Dec 6, 2017
Actress Agnes Moorehead - the "first lady of Suspense" - was born December 6, 1900. The legendary star won an Emmy and two Golden Globes, and she was nominated for four Academy Awards. Her credits include Citizen Kane, Dark Passage, Johnny Belinda, and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. But old time radio fans may know her best for two signature performances: she played "the lovely Margot Lane" opposite Orson Welles and Bill Johnstone on The Shadow and she starred in one of the most famous radio dramas of all time, "Sorry, Wrong Number." it was that show that helped to earn her the title of "first lady of Suspense" and she recreated the performance nearly ten times over the course of the series' long run.
Moorehead found early success on radio, but it did not translate into film work until she met Orson Welles. She was soon a member of his Mercury Theatre, and that connection led to her casting opposite Welles in The Shadow. In addition to appearing in the company's memorable Broadway shows, Moorehead starred in broadcasts of The Mercury Theatre On the Air. One of her best turns came as Mina Harker in the program's outstanding adaptation of Dracula.
When Welles took the Mercury Players to Hollywood in 1939, Agnes Moorehead came with him. She made her film debut as Charles Foster Kane's mother in Citizen Kane and she earned her first Oscar nomination for her turn in Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Moorehead's screen career took off like a rocket; she received a second Oscar nod and won a Golden Globe for Mrs. Parkington (1944) and got a third Academy Award nomination in 1948 for her supporting turn in Johnny Belinda.
Throughout the 1940s, she continued to work on radio. Moorehead made her first appearance on Suspense on the April 27, 1943 broadcast of "The Diary of Saphronia Winters," a show that co-starred her Mercury comrade Ray Collins. It would be the first of 32 visits to the Suspense microphone, and her second - which came just one month later - was the first production of "Sorry, Wrong Number." Moorehead's portrayal of a bedridden woman who - thanks to some crossed phone lines - overhears a murder plot still stands as a pitch perfect study in terror, and she recreated the role seven times between that first production and 1960.
"Sorry, Wrong Number" was certainly her best known production, Agnes Moorehead never failed to disappoint on Suspense. Some of this writer's favorite shows include "The Death Parade" (2-15-1951), a tale of a woman's frantic efforts to prevent a murder before time runs out; "The Trap" (6-16-1949), which finds Moorehead's character tormented by a phantom within her own house; and "The Evil of Adelaide Winters" (9-10-1951), the story of a dishonest spiritualist whose con proves to be a little too effective.
Moorehead's most iconic role didn't come on radio, or on the big screen for that matter. In 1964, she was cast as Endora, the mother of Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha on the long-running sitcom Bewitched. Though she bemoaned the quality of the scripts (or lack thereof), Moorehead stayed with the show for the duration of its run and she earned six Emmy nominations for the performance. She would ultimately win the prize for a guest spot on The Wild Wild West as a dastardly matchmaker targeting powerful men.
Agnes Moorehead worked all the way up until her death in 1974, appearing in the earliest broadcasts of the radio revival The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.