For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by selecting one of the banners created by Lea and advertise the event on your blog. The more publicity we get, the merrier.
Are you guys ready for three full days of the Barrymore siblings? The Royal Family of Hollywood are back again for the sixth consecutive year, and I am glad to be honoring the phenomenal trio with you all.
Bloggers, please submit your entries on the comment section below, and I will showcase them as soon as I can. Thank you.
Two iconic screen legends who epitomized American cinema, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a dynamic dancing duo and successful acting veterans whose names will continuously echo throughout the years.
At least everyone should have heard of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The unparalleled artistry that both stars possessed, which is coupled by their enduring legacy, continue to evoke interest in today’s popular culture. In the blogasphere Fred and Ginger are among the most celebrated screen teams. It is for this reason that Michaela from Love Letters To Old Hollywoodand myself have decided to launch the second addition of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon, a blogging event that we hosted for the first time in July 2018.
1. This blogathon is not just restricted to the ten films that Fred and Ginger made together. The purpose of this event is to celebrate the indelible legacy and illustrious filmography of both stars. Bloggers are welcome to write about any film that starred either Astaire or Rogers or any topic pertaining to the two legends.
2. Due to the diversity of the subject matter, we are allowing no more than two duplicates per topic. I know this sounds extremely fair, but we want to give everybody the opportunity to participate. If you have a topic in mind, act fast. Also, you are welcome to write more than one entry if you wish. However, we are limiting it to three posts per blog.
3. This blogathon is a loving tribute to both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. All bloggers are welcome to participate, but we will not accept any post that appears derogatory or disrespectful to either star.
4. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts will not be accepted.
5. The blogathon will take place on December 28th – 30th, 2020. Please submit your entries on either of these days or early if you wish. For those of you posting early, just remember that your entry won’t be linked until the event starts. In case your wondering why the event takes place on dates that aren’t specifically connected to either star – the answer is that we simply wanted to end the year with a bang, and because the borders are closed I can’t fly back home interstate to visit family like I usually do – so why not celebrate all things Fred and Ginger?
6. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, leave a comment on my blog or on Michaela’s blog along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting Michaela. For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by advertising the event on your blog. Please take one of these beautiful banners that were designed by Michaela, and advertise in on your blog. We look forward to seeing you in December.
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood– Stage Door ( 1937 ) and TBD.
Love Letters To Old Hollywood –The Barkleys Of Broadway ( 1949 )
The legendary Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are at the forefront of the blogging world this weekend, and Michaela and I are elated to be presenting the iconic screen duo for the third consecutive year with our blogathon dedicated to both stars.
Bloggers, if you are participating in the blogathon, please submit your entry on the comment section below or on Michaela’s blog, and we’ll link it as soon as we can. Thank you. We can’t wait to celebrate Kate and Spence with you.
Let’s raise a toast to my career – my proposed book on the one and only Katharine Hepburn.
Before donning the coveted role of Endora on the perennial television sitcom Bewitched, Agnes Moorehead garnered success in all corners of the entertainment industry and proved that her versatility transcended every genre. After she first emerged on the scene in Orson Welles 1941 epic Citizen Kane, Moorehead became one of Hollywood’s most distinguishable character actresses.
Anyone who knows me would be aware that Agnes Moorehead is permanently engraved in my heart. I’ve been in awe of this tremendous woman from the moment I first caught glimpse of her presence gracing the screen right in front of me. As the years progressed I’ve discovered that behind the meddling witch mother in law from Bewitched, was a seasoned veteran who had an extensive resume of achievements under her belt.
Back in 2016, I hosted a blogathon tribute dedicated to the legendary Agnes Moorehead, which coincided with her 116th birthday on December 6th of that year. Unfortunately, at the time, I was about to fly back home interstate to reunite with my beloved aunt, who was terminally ill with stage four cancer and passed away on New Year’s Eve – so with the rapid demise of my aunt, my mind was too preoccupied to really focus on the event.
Agnes would have been 120 this coming December 6th. For the occasion, I’ve decided to host a second edition of the blogathon. If you wish to take part in the event, there are a few rules that must be adhered to. Please read the following.
1. Bloggers are welcome to write about any topic that pertains to the life and career of Agnes Moorehead. For example, you can write about a film starring Agnes, an episode or episodes from Bewitched ( only episodes featuring Agnes as Endora are allowed ), a profile/life story, personal tribute, her radio work or her involvement with Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre. There is absolutely no restriction on subjects.
2. Due to the diversity of the subject matter, I am only allowing two duplicates, so if you have a topic in mind act fast. If you wish to write more than one post, that’s fine. However, I am limiting it to three entries per blog.
3. To coincide with the 120th anniversary of Agnes’ birth on December 6th, the blogathon will take place on December 6th- 8th, 2020. Please submit your entries on either of these days or early if you wish. For those of you posting early, just remember that your entry won’t be linked until the event starts.
4. This blogathon is a loving tribute to Agnes Moorehead. All bloggers are welcome to participate, but I will not accept any post that appears derogatory or disrespectful to Agnes.
5. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts will not be accepted.
6. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, leave a comment on my blog along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: email@example.com. For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by selecting one of the banners below and advertising it on your blog. Thanks in advance.
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood –Agnes on the radio, and TBD.
Wide Screen World –Fourteen Hours ( 1951 )
Real Weegie Midget Reviews – Dear Dead Delilah ( 1972 )
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society –Citizen Kane ( 1941 )
Love Letters To Old Hollywood –Meet Me In Las Vegas ( 1956 )
The Barrymore’s are a prominent theatrical family whose name will continue to echo throughout the years. Younger audiences will be familiar with today’s top Hollywood drawer Drew Barrymore, the legendary actress who first rose to super stardom in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but its Drew’s grandfather John and his two siblings Lionel and Ethel that initially broke the mould in motion pictures.
Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore were born into a family of thespians. From a young age the siblings were surrounded by actors. Louisa Lane Drew, their grandmother owned the famous Arch Street Theater and had been acting since she was eight, while their parents and uncles were all seasoned veterans of the stage. It is no wonder that the children all followed the theatrical path.
Initially, Lionel, Ethel and John were reluctant to break into the family business. They had a strong interest in nurturing non acting careers of their own, but when they realized that the stage was their only destiny, they were determined to utilize all their time and effort in crafting a successful legacy for themselves.
That was exactly what they did. Despite dealing with their own set of obstacles that threatened to thwart their careers, the Barrymore siblings all managed to achieve greatness and spawn success in whatever journey they embarked on. These days however, Lionel, Ethel and John don’t seem to receive the recognition that they so rightfully deserve and sadly they are unjustifiably underrated.
After conducting a considerable amount of research on the Barrymore’s and writing extensively on their respective careers, my mission is to rectify their current status and put them back on the radar. It is for this reason that I am inviting you all to take part in the sixth edition of the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, an event that pays tribute to the incomparable acting dynasty who continue to inspire me in every way possible.
As some of you would know, I am now employed and under contract with Pen and Sword Publishing Company to write a definitive biography on Katharine Hepburn. Due to my book research schedule, I was unable to host this event on Ethel’s birthday in August. However, I am currently taking a break from my book related work – so I see this as the perfect opportunity to bring the Barrymore’s book for the sixth consecutive year. Hopefully this event will evoke enough interest in the blogging community. Ethel, John and Lionel more than deserve it.
FOR THOSE BLOGGERS WHO WISH TO JOIN THE BLOGATHON, THERE ARE SOME RULES THAT MUST BE ADHERED TO. PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING.
1. Bloggers are welcome to write about any film that stars either of the three Barrymore siblings, or any topic pertaining to Ethel, John or Lionel. Previous years, I have allowed posts on Drew Barrymore, but this year however, I have decided to keep things classic, and that means that I am omitting Drew from the blogathon.
2. Due to the diversity of the subject matter, I am only allowing two duplicates, so if you have a topic in mind act fast. If you wish to write more than one post, that’s fine. However, I am limiting it to three entries per blog.
3. To coincide with the anniversary of Lionel’s passing on November 15th, the blogathon will take place on November 15th- 17th, 2020. Please submit your entries on either of these days or early if you wish. For those of you posting early, just remember that your entry won’t be linked until the event starts.
4. This blogathon is a loving tribute to the Barrymore siblings. All bloggers are welcome to participate, but I will not accept any post that appears derogatory or disrespectful to either star. I also want to state that entries focusing on John’s alcoholism will not be allowed. By all means, you are welcome to mention it in your articles, but posts that are strictly about that subject are verbatim.
5. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts will not be accepted.
6. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, leave a comment on my blog along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by selecting one of the banners below and advertising it on your blog. Thanks in advance.
SUBJECTS CLAIMED THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF TIMES
PORTRAIT OF JENNIE ( 1948 )
In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood –Ethel tribute and TBD.
Love Letters To Old Hollywood –Lady Be Good ( 1941 )
The Wonderful World Of Cinema –Midnight ( 1939 )
Caftan Woman –The Secret Of Convict Lake ( 1951 )
Strictly Vintage Hollywood –Portrait Of Jennie ( 1948 )
Century Film Project –Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( 1920 )
Pale Writer –Lionel as Dr. Gillespie in the Dr. Kildare movies
Real Weegie Midget Reviews –Portrait of Jennie ( 1948 )
KN Winiarski Writes–It’s A Wonderful Life ( 1946 )
Poppity Talks Classic Film –Spawn Of the North ( 1938 )
Along The Brandywine –You Can’t Take It With You ( 1938 ) and David Copperfield ( 1935 )
The Stop Button –Rasputin and the Empress ( 1932 )
18 Cinema Lane –Twentieth Century ( 1934 ) and Young At Heart ( 1954 )
“I believe Life with all it’s pain and sorrows is a beautiful, precious gift and I believe I must strive to reproduce its beauty by holding fast to this ideal by doing my duty without regard to personal ambition“
A prominent star with an air of sophistication, Agnes Moorehead enjoyed a steady tenure in motion pictures and radio, essaying many famous characters that brought her critical acclaim, but it wasn’t until later on in her career when she donned her most distinguishable role as Endora, the meddling witch mother in law on Bewitched that she would become immortalized as an unparalleled iconic figure in television history.
Despite the fact that her famous portrayal of Endoraeclipsed her previous achievements, and became the role in which she is solely remembered for, Agnes Moorehead was an influential star in motion pictures whose scene stealing performances overshadowed the main leads, who were usually the top actors of the day. Since making her film debut as Charles Kane’s impoverished mother from Orson Welles production of Citizen Kane, Moorehead appeared in over one hundred films as a character actress, and played many pivotal roles from despicable villains to amiable individuals of society in productions from every genre imaginable.
In addition to her illustrious body of film and television work, Agnes Moorehead was prolifically active on stage and radio. Along with Orson Welles, she helped form the Mercury Theatre, which ultimately led her to stardom, and once she was fully established in Hollywood, Moorehead still managed to endure an accomplished career on radio, delivering a plethora of highly extolled performances, including that of Mrs. Elbert Stevenson in Sorry Wrong Number, a role that she exercised continuously during her radio years.
It all started on a cold winters day at the start of the Twentieth Century when two proud parents gave life to a future Hollywood luminary. Agnes Robertson Moorehead made her star-studded entrance in this world on December 6th, 1900, in Clinton, Massachusetts. Ingenuity and unique qualities were instilled in Agnes from the moment she was born. Her father, John Moorehead was a Presbyterian minister, while her mother, Mary ( Mollie ) was a mezzo singer. It didn’t take long for Moorehead to possess the talent that the rest of the family displayed. At the age of three, Moorehead made her stage debut when she recited The Lord’s Prayer for her fathers church. This brief appearance on the stage left Moorehead with a lifelong love for the theatre.
Although Agnes was still only very young, she knew right from the start what she wanted, and she was determined to do all she could to achieve that goal. When she was a child who didn’t have the resources to attain any roles, she drew on her imagination to follow her dream. Always an avid reader, Agnes often immersed herself in stories, and then spent hours recreating the character she was playing. One particular day her mother Mollie became concerned when she found Agnes crying in her bedroom on a hot day with a sweater on. She later discovered that Agnes had just read The Poor Little Match Girl, and she was in the process of reliving the situation. These bouts of using her imagination to bring fictional characters to reality started to become a daily occurrence for Agnes that Mollie always asked, “Who are you today, Agnes?”
While Agnes was growing up her parents wanted a normal life for their children without having to endure any of the upheaval that was dominant in a lot of families at the time. However, due to John being a Presbyterian minister he was forced to relocate to St. Louis in 1912. The move had quite a dramatic effect on Agnes, who found it hard to adapt to her new life without the friends she had made in Hamilton, Ohio. It took a long time for Agnes to acclimatize to the new living arrangements in another state, but eventually, Moorehead realized that her dreams of becoming an actress were more important than constantly dwelling over living in St. Louis, and being away from her friends. That Summer, Agnes secured a placement at the St. Louis Municipal Ballet, and because of her fine soprano voice she was chosen to appear in the choir as well.
“When I was a little girl I was always into something naughty“
Agnes found her placement at the St. Louis Municipal Ballet to be a very uplifting experience, but while she had developed a profound interest in the arts and theater, Moorehead took her father’s advice, and realized that it was also important that she needed an education to fall back on. After graduating from Central High School in 1919, Agnes enrolled at Muskingum College, where she obtained a major in Biology. By the time she graduated from Muskingum in 1923, her parents and her younger sister, Margaret were now living in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. When Agnes visited them in Reedsburg she had decided to continue on with her studies by attending the University of Wisconsin to work on attaining her major in English and speech.
The whole time Agnes Moorehead was studying, she had not forgotten the impact that the stage had on her. She was determined to secure a placement at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but to study at the Academy she required a steady income, which was something that Agnes did not have. Dedicated and enthusiastic about pursuing a career in the theatre, Moorehead relied solely on her education credentials to pull her through. Shortly after she landed a position as school teacher at Centralized High School, where she taught English, speech and Ancient History.
Agnes enjoyed her time teaching, and considered herself a good teacher, but this was not where her heart was. As soon as she accumulated enough money, Agnes Moorehead embarked on a journey to New York, where she was to audition for Charles Jehlinger, the director of instruction at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. The audition went smoothly, and Moorehead was accepted into the Academy.
The American Academy of Dramatic Arts paved the way for Moorehead’s future success as an actress. During that year Agnes had learnt a wide array of techniques that equipped her for super-stardom. In addition to her studies at the Academy, Agnes was also taking courses at Columbia University, where she received her PHD in speech.
Despite graduating from the Academy with honors, 1929 was a calamitous year for Agnes. While pounding the pavements in New York for a theatrical agent who would give her a part in a play, Agnes received the unsettling news from her parents that her sister, Margaret had suffered a heart seizure and was raced to hospital. Deeply upset and worried about her sister she wanted to fly back to Ohio to be with her. However, Mollie told Agnes that it was no emergency and that Margaret would be on the road to recovery in no time. Two days later Margaret’s conditioned had worsened, and Agnes was summoned at once, but she only arrived there moments before Margaret died.
Agnes was left grief stricken over her sisters unexpected passing, but while the thought of losing her sister had left a huge emotional gap in her life, Agnes threw herself full swing into finding work in the theater. For an aspiring actress of her caliber attaining stage work was scarce with most of the main parts going to seasoned actresses. Agnes however did manage to secure a few positions as an understudy, but none of these parts generated the publicity, and Agnes was very rarely on stage.
With the minimal amount of work that she was finding, Agnes Moorehead was often left in dire situations and short of money. She later stated that during her years as a struggling actress, “I’d gone there ( New York City ) with the goal of every young actor: to make my way in the theater. To make my money last, I ate almost nothing: hot water for breakfast, a roll for lunch, rice for dinner. It was hungry work, making the rounds of casting agents, mile after mile on the unyielding sidewalk, and I used to wonder fervently just how God was going to provide manna in this man-made wilderness. At last came the day when I was literally down to my last dime. I stood in front of an automat gazing hungrily at the plates of food behind their little glass doors. The trouble was that one of the agents had given me clear instructions, “Phone, don’t come in.”, which meant that five of my ten cents would have to go into a telephone box instead of opening one of those little doors. With dragging feet I went into the drug store next door and changed my worldly wealth into two nickels. I shut myself in the phone booth at the rear of the store, inserted one of the precious nickels – and then waited in glowing alarm for the operators voice. Half my fortune was in that box, and nothing happened – the coin was not even returned to me! I jiggled the hook. I pounded the box, but it held tight to the coin that would have bought me a big white roll- and a pat of butter on the plate beside it. As always when I let myself think about food, a kind of desperation seized me. I thrust two fingers into the coin return, clawing the cold metal sides of the tube. They closed on a piece of paper. Though I didn’t know it then, I had stumbled onto a familiar racket of those days. Pay phones were built in such a way that a piece of paper inserted from the bottom would trap the money in the chute. All I knew was that as I drew out the paper, a little river of money streamed into my lap: dimes and quarters as well as nickels. In all when I had finished my incredulous count, I had $4.25… The oatmeal and rice it bought lasted until I got my first part.”
In 1930, Agnes Moorehead married, Jack Griffith Lee. The marriage was not always a happy union with Jack complaining that Agnes was receiving all the recognition while Jack’s career was falling into oblivion. Despite the fact that their marriage was crumbling away in front of them, the couple adopted an orphan son named Sean in 1949. The decision to adopt a child was an attempt to keep the marriage together, but when this failed, Moorehead and Lee filed for divorce in 1952. Two years later she married actor Robert Gist. This was another turbulent marriage. Agnes and Robert divorced in 1958.
After months of living in financial ruin, Agnes Moorehead would soon make an ascent when she found work on the radio. This was a turning point for Moorehead, who now found herself in demand instead of having to constantly fight for a dollar. Her success on the radio captured the attention of Helen Hayes, who realized that Agnes exuded all the qualities of a consummate actress, and arranged a motion picture screen test for her, but when she was rejected by the replacement who took over the duties of Haye’s friend who was out of town, Agnes returned to radio.
“The entertainment industry today is too interested in the money. And the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Agnes Moorehead may have had an unfavorable experience while trying out for the movies, but her career on radio was catapulting to great heights. With each broadcast she was starring in, a new door with more opportunities were being opened. One day while working at the radio Moorehead was introduced to a young man who would soon become an actor of the first magnitude: The star was no other than Orson Welles, who was also an innovative director.
Welles instantly discovered that Moorehead was something special. She embodied professionalism, and was dedicated to her craft, which were two ingredients that Welles admired. Realizing that Agnes was versatile, and could adapt to any role, Welles knew that she would be a great addition to his theatrical company, and by 1937, Agnes Moorehead was one of the pivotal members of the Mercury Theater.
Agnes may not have known it then, but working with Orson Welles was the best thing she ever did. Not only did it create a myriad of opportunities, it sent her on a memorable journey to Hollywood, where she would transform into one of the most sought after character actresses in the world.
Agnes Moorehead made her film debut in Orson Welles, Citizen Kane ( 1941 ). Despite only having a small part at the beginning of the film, Moorehead’s role as Charles Kane’s impoverished mother, Mary Kane was crucial to the movie, and would serve as an inventor of her future prominence in motion pictures.
Whether you love it or hate it, Citizen Kane is now considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made. Agnes Moorehead was memorable in the few brief scenes she had, and was fairly acknowledged by critics who realized that Moorehead was so assured that she was born to the medium.
Agnes Moorehead certainly was born to the medium, and was destined to be a prized treasure to Hollywood. After Citizen Kane, Agnes was cast in the role of Fanny Minafer in Orson Welles second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, in which she received her first of four Academy Award nominations for her portrayal of the emotionally wrought aunt Fanny.
As soon as she emerged from Orson Welles’ shadow, Agnes Moorehead solely embraced motion pictures and crafted a successful career for herself. By the time The Magnificent Ambersons was complete, Agnes’ third film The Big Street ( 1942 ) was green-lighted as a starring vehicle for Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. Based on a Damon Runyon story and penned for the screen by Leonard Spigelgass, The Big Street allowed Agnes to plant her comedic roots – a genre that she was required to dig into later in life.
With the success of her two previous films, Agnes Moorehead was cemented in a reputable position in Hollywood. She would appear in two more Orson Welles productions, but a lot of her recognition would be attained from films not associated with Welles. Her most acclaimed performance from this period was that of the Baroness Aspasia Conti from Mrs. Parkington, where she starred alongside Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Agnes received her second Academy Award nomination for her performance, and she considered it to be her favorite among her films.
In the years that followed her success from The Magnificent Ambersons, Agnes was mainly playing despicable characters, and was starting to be typecast as a selfish and unsympathetic individual. When Agnes heard that Mrs. Parkington was a proposed production on the horizon she heavily campaigned for the role of the Baroness Aspasia Conti. She seen this as the perfect way to escape from the continual pattern of villainous roles that she was largely associated with and one that would closely mirror her own exterior.
Mrs. Parkington was a positive success and put Agnes back on the radar. For her performance she received an Academy Award nomination and managed to walk home with the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. With the accolades that she received for Mrs. Parkington, Agnes thought that a triumphant peak in her film career was imminent, but instead she found that her work in films was sporadic with bouts of success occurring every few years.
Agnes’s soul focus at this time was her work on the radio. She had become known to audiences for her portrayal of Mrs. Elbert Stevenson, the neurotic heiress who overhears a proposed murder in Lucille Fletcher’s play Sorry Wrong Number, which broadcast on Suspense on May 18, 1943. Ever since it’s debut she had reprised her role several times on Suspense as well as other programs. In 1948, Fletcher’s play was adapted to the screen with Barbara Stanwyck playing the films protagonist.
“Of course I wanted to play the Stanwyck part in “Sorry Wrong Number”. It had been written for me by Lucille Fletcher, and I must have done it on radio about 18 times. I went to Hal Wallis at Paramount when they were casting it to put my hat in the ring, but he said he owed Barbara a picture and that I could have a supporting role. I said no. I’m not bitter about it. I let the chips fall where they may and go on from there….(laugh) They played my recording constantly on the set.”
Even though Suspense was bringing her all the accolades, Agnes never neglected motion pictures. After Mrs. Parkington, Moorehead appeared in Tomorrow, The World and Keep Your Powder Dry, two obscure films that never left a dent in Agnes’ career.
The year 1945 was a reputable year for Agnes. During these twelve months she starred opposite Edward G. Robinson and child star, Margaret O’Brien in the family drama, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. On it’s release, the film was financially successful, but as time proceeded, the movie went ignored due to the political troubles surrounding Dalton Trumbo.
After Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, Agnes Moorehead’s status at the box-office continued to soar. Her next important role would come in 1947 when she was cast alongside Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Jerry Wald’s Film Noir, Dark Passage. For the production, Agnes returned to her villainous roots and played Madge Raph, a predatory person who testifies against Bogart’s Vincent and has him framed for the murder of his wife and his best friend.
Although not as popular as the two previous Bogart an Bacall pictures, Dark Passage fared well at the box-office. Agnes received great praise for her portrayal of the calculating Madge Rapf. In a letter dated, February 5th, 1947, the films producer Jerry Wald expressed his admiration for Moorehead’s performance by writing, “We ran the first rough cut of Dark Passage yesterday. These lines are to implore you to put me at the head of your long line of fans. Despite the fact that you haven’t too many sides in the film, the scenes you do have are without doubt the finest job of acting I’ve seen on the screen or stage in years. You’re truly a great artist…Why we haven’t worked together before is something beyond my powers of comprehension, but in the future this must be changed. Just tell me what parts you’d like to play, and you’ve got them. If there is any role that you like of any pictures I’ve got coming up, for goodness sake, just say, “That’s for me.”, and you’ve got it. If there are some stories that you think would be good screen vehicles for you, please tell me about them. If this note sounds fan-ish… it’s meant to be.”
As stated in Jerry Wald’s letter, Agnes exuded tremendous talent, and her performance in Dark Passage really signified that. Madge Rapf was the ideal part for Agnes. It was a complex role that allowed her to tap into her dark side and display the roots of villainy. In many ways the film was her stepping stone to her future successes on screen.
After Dark Passage, Agnes discovered that a door of endless opportunities had been opened for her. Jerry Wald had future projects on the horizon and wanted Moorehead to star in them, and Orson Welles continuously tried to persuade Agnes to play Lady MacBeth for Utah’s Centennial Celebration at University Theatre in Salt Lake City, but due to her film commitments, Agnes was forced to decline. She did however, join Orson in their last major radio show together when she appeared on a segment of his Mercury Summer Theatre.
With her hectic work schedule came unexpected assignments. In late 1947, Agnes was cast in the role of the 105 year old Juliana in The Lost Moment, a film that was based on Henry James 1888 novel, The Aspern Papers. Initially Dame Judith Anderson was slated to play the role until the part was designated for Agnes at $5,000 a week. Moorehead who was known for emitting brilliance, found it difficult to endure the grueling demands on the set. To look convincing as a 105 year old, Agnes was required to wear a mask that would make her unrecognizable. This meant that she had to arrive in her dressing room at 5:am each morning, ready for Buddy Westmore to undergo the long remodeling procedure.
Despite the difficulty that was involved with the remodeling session, Agnes enjoyed the filming aspects of the movie. She built a strong rapport with her co-stars, Susan Hayward and Robert Cummings while director, Martin Gabel was understanding when it came to Agnes and her fellow players. The most distressing part for the cast and crew was receiving the scathing reviews from the critics, and the film falling to debris at the box-office.
The Lost Moment may have been a disaster, but Agnes Moorehead’s career continued to ascend. One year later she would be risen to an even higher pinnacle when she reunited with Jerry Wald to make the perennial classic, Johnny Belinda, a film starring her frequent co-star, Jane Wyman. For her performance, Moorehead received an Academy Award nomination and obtained great acclaim from audiences and critics alike. When asked about her tenure as a motion picture actress, Agnes always expressed her love for Johnny Belinda, and ranked it as one of her favorites from her filmography.
The last chapter of the decade was busy for Agnes. Her consummation and professionalism had taken her on a long journey to many uncharted territories. She was now one of Hollywood’s most sought-after character actresses, and was often cast alongside the major box-office draws of the day. Her most notable film from 1949 was The Stratton Story, which was based on the life of the renowned baseball champion, Monty Stratton. As is the case with many biopics, the film garnered critical acclaim on it’s release, and earned the Academy Award for Best Writing in a Motion Picture.
The start of a new decade brought new experiences. Agnes commenced 1950 as a prison superintendent in the Film Noir classic, Caged. The following year she appeared in the successful Technicolor remake of Show Boat, and was complimented for her performance in a musical extravaganza.
As the 1950’s progressed, Agnes Moorehead discovered that her film career was beginning to spiral into the throes. Apart from appearing in a few profitable productions, which include, Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows, Agnes was mostly seen in secondary roles that did nothing to enhance her reputation. Her soul focus at this time was the theatre. The stage became her destiny, and she made sure that all her efforts be infused into each performance.
The movies and radio were where her heart was, but Agnes Moorehead proved that she was more than just a dimming light on the stage. During that decade she gained a reputation as a professional theatre actress after starring in a few monumental productions, including, Don Juan In Hell, and touring with her famous one-woman show before the decade was out. When audiences were about to say goodbye to 1959, Agnes led them on another journey that would transport them to television.
After her success on the stage, the motion picture industry detected Moorehead’s sorely lacking filmography and decided that it was time to spotlight Agnes as a leading actress in The Bat ( 1959 ), a low-budget horror film starring Hollywood veteran, Vincent Price. For a film that was made on the cheap, The Bat was a significant production that would prepare her for triumph in the 1960’s.
By the time 1960 rolled around, Agnes was a glorified icon of the stage. She had envisioned that she would be spending most of that year on Broadway in the successful production, The Pink Panther, but when the show closed in Boston, she had to canvas around for something that would help her retain a reputable position. Her only resort was the television landscape, which mapped out most of the year.
Before 1961 approached, Agnes had already appeared in nine television series, and was already wanting to elude from the tiring pressures of the small screen. What she was after was a prominent role in a quality motion picture. Coincidentally, the movie studies were also lobbying for Agnes to make a return. The proposed vehicle was Pollyanna ( 1960 ), a Walt Disney production starring the most popular child star of the day, Hayley Mills.
Pollyanna rescued Agnes from the constant demands of television. She always said that she despised the medium and considered film making to be her preferred craft. When the offer came to star in Pollyanna, Moorehead enthusiastically accepted. She was also elated that she was appearing in another picture with her friend, Jane Wyman. In later years, Moorehead looked favorably upon her experience on the set. Despite Walt Disney’s reputation for being penurious when it came to paying his cast, the actors enjoyed working with the distinguished film producer and entrepreneur. The Disney studios were unlike any other movie studio. It was like one big playground that was adorned with sports and athletic equipment. Between takes the cast would often be seen playing volleyball or basketball.
A small part of Pollyanna was shot on location in the Napa Valley of California. At first the team players were sad to leave the congenial atmosphere that surrounded the Disney studios, but their time in Napa Valley proved to be just as entertaining. It was during this period that Agnes developed a close rapport with co-star Karl Malden. The two had gotten to know each other well at night time dinners and card games with a few of the other cast members. Malden later recalled “We all were like a family – full of love like a family.”. Agnes would reunite with Karl Malden again two years later in How The West Was Won.
Pollyanna was a massive hit with audiences, but the film itself didn’t even come close to surpassing Walt Disney’s other productions. As far as Disney was concerned the film was a financial failure. He was hoping that it would gross about 7 or 8 million, but instead he had to settle on $3.5 million. In his book The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin explains that Walt Disney saw the films title as an obstacle that would prevent it from succeeding.
No matter how much Walt Disney criticized the film, Agnes remained thankful that Pollyanna gave her a break away from television. After a rather fruitless year, Moorehead relied heavily on her performance as Mrs. Snow to bring her the acclamation that she needed to resurrect what could have been a failing career. For Agnes, this proved to be a wise decision. If it weren’t for Pollyanna, Agnes would have been fighting for better roles and would have went a whole year without any cinematic highlights.
After Pollyanna, Agnes Moorehead returned to the small screen for a few guest appearances on different television series including the The Rifleman. Even though she only appeared in one episode, Agnes left a lasting impression on the main cast and crew members who remembered her for her amiability, graciousness and sheer professionalism on set.
Agnes’ greatest television challenge would come the following year when she was cast in an episode of The Twilight Zone titled The Invaders. Here Agnes plays a solitary woman who is attacked by two tiny figures in her rustic cabin. For her performance Agnes was required to display a spectrum of emotions including pain and terror without uttering a word. Moorehead was more proud of her work in The Invaders than she was any other role she portrayed on television, and if Bewitched or Endora never came to fruition this would most likely be her signature role on television.
Like most stars when they reached a certain age, Agnes found that motion picture work was only happening sporadically. What she wanted was a solid role in a critically acclaimed film that would boost her reputation on the big screen, but when a part in a movie did come her way it was usually only a minor role in a low budget picture. Once Agnes realized that she couldn’t fully depend on the movies to bring in her income, she started to embrace the television medium even more. At this point in her career, her most pivotal goal was to star in a long running anthology series that would have her introducing each episode and starring in a large majority of them. Agnes did everything in her power to make this come to fruition, but even with the trouble she endured to form her own production company, the idea fell flat.
Now that the idea of hosting her own television series was scrapped, Agnes was forced to follow a different avenue. The journey entailed a myriad of disappointments and setbacks, but eventually she found herself back on the path to success. After being cast in a few small films, Moorehead secured the role as Rebecca Prescott in the western epic, How the West Was Won, which starred her close friend Debbie Reynolds and reunited her with her Pollyanna co-star, Karl Malden. Agnes enjoyed her time on set and showed her elation about working with Karl again, though she did recall the tiring schedule that would cause her to sometimes battle fatigue. The hardest was the five a.m. wake-up time and the long commute to their filming location, which was two hours outside of Paducah in Kentucky. Fortunately for Agnes, these traveling conditions brought plenty of time for socialization.
Despite the long location shooting and the sometimes harsh conditions, Agnes’ life was richer for having made the movie. During her time on set, Agnes had gotten to know Debbie Reynolds considerably well and the two formed a lifelong friendship. Although Debbie was thirty-two years her junior, she felt that she could relate to Agnes and found her easy to warm up to. Debbie later stated, “Agnes was a serious person, but I also discovered that she had a very dry inside type of humor and she loved to laugh. At first she could frighten anyone off but after she got to know you, the gate came down.”. When asked about Reynolds, Moorehead would say “You know, it’s rare to form a lasting friendship from making a picture together, but Debbie and I have formed a friendship that has lasted.” She also said that “Debbie has an incredible sense of humor. Both Debbie and I manage to see the funny side of things. We both have this zany sense of humor. That may surprise a lot of people, I’m sure because I always seem to appear so austere and seem to play those types of roles mostly. We both, Debbie and I have a deep faith in God, too.”
After the triumph of How the West Was Won, Agnes was left to canvas around for another role that would have an impact on audiences. Her next venture was different to anything she’s ever done before. Instead of metamorphosing into individual characters on screen, Moorehead traveled to Dayton, Ohio to deliver a lecture on politics and the current events that were happening at the time. This was a topic that Agnes rarely explored, but versatility is the key to success, and that was important to Agnes.
From November 19th, 1962 to April 20th, 1963, Agnes was on tour for her latest stage show, Lord Pengo. The plays first week at the box-office was auspicious, but as time progressed, the expenses escalated and the gradually diminishing attendance was not bringing in the profits. The closing night was definitely not a sad occasion for all involved. By this stage each cast member was eager to move on to the next chapter of their career, especially Agnes, who was looking forward to seeing what was on the horizon.
After Lord Pengo, Agnes Moorehead had no conception of what the future would bring, but she did have a slight inkling that acclamation was in the air. What she didn’t know is that a door that would lead to new opportunities was about to be opened. Her next project was no surprise to Agnes, though the thrill of being personally asked by Jerry Lewis to star in his next picture was something she found rewarding. The name of the film was Who’s Minding the Store, and because it was a comedy that featured Jerry Lewis, Agnes anticipated another great victory of achievement.
Agnes’ predictions of success were true. Who’s Minding the Store was an enjoyable project that allowed Agnes to work at a leisurely pace. During the three weeks shooting schedule Moorehead stayed at Debbie Reynold’s house, but once filming was complete, Agnes was back on the road touring for her one-woman show, which would take her to Israel in the summer of 1963 so she could present her show to the Tel-Aviv Israel Festival. While in Israel Agnes heard word that her mother Mollie was hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to undergo intestinal surgery. With Mollie’s advancing age, Agnes was worried that she might take a turn for the worse. All she could do was cling to hope that her mother would make a complete recovery. Luckily, the operation was uneventful, and Mollie who was nearing eighty years old was ready to return home.
Now that Mollie was on the road to good health, Agnes devoted the rest of 1963 to her one-woman show. It was during this period that Agnes Moorehead discovered exactly what the next chapter of her career would bring. The discovery was that Agnes was the first choice to play a mother to Elizabeth Montgomery in a thirty minute television series. This was indeed welcoming news, but as she read on, she soon unleashed the secrets of the character she was assigned. She was to step into the world of sorcery and magic to play a witch.
“It’s marvelous to be called a lovely witch“
The thought of playing a witch greatly stunned Agnes. After all, the role of Endora was a far cry from any other character she had portrayed, and this meant that Agnes would have to charter unfamiliar territory. Although Agnes was eager to disseminate her skills as an actress, she was apprehensive about accepting the part. Her biggest concern was that she would be chiefly remembered as a witch. To Agnes’ chagrin, that is exactly what happened.
With her wealth of experience as well as her extensive resume filled with a multitude of memorable roles, it’s a shame that the motion picture work of Agnes Moorehead has gradually sunk into oblivion, but as much as Bewitched engulfed the early days of her career, the successful long running series deserved all the honors it received, and one can so rightfully see why Endora became a cultural character that would vanquish any previous recognition of her portrayer.
From the moment it first debuted on September 17th, 1964, Bewitched was considered a masterpiece of the television medium, and could only be surpassed by the long running western, Bonanza, which scored number 1 on the Nielsen Ratings, while Bewitched sat firmly in the second position for the first season, but managed to remain in the top 20 until its fifth season in 1969.
Wrapped around an illusionary fairytale, and offering an intriguing premise, Bewitched proved to be the perfect escapist vehicle for audiences who were wanting to elude the tumult that was largely dominant throughout the 1960’s. People worldwide was yearning for entertainment that was fun loving, and that swayed in different directions of humanity rather than seeing productions that focused on immorality, violence, and the everyday struggles of life.
What Bewitched represented was something completely different. This was quality entertainment that had a wide array of ingenious comical situations and the power to immerse audiences from all age groups. The plot was unique, and the lifestyle that it captured was idyllic, like the pastoral existence that many dreamed of living.
Bewitched revolves around the story of Samantha Stephens ( Elizabeth Montgomery ), a beautiful young witch who can possess magic by twitching her nose. When she meets and marries Darrin Stephens ( Dick York and later Dick Sargent ), a common ordinary mortal, who works as an advertising executive for McMann & Tate, Samantha pledges to abandon her powers for the sake of her husband. This is a promise that proves to be difficult since Samantha’s meddling mother, Endora ( Agnes Moorehead ) despises mortals, and will do everything in her powers to antagonize Darrin, in the hopes that their marriage will go crumbling. In addition to Endora, Darrin must contend with the rest of Samantha’s mortal hating relatives, who plan to make his marriage a living nightmare.
Bewitched was the prized creation of Sol Saks, who had considerable success as a screenwriter prior to delivering his expertise to the series. Assisting Sol Saks was Harry Ackerman and Bill Dozier from Screen Gems. Montgomery’s husband, William Asher served as director and producer for most part of the series with occasional producing credits by, Danny Arnold, Jerry Davis, and William Froug.
The fact that Agnes is even in Bewitched has all got to do with the powers and the instrumental force of Elizabeth Montgomery. Initially, Agnes objected to playing the role. She viewed television as a tiring treadmill, and with other engagements, including her one woman show, she didn’t want to be obligated to do a series. Agnes had always said that she wasn’t interested in the medium. Radio and motion pictures were her idea of work, and the thought of appearing in a weekly series never really crossed her mind. Things changed however, once she was approached by Elizabeth Montgomery in Bloomingdales Department Store. The two exchanged pleasantries before Montgomery proposed the question to Agnes that would change her life forever.
Agnes certainly never thought about spending her twilight years in television, but Elizabeth definitely did. She knew right from the very start that Samantha’s meddling mother was a role for an actress with authority, and that the part was tailor made for Moorehead. She also realized that she would have a hard time convincing Agnes, but to her surprise, Moorehead never declined her offer, and Montgomery arranged to have the script sent to her.
That’s how Endora, the mother in law that would send Agnes Moorehead on a journey from a quintessential character actress to an unconquerable witch came to the fore. Initially Agnes was reluctant about playing the part, but she read the script, and accepted to take on the role for two reasons: Firstly, she needed the money, and the income that was being offered to her for each series couldn’t be knocked back. Secondly, she believed that the premise would be considered to hokey to most audiences, and really didn’t think the show would sell. When Bewitched became a successful long running series, Agnes was shocked. She later stated, “I thought people would rather watch an operation or something.”
With the unanticipated news that Bewitched had sold and was scheduled to appear on ABC’s television lineup, Agnes had a busy year ahead of her. A large part of her time was spent on tour for her one-woman show. When she wasn’t touring she was tied to the series, a task that made her feel trapped. To add to her already incessant itinerary, Robert Aldrich sent Agnes an offer to appear in his latest film, Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Though the film was never intended to be a sequel to the 1962 Davis and Crawford vehicle, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, it did have many similarities. The title was later changed to Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and apart from sharing many of the same elements the film was almost beyond recognition to its predecessor.
Agnes Moorehead was reluctant to accept any more roles. She knew that juggling a television series and her one-woman show would be near impossible, but after reading the script she realized that this was one of those rare opportunities that may not arise again. If she agreed to play Velma, she envisaged prominence and if she declined she seen nothing but a dark tunnel ahead of her. Agnes wanted the part and she was determined to map out her plans accordingly.
At first Agnes thought she could comfortably rotate between productions. By now Elizabeth Montgomery was heavily pregnant and the filming for Bewitched was not scheduled til August. This meant that Moorehead had ample time to shoot her scenes for Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which was to commence in May, and be ready to start on the series in August. However, that was not to be. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was plagued with difficulties from the onset. After ten days of filming on location at Houmas House in Louisiana, Joan Crawford was beginning to succumb to the troubles that were fueled by Bette Davis, who made it clear several times that she did not want Crawford in the picture. Problems mounted on the final day of location shooting when Crawford fell asleep in her trailer and awoke hours later to discover that the cast and crew had packed up and left Louisiana, and were headed back to Hollywood, where they were to continue on filming. The lack of communication which was coupled by Davis’ harsh treatment infuriated Crawford, who was left alone in the dark colossal fields of the Houmas plantation with little knowledge to where everyone was. Alone for the night in Baton Rouge, Crawford made her own travel arrangements, and departed for Los Angeles later that evening.
On her arrival in Los Angeles, Joan Crawford reportedly fell ill, and admitted herself into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for much needed recuperation. Whether or not Crawford was sick is not truly known. Many people believe that Crawford feigned illness because she wanted out of that picture, while others state that Crawford was inflicted with a respiratory infection, but whatever the truth, Joan Crawford’s time on the set was a complete nightmare. She was sick of playing second fiddle to Davis, who she felt was always overacting and chewing up the scenery, trying to take all scenes away from Crawford.
Following her stint in the hospital, Joan Crawford left the production completely. With Joan gone, Robert Aldrich was faced with an even bigger problem. If Crawford couldn’t be replaced, shooting of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte would have to be suspended indefinitely. Aldrich however was determined to make this film work. He began canvassing around Hollywood for an actress to take Joan’s place. After approaching notable Hollywood stars like, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Loretta Young, and Vivien Leigh, who all declined, Aldrich took Davis’ advice, and asked Olivia de Havilland, who reluctantly accepted due to her close friendship with Bette Davis.
Once Olivia de Havilland joined the cast the atmosphere on the set was more congenial. There were no dark clouds threatening verbal disputes. The only altercation that erupted was when filming went way over schedule and interfered with the shooting of Bewitched. By now, Moorehead was heavily involved with the series, which first debuted on September 17th of that year, and was unable to film her scenes for Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. This created havoc for Robert Aldrich and his crew, who were considering having Moorehead replaced, or her part wiped out completely.
Luckily for Agnes, Aldrich was able to dissolve all complications. Despite her other commitments, Moorehead stayed in the picture and returned to Bewitched when filming was completed in October 1964. The following year the film was steeped in acclamation and garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Agnes Moorehead, who lost to Lila Kedrova for her role in Zorba The Creek, while Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland both went unnoticed at that years Oscars ceremony.
After Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Agnes spent the majority of her time making Bewitched. This was not the most joyous occasion of her career. For the first time in her life she felt imprisoned. There were other avenues that she wanted to follow, but she was confined to the series and was forced to decline any offers. Agnes expressed her disdain for Bewitched in her letters to her close friend Georgia Johnstone, stating “The set of Bewitched is so dull, as far as I’m concerned, so much haggling and gossip. It’s just awful.”. The only thing that kept her tied to the series was the healthy paycheck.
For Agnes, the most pleasurable time during those eight years that Bewitched was on air was when she was on hiatus. It was during these absences that Agnes would be seen adorning cinema screens world wide as another character. While Elizabeth Montgomery was pregnant and unable to make the series, Moorehead accepted Debbie Reynolds invitation to star with her in The Singing Nun, which commenced in October 1965. Agnes wasn’t overly enthused about the script. She thought it was insipid and dull. What lured her into appearing in the film though was working with her friends, Debbie Reynolds and Greer Garson.
The Singing Nun would be Agnes’ last eminent motion picture. Although Agnes did appear in a few more films during the early 70’s, these productions were made when Moorehead was facing a career decline and in ill health. She did continue to make guest appearances on television and tour with her one-woman show, but at this point, Bewitched was the only engagement that was providing her with a sufficient income.
Agnes couldn’t stand inactivity. As a star she wanted to maintain her work status by being prolifically involved in some form of entertainment whether it be movies or making guest appearances on television. When no offers came her way she felt indolent. The year 1966 was quiet for Agnes. Apart from the filming of Bewitched, Agnes was mostly laying idle. Instead of biding the time waiting for an exciting new opening she canvassed around for something that would keep her active. Shortly after she landed guest parts in three series. This would diminish a bit of time, but she still remained rather lackluster.
That same year, she flew Sean home from his school in Wales and enrolled him in Sunday school in Beverly Hills. Attending to Sean’s needs was her soul focus at this time. She wanted to support Sean as much as she could and try and vanquish the troubles she was having with him, but this was proving to be more and more difficult. To further exacerbate matters, Agnes fell ill during the second season of Bewitched. When all her energy was being consumed fast and after appearing exhausted on set, Agnes became worried and admitted herself into the Mayo Clinic, where she stayed for a few weeks before moving on to her mothers place in Reedsburg for much needed rest and recuperation.
While staying with her mother in Reedsburg, Agnes’ spirits were lifted when she found out she was nominated for an Emmy Award along with co-star Alice Pearce for her performance in Bewitched. Agnes was convinced she would attain the trophy, but unfortunately for Agnes, Pearce, who had recently passed away, was the recipient. This was an immediate disappointment, but being the professional that she was Agnes continued on working. After all, she realized that just because she missed out this time around does not mean that she will never take home the award. She still had the future ahead of her, and Bewitched was still in its early days.
After spending a few months with her mother, Agnes returned to California to embark on season three of Bewitched. Agnes would later recall that this particular period in her later year was perhaps her most memorable. It was during this time that she met Quint Bennedetti, who had just enrolled in her acting school. The two would eventually form a close friendship that touched more on a professional level – Agnes seen Quint as a business handler, and she trusted him to oversee all her duties.
1966 may not have been the best year for Agnes financially, but she did manage to end it on a high note. In December Agnes signed on to make a guest appearance on The Wild, Wild West. She played Emma Valentine in the episode titled, The Night of the Vicious Valentine, and would later receive her first Emmy Award for her performance . In actual fact, she attained two nominations at the 1967 Emmy’s ceremony – one for The Night of the Vicious Valentine and the other for Bewitched. Once again Agnes missed out on the award for Bewitched, though this time she was pleased that she was beaten by her friend Lucille Ball, who she had gotten to know during the filming of The Big Street ( 1942 ).
Now that she was the proud recipient of an Emmy Award, Agnes Moorehead was walking on air. The fact that she was even nominated profoundly surprised her. She had accepted to guest star in an episode of The Wild, Wild West, because she needed money to put towards her farm in Ohio, where she planned to live with her mother after going into semi-retirement in 1975. She also thought the script had potential – It contained a considerable dose of witty humor and the dialogue was razor-sharp. The whole thing had an ingenious flair to it – Still, the last thing that Agnes expected was to walk home with the statuette.
For Agnes, what followed was a continuous pattern of happiness. Behind the Bewitched cameras she dazzled audiences as Endora, but on the home front, Agnes enjoyed nothing more than winding down and engaging herself in the leisurely activities that pleased her the most. When she wasn’t in California, Agnes was either visiting her mother in Reedsburg or on the road with her one-woman show. Most of all, she loved life and took great pride in what she did.
The next few years saw Agnes working tirelessly on Bewitched. Occasionally, she would tour with her one-woman show and make appearances on television during this time, but it was her role as Endora that was bringing her the fame and popularity. By now, she was becoming more and more recognizable. She couldn’t even have lunch at a secluded cafe or visit the local Presbyterian Church with her mother in Reedsburg without people, especially children recognizing her as Endora and approaching her.
In April 1967, Agnes made a five day appearance on Password. This was a great way for the general public to get a glimpse into the more personal side of the actress. Here she amiably spoke to contestants in a setting that allowed her to be more intimate. When watching Agnes on these five day episodes, you can still see that she exuded her usual air of sophistication and professionalism, but she also emitted warmth and graciousness.
By now Agnes’ turbulent relationship with Sean had reached boiling point. The final ultimatum came when Agnes found a gun in the drawer of his room. The thought of Sean trying to cause harm to her deeply hurt Agnes. For years she had provided him with nothing but the best, and now Sean was going to great lengths to wreak havoc in the household. Agnes had done all she could for Sean, but she wasn’t going to put with him anymore and she told him to leave. This episode resulted in a permanent estrangement. Agnes never crossed paths with Sean again and all contact was broken. According to Debbie Reynolds, Sean turned to a life of crime and was undoubtedly living on the streets.
The exact truth behind what happened to Sean is unknown. For years researchers and historians have tried unleashing the cobwebs of mystery, but to this day the subject of Sean remains an enigma. Is he dead or alive? – nobody can really answer that question. There was a theory that states he went to Vietnam, and others have speculated that he vacated to Switzerland. What we do know is that Debbie wanted to locate Sean when Agnes was on her deathbed, but Agnes had forbade her to go ahead with proceedings. Hopefully one day the concealed secret will be revealed, but for now we just have to expose ourselves to the myths.
Instead of succumbing to the troubles that were inflicted upon by Sean, Agnes threw herself back into work. Bewitched was still popular on the ratings, but Agnes was not satisfied. She had been working around the clock on this series since the first season and she felt that the show was her biggest burden. What she wanted was a higher salary, and if she weren’t going to be granted her wishes, she threatened to seek other touring options for her one-woman show.
Fortunately, Agnes stayed on Bewitched. She felt this was a wise decision. After all, Endora was a crucial character and without her presence the show would fall flat. At first things were starting to improve, but just when the set was becoming tumultuous free, the series brought a big blow to Agnes’ system when Dick York left at the end of season five due to back injuries, and was replaced by Dick Sargent. Agnes had a hard time adjusting to these changes. She openly admitted that she wasn’t keen on Sargent taking over the role as Darrin Stephens, and she was compared to let him know it.
Even though Agnes vividly expressed her concerns over the casting of Dick Sargent, she still did not want to get enmeshed in any feud. She was here to do her job and go home at night, though with York’s sudden departure, Agnes felt as if the set was her new residence. Once Sargent entered the series the hours seemed to be getting longer and longer. Unfortunately, for Agnes, it was just going to get worse when Elizabeth Montgomery fell pregnant and the company decided to skip the usual spring break to stay in production until Montgomery left for maternity leave.
Problems escalated when Agnes’ Beverly Hills home was robbed in August of 1969 while she was away. Agnes reportedly had a few prized possessions stolen, including items that belonged to her mother and father along with other pieces of expensive jewelry. Whether they found the culprits is not exactly known, but one can assume they did. That same year Agnes started experiencing troubles with the building process for her house on her farm in Ohio, where her and Mollie were planning to live after she went into semi-retirement. The faults she described were unfathomable. At one stage the contractor burned down the house that was in great need of repair. Initially, Agnes had wanted to fix it herself and transform it into a studio room. It was an unfortunate chapter of events that Agnes later stated was disheartening.
With all the adversities she was faced with and with the money that her Ohio property was costing her, work was a necessity. Agnes was desperately in need of the income. Luckily, her Bewitched salary had increased, and during the quiet patches she had a few guest appearances on television to help her through these trying times. Her next movie role would come in 1971 when she landed a cameo part in What’s the Matter with Helen?, a film that was co-produced by Debbie Reynolds, and starring Reynolds alongside Shelley Winters and Dennis Weaver. Debbie, who was cognizant of Moorehead’s current tribulations insisted that she play Sister Alma in the film. Agnes immediately accepted. She was always elated to work with Debbie, and this time Winters was in the film, which was an added bonus for Agnes, though Winter’s mercurial temperament resulted in a rocky relationship.
The start of the 1970’s was full of frantic activity. The filming of Bewitched was moving at a fast pace, and Agnes was often navigating between jobs. During the summer of 1970, the Bewitched team traveled to Salem, Massachusetts to shoot the scenes that took place in Salem. They’re visit was totally maniacal. Agnes and Elizabeth couldn’t leave their hotel without being besieged by a deluge of fans and photographers. Agnes later stated “Salem was frightening. The crowds tore our clothes off and our hair out. Real Witchery.”
Many people have said that Agnes Moorehead lived to work. There are certainly traces of the truth in this statement, but while she was passionate about her career and relished every moment she spent behind the camera, Agnes had an incredible zest for life and loved basking in the glory of freedom. It was during her times of leisure that people discovered that Agnes also exuded benevolence and was known to touch those less fortunate than her with her profound kindness. One particular family in San Antonio, Texas will always be in debt to Agnes for the token of affection she showed their daughter little Judith Ann when she was terminally ill. Thanks to Conrad Binyon, Agnes forged a friendship with young Judith. Though they never met, the two would exchange sweet letters and Agnes would sometimes send a gift in return, the last being two pairs of nighties that arrived at the hospital one week before Judith died.
“The constant search and witness for God’s truth – that is the most rewarding journey any of us can take in life.”
Back on the job front, Agnes Moorehead was hard at work for what would be the final season of Bewitched. After eight years, the show was growing increasingly painful for the cast and crew. Elizabeth Montgomery was eager to nurture a career outside of Samantha Stephens, and by this time her marriage to William Asher was under strain. Agnes also felt that Endora was losing her magic and had no new tricks to show the world. In addition to all that, the popularity rating had been slowly descending since Dick Sargent took over the role of Darrin. These problems are clearly evident in the eighth season. Even the writers were facing difficulties in conjuring up story ideas and had to resort to recycling old material from previous episodes. When watching this season, you can’t help but notice how ill Agnes looked. She appeared exhausted and gaunt – really she was just a shadow of her former self.
In December 1971, the witches, warlocks and mortals that adorned Samantha’s idyllic world took their final bow. At the time, nobody knew that this was to be the last ever episode of Bewitched. Since the contract still had two years before expiry, the cast and crew were fully expecting to return for a ninth season. However, Elizabeth Montgomery did not wish to continue on with the series. She was ready to embark on the next chapter of her career.
Agnes first heard word of the shows closure while recovering at her mothers house in Reedsburg after being hospitalized at the Methodist Hospital, where she discovered that she had cancer. Although, Moorehead often threatened that she would leave Bewitched, she was still sad that she had come to the end of her journey as Endora – But what Agnes and the rest of the world didn’t know is that in two years time Agnes herself would be taking her final bow.
Agnes found it difficult to adjust to life after Bewitched. After eight years she had become accustomed to playing Endora, and the income she received was of great benefit to her, but now that the series was off air, Agnes was left without a job. Coupling her fears of not knowing if or where her next career move would take her, were her current health battles. At this point, Agnes was growing increasingly weak and therefore would not be able to take on any role that required her to devour all her energy.
Due to her condition, Agnes was forced to decline the myriad of offers that came her way. Most of these were stage opportunities that relied heavily on full mobility. Normally Agnes was able to move freely around a stage, but while she was weak and resting at her mothers house, all of this seemed impossible. For now, Agnes had to wait until another film or guest appearance arose that didn’t require assiduous activity.
While on the road to recovery, Agnes accepted roles in a string of made for television movies that were scheduled to start in the summer. With the success that Endora garnered her, it was sad seeing everyone’s favorite witch relegated to these productions that were made on a strict budget, but when faced with a desperation crisis Agnes had to choose the most suitable offer that came in her direction.
These films did nothing to enhance her reputation, but they did provide her with the money she needed for her Ohio farm. Around the same time Dear Dead Delilah was released. The film was made in 1970 while Agnes was heavily under strain with Bewitched, but because of the small market, it did not hit cinemas until 1972. Although, the title of the film indicates that its one of those campy productions that were made on a cheap budget, the critiques response to the picture was not as degrading as Moorehead had initially envisioned. The general public also seemed to appreciate Agnes taking on the leading role, and the cast and crew were full of praise for Moorehead’s consummate professionalism and went on to compliment her equitable craftsmanship.
Agnes Moorehead’s twilight years were filled with a mixture of sporadic work engagements and inactivity. At this point in her career, the actress was often battling ill health and spent a large majority of her time recuperating at her mothers house. When she wasn’t plagued with some medical woe, Moorehead was back in the realms of her career. In an attempt to accentuate her star status, Moorehead accepted her original role of Dona Ana in the stage production revival of Don Juan In Hell.
Don Juan In Hell left Agnes with a new sense of purpose and stability. For the first time in months Moorehead felt invigorated. She relished echoing back to the past and revising her former role as Dona Ana. However, the one aspect that truly made her feel secure was the long term work commitments and the steady income that it provided. These moments of joy were punctuated by frequent splashes of cordiality. The hospitable environment helped accentuate the positivity. Moreover, Agnes’ fellow cast and crew members stated that she was very personable even though she had a tendency to exude authoritarian leanings.
Don Juan In Hell holds symbolic importance in Agnes Moorehead’s career. The 72 year old actress had recently recovered from a serious bout of cancer, but yet she shown no traces of illness in her performances. Insiders have stated that on very few occasions the hectic schedule along with the frequent travel left Agnes feeling emotionally drained. However, Agnes’ close circle of friends and fellow cast members always maintained that the tour seemed to revive Agnes. The more accurate reports reveal that Agnes enjoyed basking in the spotlight and was always eager to churn out countless interviews, where she would openly express herself. This high level of exhilaration continued on even after the show closed.
When confirmation came that Don Juan In Hell was going to end its run, Agnes decided to remain in New York for a while longer. After months of laying dormant due to ill health, Agnes feared that her hopes of retaining her current popularity will crush if she returned to California. This decision turned out to be the springboard to more successful ventures.
In New York audiences were given more exposure to Agnes. During this time the actress could be glimpsed attending Broadway shows and other work related engagements. Perhaps her biggest thrill though was reuniting with her old friend Arlene Francis when she appeared as a mystery guest on the syndicated version of What’s My Line. Agnes’ presence that night sparked quite a commotion and great waves of excitement permeated the auditorium. The happiness that emanated really made Agnes feel that she belonged in the spotlight.
Agnes Moorehead hated having to leave New York, but at the same time she was fulfilled and contented. She was also relieved to know that she had a project waiting for her in London during the spring of 1973. The assignment in question is the NBC two-part mini series, Frankenstein: The True Story. Agnes portrayed the role of the invalid Mrs. Blair whose declining health is marked by a stroke. Although her role was relatively small, it still provided Agnes with a significant amount of money that she needed for the maintenance of her Ohio farm where she had planned to spend her retirement.
Agnes Moorehead’s twilight years were tinged with moments of joy and sorrow. Apart from a brief idyllic sojourn at her Ohio farm, Agnes’ schedule was engulfed with work and preparations for her role as Aunt Alicia in the stage production of Gigi. A 25-week tour of the country that left her feeling mentally and emotionally fatigued indicated that something was severely wrong. Those close to the actress could easily determine that she was sinking, but being the consummate professional that she was, Agnes never openly expressed her concerns. She just continued on with the show and spawned performance after performance until she realized that she was rapidly succumbing to illness and she no longer consumed enough energy to go on stage.
Agnes’ departure from Gigi marked the end of her journey as an actress. Her great friend Arlene Francis stepped in to replace her, but with Agnes gone, the shows box office ratings took a giant plunge and after a few more weeks Gigi closed for good.
Bewitched and beloved, Agnes Moorehead embarked on a train journey to the Mayo Clinic – her career fading away behind her with each passing mile. Agnes was reaching closer to her final destiny and she didn’t have the slightest inkling. She would soon learn of her fate, but even then she took the news in stride. Always a firm believer in God, Agnes was convinced that she would defeat the terminal cancer. After all, she had vanquished her first serious battle of the disease in 1972, and she had sprung back into action. She was determined to overcome it and she fought with all her will, but it was too late. After months of yearning for a much earned rest, she finally received her wish. On April 30th, 1974, Agnes Robertson Moorehead passed away peacefully while her mother Mollie was lovingly caressing her. She was 73 years old, and was survived by her mother, who died in 1990 at age 106.
The news of Agnes’ passing shocked the nation. Her close friends contextualized on their relationship with the star. Obituaries painted her as an authentic and versatile actress who carved her way into cinematic history, while other media platforms highlighted her role as Endora and paid special emphasis on the famed character that epitomized the golden age of television. After putting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, its easy to determine that Agnes Moorehead was an extremely gifted personality whose name will continue to echo throughout the years.