1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended for established AM fans, August 11, 2013
By Professional Tourist
This review is from: The Films of Agnes Moorehead (Hardcover)
This book focuses on the sixty-three major motion pictures of Miss Moorehead's career in the form of an introduction followed by individual chapters for each film. Although the author has conducted much research into primary sources (archives and personal interviews) the book as-written relies heavily upon secondary sources such as previous Moorehead bios, bios of other actors and of directors, and prior studies of these films -- as documented throughout.
There is some new information here and a few rare photos, but the majority of the content -- though uniquely presented -- has long been available to the general public. At $71 it is not a good value for those who have read Lynn Kear, Charles Tranberg, and James Robert Parish's Moorehead efforts. Further limiting its value, of the 382-page length -- which is already slight for the price -- sixty-three pages are dedicated to photos (poorly reproduced in my copy of the print edition) and roughly fifty pages list credits and technical data which are readily available online. There is repetition within the book, too, particularly between the introduction and the film chapters, where there are several instances of word-for-word copying, as well as some rehashing of info from a film's profile within the chapters of related films.
The introduction states "Each profile concentrates on Moorehead's contribution to the film in question." This does indeed occur in some chapters, but not in all of them. Some profiles ("Mrs. Parkington," "Tomorrow, the World") may describe the character and her physical appearance but contain no comment on her performance. Other chapters focus more on cinema history or comparison of the scripts to original properties. For example, the chapter on "The Magnificent Ambersons" contains a three-page riff on earlier representations of spinsters in film. While this type of info may be of interest, it makes the book more a themed cinema study than a study of Miss Moorehead's film work.
Beyond the questions of value and audience (and others outside the scope of this review, such as personal interpretations and reliability of sources) the issues most significant to me as a fan are the over-arching unkindness and disrespect toward the subject and her associates (shockingly unprofessional) and the sprinkling of factual errors. Here are some examples of the more egregious among them:
*** Errors of fact ***
-- Page xi: ". . .an increasingly successful and busy radio actress, doing as many as six shows a week." In fact, she performed in as many as six shows a day.
-- Page 45: "Apart from the Mercury Wonder Show . . . in August 1943 and a performance of King Lear on CBS Radio's Mercury Summer Theater on September 13, 1946, Moorehead never worked with her foremost mentor and Svengali again." In fact, there were additional radio broadcasts together, including several appearances on Orson Welles Radio Almanac throughout Jan-July 1944; 10 April 1945, on The Master of Ballantrae for the CBS Radio series This Is My Best; and the 31 March 1946 broadcast of the Radio Readers Digest episode Back for Christmas.
-- Page 61 quotes lines of dialog from The Seventh Cross, which AM does not speak in the film (as released by the Warner Archive).
-- Page 141: [Of her desire to reside in Beverly Hills] "She finally arrived there in 1953. . . ." In fact, newspaper articles of the day put this purchase at early 1952. For example, Hedda Hopper's column Looking At Hollywood, published 23 February 1952. [Similar statement page 213]
-- Page 194: "Though she would make several TV movies at Universal in the early 1970s, Agnes Moorehead would make only two feature films there in the course of her career." In fact, The Lost Moment, which was a co-production of Universal and Walter Wanger, was filmed at Universal Studios, which brings the count to three. [See also page 200, which attests to this fact.] [Similar statement page 207]
-- Page 221: "Moorehead died of uterine cancer, which is caused by a virus and not set off by external, environmental factors." In fact, uterine (endometrial) cancer is not caused by a virus. From mayoclinic.com: "Doctors don't know what causes endometrial cancer. What's known is that something occurs to create a genetic mutation within cells in the endometrium -- the lining of the uterus."
-- Page 266: "To commemorate this notable role, she had herself painted as Queen Elizabeth." In fact, the painting of AM as QE1 was executed a few years earlier, at the request of the artist.
-- Page 309: ". . .she had resisted the temptation to bob her famously auburn tresses in her youth. As far as we know, she kept her hair long up until that day in 1961. . . ." In fact, as a young woman in her late teens and early twenties, AM wore her hair short, as evidenced in all her college yearbooks.
*** Rude remarks ***
-- Page 50: "Had Moorehead not had her acting talent and vast ambition, she might well have turned into a meddlesome, man-eating divorcee like Emily."
-- Page 83: "Our Vines also offers us the toe-curling spectacle of customarily austere Moorehead massaging liver-lipped screen husband Robinson's shoulders."
-- Page 97: "The role unified nearly all the qualities that Moorehead uniquely projected on the screen: theatricality, self-dramatization, artificiality, malevolence, sexual rapaciousness and frustration, possessiveness, jealousy, and nosiness."
-- Page 161: [Of Errol Flynn] ". . .we are quite unnecessarily treated to the sight of his sad, sagging tits as he gets a scrubdown from his black manservant."
-- Page 178: " . . .the ballerina's filthy-rich, piss-elegant, feminine yet forceful auntie. . . ."
-- Page 200: ". . .playing the butch blonde proprietor of a Honolulu 'private club' in the first and the patrician battle-ax in the second would have been signature roles for her in any cinematographic process."
-- Page 207: ". . .St. Oegger had given [Jane] Wyman a severe, unbecomingly short hairstyle with Claudette Colbert bangs that made her look more like a bilious Pekingese than ever."
-- Page 266: [In reference to a painting of AM] "With the small crowned head atop the hugely dressed body, he [an old friend] thought it looked like Frankenstein."
-- Page 291: "If you close your eyes during one of her scenes in Pollyanna, it's like hearing Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West! All that's missing is the cackle."
On balance, I find the book serves up little to sustain this AM admirer, who couldn't wait for its release and ended up sorely disappointed. One wonders what would motivate a person to conduct extensive research on an artist seemingly disliked. Although the author does at times present Miss Moorehead's work in a postive light, in my view, those instances are overshadowed by the preponderance of negativity. A frustrating, distasteful read from start to finish.
Vecchiolarry wrote:I remember she bought Sigmund Romberg's home in late 1951 and had it somewhat redone over a few weeks, as I lived up and across Roxbury Drive and viewed ("supervised") a lot of it before we left for Europe in late October.
I met Agnes on the set of "Show Boat" that year through Kathryn Grayson....
Erika1712 wrote:Yes, I have a question. When will you decide to write a book on Agnes, PT?
To give it one star would've likely meant I didn't finish it. Not that I don't understand the one star review. I do, very much so, and agree with you on all the points you've made here. I was glad that you brought up the misinformation on uterine cancer which very much stood out for me while reading.
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