Sunday, December 5, 2010

CBS Radio Days with Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead is probably best remembered as the meddling mother and witch, "Endora," on the hit 1960s television series Bewitched. But, long before Moorehead's memorable role on TV, she had a successful career as a stage, radio, and character film actress. 

Moorehead was one of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre performers on radio - one of the most infamous radio groups. When Welles went to Hollywood to film his iconic first picture, Citizen Kane, Welles cast Agnes as Kane's mother. Welles then cast Moorhead in the major part of "Aunt Fanny" in his next film, The Magnificent Ambersons, long considered one of Welles's forgotten masterpieces. This led Moorehead to many stand-out character parts on film. After Welles was ostracized by Hollywood, Moorehead would always stand up for him.

In between making films, Moorehead continued to work on the stage and as a star radio performer. During the 1940s, Moorehead starred alongside Lionel Barrymore on the hit radio show Mayor of the Town. First aired by NBC, Mayor of the Town, later moved over to CBS, broadcasting from their studio located at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower in Hollywood.

CBS Studios, Hollywood, California (1950s)

Former CBS Studios Site (2010)

Mayor of the Town was set in the fictional Midwestern town of Springdale and dealt with everyday issues. Barrymore played the tough on the outside, soft on the inside mayor, and Moorehead played his housekeeper. 

On Thursdays, the actors would get together to do a read through of the script which would be followed by a second read through with microphones and to time the sound effects. The show aired on Saturdays in front of a live studio audience. As was customary for the day, the actors performed the show at 6pm to be live for the east coast at 9pm, then the actors would perform the show a second time at 9pm to be live for the West Coast listeners.

Brittingham's Radio Center Restaurant (1940s)

Former Brittingham's Radio Center Restaurant Site (2010)

In between shows the cast would do whatever they wanted to do. Often they would run to Brittingham's Radio Center Restaurant located on the lower level of the CBS complex. CBS Studios no longer operates in this complex and the Brittingham Restaurant no longer exist, but fortunately, because of some vocal preservationists, the building still stands, although vacant at the time. 

The vintage photos above are from my postcard collection and I always like reading the messages on the back of the old postcards. Here's the message from the back of the CBS postcard which was sent to a Mr. & Mrs. Blake in Seattle in 1955:

"Hi Kids, Having a fine time and enjoying some nice weather [this was written in January]. After a quiet spell of not so good. Spent yesterday in Hollywood and saw some radio and T.V. programs put on the air. Will be leaving here tomorrow to go to Arizona. Expect to see your folk in just a few days. Love from us both, Mora & Ward."

I wonder what radio and TV programs Mora and Ward got to see back in 1955!

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