Sunday, 11 April 2010

'E' FOR 'ENDORABLE'

Going back to Bewitched, again (sorry!), I want to say a few words in praise of Miss Agnes Moorehead who played that witch of a mother-in-law, Endora. She was one of the chief reasons I watched Bewitched and, since she was always on the opening credits, I was inevitably disappointed if she didn't put in an appearance.

Whilst I probably didn't acknowledge the fact at the time, Endora became a kind of covert camp icon - although maybe 'covert' isn't quite the word when one remembers the outrageous hairstyles and make-up and those sensational lime and lavender gowns!

Endora
Frankly, it's a wonder any lads who watched the series ever grew up straight!

But there was much more to Agnes Moorehead's career and talent as an actress than Bewitched. Having fallen under her spell in the sit-com, I began noticing her in her many powerful movie performances beginning with her debut as Charles Foster Kane's mother in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane...

Citizen Kane
Left to right: Harry Shannon (Father), George Coulouris (Thatcher),
Buddy Swan as the eight year old CFK and Moorehead


Whatever the movie - good, bad or mediocre - Agnes added a touch of magic to roles as diverse as Parthy Ann, Cap'n Andy's nagging wife in Showboat and Ruth Benton, the firm but humane prison governess responsible for Eleanor Parker and a gaggle of ne'er-do-wells in Caged...

Caged
She played the grumpy hypochondriac, Mrs Snow, who is subjected to Hayley Mills' 'glad game' in Pollyanna and (in one of several Oscar-nominated roles) she was Bette Davis' slatternly maid in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte...

Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Never a 'beauty', but always 'striking' Agnes played an extraordinary range of characters and was as convincing playing shrivelled-up spinsters and sharp-tongued shrews as enigmatic women of mystery.

Here she is giving a telling cameo as a theatrical costumier with Spencer Tracey in Fred Zinneman's 1944 anti-fascist film, The Seventh Cross...



Next, I'd like to share the dramatic dénouement from the 1947 Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall thriller, Dark Passage.

The details of the story-so-far don't matter much other than the important fact that Vincent Parry (Bogart's character) has escaped from San Quentin where he was incarcerated for a murder he didn't comit and has been given a new face by a plastic surgeon - which is why Madge Rapf (Moorehead) doesn't recognise him. Of course, one would have thought the voice would have been a dead giveaway! Still...

The spoof twist at the end is, of course, not in the original movie but a YouTuber's tribute to Agnes' Endora in Bewitched...

Anyway, that aside, it's a great gloves-off acting contest with Bogart...



Agnes was also a veteran radio performer and had a particular triumph with her performance of Lucille Fletcher's 1943 melodrama, Sorry, Wrong Number as part of the legendary Suspense series.

One of the most famous radio plays ever - it's very nearly a solo performance - Agnes Moorehead played Mrs Stevenson, the neurotic, bed-ridden invalid who gets a crossed line and overhears a murder being planned. She reprised the performance for seven more radio productions and included it in her one-woman stage show.

When the radio play was made into a film, Agnes was passed over in favour of Barbara Stanwyck who received an Oscar nomination (but not the Award itself) and a number of reviews that compared her performance less than favourably with Agnes' original portrayal which is a tour de force of mounting neurosis and hysteria.

The version of the play I am about to invite you listen to was broadcast live on November 18, 1948 --- just eleven weeks after Ms Stanwyck's movie opened in movie theatres!

If you've never heard this classic, then you are in for a treat. Fix yourselves a strong drink, settle back and dim the lights and let this wonderful actress take you on a journey into sheer terror...







Thanks Agnes!

And thanks, Endora, for introducing us!


And you can read more about Moorehead on Agnes' page at Harpies Bizarre.
Images uploaded via my flickr Photostream.

10 comments:

David Weeks said...

"Frankly, it's a wonder any lads who watched the series ever grew up straight!"
They didn't did they?!

Brian Sibley said...

Well, now you mention it......

Eudora said...

I'm glad that you make this tribute to A. Moorehad, I missed in your tribute to Bewitched. She is one of my favourites.

I remember her, specially, in her role in The Swan; and few weeks ago our Gloria of Rooting for Laughton, wrote about the recording of Don Juan in Hell, with C.Laugh., Charles Boyer, Cedric Hardwicke and, of course, Miss Moorehad.

For me there are some essential actors and actresses, not the most famous but essentials, like Margareth Rutherdford, Robert Morley etc., and Agnes Moorehead.

Brian Sibley said...

EUDORA - Thank you for reminding me about The Swan. The film is on YouTube and you can see Agnes' dynamic cameo here and here. She is fantastic - especially since at least half of her dialogue consists of asking questions!

Eudora said...

Thank you for the links Brian. One of my favourite sentence of Moorehead-Queen Domenika, and all the movie: "I have a book... it`s proves conclusively tha Napoleon never existed"...:)

Brian Sibley said...

A great line! Agnes' scene with Guinness makes one wish one could have seen the pair of them act together in something else.

Chuck Munson said...

Brian, Once again with your recent posts on "Bewitched", you have hit on another favorite of mine. Although I hate to potentially "disappoint", but while as a boy I looked forward to Endora's wise-cracking, insult-poping, mischief-spewing appearances on "Bewitched", I have a wife and daughter and no inclinations otherwise. However, as I have a number of friends and acquaintances (tip of the hat) who are inclined the other way, perhaps the show instilled in the rest of us perpetual empathy and understanding, in which case it was a very powerful show indeed and worth more credit than it's given!

BTW, I also always enjoyed Dr. Bombay and Uncle Arthur. Paul Lynde was one of my favorites. I could not get enough of his sharp wit and wise cracks, but he almost always showed some heart under the his favored (I suspect) niece's withering glare when he'd overstepped. He was also a hoot to watch on the long-running game show here, "Hollywood Squares". Then there were the Stevens' neighbors, Gladys and Abner Kravitz. The first Mrs. Kravitz and her husband, the obviously long-suffering Abner, were also enjoyable, but the second Mrs. Kravitz just struck me as a noisome, shrill shrew who killed any scene in which she appeared (apologies to anyone who did find her amusing, etc.). I could go on (e.g., loved Reta Shaw and her appearances as Aunt Hagatha), but I'll stop here!

Brian Sibley said...

Honestly, CHUCK, I wasn't implying... ;-)

What I do believe is that in being devoted to a minority group ('witches') who were subject to misunderstanding and prejudice, Bewitched was making a social comment on minorities in general - albeit in a lighthearted way.

And the fact that the cast featured at least two gay actors (Dick Sargent as the 2nd Darrin and Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur) and with rumours about at least one other (Maurice Evans as Samantha's father), the show certainly couldn't be accused of being homophobic.

Chuck Munson said...

Thank you Brian, ;-) and I got a good chuckle out of the suggestion!

Actually, I think you have hit upon it precisely. Here in the US in the '60's, you did have to be exceedingly careful still in reproaching prejudices. Being born in 1962 it is a realization that I was aware of much later, but it is still a stunner to me that civil rights laws were not entered into our legal canon until I was three. And to step into Speakers Corner for just a second, after almost fifty years, in spite of a greater openness, prejudices still unfortunately continue to find homes in the hearts of some of our population.

Brian Sibley said...

Going back to your comment before last, CHUCK, I want to pick up on your thought about some of the other cast members. For me, the motley collection of eccentric and odd-ball characters in this show really did become part of my extended TV 'family'.

I remember one of the most puzzling things about seeing The Planet of the Apes in 1968 was the fact that the voice of Dr Zaius, the elderly orangutan, sounded so familiar. Not surprisingly, since it belong to Samantha's 'father', Maurice Evans! Later the same year, he popped up again in Rosemary's Baby as the person who tries to warn Mia Farrow that her neighbours are -- yep, witches!

Like you, I also enjoyed Bernard Fox's appearances as Dr Bombay and was terribly distracted when, years later, I saw James Cameron's Titanic and noticed him among the guests in the scene when Jack joins the 'knobs' for dinner. Only later did I discover that he was the uncredited actor in the earlier Titanic film, A Night to Remember, who had delivered the line: "Iceberg dead ahead, sir!"

I also loved the long-running gag with neighbours, Abner and Gladys Kravitz (George Tobias and, as you say, the 'original' Gladys, Alice Pearce) and David White always turned in great performances in the role of Darrin's boss, the usually urbane but sometimes strangely mercurial, Larry Tate.

Marion Lorne as the gloriously dotty Aunt Clara only appeared in 27 episodes (I've checked!) and yet I feel as though I can remember every single one! And next time you watch Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, made back in 1951, please note that she is the doting mother of Robert Walker's character, the psychotic Bruno Anthony!

Incidentally, like Aunt Clara, Marion Lorne really did collect doorknobs and apparently used a number of examples from her personal collection as props in the series!

Enough! If you want to know (or be reminded of) anything more about Bewitched, go visit Bewitched @ Harpies Bizarre.