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Moorehead, Agnes (1900-1974)  
 
page: 1  2  

Moorehead also had great success with a one-woman show in which she toured both in the United States and abroad from 1954 until 1970. Her readings included selections from the works for which she was best known, including Sorry, Wrong Number, Don Juan in Hell, and later Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, directed by Robert Aldrich), for which she received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination. Among the other sources from which she read were the Bible and the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marcel Proust, James Thurber, and Robert Frost.

Moorehead made numerous television appearances beginning in 1953 and won an Emmy award for her guest performance on The Wild, Wild West in 1967, but many viewers remember her primarily for her role as Endora, the acerbic witch mother-in-law on the situation comedy Bewitched (1964-1972). The part brought her five more Emmy nominations. Moorehead's co-stars on Bewitched included gay actors Paul Lynde and Dick Sargent. The role of Endora was a campy romp, with Moorehead arrayed in extravagant costumes and displaying the personality of an imperious diva.

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Moorehead starred in a revivial of Don Juan in Hell in 1973 and continued to work in television, movies, and on the musical stage in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Gigi until ill health forced her to retire. She died of lung cancer in Rochester, Minnesota on April 30, 1974.

There had long been rumors in Hollywood about lesbian relationships involving Moorehead, but she was consistently circumspect in commenting on her personal life. She admitted "a certain amount of aloofness on [her] part at times, because an actor can so easily be hurt by unfair criticism," adding that "an artist should . . . maintain glamour and a kind of mystery."

No doubt Moorehead's circumspection was also motivated by the knowledge that openness as a lesbian would have had disastrous consequences for her career.

Her Bewitched co-star Lynde, himself closeted, was less reticent, saying, "The whole world knows that Agnes was a lesbian--I mean classy, but one of the all-time Hollywood dykes." He further stated that "when one of her husbands was caught cheating, so the story goes, Agnes screamed at him that if he could have a mistress, so could she!"

Patricia White calls Moorehead's body of work her "queer career," pointing out that her roles "encompassed a gallery of types connoting female difference." These included a WAC officer, a madam, and the superintendent of a women's prison. Moorehead often played unmarried women--spinster aunts, nuns, governesses, and ladies' companions. In White's analysis, these "character types . . . connoting 'asexuality' or 'masculinity,' have qualities that significantly overlap with those attributed to lesbians" and "connote, if not lesbian identity, at least the problem of heterosexual identity."

Such roles made Moorehead a lesbian icon on stage, screen, and television.

Linda Rapp

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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  American Television, Situation Comedies

American television sitcoms have consistently reflected the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, often in distorted and stereotyped ways, but occasionally in ways that acknowledge our humanity and complexity.

arts >> Overview:  Film Actors: Lesbian

Lesbian actresses have played a significant role in Hollywood, but their contributions have rarely been recognized or spoken of openly; the "lavender marriage" is by no means a relic of the past.

arts >> Overview:  Stage Actors and Actresses

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual actors and actresses are among the elite of contemporary theater, but only recently have many come out publicly.

arts >> Lunt, Alfred (1892-1977), and Lynn Fontanne (1887-1983)

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were known as the first family of the American theater, but theirs was a lavender marriage and their presentation of themselves as the ideal married couple may have been their greatest performance.

arts >> Lynde, Paul

American comedian Paul Lynde, most famous for being the crucial "center square" on the 1970s television game show Hollywood Squares, created a campy bitch comic image but was fiercely closeted.

arts >> Sargent, Dick

Most widely remembered as "the second Darrin" on the television sitcom Bewitched, actor Dick Sargent remained closeted for most of his career, but came out in 1991 and embraced gay activism as a "new mission in life."


    Bibliography
   

Freeman, William M. "Agnes Moorehead Dies at 67; Acclaimed in a Variety of Roles." New York Times (May 1, 1974): 48.

Kear, Lynn. Agnes Moorehead: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Madsen, Axel. The Sewing Circle: Hollywood's Greatest Secret: Female Stars Who Loved Other Women. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995.

White, Patricia. unInvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Moorehead, Agnes  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 3, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/moorehead_a.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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