Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Mary Frances Hopkins


Agnes Moorehead worked as a professional actress for forty-five years. She was employed in all the major entertainment fields of her time--theatre, vaudeville, radio, film, television and the recording industry. A significant reason for this almost constant employment was Moorehead's career as a public reader of literature. The purpose of this study is twofold. First, it seeks to document Moorehead's public reading career with emphasis upon her solo performances of literature and in so doing to provide an investigation of those people and events that most influenced her success as an oral reader. The second purpose is to postulate Moorehead's theory of performance. It is hypothesized that any actor develops a personal theory of performance whether or not this theory has been formulated either consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, it is reasoned that Moorehead's theory of performance can be discovered by examining her practice and her comments about performance. Chapter I provides a biographical sketch of Moorehead's life. Chapter II contains a history of Moorehead's participation as both actress and director in three separate productions of George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan In Hell; attention is especially given to the first of these productions, directed by Charles Laughton and produced by Paul Gregory. Chapter III is a discussion of Moorehead's one-woman program of readings, That Fabulous Redhead, produced by Laughton and Gregory, and a description of its conception, staging, touring history and subsequent developments. Chapter IV is an examination of Moorehead's theory of performance based upon her practice and her comments about performance. The Appendix to the study contains a copy of Moorehead's original script for her solo program. Moorehead was a success as an oral performer of literature. The longevity of her career supports this conclusion. Moorehead's reading career was largely influenced by the theories and practices of Laughton and Gregory. Her theory was also in agreement with those theories of performance advocated by the authors of major college textbooks on interpretation during the period of her performance career. Similarly, her practice was in harmony with the practice of other important oral performers of the period.