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Agnes Robertson Moorehead (December 6, 1900 – April 30, 1974) was an American actress whose 41-year career included work in radio, stage, film, and television. She is best known for her role as Endora on the television series Bewitched, but she also has notable roles in films, including Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Dark Passage, All That Heaven Allows, Show Boat, and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Moorehead rarely played lead roles, but her skill at character development and range earned her one Primetime Emmy Award and two Golden Globe Awards in addition to nominations for four Academy Awards and six Emmy Awards. Her transition to television won acclaim for drama and comedy. She could play many different types, but often portrayed haughty, arrogant characters.
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Promotional photo of Moorehead (1950s)
|Born||(1900-12-06)December 6, 1900|
Clinton, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||April 30, 1974(1974-04-30) (aged 73)|
Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.
|Resting place||Dayton Memorial Park, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.|
John Griffith Lee
(m. 1930; div. 1952)
(m. 1954; div. 1958)
Agnes Robertson Moorehead (December 6, 1900 – April 30, 1974) was an American actress whose 41-year career included work in radio, stage, film, and television. She is best known for her role as Endora on the television series Bewitched, but she also has notable roles in films, including Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Dark Passage, All That Heaven Allows, Show Boat, and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
Moorehead rarely played lead roles, but her skill at character development and range earned her one Primetime Emmy Award and two Golden Globe Awards in addition to nominations for four Academy Awards and six Emmy Awards. Her transition to television won acclaim for drama and comedy. She could play many different types, but often portrayed haughty, arrogant characters.
Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6, 1900 in Clinton, Massachusetts, the daughter of former singer Mary (née McCauley; 1883–1990), who was 16 when she was born, and Presbyterian clergyman John Henderson Moorehead (1869–1938). She was of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. Moorehead later claimed that she was born in 1906 in order to appear younger for acting parts. She recalled that she made her first public performance at the age of three, when she recited The Lord's Prayer in her father's church. The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and her 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 younger sister Peggy (born Margaret Ann; 1906-1929) engaged in mimicry. This involved coming to the dinner table and imitating their father's parishioners. They were further encouraged by his amused reactions. Moorehead rarely spoke of her sister after her sudden death at age 23.
As a young lady, Moorehead 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 recalled Moorehead's arriving on the set with "the Bible in one hand and the script in the other".
Moorehead always said that she graduated from Central High School in St. Louis in 1918. However, she appears in no Central High School yearbook while she does appear in the yearbook of Soldan High School. She lived near Soldan High School on Union Boulevard; she did not live near Central High School on Grand Avenue and Bell. Although her father did not discourage her acting ambitions, he insisted that she obtain a formal education. Moorehead earned a bachelor's degree in 1923, majoring in biology at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. While there, she also appeared in college stage plays. She received an honorary doctorate in literature from Muskingum in 1947, 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 the 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 also 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. 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 actress Helen Hayes, who encouraged her to enter films, but her first attempts were met with failure. When she was rejected as not being "the right type", Moorehead returned to radio.
By 1937, Moorehead had joined Orson Welles' Mercury Players, as one of his principal performers along with Joseph Cotten. (In an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on 19 February 1973, she revealed that, in 1922, she had by chance met Welles (fifteen years her junior) when he was a mere seven years old at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.) 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 Lane. 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 the mother of his own character, Charles Foster Kane, in Citizen Kane (1941), considered by most film critics as one of the best films ever made. Moorehead was featured in Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and received the New York Film Critics Award and an Academy Award nomination for her performance. She also appeared in Journey Into Fear (1943), a Mercury film production.
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 adolescent Virginia Weidler.
By the mid-1940s, Moorehead became a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player, 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; she inaugurated the role on CBS Radio.
Throughout her career, Moorehead skillfully portrayed puritanical matrons, neurotic spinsters, possessive mothers, and comical secretaries. She played Parthy Hawks, wife of Cap'n Andy and mother of Magnolia, in MGM's hit 1951 remake of Show Boat. She also was in Dark Passage and Since You Went Away. Moorehead was in Broadway productions of Don Juan in Hell in 1951–1952, and Lord Pengo in 1962–1963.
In her first radio role, Moorehead appeared as a replacement for Dorothy Denvir's role as Min Gump in The Gumps. 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 play Sorry, Wrong Number, written by Lucille Fletcher, broadcast on May 18, 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.
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." Moorehead played one of her last roles on January 6, 1974, as Mrs. Ada Canby in the ironically titled "The Old Ones Are Hard to Kill", the inaugural episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater.
In the 1950s, Moorehead continued to work in films and appeared on stage across the country. Her roles included a national tour of Shaw's Don Juan in Hell, co-starring Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, and Cedric Hardwicke, and the pre-Broadway engagements of the new musical The Pink Jungle. She appeared as the hypochondriac Mrs. Snow in Disney's hit film Pollyanna (1960). She starred with Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Mary Astor, and Joseph Cotten in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) as the maid Velma, a role for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.
In 1959, Moorehead guest starred on many series, including The Rebel and Alcoa Theatre. 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 27, 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 10, 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 aired.
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 fall 1964, Moorehead participated in a five-minute commercial spot featuring casts of both Bonanza and Bewitched, announcing the new 1965 Chevrolet line. Moorehead was featured with Dan Blocker extolling the virtues of the new '65 Chevy II.
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, with an all-star cast that featured Edward Mulhare, Ricardo Montalban, and Paul Henreid.
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.
Three months before her death in January 1974, Moorehead performed in two episodes (including the first) of CBS Radio Mystery Theater, the popular series produced by old-time radio master Himan Brown.
In 1930, Moorehead married actor John Griffith Lee; they divorced in 1952. Moorehead and Lee adopted an orphan named Sean in 1949, but it remains unclear whether the adoption was legal. Moorehead raised Sean until he ran away from home. She married actor Robert Gist in 1954, and they divorced in 1958.
Moorehead's sexuality has been the subject of dispute. A number of articles that appeared in periodicals in the alternative press have identified her as a lesbian. Paul Lynde, Moorehead's occasional co-star on Bewitched, stated: "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 reported an incident, also sourced to Lynde, 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 was reported to have acknowledged her same-sex orientation while she identified a number of other Hollywood actresses who "enjoyed lesbian or bi relationships."
Moorehead's close friend Debbie Reynolds stated categorically that Moorehead was not a lesbian. Reynolds' autobiography mentions the rumor and states it was begun by one of Moorehead's husbands during their divorce. Moorehead's longtime friend and producer Paul Gregory concurs in the assessment. Quint Benedetti, Moorehead's longtime employee who is himself gay, also stated that Moorehead was not a lesbian and attributed the story to Lynde's frequent rumor-mongering.
Moorehead rarely spoke publicly about her political beliefs, but she supported both Franklin Roosevelt (she portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt multiple times over the course of her career) as well as close friend Ronald Reagan for his 1966 run for governor of California.
Moorehead bequeathed $25,000 to Muskingum College, with instructions to fund one or more "Agnes Moorehead Scholarships". She also left half of her manuscripts to Muskingum with the other half going to the University of Wisconsin. Her family's Ohio farm went to John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, along with her collection of Bibles and biblical scholarship materials.
Her mother Mary received all of Moorehead's clothing and jewelry, and Moorehead made provisions to support Mary for the rest of her life. The Beverly Hills home was left to her attorney Franklin Rohner, along with the furnishings and personal property within. Small bequests were made for friends and domestic staff along with some charitable contributions. In her will, she made no provision for Sean, né John Griffith Lee, whom she had allegedly adopted, and the will stated that she had "no children, natural or adopted, living or deceased".
|1941||Citizen Kane||Mary Kane|
|1942||Journey into Fear||Mrs. Mathews|
|The Magnificent Ambersons||Fanny Minafer||New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress|
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|The Big Street||Violette Shumberg|
|1943||The Youngest Profession||Miss Featherstone|
|Government Girl||Adele - Mrs. Delancey Wright|
|Jane Eyre||Mrs. Reed|
|1944||Since You Went Away||Mrs. Emily Hawkins|
|Dragon Seed||Third Cousin's Wife|
|The Seventh Cross||Madame Marelli|
|Mrs. Parkington||Baroness Aspasia Conti||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture|
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|Tomorrow, the World||Aunt Jesse Frame|
|1945||Keep Your Powder Dry||Lieut. Colonel Spottiswoode|
|Our Vines Have Tender Grapes||Bruna Jacobson|
|Her Highness and the Bellboy||Countess Zoe|
|1947||Dark Passage||Madge Rapf|
|The Lost Moment||Juliana Borderau|
|1948||Summer Holiday||Cousin Lily|
|The Woman in White||Countess Fosco|
|Station West||Mrs. Caslon|
|Johnny Belinda||Aggie MacDonald||Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1949||The Stratton Story||Ma Stratton|
|The Great Sinner||Emma Getzel|
|Without Honor||Katherine Williams|
|Captain Blackjack||Mrs. Emily Birk|
|1951||Fourteen Hours||Christine HIll Cosick|
|Adventures of Captain Fabian||Aunt Jezebel|
|Show Boat||Parthy Hawks|
|The Blue Veil||Mrs. Palfrey|
|1952||The Blazing Forest||Jessie Crain|
|1953||The Story of Three Loves||Aunt Lydia||(segment "The Jealous Lover")|
|Scandal at Scourie||Sister Josephine|
|Main Street to Broadway||Mildred Waterbury|
|Those Redheads From Seattle||Mrs. Edmonds|
|1954||Magnificent Obsession||Nancy Ashford|
|The Left Hand of God||Beryl Sigman|
|All That Heaven Allows||Sara Warren|
|Meet Me in Las Vegas||Miss Hattie|
|The Swan||Queen Maria Dominika|
|The Revolt of Mamie Stover||Bertha Parchman|
|Pardners||Mrs. Matilda Kingsley|
|The Opposite Sex||Countess de Brion|
|1957||The True Story of Jesse James||Mrs. Samuel|
|Jeanne Eagels||Nellie Neilson|
|Raintree County||Ellen Shawnessy||Laurel Award for Top Supporting Performance, Female (2nd place)|
|The Story of Mankind||Queen Elizabeth I|
|1958||The Tempest||Vassilissa Mironova|
|1959||Night of the Quarter Moon||Cornelia Nelson|
|The Bat||Cornelia van Gorder|
|1961||Twenty Plus Two||Mrs. Eleanor Delaney|
|Bachelor in Paradise||Judge Peterson|
|Poor Mr. Campbell||Adrice Campbell||Television movie|
|How the West Was Won||Rebecca Prescott|
|1963||Who's Minding the Store?||Mrs. Phoebe Tuttle|
|1964||Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte||Velma Cruther||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture|
Laurel Award for Top Supporting Performance, Female (2nd place)
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
|1966||The Singing Nun||Sister Cluny||Laurel Award for Top Supporting Performance, Female (3rd place)|
|1969||The Ballad of Andy Crocker||Lisa's Mother|
|1971||What's the Matter with Helen?||Sister Alma|
|Marriage: Year One||Grandma Duden||Television movie|
|Suddenly Single||Marlene||Television movie|
|The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove||Mrs. Pringle||Television movie|
|1972||Dear Dead Delilah||Delilah Charles|
|Rolling Man||Grandmother||Television movie|
|Night of Terror||Bronsky||Television movie|
|1973||Charlotte's Web||The Goose||Voice|
|Frankenstein: The True Story||Mrs. Blair||Television movie|
|1974||Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love||Hercules's Wife||Television movie, (final film role)|
|1953||The Revlon Mirror Theater||Martha Adams||Episode: "Lullaby"|
|1955||The Colgate Comedy Hour||Aunt Minnie||Episode: "Roberta"|
|1956||Matinee Theatre||Mrs. Barnes||Episode: "reybeards and Witches"|
|Studio 57||Mrs. Tolliver||Episode: "Teacher"|
|1957||Climax!||Irene||Episode: "Locked in Fear"|
|Wagon Train||Mary Halstead||Episode: "The Mary Halstead Story"|
|1958||The DuPont Show of the Month||Madame Defarge||Episode: "A Tale of Two Cities"|
|Playhouse 90||Rose Ganun||Episode: "The Dungeon"|
|Suspicion||Katherine Searles||Episode: "The Protege"|
|1959||G.E. True Theatre||Ana Konrad Bethlen||Episode: "Deed of Mercy"|
|Alcoa Theatre||Mrs. Adams||Episode: "Man of His House"|
|The Rebel||Mrs. Martha Lassiter||Episode: "In Memoriam"|
|1960||Startime||Carmen Lynch||Episode: "Closed Set"|
|The Millionaire||Katherine Boland||Episode: "Millionaire Katherine Boland"|
|The Chevy Mystery Show||Elizabeth Marshall||Episode: "Trial by Fury"|
|Adventures in Paradise||Jikiri||Episode: "The Krismen"|
|Rawhide||Sister Frances||Episode: "Incident at Poco Tiempo"|
|Shirley Temple's Storybook||Hepzibah Pyncheon
Mombi the Witch
|The Rifleman||Alberta 'Bertie' Hoakam||Episode: "Miss Bertie"|
|1961||The Twilight Zone||Woman||Episode: "The Invaders"|
|My Sister Eileen||Aunt Harriet||2 episodes|
|1963–1965||Burke's Law||Pauline Moss
Dona Ynez Ortega y Esteban
|1964||Channing||Professor Amelia Webster||Episode: "Freedom Is a Lovesome Thing God Wot"|
|The Greatest Show on Earth||Millie||Episode: "This Train Don't Stop Till It Gets There"|
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1966, 1968–1971)
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1967)
|1966||The Lone Ranger||Black Widow||Episode: "The Trickster/Crack of Doom/The Human Dynamo"|
|1967||The Wild Wild West||Emma Valentine||Episode: "The Night of the Vicious Valentine"|
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
|Custer||Watoma||Episode: "Spirit Woman"|
|1969||Lancer||Mrs. Normile||Episode: "A Person Unknown"|
|The Red Skelton Show||Bertha Bluenose||Episode: "He Wanted to Be a Square Shooter But He Found That his Barrel was Round"|
|1970||Barefoot in the Park||Mrs. Wilson||Episode: "Pilot"|
|The Virginian||Emma Garvey||Episode: "Gun Quest"|
|1971||Rod Serling's Night Gallery||Emma Brigham||2 episodes|
|Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color||Mrs. Pringle||Episode: "Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove"|
|Love, American Style||Mrs. Cooper||Segment: "Love and the Particular Girl"|
|1972||Marcus Welby, M.D.||Mrs. Ramsey||Episode: "He Could Sell Iceboxes to Eskimos"|
Moorehead appeared on hundreds of individual broadcasts across a radio career that spanned from 1926 to her final two appearances, on CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in 1974.
|1929–1930||Believe It or Not||Ensemble|
|1931||The Ben Bernie Show||Ensemble|
|1932–1933||Mysteries In Paris||Nana|
|1933–1934||Evenings In Paris||Anna|
|1933–1936||The Armour Hour||Ensemble|
|1934–1935||Heartthrobs of the Hills||Ensemble|
|1935–1937||Dot and Will||Rose|
|1935–1936||The New Penny|
|1936||Way Down East|
|1936–1938||The March of Time||Ensemble. Moorehead was noted for her portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt.|
|1937||Terry and the Pirates||The Dragon Lady|
|1937–1939||The Shadow||Margo Lane|
|1938||The Mercury Theatre on the Air||Ensemble|
|1938||The Campbell Playhouse||Ensemble|
|1938–1941||Cavalcade of America||Ensemble|
|1939–1940||Brenda Curtiss||Brenda's mother|
|1939–1940||The Aldrich Family||Mrs. Brown|
|1940||The Adventures of Superman||Lara|
|1941–1942||Bringing Up Father||Maggie|
|1942–1949||Mayor of the Town||Marilly|
|1942–1960||Suspense||Moorehead's appearances on Suspense were so numerous that she became known as "The First Lady of Suspense". Her most noted role was as Mrs. Elbert Stevenson in "Sorry, Wrong Number". She first performed the role on May 25, 1943 and reprised it on eight occasions through her last appearance on the program in 1960.|
Moorehead began appearing on stage during her training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She appeared in seven productions as a student. She continued acting in the theater throughout her career until just a few months before her death.
|1929||Soldiers and Women||Understudy|
|1934||All the King's Horses||Company|
|1951||Don Juan In Hell||Doña Ana. Moorehead originated the role in a national tour which culminated in a sold-out appearance at Carnegie Hall. Moorehead engaged in six tours of the production between 1951 and 1954 and appeared in a 1973 revival at the Palace Theatre.|
|1954||An Evening with Agnes Moorehead||Moorehead toured nationally in this one-woman show on and off for over 20 years. It became best known under the name The Fabulous Redhead and in the mid-1960s as Come Closer, I'll Give You an Earful.|
|1957||The Rivalry||Mrs. Stephen A. Douglas. Moorehead toured with the play but dropped out before its New York debut.|
|1959||The Pink Jungle||Eleanor West|
|1962||Prescription: Murder||Claire Fleming|
|1962||Lord Prego||Miss Swanson|
|1963||High Spirits||Madame Acanti|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Agnes Moorehead.|
Awards for Agnes Moorehead