Agnes who, you ask?
Ok, we admit it — Agnes Moorehead is perhaps not as well known as she should be. Despite her four Oscar nominations, she is often dismissed as a mere “character actress” as opposed to classic Hollywood movie star. We’ve often maintained that a performer can (and even should) try to be both.
In any case, Moorehead qualifies on both counts. The of a daughter of Massachusetts minister, she was born at the dawn of the 20th century and after some 155 acting roles expired in 1974. By then she had established herself as the go-to working actress playing, as critic David Thomson puts it, “shrews, rancorous mothers, bitches and spinsters.”
She did this on radio, the stage, Hollywood and on television. Highly educated, religious and “old fashioned” in her personal moral values, Moorehead brought professional savvy, sophistication and sheer hard work to every chacter she portrayed.
As Thomson notes: What are the two most indelibly humane moments in the work of Orson Welles? There is a case for saying Agnes Moorehead figures in both. (Note to Thomson: she sure does. Case closed.)
We are inspired today by an informative Moorehead interview in author Mike Steen’s Hollywood Speaks: An Oral History, published in 1974. Quiz questions today and answers tomorrow.
1) Question: As mentioned in our intro, Moorehead played in two of the most moving scenes in any of the films directed by Orson Welles. What are the titles of these two movies, and what is the role she played in each? (Hint. They are Welles’ first and second full length features.)
2) Question: Which one of her films is NOT included by Moorehead as a personal favorite? a) Dragon Seed; b) Journey Into Fear; c) Mrs. Parkington; or d) The Lost Moment.
3) Question: Although Welles played a key role in Moorehead’s professional development, they did NOT get along on a personal level. a) True; or b) False.
4) Question: Moorehead was a staple on Bewitched, the highly successful ABC fantasy situation comedy that ran from 1964 to 1972. What was her role in the tv series?
5) Question: Considering her straight-laced New England background and her education, Moorehead’s Hollywood friends included at least one surprising name. Which one? a) Greer Garson; b) Joseph Cotten; c) Charles Laughton; or d) Debbie Reynolds.
6) Question: When she was under contract to MGM, Moorehead was surprised at how detached studio boss Louis B. Mayer was from on-set movie filming of her movies. a) True; or b) False.
7) Question: Which one of the following tv series did Moorehead NOT appear in? a) Marcus Welby, M.D.; b) The Virginian; c) The Lone Ranger; or d) Perry Mason.
8) Question: Moorehead much admired one famous movie star because as a leading man he could also play character roles convincingly. Can you identify him? a) Bob Hope; b) Walter Huston; c) Charlie Chaplin; or d) Laurence Olivier.
9) Question: Can you name the movie that provided Moorehead with third billing behind Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall?
10) Question: Moorehead had something in common with Susan Hayward, John Wayne and Dick Powell. What on earth can it be?