Agnes Moorehead was a busy lady her entire life, and she was all over the place during the forties. While under contract at M-G-M, Agnes was loaned out to various studios, including Selznik International, where she made one of my all-time favorite movies, Since You Went Away. Very loosely based on a book of the same name by journalist and war-wife Margaret Buell Wilder, Away is about Anne, Jane, and Brig Hilton, who are left behind when husband and father Tim joins the Army. Agnes plays Emily Hawkins, Anne’s best friend and the woman everyone loves to loathe. David O. Selznik, who wrote the screenplay, meant snooty-to-a-fault Emily to be a textbook “Don’t” to wartime audiences.
Given the chance, though, I think Emily would beg to differ. Patriotism? Liberty? Freedom? Meh. This is how Emily works her home front, and it’s got snark to spare.
Without further ado, may I present…
~~Emily Hawkins’s Home Front Do’s and Don’ts~~
DO be sure of your place at the overcrowded bar. Hint: Charm will get you everywhere.
DO make everyone else sure of their place too. Questioning the exhausted, overworked bartender’s ability to whip up the drink of your choice at a moment’s notice is grand fun.
DON’T conceal your disdain for your friend’s husband going off to war. Quelle bore.
When giving a dance for the soldiers, DO be sure the paper has a nice big photo showing your best side.
DON’T just join the conga line. Be the conga line.
DON’T be patriotic in church. Or anytime, for that matter. The clergy are nice folks, but…
DO admire your friend’s older, simpler dress. Not everyone can be you.
DO keep your pantry well-stocked. Rationing is for chumps.
DO offer your friend sympathy when her husband is missing in action. Be optimistic, as if the poor fellow is just late for dinner.
DON’T bother to remember ranks of people in service. It’s such a hassle.
DO remind eighteen-year old nurse’s aides of the unsuitability of being nurse’s aides. Even when they’re set to own you about not doing your part.
DO deflect back to whoever dares to tell you to put more into your war effort. Life does have to go on, you know.
Above all, DON’T let a minor inconvenience like a war hold you back.
Yes, Emily is quite the case. She’s only onscreen for twenty minutes or so, but that’s plenty of time to pull faces at her for being a heartless…ah…something-or-other, and the result makes a big impression. Critic Bosley Crowther called her character “an odiously selfish female,” and the fact that he wouldn’t even name her seems to show up how well Agnes did her job.
Information about Agnes’s real-life war experience is very elusive, though. I scoured Google, but none of the sources I read mentioned anything about her war work, and there weren’t any indications that she was a conscientious objector. The only thing I can conclude is that as a character actress, Agnes wasn’t expected to go on USO tours or appear at bond rallies. With the dizzying array of projects she took on, she likely didn’t have much energy left over except for quiet endeavors such as buying bonds or rolling bandages. In fact, Agnes even said in a newspaper interview that she and her husband didn’t mix socially when she was involved in a film since acting was so tiring. However, it’s very probable that she shared the opinion of the vast majority of Americans, which was we were in the war to win it.
This concludes my part in Day One of Crystal’s Agnes Moorehead Blogathon. Day Two is on its way, and in the meantime, head on over to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for other contributions. Au revoir…
Buy this film on Amazon.