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Agnes Moorehead
6 December 1900 - 30 April 1974

Who doesn’t remember the great Agnes Moorehead? Whether it was as the frightened wife of Sorry, Wrong Number on radio, or as the mother of Citizen Kane, or her most famous role as Endora on the television series Bewitched, Agnes Moorehead remains today one of the most recognizable faces in entertainment.

EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

She was born in Clinton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Dr. John H. Moorehead, a Presbyterian minister, and Mary Mildred McCauley of Pennsylvania. Though her father was transferred to several churches during her childhood and adolescence, Agnes had a fairly normal upbringing. When she was ten, she started performing in local theatres and by the age of twelve, she was already a member of the St. Louis Municipal Opera. There, Agnes worked as a singer and dancer, and was with the company for four seasons.

After completing undergraduate and Master’s degrees in biology, English, and public speaking, Agnes finished up her university career at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, earning a Ph.D. in literature. While attending school she started teaching and working as a drama coach. In 1926, she left Illinois and enrolled in the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. It wasn’t long before Agnes was polishing her craft by appearing on the stage and later, in radio productions.

A BRIGHT CAREER

A few years later, still in New York, Agnes met a young director and writer who was assembling a group of players for a repertory radio and film cast. That young man was Orson Welles, and he wasted no time in adding Agnes to his Mercury Theatre Company ensemble. While a member of the Mercury Theatre, Agnes appeared in many classic stage and film productions, among them Citizen Kane (movie debut), Abraham Lincoln, The Magnificent Ambersons (Oscar nomination), and Jane Eyre.

Agnes’ career in radio was no less distinguished. She was heard often, frequently as the voice of The March of Time, in the cast of Cavalcade of America, and in Welles’ notorious 1938 War of the Worlds radio adaptation. It was a performance in 1943, though, that was her proverbial big break. Agnes appeared in an episode of Suspense as the frightened wife in Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number. It was twenty-two minutes of nearly constant tension and, well, suspense! The broadcast won her a number of awards and was a huge success with the listening public and critics alike. Sorry, Wrong Number was later filmed, in 1948, but Agnes lost the role to Barbara Stanwyck.

Throughout the postwar years, Agnes stayed busy in radio and movies. She wasn’t shy about trying her hand in television, either. She made guest appearances in many shows, including a classic 1961 Twilight Zone episode, “The Invaders”. What’s most notable about that episode is that Agnes’ character, an old woman living alone in an old farmhouse, didn’t speak a single word of dialogue until the final scene!

TELEVISION AND BEYOND

In 1964, Elizabeth Montgomery asked her to play a glamorous witch in her new TV series, Bewitched. Agnes agreed and became Endora, the mother of Montgomery’s character Samantha, to millions of viewers. She played the role with such style and crackling wit that it became her best-known characterization.

Even with all her various movie and televsion commitments, Agnes still found time to produce and star in a popular one-woman show, The Fabulous Redhead. She'd taken the precaution of having time off for her show written into all her contracts.

Two years after Bewitched ceased production, in 1974, Agnes Moorehead died of cancer. She had been a member of the cast of the John Wayne/Susan Hayward movie The Conqueror, filmed near the site of nuclear tests. It is thought that residual radiation may have been a contributing factor to her death and the deaths of many of the stars and crew of that movie.


Filmography

  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • Journey Into Fear (1942)
  • The Big Street (1942)
  • The Youngest Profession (1943)
  • Government Girl (1943)
  • Jane Eyre (1944)
  • Dragon Seed (1944)
  • Since You Went Away (1944)
  • The Seventh Cross (1944)
  • Mrs. Parkington (1944)
  • Tomorrow, The World! (1944)
  • Keep Your Powder Dry (1945)
  • Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)
  • Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
  • The Beginning or the End (1947)
  • Dark Passage (1947)
  • The Lost Moment (1947)
  • Summer Holiday (1948)
  • The Woman In White (1948)
  • Station West (1948)
  • Johnny Belinda (1948)
  • The Stratton Story (1949)
  • The Great Sinner (1949)
  • Caged (1950)
  • Without Honor (1950)
  • Black Jack (1950)
  • Fourteen Hours (1951)
  • Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951)
  • Show Boat (1951)
  • The Blue Veil (1951)
  • The Blazing Forest (1952)
  • The Story of Three Loves (1953)
  • Scandal at Scourie (1953)
  • Main Street to Broadway (1953)
  • Three Redheads From Seattle (1953)
  • Magnificent Obsession (1954)
  • Untamed (1955)
  • The Left Hand of God (1955)
  • All That Heaven Allows (1956)
  • The Conqueror (1956)
  • Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956)
  • The Swan (1956)
  • The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
  • Pardner (1956)
  • The Opposite Sex (1956)
  • The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
  • Jeanne Eagels (1957)
  • Raintree County (1957)
  • The Story of Mankind (1957)
  • La Tempesta (1958)
  • The Bat (1959)
  • Night of the Quarter Moon (1959)
  • Pollyanna (1960)
  • Twenty Plus Two (1961)
  • Bachelor in Paradise (1961)
  • Jessica (1962)
  • How The West Was Won (1962)
  • Who’s Minding The Store? (1963)
  • Bewitched (TV Series) (1964)
  • Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
  • The Singing Nun (1966)
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966)
  • The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969)
  • Marriage: Year One (1971)
  • Suddenly Single (1971)
  • What’s The Matter With Helen? (1971)
  • The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove (1971)
  • Rolling Man (1972)
  • Night of Terror (1972)
  • Dear Dead Delilah (1972)
  • Charlotte’s Web (1973)
  • Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
  • Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love (1974)

SOURCES

The Internet Movie Database.<http://www.imdb.com>. (13-15 August 2003).
Pilato, Herbie J., "Bewitched Forever" .<http://members.aol.com/HeySparkle/agnes.html>. (13-15 August 2003).
'Queen of the Harpies'. "Bewitched @ Harpies Bazaar". <http://www.harpiesbizarre.com/ambiography.htm>. (13-15 August 2003).
Bowers, Ronald L. "The Career of Agnes Moorehead". Vic's Bewitched Page. <http://members.tripod.com/~samstephens/agnes.html>. (13-15 August 2003).

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