“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 Endora eclipsed 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.