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"This must be Whats-His-Name?"

- as Endora on Bewitched (1964–1972)

AGNES MOOREHEAD

Agnes Moorehead initially turned down the role of Endora in Bewitched (1964), but reconsidered when Elizabeth Montgomery asked her in person, when they met in a department store. Moorehead joined the cast not expecting the series to last more than one season, let alone become a long-running hit.

Agnes Robertson Moorehead (December 6th, 1900 – April 30th, 1974) was an American actress whose career of six decades included work in radio, stage, film, and television. She is chiefly known for her role as Endora on the television series Bewitched. She was also notable for her film roles in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, All That Heaven Allows, Showboat and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

While rarely playing leads in films, Moorehead's skill at character development and range earned her one Primetime Emmy Award and two Golden Globe awards in addition to four Academy Award and six Emmy Award nominations. Moorehead's transition to television won acclaim for drama and comedy. She could play many different types, but often portrayed haughty, arrogant characters.

Moorehead was born in Clinton, Massachusetts, of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry, to a Presbyterian clergyman, John Henderson Moorehead, and his wife, the former Mildred McCauley, who had been a singer. Moorehead later shaved six years off her age by claiming to have been born in 1906. Moorehead recalled her first public performance was at the age of three, reciting "The Lord's Prayer" in her father's church. The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and Moorehead's ambition to become an actress grew "very strong". Her mother indulged her active imagination, often asking, "Who are you today, Agnes?", while Moorehead and her sister would often engage in mimicry, often coming to the dinner table and imitating parishioners. Moorehead noted and was encouraged by her father's amused reactions. She joined the chorus of the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company, known as "The Muny". In addition to her interest in acting, she developed a lifelong interest in religion; in later years, actors such as Dick Sargent would recall Moorehead's arriving on the set with "the Bible in one hand and the script in the other".

Moorehead graduated from Central High School in St. Louis, in 1918. Although her father did not discourage Moorehead's acting ambitions, he insisted that she obtain a formal education. In 1923, Moorehead earned a bachelor's degree, with a major in biology, from Muskingum College (now Muskingum University) in New Concord, Ohio; while there, she also appeared in college stage plays. She later received an honorary doctorate in literature from Muskingum and served for a year on its board of trustees. When her family moved to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, she taught public school for five years in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, while she also earned a master's degree in English and public speaking at the University of Wisconsin (now University of Wisconsin–Madison). She then pursued postgraduate studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, from which she graduated with honors in 1929. Moorehead received an honorary doctoral degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.

Moorehead's early career was unsteady, and, although she was able to find stage work, she was often unemployed and forced to go hungry. She later recalled going four days without food, and said that it had taught her "the value of a dollar". She found work in radio and was soon in demand, often working on several programs in a single day. She believed that it offered her excellent training and allowed her to develop her voice to create a variety of characterizations. Moorehead met the actress Helen Hayes, who encouraged her to try to enter films, but her first attempts were met with failure. Rejected as not being "the right type", Moorehead returned to radio.

Moorehead met Orson Welles, and by 1937 was one of his principal Mercury Players, along with Joseph Cotten. She performed in his The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio adaptations, and had a regular role opposite Welles in the serial The Shadow as Margo. In 1939, Welles moved the Mercury Theatre to Hollywood, where he started working for RKO Pictures. Several of his radio performers joined him, and Moorehead made her film debut as his mother in Citizen Kane (above, 1941), considered one of the best films ever made. She also appeared in his films Journey Into Fear (1943), based on a novel by Eric Ambler, and The Magnificent Ambersons (right, 1942), based on a novel by Booth Tarkington. She received a New York Film Critics Award and an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the latter film. Moorehead received positive reviews for her performance in Mrs. Parkington, as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award nomination.

Moorehead played another strong role in The Big Street (1942) with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, and then appeared in two films that failed to find an audience, Government Girl (1943) with Olivia de Havilland and The Youngest Profession (1944) with the adolescent Virginia Weidler.

In the mid-1940s, Moorehead joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, negotiating a $6,000-a-week contract with the provision to perform also on radio, an unusual clause at the time. Moorehead explained that MGM usually refused to allow their actors to play on radio as "the actors didn't have the knowledge or the taste or the judgment to appear on the right sort of show." In 1943–1944, Moorehead portrayed "matronly housekeeper Mrs. Mullet", who was constantly offering her "candied opinion", in Mutual Radio's The Adventures of Leonidas Witherall.

Moorehead was in many important films, including Dark Passage (with Humphrey Bogart above) and Since You Went Away, either playing key small or large supporting parts. She skillfully portrayed puritanical matrons, neurotic spinsters, possessive mothers, and comical secretaries throughout her career and played Parthy Hawks, wife of Cap'n Andy and mother of Magnolia, in MGM's hit 1951 remake of Show Boat.

In 1941, Moorehead played Maggie in the short-lived Bringing up Father program on the Blue Network. From 1942 to 1949, Moorehead played the role of the mayor's housekeeper in the radio version of Mayor of the Town. She also starred in The Amazing Mrs. Danberry, a situation comedy on CBS, in 1946. Moorehead's title character was described as "the lively widow of a department store owner who has a tongue as sharp as a hatpin and a heart as warm as summer."

During the 1940s and 1950s, Moorehead was one of the most in-demand actresses for radio dramas, especially on the CBS show Suspense. During the 946-episode-run of Suspense, Moorehead was cast in more episodes than any other actor or actress. She was often introduced on the show as the "first lady of Suspense". Moorehead's most successful appearance on Suspense was in the legendary play Sorry, Wrong Number, written by Lucille Fletcher, broadcast on May 18th, 1943. Moorehead played a selfish, neurotic woman who overhears a murder being plotted via crossed phone wires and eventually realizes she is the intended victim. She recreated the performance six times for Suspense and several times on other radio shows, always using her original, dog-eared script. In 1952, she recorded an album of the drama, and performed scenes from the story in her one-woman show in the 1950s. Barbara Stanwyck played the role in the 1948 film version. Mooreheads’ work in 1948’s Johnny Belinda (below) earned her a third Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She didn’t win, but neither did Stanwyck for Sorry, Wrong Number.

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In the 1950s, Moorehead continued to work in films and to appear on stage across the country, including a national tour of Shaw's Don Juan in Hell, co-starring Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, and Cedric Hardwicke (1951–1952) and Lord Pengo in 1962–1963. She appeared as the hypochondriac Mrs. Snow in Disney's hit film Pollyanna (1960). Alongside Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Mary Astor, and Joseph Cotten, she starred in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), as the maid, Velma, a role for which she was nominated for a her fourth Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.

In 1959, Moorehead guest starred on The Rebel. Her role in the radio play Sorry, Wrong Number inspired writers of the CBS television series The Twilight Zone to script an episode with Moorehead in mind. In "The Invaders" (broadcast January 27th, 1961) Moorehead played a woman whose isolated farm is plagued by mysterious intruders. In "Sorry, Wrong Number", Moorehead offered a famed, bravura performance using only her voice, and for "The Invaders", she was offered a script where she had no dialogue at all.

Moorehead also had guest roles on Channing, Custer, Rawhide, in "Incident at Poco Tiempo" as Sister Frances, and The Rifleman. On February 10th, 1967, she portrayed Miss Emma Valentine in "The Night of the Vicious Valentine" on The Wild Wild West, a performance for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

In 1964, Moorehead accepted the role of Endora, Samantha's (Elizabeth Montgomery) mortal-loathing, quick-witted witch mother, in the situation comedy Bewitched. She later commented that she had not expected it to succeed and that she ultimately felt trapped by its success. However, she had negotiated to appear in only eight of every 12 episodes made, therefore allowing her sufficient time to pursue other projects. She also felt that the television writing was often below standard and dismissed many of the Bewitched scripts as "hack" in a 1965 interview for TV Guide. The role brought her a level of recognition that she had not received before as Bewitched was in the top 10 programs for the first few years it was on the air. Moorehead received six Emmy Award nominations, but was quick to remind interviewers that she had enjoyed a long and distinguished career. Despite her ambivalence, she remained with Bewitched until its run ended in 1972.

She commented to the New York Times in 1974, "I've been in movies and played theater from coast to coast, so I was quite well known before Bewitched, and I don't particularly want to be identified as a witch." Later that year she said she had enjoyed playing the role, but it was not challenging and the show itself was "not breathtaking", although her flamboyant and colorful character appealed to children. She expressed a fondness for the show's star, Elizabeth Montgomery, and said she had enjoyed working with her. Co-star Dick Sargent, who in 1969 replaced the ill Dick York as Samantha's husband, Darrin Stephens, had a more difficult relationship with Moorehead, caustically describing her as "a tough old bird."

In 1970, Moorehead appeared as a dying woman who haunts her own house in the early Night Gallery episode "Certain Shadows on the Wall". She also reprised her role in Don Juan in Hell on Broadway and on tour, in an all-star cast which also featured Edward Mulhare, Ricardo Montalban, and Paul Henreid.

Moorehead also memorably supplied the voice of the friendly Mother Goose in Hanna-Barbera's 1973 adaptation of the E. B. White children's book Charlotte's Web.

For the 1973 Broadway adaptation of Gigi, Moorehead portrayed Aunt Alicia and performed various songs, including "The Contract" for the original cast recording. She fell ill during the production, forcing Arlene Francis to replace her. Moorehead died shortly afterward.

In January 1974, three months before her death, Moorehead performed in two episodes (including the first) of CBS Radio Mystery Theater, the popular series produced by old-time radio master Himan Brown. Moorehead died of uterine cancer on April 30th, 1974, in Rochester, Minnesota; she is buried at Dayton Memorial Park in Dayton, Ohio.

Moorehead appeared in the 1956 movie The Conqueror, which was filmed near St. George, Utah, downwind from the Yucca Flat, Nevada, nuclear test site. There were 220 cast and crew members working on the picture. Over 90 them including Moorehead, Susan Hayward, John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and director-producer Dick Powell developed cancer. At least 46 died from the disease. Even though these rates of cancer are almost identical to the general population speculations of a connection persist.

No bombs were tested during the filming of The Conqueror, but 11 explosions occurred the year prior. Two of them were particularly "dirty", depositing long-lasting radiation over the area. The 51.5-kiloton shot (code name "Simon") was fired on April 25th, 1953, and the 32.4-kiloton blast (code name "Harry") went off May 19th. (In contrast, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons.) "Fallout was very abundant more than a year after 'Harry'", said former AEC researcher Robert C. Pendleton. "Some of the isotopes, such as strontium 90 and cesium 137, would not have diminished much." Pendleton pointed out that radioactivity can concentrate in "hot spots" such as the rolling dunes of Snow Canyon, a natural reservoir for windblown material, which was where much of The Conqueror was filmed.

Pendleton noted that radioactive substances enter the food chain. By eating local meat and produce, The Conqueror cast and crew were increasing their risk. Pendleton, director of radiological health at the University of Utah, stated, "With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you'd expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up even in a court of law." On the other hand, Pendleton's number has been questioned by the National Cancer Institute, which states that a random group of 220 people, 96 should have cancer at some point in their lives, and that rate has been essentially the same throughout the 20th century, trending slowly upwards as longer lifetimes are experienced. Later inquiries into the deaths of the crew of The Conqueror have revolved around extreme cigarette usage among them.

Moorehead was one of the first members of the company to perceive a connection between the film and the fallout. Her friend Sandra Gould, who was featured with her on Bewitched, recalls that long before Moorehead developed the uterine cancer that killed her in 1974, she recounted rumors of "some radioactive germs" on location in Utah, observing: "Everybody in that picture has gotten cancer and died." As she was dying, she reportedly said: "I should never have taken that part."

In 1994, Moorehead was posthumously inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame and the Touchdown Tavern in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, opened the Agnes Moorehead Lounge, exhibiting memorabilia.

Moorehead bequeathed her 1967 Primetime Emmy Award statue for The Wild Wild West, her private papers, and her home in Rix Mills, Ohio, to her alma mater, Muskingum College. She left her family's Ohio estate and farmlands, Moorehead Manor, to Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, as well as some biblical studies books from her personal library. Her will stipulated that BJU should use the farm for retreats and special meetings "with a Christian emphasis", but the distance of the estate from the South Carolina campus rendered it mostly useless. In May 1976, BJU traded the Moorehead farmlands with an Ohio college for $25,000 and a collection of her library books. Moorehead also left her professional papers, scripts, Christmas cards, and scrapbooks to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Moorehead married actor John Griffith Lee in 1930; they divorced in 1952. Moorehead and Lee adopted an orphan named Sean in 1949, but it remains unclear whether the adoption was legal, although Moorehead did raise the child until he ran away from home. In 1954, she married actor Robert Gist; they divorced in 1958.

Within the entertainment community, Moorehead was widely believed to be a lesbian. In an interview, Paul Lynde, Moorehead's occasional co-star on Bewitched, said: "Well, the whole world knows Agnes was a lesbian, I mean classy as hell, but one of the all-time Hollywood dykes". Journalist Boze Hadleigh has reported an incident in which, when she caught one of her husbands cheating on her, "Agnes screamed at him that if he could have a mistress, so could she". In an interview, Moorehead acknowledged her same-sex orientation while identifying a number of other Hollywood actresses who "enjoyed lesbian or bi relationships".

Moorehead was a staunch conservative Republican who believed in less government intervention and tax cuts. She also supported her close friend Ronald Reagan for his 1966 run for governor.

    Selected Agnes Moorehead TVography

Adventures in Paradise
- The Krismen (1960)

Alcoa Theatre
- Man of His House (1959)

Barefoot in the Park
- Pilot (1970)

Bewitched
- series regular as Endora (254 episodes 1964-1972)

Burke's Law
- Who Killed Hamlet? (1965)
- Who Killed Don Pablo? (1964)
- Who Killed Beau Sparrow? (1963)

Channing
- Freedom Is a Lovesome Thing God Wot (1964)

The Chevy Mystery Show
- Trial by Fury (1960)

Climax!
- Locked in Fear (1957)
- Child of the Wind (1956)

The Colgate Comedy Hour
- Roberta (1955)

Custer
- Spirit Woman (1967)

Disneyland
- Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove (1971)

The DuPont Show of the Month
- A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

General Electric Theater
- Deed of Mercy (1959)

The Greatest Show on Earth
- This Train Don't Stop Till It Gets There (1964)

Harrigan and Son
- There's No Fool Like an Old Fool (1960)

Hollywood Talent Scout
- Episode dated April 4th (1966)

Lancer
- A Person Unknown (1969)

The Lone Ranger
- The Trickster/Crack of Doom/The Human Dynamo (1966 voice)

Love, American Style
- Love and the Particular Girl (1971)

Marcus Welby, M.D.
- He Could Sell Iceboxes to Eskimos (1972)

Matinee Theatre
- Greybeards and Witches (1956)

The Millionaire
- Millionaire Katherine Boland (1960)

My Sister Eileen
- The Protectors (1961)
- Aunt Harriet's Way (1961)

Night Gallery
- Witches' Feast (1971)
- Certain Shadows on the Wall (1970)

Playhouse 90
- The Dungeon (1958)

Rawhide
- Incident at Poco Tiempo (1960)

The Rebel
- In Memoriam (1959)

The Red Skelton Show
- He Wanted to Be a Square Shooter But He Found That his Barrel was Round (1969)

The Revlon Mirror Theater
- Lullaby (1953)

The Rifleman
- Miss Bertie (1960)

Schlitz Playhouse of Stars
- The Life You Save (1957)

Shirley Temple's Storybook
- The House of the Seven Gables (1960)
- The Land of Oz (1960)
- Rapunzel (1958)

The Smith Family
- The Anniversary (1971)

Startime
- Closed Set (1960)

Studio 57
- Teacher (1956)

Suspicion
- The Protege (1958)

That's Life
- A Cold is Nothing to Sneeze At (1969)

The Twilight Zone
- The Invaders (1961)

The Virginian
- Gun Quest (1970)

Wagon Train
- The Mary Halstead Story (1957)

The Wild Wild West
- The Night of the Vicious Valentine (1967)

    Selected Agnes Moorehead Filmography

1941

Citizen Kane

1942

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Big Street

1943

Jane Eyre

Government Girl

The Youngest Profession

Journey Into Fear

1944

Tomorrow, the World!

Mrs. Parkington

The Seventh Cross

Dragon Seed

Since You Went Away

1945

Her Highness and the Bellboy

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

Keep Your Powder Dry

1947

Dark Passage

The Lost Moment

1948

Johnny Belinda

Station West

The Woman in White

Summer Holiday

1949

Without Honor

The Great Sinner

The Stratton Story

1950

Black Jack

Caged

1951

The Blue Veil

Show Boat

Adventures of Captain Fabian

Fourteen Hours

1952

The Blazing Forest

1953

Those Redheads from Seattle

Main Street to Broadway

Scandal at Scourie

The Story of Three Loves

1954

Magnificent Obsession

1955

The Left Hand of God

All That Heaven Allows

Untamed

1956

The Opposite Sex

Pardners

The Revolt of Mamie Stover

The Swan

The Conqueror

Meet Me in Las Vegas

1957

The Story of Mankind

Raintree County

Jeanne Eagels

The True Story of Jesse James

1958

La tempesta

1959

The Bat

Night of the Quarter Moon

1960

Pollyanna

1961

Bachelor in Paradise

Twenty Plus Two

1962

How the West Was Won

Poor Mr. Campbell (TV Movie)

Jessica

1963

Who's Minding the Store?

1964

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

1966

Alice Through the Looking Glass (TV Movie)

The Singing Nun

1968

The Magic Pear Tree (voice Short)

1969

The Ballad of Andy Crocker (TV Movie)

1971

Suddenly Single (TV Movie)

Marriage: Year One (TV Movie)

What's the Matter with Helen?

1972

Rolling Man (TV Movie)

Night of Terror (TV Movie)

Dear Dead Delilah

1973

Frankenstein: The True Story (TV Movie)

Charlotte's Web (voice)

1974

Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love (TV Movie)

    Agnes Moorehead links

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