Bewitching Agnes Moorehead: Behind the Magic and Mystery

Bewitching Agnes Moorehead: Behind the Magic and Mystery

Sandra Pandora | 
Pandora Writer | 
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Agnes Moorehead was an accomplished American actress known for her versatility and acclaimed performances across radio, film, television, and the theater. From her early beginnings to her prolific career, Moorehead's talent and dedication have made her one of the most memorable performers in Hollywood history.

Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6, 1900, in Clinton, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, John Henderson Moorehead, and a talented singer, Mildred (Mollie) McCauley, which set the stage for her future career in the arts.

Moorehead attended Muskingum College in Ohio, where she studied biology and intended to become a teacher. However, the world of theater soon captured her heart and redirected her path.

Moorehead's journey into acting began with her involvement in the college drama club. She was soon offered a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. This opportunity would prove to be the launchpad for her incredible career in the performing arts.

After completing her studies at the Academy, Moorehead made her professional debut on Broadway in 1926. She worked tirelessly in theater productions throughout the 1930s, honing her craft and gaining recognition. Her performances earned critical acclaim, and it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling.

Agnes Moorehead

In 1941, Agnes Moorehead made her film debut in the movie "Citizen Kane," directed by Orson Welles. Her performance as Kane's mother was nothing short of exceptional, and it garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This early success on the silver screen marked the beginning of Moorehead's long and illustrious film career.

One of her most iconic roles came in the form of the 1942 classic "The Magnificent Ambersons," also directed by Orson Welles. Her portrayal of Fanny Minafer, a character aging from a young girl to an embittered spinster, displayed Moorehead's incredible range and acting prowess. Despite some misfortunes regarding the final cut of the film, Moorehead's performance remains one of the most memorable aspects of "The Magnificent Ambersons."

Agnes Moorehead

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Moorehead appeared in numerous films, including "Jane Eyre" in 1943, "Mrs. Parkington" in 1944, "The Seventh Cross" in 1944, and "Johnny Belinda" in 1948, for which she earned her second Academy Award nomination. Her on-screen presence was characterized by an intensity and depth that left an impression on audiences and critics alike.

She was chosen as the leading actress in "The Bat" in 1959, a horror film featuring Hollywood veteran Vincent Price. Despite its modest budget, "The Bat" proved to be a notable production that laid the groundwork for her success in the 1960s.

While Moorehead was already a celebrated actress in both film and theater, it was her work on television that would bring her widespread recognition and affection from a new generation of fans. In 1964, she took on the role of Endora in the popular TV series "Bewitched." As Samantha's (Elizabeth Montgomery) mischievous and disapproving mother, Moorehead's portrayal was both comical and endearing. Her performance on the show earned her multiple Emmy Award nominations and solidified her status as a television icon.

Agnes Moorehead

The character of Endora allowed Moorehead to showcase her comedic talents, something she had not had the opportunity to do as frequently in her film and stage roles. Her chemistry with the cast, particularly her on-screen daughter Samantha, contributed significantly to the show's success.

"Bewitched" ran for eight seasons, from 1964 to 1972. Agnes Moorehead's Endora was a fan favorite, and her portrayal of the iconic witch is still remembered fondly today.

Before her success in film, television, and theater, Agnes Moorehead made her mark in the world of radio. Radio was a dominant form of entertainment in the early 20th century, and Moorehead's distinctive voice and acting ability made her a sought-after talent.

One of her most memorable radio roles was that of Mrs. Emily Truax in the popular series "The Shadow." Her portrayal of the sinister character Madame LaFarge in the episode "The Plot Murder" is especially renowned for its chilling performance.

Agnes Moorehead

She participated in two of the most iconic and highly praised radio shows in history: "Sorry, Wrong Number," a performance that garnered her the prestigious Golden Mike Award and a Golden Record, and "War of the Worlds."

Moorehead's radio work showcased her ability to convey complex characters solely through her voice, and it laid the foundation for her future success in other mediums.

Agnes Moorehead's career continued to flourish well into her later years. She appeared in notable films like "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" in 1964 and "What's the Matter with Helen?" in 1971.

Agnes Moorehead

Moorehead effortlessly transitioned between genres, mediums, and characters. Her presence on screen and stage was magnetic, and her ability to convey emotion and nuance through her acting set her apart as a true artist.

Her career spanned over 30 years, encompassing appearances in over 70 films and numerous television shows, Moorehead's portrayal of the witch Endora in the television series "Bewitched" is her most recognizable role.

Agnes Moorehead's remarkable career was celebrated with numerous awards and honors. In addition to her Academy Award nominations for "Citizen Kane" and "Johnny Belinda," she received four Primetime Emmy Award nominations for her role as Endora in "Bewitched."

Moorehead's contributions to the entertainment industry were also recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Agnes Moorehead

Moorehead was married to actor John Griffith from 1930-1952. They took in a foster son, Sean, into their family in 1949. Two years after her first divorce, she married actor Robert Gist and was with him from 1954-1958. Sadly, in addition to her two divorces, she also had a falling out with Sean. There was one person who was always there for Agnes, and that was her mother. They remained close until Agnes died. Her mother passed away 16 years later on June 8, 1990. Her father had passed away on May 22, 1938.

Sadly, Agnes Moorehead passed away on April 30, 1974, at the age of 73, following a battle with uterine cancer. Her final resting place is in Dayton Memorial Park, located in Dayton, Ohio.

Her death was a great loss to the entertainment world, but her legacy endures through her extensive body of work and the impact she had on the industry.

Agnes Moorehead's journey from her humble beginnings to her Hollywood stardom demonstrates the power of passion and perseverance. Her legacy serves as a reminder that with talent and dedication, anything is possible.


Did you know?

At the age of 11, Agnes Moorehead took her first step into the world of professional performance as a ballet dancer, gracing the stage alongside the St. Louis Municipal Opera.

Agnes Moorehead

In 1923, Moorehead graduated from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, with a bachelor's degree, majoring in biology. During her time at college, she also took part in stage plays.

She later received an honorary doctorate in literature from Muskingum College. Following her family's relocation to Reedsburg, Wisconsin, she embarked on a teaching career. During this period, she earned a master's degree in English and public speaking from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She continued her educational journey with post-graduate studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, achieving graduation with honors in 1929.

After a stint as a high school teacher, her career shifted towards acting. It was during this time that she crossed paths with Orson Welles, collaborating on radio programs and becoming a part of his renowned Mercury Theater on the Air Company.

Agnes Moorehead

In 1954, she embarked on a global tour with her one-woman show, "The Fabulous Redhead."

The pinnacle of Agnes Moorehead's television career was when she secured a role in an episode of "The Twilight Zone" titled "The Invaders."  Her performance demanded a wide range of emotions, from agony to sheer terror, all conveyed without uttering a single word.

Fellow actors like Dick Sargent remember her arriving on the set with "the Bible in one hand and the script in the other."

Agnes Moorehead

While her career includes many remarkable roles, she is most celebrated for her portrayal of Endora in the popular television series "Bewitched." Agnes's involvement in "Bewitched" can be attributed entirely to the persuasive influence of Elizabeth Montgomery. Initially, Agnes had reservations about taking on the role.

Everything changed when Elizabeth Montgomery approached her in Bloomingdales department store. The two engaged in a friendly exchange before Montgomery posed a question to Agnes. Elizabeth recognized that the role of Samantha's meddlesome mother demanded an actress of commanding presence, and it seemed tailor-made for Moorehead. Although Agnes hesitated to take on the role, she eventually read the script and decided to accept it. To have time for other projects, she agreed to do the show but not appear in every episode.

The exterior of the Stephens house in "Bewitched" had been constructed two years prior to this show, during the summer of 1962. Sadly, the exterior set (facade) was torn down in October of this year, with the rest of the iconic houses on the Warner Bros. Ranch.


The site is set to undergo a remarkable renovation, creating space for an ambitious and innovative studio development. The expansive development will include 16 soundstages, a modern multi-level parking facility for convenience, and a new office building.

Moorehead seldom discussed her younger sister, Margaret, who passed away at age 23. Tragically, she succumbed to a heart seizure (newspapers reported a severe heart attack), reportedly triggered by a romantic breakup. Her death remains a mystery since the coroner had ruled it a suicide. As a result, Agnes was devastated about losing her sister so young.

In a tragic turn of events, Agnes was rumored to have contracted cancer due to her involvement in the filming of "The Conqueror," which took place near a nuclear test site.

Agnes Moorehead

She was nominated and won the following awards during her career.
1942: 1 New York Film Critics Circle-Best Actress: Winner
1942: 1 National Board of Review-Best Acting: Winner
1942: 1 Oscar nomination
1944: 1 Oscar nomination
1945: 1 Golden Globe: Winner
1948: 1 Oscar nomination
1964: 1 Oscar nomination
1965: 1 Golden Globe: Winner
1965: 1 Golden Globe: Winner
1966: 1 Emmy Award nomination
1967: 1 Emmy Award nomination
1968: 1 Emmy Award nomination
1969: 1 Emmy Award nomination
1970: 1 Emmy Award nomination
1971: 2 Emmy Award nominations 

“From what I can see, people look at television to forget the horrors outside." Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead
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