Here’s What Happened to Agnes Moorehead Before, During and After Playing Endora on ‘Bewitched’

Having a successful Classic TV show is oftentimes a double-edged sword, on the one hand securing you a place in the hearts of generations of TV viewers while on the other somehow resulting in people not realizing the many other things a performer may have accomplished in his or her life. Examples include Vivian Vance from I Love Lucy, Maureen McCormick of The Brady Bunch and William Shatner of Star Trek. And then there’s Agnes Moorehead — Endora on Bewitched (currently airing on Antenna TV) — who had an extensive career in radio, movies, on stage and television long before she was cast as Elizabeth Montgomery’s mother on that series.

Charles Tranberg, author of the biography I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead, relates that while Agnes had been reluctant to sign on to Bewitched at first, she came to like playing Endora very much. “It enhanced her career,” he explains. “If she hadn’t done Bewitched, she would still have continued on as a respected character actress, but with a popular series like that one, she was able to achieve something she always wanted: genuine stardom and becoming a household name. It also provided her for eight years with a consistent and fairly lucrative income that she was able to supplement with other projects. She might have complained about the rigors of doing a series, but in the end she loved it and what it did for her career.”

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CBS Television Distribution

Mark Dawidziak, author of, among other books, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone, notes, “As much fun as she was as Endora on Bewitched, her identification with that role has tended to obscure just how versatile she was as a performer. It’s a bit ironic, too, since her early movie roles, from the distant mother in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane to the villain making trouble for Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage, tended to type her as cold, forbidding women. Bewitched let her play that for laughs in a broad comic style. Between those extremes, however, was a deceptively versatile and durable talent. Her radio work alone speaks to that, from her work in Welles’ stock company for The Mercury Theatre on the Air to her landmark Suspense appearance in the original production of ‘Sorry, Wrong Number.’

“If you want to know how formidable a talent we’re talking about here,” he elaborates, “consider the 1950s tours she did of Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell, going toe-to-toe, so to speak, with Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer and Cedric Hardwicke. And it was pretty much just the four of them sitting on wooden stools holding audiences mesmerized. ‘More than Endora’ would be the theme for any discussion of Moorehead’s career, and her Twilight Zone 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. 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.”

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