One of the most iconic actresses of her generation was Agnes Moorehead. She’s remembered today as a versatile actress who came of age as film and television were burgeoning industries! She worked in theater, radio, film, and television and gave us a slew of memorable characters.
One of her most notable roles was as Endora in the popular sitcom Bewitched. To this day, her fans remember her excellent performance in this show.
But, did you know that Agnes Moorehead hated her role on Bewitched? Yet, due to circumstances beyond her control – she kept her head down and “did the work” despite not liking the project?
So what led her to getting cast in Bewitched then?
Let’s look back at Agnes Moorehead’s life and career and why she hated her role in Bewitched…
AGNES MOOREHEAD’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Agnes Moorehead was born on the sixth of December, 1900, in Clinton, Massachusetts. From a young age, she had developed an interest in performing in front of others. Her father, a clergyman, instilled an interest in religion for Agnes at a young age.
At the age of 3, she recited The Lord’s Prayer in front of her church congregation. She must have made quite an impression on the congregation as she had been bitten by the acting bug at that very moment.
As she grew older, she also learned the art of mimicry and would often do impressions of her father’s parishioners and other members of her family. She was slowly honing her acting skills – hoping to become a professional actress one day.
Apart from her aspiring acting career, she also performed in operas – performing with the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company. She attended Muskingum College and majored in biology – however, she acted in several college plays – never losing her interest in acting.
She moved with her family to Wisconsin upon her graduation and worked as a public school teacher for 5 years. During this time, she studied at the University of Wisconsin and received a Master’s Degree in English. She then pursued further studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
While teaching is what sustained her financially, she was eager to become a professional actress and wasn’t willing to give up on her dreams.
She eventually quit her job to pursue acting full-time. Her early years were a huge struggle. She occasionally found bit parts in small plays but even these gigs were hard to come by! She often spent days on end without work or pay and even went hungry for several days in a row.
But she was eager to make it big on stage and she also sought out roles on the radio – which had become one of America’s favorite mediums for entertainment.
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THEATER AND RADIO
In 1937, Agnes Moorehead joined the theater troupe Mercury Players run by Orson Welles. She appeared in some of his plays but found her early successes with his radio productions.
A brief mention makes about her theater career, however, she spends her early career as an understudy – in plays such as Courage, Soldiers and Women, Candle Light, and All The King’s Horses.
She had bigger roles in plays such as Don Juan In Hell, The Rivalry, The Pink Jungle, Prescription: Murder, Lord Prego, High Spirits, and Gigi. Beginning in 1954, she toured around the country with her one-woman show on an on-and-off basis for 20 years. The show is An Evening With Agnes Moorehead but sometimes as The Fabulous Redhead or Come Closer, I’ll Give You An Earful.
Her early radio gigs included work in productions such as Believe It Or Not, Sherlock Holmes, Mysteries in Paris, Evenings in Paris, and The Gumps. One of her biggest successes in her radio career was in the production The March of Time in which she portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt – and won praise for her performance.
She had lots of success as part of the ensemble with the Mercury Players and through this group, she developed a close relationship with Orson Welles – who would help launch her film career.
Agnes Moorehead’s final radio performance was in the series Suspense in 1960. She had appeared several times in the series since her debut in 1942. She became such a popular performer through the show that she earned the moniker “The First Lady of Suspense.”
Agnes honed her acting skills through theater and radio. When she began her acting career, these were really the only mediums available for entertainers to reach a wide audience. But as she was growing in popularity, so were 2 new mediums: film and television.
The talented stage and radio actress would soon become both a film and TV star!
This is actually one of the reasons why Agnes Moorehead is famous as an icon of American entertainment. She managed to give versatile performances in 4 different mediums and was able to adapt to all of them.
FILM AND TELEVISION
Agnes Moorehead made her film debut in 1941, with a film called Citizen Kane – written, directed, and starring Orson Welles. She had a small role in the film as Charles Foster Kane’s mother. Yet, this small role remains one of the most memorable roles in the film – which considers one of the greatest films of all time.
The following year she appeared in The Magnificent Ambersons also directed by Orson Welles. For her role in this film, she received an Academy Award nomination.
While she may have been new to cinema, she certainly wasn’t new to acting. Her years of working in theater and radio prepared her for an acting career in film and television.
In 1944, she played the role of Baroness Aspasia Conti in Mrs. Parkington for which she wins a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. She continued to act in lead and supporting roles in feature films throughout the 1940s and 1950s and soon became Hollywood Royalty.
Her famous roles included performances in films such as Johnny Belinda, The Great Sinner, Without Honor, Fourteen Hours, Show Boat, Those Redheads from Seattle, Magnificent Obsession, The Left Hand of God, Meet Me In Las Vegas, and The Tempest.
Agnes’ career in films slowed down in the 1960s and the 1970s only saw some acting roles due to her death in 1974. Her notable films from these decades include Jessica, How the West Was Won, Who’s Minding the Store?, The Singing Nun, and Charlotte’s Web. Her final film role was in the television movie Rex Harrison Presents: Stories of Love.
Agnes Moorehead began her television career in the early 1950s. She made occasional appearances in popular TV shows including The Colgate Comedy Hour, Wagon Train, Playhouse 90, Suspicion, The Millionaire, Rawhide, The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone, The Lone Ranger, The Wild Wild West, The Red Skelton Show, The Virginian, Love American Style, and Marcus Welby MD.
But, of course, Agnes Moorehead’s most famous TV role – and perhaps one of her best-known roles was as Endora in the sitcom Bewitched. Yet, Agnes Moorehead hated her role on Bewitched…and now we know why!
AGNES AND ENDORA
In 1964, Agnes Moorehead casts in the supporting role of Endora in the sitcom Bewitched. She played this role for a total of 146 episodes from 1964 to 1972. On television, this became her best-known role. For many fans, her performance as Endora is her best role.
Yet, Agnes wasn’t originally interested in playing Endora. She had auditioned for the lead role of Hazel – which eventually went to Elizabeth Montgomery. After being rejected for the role, Agnes moved on. However, one day she stops by Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband Bill, who produces the show.
They explained to Agnes that they still hadn’t found someone to play Endora – the overbearing mother in the sitcom. They ask Agnes if her interest is in the role. Agnes Moorehead responded with an ambiguous, “maybe, maybe not.”
Nevertheless, when she receives the role as the pilot of the show, she decides to take it. She felt that the role was beneath her and didn’t particularly enjoy working on the pilot. As it happened, the pilot became a huge hit and Bewitched became one of the longest-running American sitcoms of its time!
Agnes wasn’t particularly passionate about Bewitched but she was contractually obliged to work on the role and stuck with it. While it wasn’t one of her most favorite performances, she did build a strong relationship with Elizabeth Montgomery. And regardless of how she felt about the role, her performance was lauded, and she’s still remembered to this day as Endora!
In fact, it was known to many that Agnes didn’t care for her role as Endora. Yet, her professionalism was unparalleled, and her colleagues were impressed at how well she could deliver her lines and create an endearing character – though she hated her role!
Agnes Moorehead’s life came to an end on April 30, 1974, in Rochester, Minnesota. She was 73 years old and had died of uterine cancer. Almost half a century since her passing, she’s remembered as one of America’s most iconic and versatile actresses.
She had a remarkable career in theater and radio and then seamlessly adapted to cinema and television. Even in her small debut role in Citizen Kane, she left a lasting impression. And even in her TV role that she hated; she gave one of her best performances. Her life and career is truly inspirational to us all.
Now, let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Agnes Moorehead?
In fact, here’s what we’d like to know:
Do you think that her performance in Bewitched was great – despite her reservations about the role?
Or has she been more successful with her other acting roles?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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