Friday, October 9, 2015

wacky tacky icons: Agnes Moorehead

I had started composing this post about three years ago but somehow it got lost in the shuffle of the draft folder.  I was reminded of its existence when, bored and scrolling through Facebook, I took one of those online quizzes that logarithmically determines from which celebrated historical figure one is reincarnated, which ice cream flavor represents one's birth order, or which Disney princess one would most likely consume in the event of a fairy tale apocalypse - only this one tells you "which witch" you are (based on Hollywood's most famous examples).  I wasn't a bit surprised when the results came back "Endora!"  Equal parts mischievous, mean-spirited, and dramatic, Halloween seemed like the perfect time to cast a flickering light on television's favorite witch.

Samantha Stevens is not without her charms, but watching Bewitched was really just a waiting
game until Endora appeared in a flurry of lavender chiffon to deliver the show's wittiest lines
before disappearing into a puff of green smoke.

Most people remember Agnes Moorehead for the exaggerated eye make-up, infernal meddling, and intentional malapropisms (see: "Derwood, Darwin, Dagwood") of Endora.  To me, however, she will always be the cantankerous Mrs. Snow from Pollyanna.  "Pills and bills, just pills and bills!"

Quickly reformed by a bunch of violets and a healthy dose of prisms and quilt guilt!
Pollyanna (1960)

Like most character actors of her generation, Moorehead had what we in the business call "range."  Some of our favorite performances include:

The breathlessly-chic sociopath, Madge Rapf, in Dark Passage

Dark Passage (1947)

The merciless, celebrity evangelist, Sister Alma, in What's the Matter with Helen?
(Will the real Sister Aimee Semple McPherson please stand up?)

What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)

The unhinged, if incredibly loyal, family servant, Velma, in "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte"

"Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964)

The kindly hash-house confidante, Violette Shumberg, in The Big Street

The Big Street (1942)

Once she even played one of America's greatest first ladies,
Eleanor Roosevelt, for a television fundraiser in 1964.

Blessed with that slightly-affected dialect of New England society dames, Moorehead's languid tones and knack for transformation translated into a six-decade career in theater, radio, film, and television.  Her talent was as undeniable as her sophistication and offbeat beauty.


For all of the vanity intrinsic to her most-beloved portrayals, ego rarely played a part in Agnes Moorehead's character choices.  She was always willing to appear silly, strange, downright unlikeable, and...

...unapologetically wacky tacky!

Much is made of her personal life (divorces, illegitimate adoptions, sexuality) but those issues are of little consequence given her overwhelming contributions to the arts - not the least of which is my favorite game show of all time, What's My Line?

Agnes Moorehead as the mystery guest on What's My Line? (1973)

Agnes Moorehead's second go-round as mystery guest on What's My Line? (1973)

Given all of this information, the question remains this Halloween season, "Which WITCH are you?"

Are you a sweet Samantha or an enervating Endora...
or maybe just a "confirmed bachelor" like Uncle Arthur?

Now that you've decided which witch you are, you still have to decide what
you will be for Halloween; even a proper witch has to choose a costume!

From our coven to yours, Endora and I wish you a very peaceful and Happy Halloween!!!

Agnes Moorehead
December 6, 1900 - April 30, 1974


Mr. Tiny


  1. Now I feel the need to rewatch Pollyanna through adult eyes. Pills and bills sounds like An interesting and spot on mantra

    1. You must!!! It's a perfectly-cast movie - especially if you love Hayley Mills and Agnes Moorehead (and I do)!!!

  2. I used to wish I had powers and could cast spells like Sam and Endora. Even now, some days I wish I had powers-it would be SO cool! This reminder of Endora makes me want to spend an afternoon watching Bewitched episodes!

    1. Me too! I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon leading up to Halloween!