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Wednesday

The Geek Cred of Agnes Moorehead

Yeah, yeah, you loved her as Endora on Bewitched. But did you realize how often she dabbled in horror, pulp and sci-fi, working alongside legendary actors and writers in some of the greatest genre movies and radio shows ever?

For film geeks, she plays the mother of Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. She was often typecast as a grouchy aunt or mother. Her other famous sons include Jerry Lewis, Jesse James, John Wayne in the role of Genghis Khan, and Superman (1940s radio version).

For horror geeks, she appeared in Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), Mina Harker in Mercury Theater's 1938 Dracula (getting drained by Orson Welles as the Count), and starred in The Bat (1959) with Vincent Price, plus weird thriller/horror films like Dear Dead Delilah and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

TV geeks might not be satisfied by Moorehead's role in Bewitched, but they could find her in "The Invaders", a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone written by Richard Matheson. Agnes had no lines and the only dialog is spoken by other characters in the last minute of the episode. She also did two episodes of Night Gallery and won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy in 1967 for her role as a villainess on Wild, Wild West.

Old Time Radio geeks might remember that Moorehead was billed as "The First Lady of Suspense" for her dozens of popular appearances on that show. She played "Dragon Lady" on Terry & The Pirates radio show (reinforcing or maybe originating that Asian stereotype, unfortunately). As a regular member of the ensemble for Orson Welle's Mercury Theater group, she played large and small roles in dozens of shows, though she provided only background screams for their most legendary show, the Halloween 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds.

The most important item of geek cred on Agnes Moorehead's resume dwarfs all of the above, even her appearance in the greatest film of all time, and the most popular radio episode of all time. A radio show called Detective Story Hour ran for several years before its mysterious narrator became the focus of the show. Walter Gibson began writing a pulp series about him, until finally in 1937 the title of the radio show was changed to The Shadow. Although other actors had voiced the character before, Orson Welles starred in this version of The Shadow. Agnes Moorehead originated the role of The Shadow's sidekick and love interest, Margot Lane.

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