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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

THE REEL REALS: Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead
Agnes Moorehead may not be one of the most famous actresses who ever lived, but according to Orson Welles, she was probably the greatest. Agnes lacked the perfect beauty that could have made her a golden idol of her era, but this perhaps served her well. She was able to maintain a career as a character actress long after many of her contemporaries' fresh-faced youths had faded. 

An educated woman, Agnes brought her great intellect and passion for literature with her when she began her performance career, which was only bolstered by additional training at the competitive American Academy for Dramatic Arts. Her great passion and emotional instinct for her art was indulged in early singing and radio work. Indeed, she had a voice, one that she could manipulate at will to cultivate a showcase of all the shades, cracks, and fissures of humanity. Crafting a fully formed character with vocals alone, the microphone gave Agnes a power over her audiences that was uninhibited by what she deemed to be her unattractive appearance. (Not true, Aggie). It didn't take long for Orson Welles, the Boy Wonder of Radio, to find her, and she joined his Mercury Theatre program, delivering spectacularly, emotionally articulated performances in his many adaptations, including "Dracula."

When Orson went Hollywood, he brought his Mercury players with him, which led to Agnes's performances in Citizen Kane, Journey into Fear, and the Magnificent Ambersons. Those who criticize the films (pft!) for their coldness, almost universally draw attention to Aggie's characterizations, which some deem to be the only depth in Orson's otherwise very cerebral narratives. Though a insecure, conflicted woman, who remained intensely religious throughout her life, her personal neuroses did not effect her cinematic career, which later translated to television. She was to appear on countless shows, and her surprise hit gig on "Bewitched" made her a pop cultural icon. Tragically, she was one of the many actors who performed in the oddball John Wayne film The Conqueror to pass away from cancer (uterine)-- this eerie coincidence is accredited to the fact that the movie was shot at a nuclear test site. 

With her wisdom, edge, and gift for simply being in the moment, Agnes is often overlooked for her talent. She was too good at what she did. The intellectual underdog, she remains a hidden victor in the continuing story of Hollywood, still camouflaging herself in the story as one of its mere moving pieces, convincing us that she isn't there at all.

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