Agnes Moorehead – 2014 Radio HOF Inductee

The National Radio Hall of Fame (HOF) announced its list of 2014 inductees this past June.  Among those chosen for the honor, which will be officially bestowed on November 9 is Agnes Moorehead (December 6, 1900 – April 30, 1974), “one of radio’s busiest and most versatile actresses.”  Indeed, if you’ve never listened to Ms. Moorehead on the radio you’ve hardly an inkling about how effective radio suspense (in particular) can be.

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Moorehead was dubbed “the first lady of radio drama” and “the first lady of suspense” thanks to her outstanding work on such series as Orson Welles’ “Mercury Theater on the AIr” on which she appeared as an original cast member, her numerous appearances on “Suspense” and “Mayor of the Town” in the 1940s, which starred Lionel Barrymore.  Arguably one of the best actors to ever grace the airwaves, Moorehead no doubt excelled in mystery and suspense, but had a long and illustrious career delivering memorable radio performances in all genres, even appearing in an early episode of Superman.

Barrymore and Moorehead
Barrymore and Moorehead

While this post is hardly newsworthy given the National Radio HOF announcement came several months ago, I think it’s a worthy tribute.  Not to mention this has been on my mind since June and given my love for old-time radio (OTR) I can’t ignore it forever.  I’d be remiss not to (also) mention that the honor bestowed upon this great actress 40 years after her death is not exactly timely.  Moorehead should have been inducted into the prestigious group years ago as she was one of the premiere radio actors who ever lived if you ask me.  In any case, I am posting this now, a tribute by way of just a few examples from an impressive resume on the medium of radio.  I hope you enjoy it.

To begin, a radio tribute: 

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From November 1948, one of Agnes Moorehead’s most acclaimed radio performances on Suspense, “Sorry, Wrong Number”:

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From 1947 a Mystery in the Air presentation of “The Lodger” starring Peter Lorre and featuring Agnes Moorehead:

From 1938 the Mercury Theater on the Air presentation of “Treasure Island” with host, Orson Welles and Agnes Moorehead:

During rehearsal of "Treasure Island"
During rehearsal of “Treasure Island”

“Orson Welles liked the way I played, and he believed in me. I was lucky. I was with him seventeen years!”

An episode of “The Mayor of the Town” starring Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead:

From 1944, a special treat. “The Sisters,” an episode of Suspense with Agnes Moorehead and Ida Lupino:

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An episode of Orson Welles’ Almanac with Lucille Ball and Agnes Moorehead:

Another Suspense episode, “To Find Help” with Frank Sinatra co-starring with Agnes Moorehead:

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An episode of Cavalcade of America featuring Agnes Moorehead and Marie Dressler:

Finally, an early episode of Superman, “Clark Kent, Mild-Mannered Reporter” with an appearance by Ms. Moorehead:

Well, as you can see I could hardly stop.  If you’re not a fan of old-time radio or simply haven’t given it your attention this is the time to do so.  Listening to Agnes Moorehead as she performs on this medium perfectly illustrates the fact that good performances entailed much more than simply reading from a script.  She was an extraordinary talent and just as she did in motion pictures, made an impression at every turn.

Moorehead with her Golden Mike Award, for her work in radio, 1953
Moorehead with her Golden Mike Award, for her work in radio, 1953

5 thoughts

  1. Thank you for posting this article in tribute to Agnes Moorehead’s election to the National Radio Hall of Fame.

    A couple of clarifications worth noting:

    1) Although the episode of “Superman” posted does include a brief appearance by Miss Moorehead as the secretary Miss Smith, the previous (pilot) episode features a larger performance as Lara, the mother of Kal-L (Superman):

    2) In the posted episode of “Cavalcade,” Miss Moorehead portrays Marie Dressler; Miss Dressler herself does not appear. [In fact, Miss Dressler had already passed away by this time.] Yes, that is Miss Moorehead herself singing in the style of Marie Dressler.

    In fact, Miss Moorehead did quite a bit of singing on radio, particularly in the early days, often times in character. Another notable example is a 1939 “March of Time” broadcast where she impersonated operatic contralto Marian Anderson.

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