Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"And Agnes Moorehead as ... Marilly?"

Earlier this week, I was excited to see Axel Nissen's new book Agnes Moorehead on Radio, Stage and Television under the Christmas tree. (Granted, I'd dropped a few hints!) Nissen's earlier book The Films of Agnes Moorehead gave us a thorough and knowlegeable overview of the actress' motion picture career. This new volume complements that work by focusing on an area Hollywood biographers often fail to adequately cover -- performances in media other than film.

Although Miss Moorehead's greatest claim to fame with modern viewers is still the role of Endora on Bewitched, Nissen wisely resists the temptation to let that classic characterization overwhelm the rest of his book. Instead, he covers Bewitched (making some interesting and insightful observations) alongside some two dozen other performances by this always-intriguing and versatile actress. I especially appreciated his chapter devoted to Mayor of the Town, a long-running radio series of the 1940s in which Moorehead played the opinionated housekeeper of Lionel Barrymore's lead character. While some of the TV roles he covers here are the expected ones -- a beleagured woman valiantly battling "aliens" on The Twilight Zone, as well as her Emmy-winning turn on The Wild, Wild West -- other chapters shine light on performances you probably haven't seen, ranging from The Revlon Mirror Theater (her television debut) to her "deliciously camp" turn as leader of a band of pirates on Adventures in Paradise. 

Given the ephemeral nature of actors' work in media like the stage and radio, some of Agnes Moorehead's creative output is no longer available for us to experience first-hand. But Nissen's enjoyable and valuable book is, as the saying goes, the next best thing to being there.

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