Agnes Moorehead bewitched a generation of television viewers with her funny, haughty portrayal of magical matriarch Endora on the 1960s and ’70s hit sitcom Bewitched.
Agnes Moorehead bewitched a generation of television viewers with her funny, haughty portrayal of magical matriarch Endora on the 1960s and ’70s hit sitcom Bewitched. Though she didn’t appear in every episode, Moorehead became well-known for her role, with most fans remembering her better for the show than for anything else in her career.
Yet Moorehead had a thriving career in movies, radio and TV long before she ever antagonized Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York and Dick Sargent on Bewitched. She won Golden Globes for two of her movies, Mrs. Parkington and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and she received four Oscar nominations. She was one of the most popular actresses on radio dramas in the 1940s and ’50s, and she starred on Broadway as well. She even played a role in one of the greatest movies of all time: In Citizen Kane, she portrayed Kane’s mother. It was her first movie role, and though it was small, it went down in history along with the film. More than 70 movie roles followed it.
According to Hollywood legend, Moorehead’s movie career may have led to her death of uterine cancer, 40 years ago today. Moorehead was in the cast of the 1956 John Wayne movie The Conqueror, filmed in the Utah desert. Less than 150 miles upwind was the Yucca Flat nuclear test site, where several nuclear bombs had been detonated in the years leading up to filming. Though the movie set was deemed safe, a large number of the movie’s cast and crew developed cancer over the years that followed – including John Wayne, director Dick Powell and, of course, Moorehead. In total, 91 of 220 people involved in The Conqueror battled cancer.
The jury is still out on whether the nuclear tests were responsible for the cancer – some believe it is, while others assert that in any group of 220 people it’s reasonable to assume that 91 will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Moorehead, for one, believed the former: Her last words were, reportedly, “I should never have taken that part.”