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Agnes Moorehead: 12 Little-Known Facts About Endora from ‘Bewitched’

She may be best known from 'Bewitched,' but she was also a four time Oscar-nominee and star of stage and radio

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Agnes Moorehead came to her role as Endora on Bewitched with a wealth of acting experience behind her, including on the radio, stage and in film — among her credits Citizen Kane, one of the most celebrated films ever made. But the truth is, pretty much anyone seeing her face will think of that 1960s sitcom before they do anything else.

“It’s ironic that people feel her career starts and stops with Bewitched,” muses pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, “because it was a project for which she had little enthusiasm for and was amazed that it went past one season.”

One thing Agnes Moorehead did have great enthusiasm for was the idea of becoming an actress or performer, something she had begun thinking about at a young age.

Agnes Moorehead as Endora in TV series 'Bewitched', circa 1965.
Agnes Moorehead as Endora in TV series Bewitched, circa 1965 Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She entered the world on December 6, 1900 in Clinton Massachusetts, her parents — former singer Mary McCauley and clergyman John Henderson Moorehead — naming her Agnes Robertson Moorehead. Their daughter gave her first public performance at the age of three, offering up the Lord’s Prayer during one of her father’s services.

There would, naturally, be a lot more, which you can discover by scrolling down.

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1. Her first gig was performing in the St. Louis Opera Company

An early publicity photo of Agnes Moorehead, date unknown
Studio portrait of Agnes Moorehead, date unknownBettmann/Getty Images

When she was 13, Agnes Moorehead decided she wanted to try out for the St. Louis Municipal Ballet, which her preacher father (rather shockingly) supported rather than disapproved of. Brought into the choir, she would spend a total of four summers as a part of the St. Louis Opera Company.

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2. College first, acting later

Agnes Moorehead, date unknown
Actress Agnes Moorehead, date unknownJohn Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Agnes Moorehead desired to attend New York City’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but her parents’ focus was on her education. The solution? She majored in biology at Ohio’s Muskigum College, gradated and taught for five years in Wisconsin — coaching debate and directing school stage shows — and then, in 1926, having saved some money, she moved to New York and began attending the AADA.

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3. Finding a home on stage and the radio

Greer Garson and Agnes Moorehead, 1944
Greer Garson, Agnes Moorehead, 1944 FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

“When she graduated from the AADA, she immediately started to work,” explains biographer Charles Tranberg, author of I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead. “She worked as an understudy or bit player on stage and began doing roles on radio.”

CBS Radio’s Mysteries in Paris hired Moorehead, casting her in the role of “Nana,” who worked for the leading lady as a guardian, chaperon and maid. “She also helped her to solve mysteries,” notes Tranberg, “and her character grew to be so popular that her role was enlarged.”

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4. Agnes Moorehead frequently collaborated with Orson Welles

1938, American actor, writer, producer and director Orson Welles talking with Agnes Moorehead on a theatre stage with members of the Mercury Theatre.
1938, American actor, writer, producer and director Orson Welles talking with Agnes Moorehead on a theatre stage with members of the Mercury Theatre(Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

As her radio presence increased, Moorehead was cast as Margot Lane on the radio drama The Shadow, based on the pulp hero of the same name, with a fellow named Orson Welles cast as Lamont Cranston, the hero’s secret identity. This not only was the beginning of a friendship that the two would share for the rest of her life, it would lead to her becoming a part of Welles’ eventually renowned Mercury Theater of the Air, which presented dramatic audio adaptations of classic novels.

5. Agnes Moorehead and Citizen Kane

As Tranberg explains it, RKO studios became very interested in the talents of Orson Welles and wanted hm to create films for them. To this end, he brought along the ensemble cast he’d put together for the Mercury Theater, including Agnes Moorehead. “Agnes’ first movie was also Welles’ first, which also happens to be a cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, in which she plays Charles Kane’s mother.

“For somebody who had never made a film before,” he adds, “Agnes gives a very assured performance. But it was in The Magnificent Ambersons, her second film, that she really shined. As Aunt Fanny Minafer, a spinster longing for love and never finding it, it’s probably her greatest acting triumph.”

6. An acclaimed character actress

Geoffrey Mark makes the point that although she was in great demand in Hollywood, she was never really the focus of a particular project. “She was talented enough to be the star, but so talented that she didn’t play the star parts more often than not,” he says. “There were no TV series with her in the lead, there were no Agnes Moorehead films. But when she was in a film, she stole it. Look at a film like Dark Passage in 1947. The main characters are played by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, but you steal every scene from them? That says a lot.

“If you look at just her first three films — Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and The Big Street — and people she’s working with like Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda … She is just hitting home runs right off the bat while she has this incredible career in radio.”

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7. Awards: She was nominated for many and won a couple

A behind-the-scenes shot of Dark Passage, 1947
Actors Humphrey Bogart and Agnes Moorehead on the set of Dark Passage, 1947 Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

For The Magnificent Ambersons, she would win the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actress, and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. In the 1940s, two more Oscar nominations came her way: Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Parkington (1944) and Johnny Belinda (1948). Jump ahead to Hush … Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), as Bette Davis’ maid destined to be murdered by Olivia De Havilland, and there was her fourth Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress.

There then came an Emmy. “One of the shows she appeared on while on Bewitched was The Wild Wild West in an episode called ‘Night of the Vicious Valentine,’” says Tranberg, “where Agnes plays a marriage broker who arranges marriages between very rich, powerful men and younger women.  Then the men are murdered and the women inherit their money and power so they would eventually be able to take over the government.  It was a great episode and won Agnes an Emmy for her performance.  In addition to that, Agnes was nominated six out of the eight years for an Emmy for playing Endora on Bewitched — but never won for that iconic role.”

8. Agnes Moorehead was considered a genuinely versatile performer

Geoffrey Mark refers to her as a natural talent who spent the time studying her craft in order to constantly improve: “She was not someone found in a gas station or on a beach or in an elevator. She was somebody who had studied to do what she did. She didn’t have the vanity of a gorgeous woman; she was willing to play anything that made sense to her and to look like whatever the part called for. That gives you tremendous versatility. She was always playing older women when she was a younger woman. She didn’t care. She cared if the part was good and that it suited her talents. I’ve never seen Agnes Moorehead give a bad performance.”

9. She arrived on Broadway in 1951

Agnes Moorehead and Charles Laughton in Dun Juan in Hell, 1951
Agnes Moorehead and Charles Laughton in Don Juan in Hell, 1951 John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Agnes Moorehead made her Broadway debut in 1951 in Don Juan in Hell, with Charles Boyer in the title role, Charles Laughton as the devil and Cedric Hardwicke as the Commander. “As Donna Ana,” Tanberg opines, “Agnes finds, to her chagrin, that she is in hell rather than heaven. It’s jolting, because she always believed she was a virtuous woman.  Charles Laughton also directed and Agnes was chosen for the role in part because of her ability to change from an old wizened woman of 77 to a young lady of 27 — using only her voice to indicate this change. 

“Her radio training certainly came in handy.  This play was revolutionary in that it was done with no sets except for the actors sitting on stools before reading stands — turning the pages of the script — even though they had memorized the lines.  Over the years Agnes would play this role many times in several different productions.”

In addition to Don Juan in Hell, she would begin appearing in a one-woman show where she did readings from the classics, while also appearing in such productions as The Rivalry, The Pink Jungle, Prescription Murder, Lord Pengo and High Spirits.

10. Agnes Moorehead appeared on many television shows in the 1950s

'The Invaders' episode of 'The Twilight Zone,' 1961
Agnes Moorehead in The Twilight Zone, 1961©CBS/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Her television debut came in the 1952 TV movie Poor Mr. Campbell, followed by a dozen appearances on anthology shows, with episodic guest shots starting to enter the picture towards the end of the decade. In 1961, she starred as an unnamed character in “The Invaders” episode of The Twilight Zone.

“‘More Than Endora’ would be the theme for any discussion of Moorehead’s career,” says Mark Dawidziak, author of, among other books, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone, “and her appearance in ‘The Invaders’ is stirring proof of that. She never smiles. She never speaks a word. And look at the levels she brings to that performance. With her, we feel the sense of isolation, trepidation, puzzlement, fear, anger, resolution. And they knew Agnes Moorehead could pull that off; could bring all of that and more. She was one of those performers never destined to be in the top ranks of stardom of top billing, but one of those class that others recognized as an actor’s actor.”

11. From Hazel to Bewitched

Surprisingly, Agnes Moorehead actually auditioned for the title character of the sitcom Hazel (that role ultimately going to Shirley Booth), but thankfully things went the way they did, because in 1963 she was offered the part of Endora on Bewitched.

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Herbie J. Pilato, author of numerous TV show and star biographies, including Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery, details that the show could not find the right person for the part of Samantha’s mother, Endora, until star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband (and the show’s creator) William Asher ran into Moorehead at a New York Bloomingdale’s.

“He ran over to Elizabeth,” Pilato relates, “and he says, ‘I found mother!’ And she thought he meant his mother or hers. They asked Agnes Moorehead right on the spot if she would do the show and she replies, ‘Maybe, maybe not.’ She ended up doing it, but gave the sense that the pilot was beneath her. She said, ‘I’ll do the pilot, but it probably won’t sell.’ Then it sold and she still gave the impression that it was beneath her. But everybody — including her — knew she was having a great old time throwing herself over the mantle at the fireplace in those chiffon gowns. She just ate it up. She and Elizabeth had a very dear respect for each other. Agnes Moorehead respected her as an actress and also respected her because of her father [Robert Montgomery], who she knew.”

Adds Geoffrey Mark, “To take a woman like Miss Moorehead, who could do almost anything, and having her play a part she doesn’t particularly like, but, being the professional she is, throwing herself into it, not caring how she looks or how she comes across, but just playing the part, is brilliant. Endora should not be just unlikable in a funny sort of way, but unlikable in an unwatchable sort of way. That’s how the part is written. And yet Agnes is able to take what is basically a one note joke and give it dimension and flavor, because she’s so good at what she does.”

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12. She briefly returned to Broadway after Bewitched

The cast of 'Don Juan in Hell' (by George Bernard Shaw) on Broadway, New York, New York, January 1973.
The cast of Don Juan in Hell (by George Bernard Shaw) on Broadway, New York, New York, January 1973. Pictured are Ricardo Montalban, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Henreid, and Edward Mulhare Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Bewitched came to an end in 1972 and, unsurprisingly, Agnes Moorehead handled it pragmatically, making plans to return to the stage. She reprised her role from Don Juan in Hell for a Broadway run and then tour, supplied the voice of Mother Goose in the animated film Charlotte’s Web and was back on Broadway in 1973 for an adaptation of the film Gigi. Unfortunately, she fell ill during that production and was replaced by Arlene Francis. 

Charles Tranberg offers, “She was suffering from terminal cancer. Her great friend, Debbie Reynolds, told me that Agnes told her that she would beat it and she put herself ‘in God’s hands.’”

Agnes Moorehead died on April 30, 1974 at age 73 in the arms of her mother (who herself would live to 106). She was married twice, first to John Griffith Lee from 1930 to 1952 and Robert Gist from 1954 to 1958.

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