Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Temple Tuesday: Shirley and Endora

Born the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister, actress Agnes Moorehead (best known as Endora in “Bewitched”) made her movie debut in Orson Welles’ classic, “Citizen Kane” (1941). Not a bad start! She made the most of her small part, playing the mother of the title character. Agnes and Orson had met previously through her radio work on “The Shadow” and “March of Time.” Welles soon invited her to join him and Joseph Cotten as part of his Mercury Theatre on the Air, which included the famous 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast. As a result of that show, the Mercury players ventured out to Hollywood.

The Shirley connection began with the 1944 David Selznick wartime epic, “Since You Went Away.”

In this scene, the two Hilton sisters (Shirley and Jennifer Jones) tell off their mother’s friend, Emily Hawkins (Agnes).

Moorehead was excellent playing a snobbish socialite who loves to gossip about all the other women in the community. In the scene below, she is with Joseph Cotten (former Mercury Theatre costar) and Claudette Colbert; Irving Bacon plays the bartender in the background.

Just four years earlier, Bacon was serving Shirley soda in “Young People”:

Back to Agnes. Here she is in a fashion publicity still for “Since You Went Away,” looking very stylish!

From the accompanying blurb:

SYMPHONY IN BLUE Agnes Moorehead…goes out “stepping” in this stunningly but simple suit of turquoise blue wool. Across the front of the suit is an intricate design of sliver thread and turquoise sequins, surrounded by raindrop sequins. With the suit, Miss Moorehead wears long gloves, crushed at the wrist, and a grosgrain envelope bag and feather pouff of matching royal blue.

Agnes and Shirley worked together again in 1958. From Agnes’ biography, I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead by Charles Tranberg:

Agnes made the first of three appearances on “Shirley Temple’s Storybook” in the fall of 1958, as a witch in an hour-long adaptation of “Rapunzel.” Miss Temple didn’t appear in the play itself and the leading role of Rapunzel went to a young newcomer, Carol Lynley. Miss Lynley had happy recollections of her time working with Agnes. She recalled Agnes as “great company always — funny, feisty, witty, direct and very professional; just a fabulous lady.” But she never really got to know her, despite working with her again the next year in a General Electric Theater presentation with Ronald Reagan, and future meetings at social events. “We never socialized on a personal level. There was a big difference in our ages. I think the only person she ever really socialized with who was much younger than she was Debbie (Reynolds).” While they certainly did get along, “She was a private person, she never volunteered information regarding her private life and she never invaded your privacy.” Miss Lynley never even knew that Agnes had a son. Still, she cherishes the memory of their professional collaborations. “I think she was one of the all-time great Grande Dames of Hollywood.” “Rapunzel” did well in the ratings and won favorable reviews, including this one: “In view of the approach of Halloween, ‘Rapunzel’ was an appropriate choice for the TV screen. There probably was no new moral lesson in this fairy tale. But if there happens to be a rampion garden in the neighborhood, it probably won’t be invited for a long time by young adventurers. Miss Moorehead might just happen to be hiding there.” Carol Lynley was applauded as “lovely and sympathetic.” Agnes was not Endora in ‘Rapunzel,’ but a more evil cousin. Some of the dramatic gestures that she uses in ‘Rapunzel’ may remind one of the witch she would immortalize within a decade, but this witch was ugly where Endora was glamorous, evil where Endora was mischievous. 

In 1960, Shirley revamped her series and retitled it, “The Shirley Temple Show.” Agnes starred in two episodes, including the first one, “The Land of Oz.” Agnes played yet another witch, this one named Mombi, who she chose to give a cockney accent. Interesting to note that Bill Asher produced this episode and “Bewitched,” which starred his wife at the time, Elizabeth Montgomery.

The scenes in “Oz” with wacky comedian Jonathan Winters and Agnes are a delight to watch. And yes, Shirley fans, that’s Shirley’s childhood movie costar Arthur Treacher on the left.

Not surprisingly, good triumphs over evil and Queen Ozma (Shirley)…

punishes wicked old Mombi by taking away her magical powers.

Agnes next starred with Shirley in “The House of the Seven Gables,” which aired December 11, 1960.

Jonathan Harris, who played Dr. Smith on “Lost in Space,” later recalled working on that episode with Agnes and Shirley:

That was a very interesting piece with Bob Culp and Aggie Moorehead, bless her dead heart. Oh, God I loved her so! I did a couple of other things with her, including “Bewitched”! Aggie was a wonderful actress. She loved purple. Everything about Aggie was purple. The dressing room was a series of purple: lilac, purple, deep… she loved purple! And her clothes were that way, and her hair was orange! And she was one of the best actresses I ever knew in my whole life. Wonderful, wonderful! There are highlights of doing that show that I remember; the Shirley Temple thing. I’ll never forget, because of her and because of the fact that this divine child actor became a non-actor! We had a scene in the “Anne of whatever Gables” that we were in which I attempted to throttle her, and Arthur Hiller directed it, and when the take was over, the cameraman came to me and said, “You were wonderful in that!” I said, “Thank you!” So I decided to be very magnanimous, and I went to Shirley and I said, “The cameraman said that we were wonderful in that!” And she glared at me and said, “He didn’t tell ME!” And I was going to say, “Because you were not wonderful, you were terrible!” but I didn’t!

And then also, Aggie and I had lunch everyday and came back to the studio roaring with glee; we adored each other! One day, we were met by Miss Temple, saying, “You never asked ME to go to lunch!” So we sort of poked each other and I said, “Would you like to have lunch with us tomorrow, Miss Temple?” “Yes!” That’s the way she talked!

It would seem that Harris was every bit as bitchy and catty as his character from “Lost in Space.”

My final photo of Agnes is a publicity shot from “Bewitched” for the July 1965 “Just One Happy Family” episode with costar Maurice Evans. Her work as Endora is unmatched, making her an integral part of the show’s success. One more little Shirley tidbit from Agnes’ biography:

On October 7, 1965, Agnes heard from Shirley Temple Black regarding coming to San Francisco as a guest star at the opening of the ninth annual San Francisco Film Festival. As an honored guest, she would attend a black tie dinner and be introduced onstage at the opening night of the Festival, and then attend a post-opening supper dance at the Fairmount Hotel. The Festival would also fly Agnes and a companion to San Francisco and put her up at the Fairmont Hotel. In a postscript, in a handwritten note to Agnes, Shirley writes, “Please, please come! Last time you were here I tried to contact you, but you were probably too involved. This time, I’ll have many interesting people to introduce you to. Fondly, Shirley.” Agnes did attend and, while she had a good time, she would later say she was “embarrassed” by all the attention.

Moorehead died of cancer in 1974. Many believe that the cancer originated from her making the movie “The Conqueror” in 1956. Unbeknownst to the crew, the film’s Nevada location had previously served as a nuclear testing site. Many others involved in the film also died of cancer, including Susan Hayward (1975), John Wayne (1979), and director Dick Powell (1963). The fact that all of them smoked didn’t help either. You be the judge.

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.

1 comment:

Fifthrider said...

The mental image of Jonathan Harris' story is funnier than reality could ever be. I can't imagine this transaction actually happened as he recounted, but in his mind he was praised by the crew for his performance and Shirley was a brat. Somehow I suspect Shirley was just fine, meanwhile Harris' antics probably came off like Orson Welles recording a commercial for snow peas. For the last 2 days I've been trying to imagine how that really played out and it just keeps getting funnier.