Angela Lansbury facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Publicity shot, 1966
Angela Brigid Lansbury
16 October 1925
Regent's Park, London, England
|Died||11 October 2022
Los Angeles, California, US
(m. 1945; div. 1946)
(m. 1949; died 2003)
Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE (16 October 1925 – 11 October 2022) was an Irish-British and American actress and singer who played various roles across film, stage, and television. Her career, much of it in the United States, spanned eight decades, and her work received much international attention. At the time of her death, she was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. She was the recipient of numerous accolades, including six Tony Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award), six Golden Globe Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, and the Academy Honorary Award, in addition to nominations for three Academy Awards, eighteen Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Grammy Award.
Lansbury was born to an upper-middle-class family in Central London, the daughter of Irish actress Moyna Macgill and English politician Edgar Lansbury. To escape the Blitz, she moved to the United States in 1940, studying acting in New York City. Proceeding to Hollywood in 1942, she signed to MGM and obtained her first film roles, in Gaslight (1944), National Velvet (1944), and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), earning her two Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. She appeared in eleven further MGM films, mostly in minor roles, and after her contract ended in 1952, she began to supplement her cinematic work with theatrical appearances. Although she was largely seen as a B-list star during this period, her role in the film The Manchurian Candidate (1962) received widespread acclaim and it is frequently cited as one of her best performances during her career, earning her a third Academy Award nomination and another Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. Moving into musical theatre, Lansbury finally gained stardom for playing the leading role in the Broadway musical Mame (1966), which won her her first Tony Award and established her as a gay icon.
Amidst difficulties in her personal life, Lansbury moved from California to County Cork, Ireland, in 1970, and she continued to star in a variety of theatrical and cinematic appearances throughout that decade. These appearances included leading roles in the stage musicals Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and The King and I, as well as in the hit Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Moving into television in 1984, she achieved worldwide fame as the fictional writer and sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the American whodunit series Murder, She Wrote, which ran for twelve seasons until 1996, becoming one of the longest-running and most popular detective drama series in television history. Through Corymore Productions, a company that she co-owned with her husband Peter Shaw, Lansbury assumed ownership of the series and she was its executive producer during its final four seasons. She also moved into voice work, contributing to animated films like Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Don Bluth's Anastasia (1997). She toured in a variety of international productions and continued to make appearances in films, such as Nanny McPhee (2005) and Mary Poppins Returns (2018). Her final film role was in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in 2022.
Lansbury received an Honorary Academy Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BAFTA, a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award and five additional Tony Awards, six Golden Globes and an Olivier Award. She also was nominated for numerous other industry awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress three times, various Primetime Emmy Awards on 18 occasions (including 12 Emmy nominations in a row for Best Actress for Murder, She Wrote), and a Grammy Award (for Beauty and the Beast). In 2014, Lansbury was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. She was the subject of three biographies.
- Early life and childhood
- Acting career
- Personal life
- Acting credits
- Honours and legacy
- See also
Early life and childhood
Lansbury was born to an upper-middle class family on 16 October 1925 in the district of St Pancras in Central London. Her birthplace is sometimes given, wrongly, as Poplar, East London. Lansbury said that she had ancestral connections to Poplar but was born in Regent's Park, Central London. Her mother was Belfast-born actress Moyna Macgill (born Charlotte Lillian McIldowie), who regularly appeared on stage in the West End and who had also starred in several films. Her father was the wealthy English timber merchant and politician Edgar Lansbury, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and former mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar. Her paternal grandfather was the Labour Party leader and anti-war activist George Lansbury, a man whom she felt "awed" by and considered "a giant in my youth". Angela had an older half sister, Isolde, who was the daughter of Moyna's previous marriage to writer and director Reginald Denham. In January 1930, when Angela was four, her mother gave birth to twin boys, Bruce and Edgar, leading the Lansburys to move from their Poplar flat to a house in Mill Hill, North London; they would spend weekends on a rural farm in Berrick Salome, near Wallingford, Oxfordshire.
When Lansbury was nine, her father died from stomach cancer and she retreated into playing characters as a coping mechanism. Facing financial difficulty, her mother became engaged to a Scottish colonel, Leckie Forbes, and moved into his house in Hampstead, with Lansbury receiving an education at South Hampstead High School from 1934 until 1939. She nevertheless considered herself largely self-educated, learning from books, theatre and cinema. She became a self-professed "complete movie maniac", visiting the cinema regularly and imagining herself as certain characters. Keen on playing the piano, she briefly studied music at the Ritman School of Dancing, and in 1940 began studying acting at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art in Kensington, West London, first appearing onstage as a lady-in-waiting in the school's production of Maxwell Anderson's Mary of Scotland.
That year, Angela's grandfather died, and with the onset of the Blitz, Macgill decided to take Angela, Bruce and Edgar to the United States; Isolde remained in Britain with her new husband, the actor Peter Ustinov. Macgill secured a job supervising 60 British children who were being evacuated to North America aboard the Duchess of Atholl, arriving with them in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in mid-August. From there, she proceeded by train to New York City, where she was financially sponsored by a Wall Street businessman, Charles T. Smith, moving in with his family at their home at Mahopac, New York. Lansbury received a scholarship from the American Theatre Wing which allowed her to study at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio, where she appeared in performances of William Congreve's The Way of the World and Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan. She graduated in March 1942, by which time the family had moved to a flat on Morton Street in Greenwich Village in the New York City borough of Manhattan.
Beginning of her career and breakthrough (1940–1950)
Macgill secured work in a Canadian touring production of Tonight at 8.30, and in Canada she was joined by her daughter, who gained her first theatrical job as a nightclub act at the Samovar Club in Montreal. She claimed to be 19 when she was only 16 and her act consisted of her singing songs by Noël Coward, earning her $60 a week. She returned to New York City in August 1942. By then her mother had moved to Hollywood, Los Angeles, in hopes of resurrecting her cinematic career; Lansbury and her brothers followed their mother. Moving into a bungalow in Laurel Canyon, both Lansbury and her mother obtained Christmas jobs at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles; Moyna was sacked for incompetence, leaving the family to subsist on Lansbury's wages of $28 a week. Befriending a group of gay men, Lansbury became privy to the city's underground gay scene, and with her mother she attended lectures given by the spiritual guru Jiddu Krishnamurti; at one of these lectures, she met Aldous Huxley.
At a party hosted by her mother, Lansbury met John van Druten, who had recently co-authored a script for Gaslight (1944), a mystery-thriller based on Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gas Light. Set in Victorian London, the film was being directed by George Cukor, and it starred Ingrid Bergman. Van Druten suggested that Lansbury would be perfect for the role of Nancy Oliver, a conniving cockney maid. She was accepted for the part, though a social worker had to accompany her on the set because she was only 17. Obtaining an agent, Earl Kramer, she was signed to a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, earning $500 a week and using her real name as her professional name. Already her casting received attention, with Variety magazine claiming that Lansbury had gone from unknown to movie star in just four days in August 1943. Upon release, Gaslight received mixed critical reviews, although Lansbury's performance was widely praised; the film earned seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Supporting Actress for Lansbury.
Her next film appearance was as Edwina Brown, the older sister of Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944); the film proved to be a major commercial hit, with Lansbury developing a lifelong friendship with co-star Elizabeth Taylor. Lansbury next starred in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), a cinematic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel of the same name, which was again set in Victorian London. Directed by Albert Lewin, Lansbury was cast as Sibyl Vane, a working-class music hall singer who falls in love with the protagonist, Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield). Although the film was not a financial success, Lansbury's performance once more drew praise, earning her a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, and she was again nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, losing to Anne Revere, her co-star in National Velvet.
On 27 September 1945, Lansbury married Richard Cromwell, a visual artist and a decorator whose acting career had come to a standstill. Their marriage was troubled; Cromwell was gay, and he had married Lansbury in the unsuccessful hope that doing so would turn him heterosexual. The marriage ended in less than a year when she filed for divorce on 11 September 1946, but they remained friends until his death. In December 1946, she was introduced to fellow English expatriate Peter Pullen Shaw at a party held by former co-star Hurd Hatfield in Ojai Valley. Shaw was an aspiring actor, also signed to MGM, and he had recently ended a relationship with Joan Crawford. He and Lansbury became a couple, living together before she proposed marriage to him.
The couple was intent on getting married back in England, but the Church of England would not perform a marriage ceremony for a divorced person whose spouse was still living. Instead, they wed in a Church of Scotland ceremony at St. Columba's Church in Knightsbridge, London in August 1949, followed by a honeymoon in France. Returning to the US, where they settled into Lansbury's home in the Rustic Canyon neighbourhood of Los Angeles, close to Santa Monica and the beach, in 1951 both became naturalized US citizens and retained their British citizenship via dual nationality.
Established character actress (1940–1960)
Following the success of Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray, MGM cast Lansbury in 11 further films until her contract with the company ended in 1952. Keeping her among their B-list stars, MGM used her less than their similar-aged actresses; biographers Edelman and Kupferberg believed that the majority of these films were "mediocre", doing little to further her career. This view was echoed by Cukor, who believed Lansbury had been "consistently miscast" by MGM. She was repeatedly made to portray older women, often villainous, and as a result became increasingly dissatisfied with working for MGM. The company itself was suffering from the post-1948 slump in box office revenue, as a result slashing film budgets and cutting its number of staff.
Lansbury played her first American character as "Em", a tough honky-tonk saloon singer who slaps Judy Garland's character in the Oscar-winning Wild West musical The Harvey Girls (1946). She appeared in The Hoodlum Saint (also 1946), Till the Clouds Roll By (1947), If Winter Comes (1947), Tenth Avenue Angel (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948), State of the Union (1948), and The Red Danube (1949). She was loaned by MGM first to United Artists for The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947), and then to Paramount for Samson and Delilah (1949). She appeared as a villainous maidservant in Kind Lady (1951) and a French adventuress in Mutiny (1952). Turning to radio, in 1948 she appeared in an audio adaptation of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage for NBC University Theatre and the following year she starred in their adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Moving into television, she appeared in a 1950 episode of Robert Montgomery Presents adapted from A.J. Cronin's The Citadel.
Unhappy with the roles she was being given by MGM, Lansbury instructed her manager, Harry Friedman of MCA Inc., to terminate her contract in 1952, in the same year that her son Anthony was born. Soon after his birth, she joined the East Coast touring productions of two recent Broadway hits: Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's Remains to Be Seen and Louis Verneuil's Affairs of State. Biographer Margaret Bonanno later wrote that at this point, Lansbury's career had "hit an all-time low".
In April 1953, her daughter Deirdre Angela Shaw was born. Shaw had a son by a previous marriage, David, and after gaining legal custody of the boy in 1953, brought him to California to live with the family; with three children to raise, the Shaws moved to a larger house on San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. However, Lansbury did not feel entirely comfortable in the Hollywood social scene and later asserted that as a result of her British roots, "in Hollywood, I always felt like a stranger in a strange land." In 1959, the family moved to Malibu, settling into a house on the Pacific Coast Highway that had been designed by Aaron Green; there, she and Peter escaped the Hollywood scene, and were able to send their children to a local public school.
Returning to cinema as a freelance actress, Lansbury found herself typecast as women older (sometimes far older) than herself in many films in which she appeared during this period. As she later stated, "Hollywood made me old before my time," noting that in her 20s she was receiving fan mail from people who believed her to be in her 40s. She obtained minor roles in the films A Life at Stake (1954), A Lawless Street (1955), and The Purple Mask (1955), later describing the last as "the worst movie I ever made". She played Princess Gwendolyn in the comedy film The Court Jester (1956), then took the role of a wife who kills her husband in Please Murder Me (1956). She appeared as Minnie Littlejohn in The Long, Hot Summer (1958), and as Mabel Claremont in The Reluctant Debutante (1958), which she filmed in Paris. Biographer Martin Gottfried said that it was these latter two cinematic appearances which restored Lansbury's status as an "A-picture actress". Throughout this period, she continued making appearances on television, starring in episodes of Revlon Mirror Theatre, Ford Theatre and The George Gobel Show, and became a regular on the game show, Pantomime Quiz.
Independent films and further acclaim (1960–1980)
Lansbury's rare sympathetic role as Mavis in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) drew critical acclaim, as did her performances as sinister characters in All Fall Down (1962), as a manipulative, destructive mother, and the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962) as the scheming ideologue Mrs. Iselin. In the latter, she was cast for the role by John Frankenheimer based on her performance in All Fall Down. Lansbury was only three years older than actor Laurence Harvey who played her son in the film. She had agreed to appear in the film after reading the original novel, describing it as "one of the most exciting political books I ever read". Biographers Edelman and Kupferberg considered this role "her enduring cinematic triumph", while Gottfried stated that it was "the strongest, the most memorable and the best picture she ever made ... she gives her finest film performance in it." Lansbury received her third Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for the film, losing to Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker (1962).
Lansbury followed this with a performance as Sybil Logan in In the Cool of the Day (1963), a film she renounced as awful, and appeared as wealthy Isabel Boyd in The World of Henry Orient (1964), the widow Phyllis in Dear Heart (1964), and as the mother of screen actress Jean Harlow (played by Carroll Baker) in Harlow (1965).
Lansbury declined several cinematic roles, including the lead in The Killing of Sister George (1968) and the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Instead, she accepted the role of the Countess von Ornstein, an ageing German aristocrat who falls in love with a younger man, in Something for Everyone (1970), for which she filmed on location in Hohenschwangau, Bavaria. The same year, she appeared as the middle-aged English witch Eglantine Price in the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971); this was her first lead in a screen musical, and led to her publicizing the film on television programmes like the David Frost Show. She later noted that as a big commercial hit, this film "secured an enormous audience for me".
Lansbury spent most of the 1970s on stage rather than on screen, but was acclaimed for her supporting performance as the perpetually inebriated romance novelist and murder suspect Salome Otterbourne in the classic 1978 whodunnit Death on the Nile, a turn which garnered her a BAFTA Award nomination, as well as a National Board of Review Award nomination and win for her portrayal. Johnny Depp cited Lansbury's performance as one of his inspirations for his portrayal of Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Lansbury appeared as Miss Froy in The Lady Vanishes (1979), a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's earlier film released in 1938. The following year's The Mirror Crack'd featured her in another film based on an Agatha Christie novel, this time as Miss Marple, a sleuth in 1950s Kent. Lansbury hoped to get away from the depiction of the role by Margaret Rutherford, instead returning to Christie's description of the character; in this she created a precursor to her later role of Jessica Fletcher. She was signed to appear in two sequels as Miss Marple, but these never were made. Her tour-de-force in that 1980 film earned her a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress. Lansbury's next film was the animated The Last Unicorn (1982), for which she provided the voice of the witch Mommy Fortuna.
Beauty and the Beast and other roles (1990–2000)
Throughout the run of Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury had continued making appearances in other television films, miniseries, and cinema. In 1986, she co-hosted the New York Philharmonic's televised tribute to the centenary of the Statue of Liberty with Kirk Douglas. She appeared as the protagonist's mother in Rage of Angels: The Story Continues (1986) and portrayed Nan Moore – the mother of a victim of the real-life Korean Air Lines Flight 007 plane crash – in Shootdown (1988); being a mother herself, she had been "enormously touched by the incident". She was featured in The Shell Seekers (1989) as an Englishwoman recuperating from a heart attack, and starred in The Love She Sought (1990), also known as A Green Journey, as an American school teacher who falls in love with a Catholic priest (played by Denholm Elliott) while visiting Ireland; Lansbury thought it "a marvelous woman's story". She next starred as the Cockney Mrs Harris in a film adaptation of the novel Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris (1992), which was directed by her son and executive produced by her stepson. Her highest profile cinematic role since The Manchurian Candidate was as the voice of the motherly teapot Mrs. Potts in the Disney animation Beauty and the Beast (1991), an appearance that she considered to be a gift to her three grandchildren. Lansbury performed the title song to the film, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Additionally, her work on Beauty and the Beast garnered her nominations for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, as well as for an Awards Circuit Community Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. In 2021, Lansbury made a surprise appearance referencing her role as Mrs. Potts on the audio guide of "Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts", The Metropolitan Museum of Art's first ever exhibition about Walt Disney and his Studios. It was likely her last recorded performance.
Return to film (2005–2022)
Lansbury starred in the film Nanny McPhee (2005) as Aunt Adelaide, later informing an interviewer that working on Nanny McPhee "pulled me out of the abyss" after the loss of her husband. She then appeared in the film Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011), opposite Jim Carrey. In 2012, it was announced that Lansbury was set to star in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel; however, she had to back out of the project (with Tilda Swinton replacing her) due to prior scheduling conflicts with the Australian production of Driving Miss Daisy, in which she co-starred alongside James Earl Jones. In November 2013, she received an Academy Honorary Award for her lifetime achievement at the Governors Awards which was presented to her by Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. Emma Thompson and Geoffrey Rush also offered tributes. She voices as the role of the Witch in Justin and the Knights of Valour.
Lansbury also appeared in a supporting role in Mary Poppins Returns (2018), a sequel to the 1964 original film (And was originally short-listed for the title role for that film), set 20 years later in Depression-era London which features Emily Blunt as the title character. Filming began at Shepperton Studios in February 2017, and the film was released in December 2018 to positive reviews.
Lansbury made her penultimate film appearance in the 2018 film Buttons: A Christmas Tale, appearing once again alongside Mary Poppins co-star Dick Van Dyke.
In January 2019, Lansbury was invited to the American Film Institute's luncheon to give the annual benediction where she talked about her experiences at MGM, the craft of acting and the importance of a film community. The appearance was a surprise to the group of film and television stars who gave her a standing ovation. Lansbury concluded her remarks by giving advice to the possible Oscar and Golden Globe contenders about the awards season, stating "As you leave here today and are invited to endure a seemingly endless parade of programs that label you a 'winner' or a 'loser' – I've been there, I've done that, remember this room, when we are all together as one."
Lansbury's final film role was a cameo appearance in Rian Johnson's 2022 detective drama Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
Career beginnings and breakthrough (1957–1961)
In April 1957, she debuted on Broadway at the Henry Miller Theatre in Hotel Paradiso, a French burlesque set in Paris, directed by Peter Glenville. The play only ran for 15 weeks, although she earned good reviews for her role as "Marcel Cat". She later stated that had she not appeared in the play, her "whole career would have fizzled out." She followed this with an appearance in 1960s Broadway performance of A Taste of Honey at the Lyceum Theatre, directed by Tony Richardson and George Devine. Lansbury played Helen, the boorish, verbally abusive, otherwise absentee mother of Josephine (played by Joan Plowright, only four years Lansbury's junior), remarking that she gained "a great deal of satisfaction" from the role. During the show's run, Lansbury developed a friendship with Plowright, as well as with Plowright's lover and future husband, Laurence Olivier. It was from Lansbury's rented flat on East 97th Street that Plowright and Olivier eloped to be married. After a well-reviewed appearance in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959) – for which she had filmed in Sydney – and a minor role in A Breath of Scandal (1960), she appeared in 1961's Blue Hawaii as an overbearing mother, whose son was played by Elvis Presley, despite his being her junior by only nine years. Acknowledging that the film was of poor quality, she commented that she agreed to appear in it because "I was desperate."
Her first appearance in a theatrical musical was the short-lived Anyone Can Whistle, written by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. An experimental work, it opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in April 1964, but was critically panned and closed after nine performances. Lansbury had played the role of crooked mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper, and although she loved Sondheim's score she faced personal differences with Laurents and was glad when the show closed. In 1965, she appeared in a second-season episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a flamboyant and wealthy actress. She appeared in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), a cinematic biopic of Jesus, but was cut almost entirely from the final edit. She followed this with an appearance as Mama Jean Bello in Harlow (1965), as Lady Blystone in The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), and as Gloria in Mister Buddwing (1966). Despite her well-received performances in a number of films, "celluloid superstardom" evaded her, and she became increasingly dissatisfied with these minor roles, feeling that none allowed her to explore her potential as an actress.
Returning to musical cinema, Lansbury starred as Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance (1983), a film based on Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera of the same name, and while filming it in London sang on a recording of The Beggar's Opera as a mezzo-soprano. This was followed by an appearance as the grandmother in the gothic fantasy film The Company of Wolves (1984). Lansbury had also begun work for television, appearing in a television film with Bette Davis titled Little Gloria... Happy at Last (1982). She followed this with an appearance in The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story (1983), later describing it as "the most unsophisticated thing you can imagine". In the television film A Talent for Murder (1984), she played a wheelchair using mystery writer; although describing it as "a rush job", she agreed to do it in order to work with co-star Laurence Olivier. Two further miniseries featuring Lansbury appeared in 1984: Lace and The First Olympics: Athens 1896.
Broadway stardom (1966–1980)
In 1966, Lansbury took on the title role of Mame Dennis in the musical Mame, Jerry Herman's musical adaptation of the novel Auntie Mame. The director's first choice for the role had been Rosalind Russell, who played Mame in the non-musical film adaptation Auntie Mame, but she had declined. Lansbury actively sought the role in the hope that it would mark a change in her career. When she was chosen, it came as a surprise to theatre critics, who believed that it would go to a better-known actress; Lansbury was forty-one years old, and it was her first starring role. Mame Dennis was a glamorous character, with over twenty costume changes throughout the play, and Lansbury's role involved ten songs and dance routines which she trained extensively for. First appearing in Philadelphia and then in Boston, Mame opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway in May 1966. Auntie Mame was already popular among the gay community, and Mame gained Lansbury a cult gay following, something that she later attributed to the fact that Mame Dennis was "every gay person's idea of glamour ... Everything about Mame coincided with every young man's idea of beauty and glory and it was lovely."
Reviews of Lansbury's performance were overwhelmingly positive. In The New York Times, Stanley Kauffmann wrote: "Miss Lansbury is a singing-dancing actress, not a singer or dancer who also acts ... In this marathon role she has wit, poise, warmth and a very taking coolth." The role resulted in Lansbury receiving her first Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Lansbury's later biographer Margaret Bonanno claimed that Mame made Lansbury a "superstar", with the actress herself commenting on her success by stating that "Everyone loves you, everyone loves the success, and enjoys it as much as you do. And it lasts as long as you are on that stage and as long as you keep coming out of that stage door."
The stardom achieved through Mame allowed Lansbury to make further appearances on television, such as on Perry Como's Thanksgiving special in November 1966. Her fame also allowed her to engage in a variety of high-profile charitable endeavours, for instance appearing as the guest of honour at the 1967 March of Dimes annual benefit luncheon. She was invited to star in a musical performance for the 1968 Academy Awards ceremony, and co-hosted that year's Tony Awards with her former brother-in-law Peter Ustinov. That year, Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Club elected her "Woman of the Year". When the film adaptation of Mame was put into production, Lansbury hoped to be offered the part, but it instead went to Lucille Ball, an established box-office success. Lansbury considered this to be "one of my bitterest disappointments".
Lansbury followed the success of Mame with a performance as Countess Aurelia, the 75-year-old Parisian eccentric in Dear World, a musical adaptation of Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot. The show opened at Broadway's Mark Hellinger Theatre in February 1969, but Lansbury found it a "pretty depressing" experience. Reviews of her performance were positive, and she was awarded her second Tony Award on the basis of it. Reviews of the show more generally were critical, however, and it ended after 132 performances. She followed this with an appearance in the title role of the musical Prettybelle. A controversial play, it opened in Boston but received poor reviews, being cancelled before it reached Broadway. Lansbury later described the play as "a complete and utter fiasco", admitting that in her opinion, her "performance was awful".
The year 1970 was traumatic for the Lansbury family, as Peter underwent a hip replacement, Anthony had serious health issues and entered a coma, and in September, the family's Malibu home was destroyed in a brush fire. They then purchased Knockmourne Glebe, a farmhouse constructed in the 1820s which was located near the village of Conna in rural County Cork, and, after Anthony started to recover from his health issues. To help her children out, the family had moved to Ireland. Lansbury did not work for a whole year so she could be there for Anthony and Deidre while they were recovering from their health issues. He enrolled in the Webber-Douglas School, his mother's alma mater, and became a professional actor, then moved into television directing. Lansbury and her husband did not return to California, instead dividing their time between County Cork and New York City.
In 1972, Lansbury returned to London's West End to perform in the Royal Shakespeare Company's theatrical production of Edward Albee's All Over at the Aldwych Theatre. She portrayed the mistress of a dying New England millionaire, and although the play's reviews were mixed, Lansbury's acting was widely praised. This was followed by her reluctant involvement in a revival of Mame, which was then touring the United States, after which she returned to the West End to play the character of Rose in the musical Gypsy. She had initially turned down the role, not wishing to be in the shadow of Ethel Merman, who had portrayed the character in the original Broadway production, but eventually accepted it; when the show started in May 1973, she earned a standing ovation and rave reviews. Settling into a Belgravia flat, she was soon in demand among London society, having dinners held in her honour. Following the culmination of the London run, in 1974 Gypsy went on a tour of the U.S., and in Chicago Lansbury was awarded the Sarah Siddons Award for her performance. The show eventually reached Broadway, where it ran until January 1975; a critical success, it earned Lansbury her third Tony Award. After several months' break, Gypsy then toured throughout the country again in the summer of 1975.
Desiring to move on from musicals, Lansbury decided that she wanted to appear in a production of one of William Shakespeare's plays. She obtained the role of Gertrude in the National Theatre Company's production of Hamlet, staged at the Old Vic. Directed by Peter Hall, the production ran from December 1975 to May 1976, receiving mixed reviews; Lansbury later commented that she "hated" the role, believing it too restrained. Her mood was worsened by the news that in November 1975 her mother had died in California; Lansbury had her mother's body cremated and the ashes scattered near her own County Cork home. Her next theatrical appearance was in two one-act plays by Edward Albee, Counting the Ways and Listening, performed side by side at the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut. Reviews of the production were mixed, but Lansbury was again singled out for praise. This was followed by another revival tour of Gypsy.
In April 1978, Lansbury appeared in 24 performances of a revival of The King and I musical staged at Broadway's Uris Theatre; Lansbury played the role of Mrs Anna, replacing Constance Towers, who was on a short break. Her first cinematic role in seven years was as novelist and murder victim Salome Otterbourne in Death on the Nile (1978), an adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1937 novel of the same name that was filmed in both London and Egypt. In the film, Lansbury starred alongside Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis, who became a close friend. The role earned Lansbury the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress of 1978.
In March 1979, Lansbury first appeared as Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a Stephen Sondheim musical directed by Harold Prince. Opening at the Uris Theatre on Broadway, she starred alongside Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd, the murderous barber in 19th-century London. After being offered the role, she jumped on the opportunity due to the involvement of Sondheim in the project; she commented that she loved "the extraordinary wit and intelligence of his lyrics". She remained in the role for fourteen months before being replaced by Dorothy Loudon; the musical received mixed critical reviews, although it earned Lansbury her fourth Tony Award and After Dark magazine's Ruby Award for Broadway Performer of the Year. She returned to the role in October 1980 for a ten-month tour of six U.S. cities, with George Hearn playing the title character; the production was also filmed and broadcast on The Entertainment Channel. In 1982, she took on the role of an upper middle class housewife who champions workers' rights in A Little Family Business, a farce set in Baltimore in which her son Anthony also starred. It debuted at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre before heading on to Broadway's Martin Beck Theatre. It was critically panned and induced accusations of racism from the Japanese-American community. That year, Lansbury was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and the following year appeared in a Mame revival at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre. Although Lansbury was praised, the show was a commercial flop, with Lansbury noting that "I realised that it's not a show of today. It's a period piece."
Return to Broadway (2001–2009)
Following the end of Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury returned to the theatre. Although cast in the lead role in the 2001 Kander and Ebb musical The Visit, she withdrew before it opened due to her husband's deteriorating health. Peter died in January 2003 of congestive heart failure at the couple's home in Brentwood, California. Lansbury felt that after this event she would not take on any more major acting roles, and that instead might make a few cameos but nothing more. Wanting to spend more time in New York City, in 2006 she purchased a $2 million condominium in Manhattan.
Lansbury returned to Broadway after a 23-year absence in Deuce, a play by Terrence McNally that opened at the Music Box Theatre in May 2007 for a limited run of eighteen weeks. Lansbury received a Tony Award nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Play for her role.
In March 2009 she returned to Broadway for a revival of Blithe Spirit at the Shubert Theatre, where she took on the role of Madame Arcati. This appearance earned her the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play; this was her fifth Tony Award, tying her with the previous recordholder for the number of Tony Awards, Julie Harris, albeit all of Harris' Tonys were for Best Leading Actress. From December 2009 to June 2010, Lansbury then starred as Madame Armfeldt alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones in the first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, held at the Walter Kerr Theatre. The role earned her a seventh Tony Award nomination, while in May 2010, she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Return to the West End (2012–2019)
From April to July 2012, Lansbury starred as women's rights advocate Sue-Ellen Gamadge in the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. From February to June 2013, Lansbury starred alongside James Earl Jones in an Australian tour of Driving Miss Daisy. From March to June 2014, Lansbury reprised her performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End, her first London stage appearance in nearly 40 years. While in London, she made an appearance at the Angela Lansbury Film Festival in Poplar, a screening of some of her best known films organized by Poplar Film. From December 2014 to March 2015, she joined the tour of Blithe Spirit across North America.
When she was 89 in April 2015, she received her first Olivier Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Arcati, and in November 2015 was awarded the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre.
On 2 June 2016, Playbill reported that Lansbury had confirmed she would return to Broadway in the 2017–2018 season in a revival of Enid Bagnold's 1955 play The Chalk Garden to be produced by Scott Rudin. However, in an interview published on 20 September 2016, Lansbury said she would not be performing in The Chalk Garden, saying: "At my time of life, I've decided that I want to be with family more and being alone in New York doing a play requires an extraordinary amount of time left alone."
On 18 November 2019, Lansbury made her final return to Broadway portraying Lady Bracknell in a one-night benefit staging of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest for Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre. In October 2020, Variety magazine considered her career to "defy all logic" and continued "Though powerful women were sometimes maligned, it was thought you needed to be heartless to survive in showbiz, Lansbury has created a 77-year career and nobody has a bad word to say about her."
Murder, She Wrote (1984–2003)
A small number of people have seen me on the stage. [Television] is a chance for me to play to a vast U.S. public, and I think that's a chance you don't pass up ... I'm interested in reaching everybody. I don't want to reach just the people who can pay forty-five or fifty dollars for a [theatre] seat.
In 1983, Lansbury was offered two main television roles, one in a Norman Lear sitcom opposite Charles Durning and the other in a detective series by co-creators William Link and Richard Levinson of Columbo fame. Unable to do both, she chose to do the detective series despite the fact her agents had advised her to accept the sitcom. The series Murder, She Wrote centered on the character of Jessica Fletcher, a retired school teacher from the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine, who became a successful detective novelist after her husband's death, also solving murders encountered during her travels. Lansbury described the character as "an American Miss Marple". The series was created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, and William Link, who had earlier had success with Columbo, and the role of Jessica Fletcher had been first offered to Jean Stapleton, who declined the role, as did Doris Day. The pilot episode "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes" premiered on 30 September 1984, with the rest of the first season airing on Sundays from 8 to 9 p.m. Although critical reviews were mixed, it proved highly popular, with the pilot having a Nielsen rating of 18.9 and the first season being rated top in its time slot. Designed as inoffensive family viewing, despite its topic the show eschewed violence and gore, following the "whodunit" format rather than those of most contemporary U.S. crime shows; Lansbury herself commented that "best of all, there's no violence. I hate violence."
Lansbury was protective of Jessica Fletcher, having creative input over the character's costumes, makeup, and hair and rejecting pressure from network executives to put her in a relationship, believing that the character should remain a strong single female. When she believed that a scriptwriter had made Jessica do or say things that did not fit with the character's personality, Lansbury ensured that the script was changed. She saw Jessica as a role model for older female viewers, praising her "enormous, universal appeal – that was an accomplishment I never expected in my entire life." Lansbury biographers Rob Edelman and Audrey E. Kupferberg described the series as "a television landmark" in the U.S. for having an older female character as the protagonist, paving the way for later series like The Golden Girls. Lansbury herself noted that "I think it's the first time a show has really been aimed at the middle-aged audience", and although it was most popular among senior citizens, it gradually gained a younger audience. By 1991, one third of the program's viewers were under age 50. It gained continually high ratings throughout most of its run, outdoing rivals in its time slot such as Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories. In February 1987, a spin-off was produced, The Law & Harry McGraw, although it was short-lived.
As the show's run continued, Lansbury assumed a larger role behind the scenes. In 1989, her company Corymore Productions began co-producing the show with Universal. Nevertheless, she began to tire of the series and in particular the long working hours, stating that the 1990–91 season would be the show's last. She changed her mind after being appointed executive producer for the 1992–93 season, something that she felt "made it far more interesting to me". On her death in 2022 the BBC reported her involvement in producing the show helped earn her a "fortune estimated at nearly $100m." For the eighth season, the show's setting moved to New York City, where Jessica had taken a job teaching criminology at Manhattan University. The move was an attempt to attract younger viewers and was encouraged by Lansbury. Having become a "Sunday-night institution" in the U.S., the show's ratings improved during the early 1990s, becoming a Top Five programme. However, CBS executives, hoping to gain a larger audience, moved it to Thursdays at 8 p.m., opposite NBC's sitcom Friends. Lansbury was upset by the move, believing that it ignored the show's core audience. The final episode of the series aired in May 1996, and ended with Lansbury voicing a "Goodbye from Jessica" message at the end. Tom Shales wrote in The Washington Post: "The title of the show's last episode, "Death by Demographics", is in itself something of a protest. Murder, She Wrote is partly a victim of commercial television's mad youth mania." At the time, it tied the original Hawaii Five-O as the longest-running detective series in television history, and the role would prove to be the most successful and prominent of Lansbury's career. After the series ended, four further television movies bearing the Murder, She Wrote name and starring Lansbury were released between 1997 and 2003. Lansbury initially had plans for a Murder, She Wrote television film that would be a musical with a score composed by Jerry Herman. While this project did not materialize, it was transformed into Mrs. Santa Claus — in which Lansbury played Santa Claus' wife — which proved to be a ratings hit. Lansbury employed Madlyn Rhue, who was at risk of losing her Screen Actors Guild medical coverage for failing to meet the income threshold. She created a reoccurring librarian character for her, ensuring Rhue, who has multiple sclerosis, did not lose her medical coverage.
Lansbury's higher profile gained from Murder, She Wrote resulted in her being employed to appear in advertisements and infomercials for Bufferin, MasterCard and the Beatrix Potter Company. In 1988, she released a video titled Angela Lansbury's Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being, in which she outlined her personal exercise routine, and in 1990 published a book with the same title co-written with Mimi Avins, which she dedicated to her mother. As a result of her work, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), awarded to her in a ceremony by the Prince of Wales at the British consulate in Los Angeles. While living most of the year in California, Lansbury spent Christmases and summers at Corymore House, her farmhouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Ballywilliam, near Churchtown South, Cloyne, County Cork, which she had built as a family home in 1991.
Law & Order and other guest roles (2005–2017)
Lansbury made an appearance as a mother in a season 6 episode of the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2005.
In December 2017, Lansbury performed in her final television role as Aunt March in the BBC miniseries Little Women. Lansbury received acclaim for her performance with Variety film critic Jaqueline Cutler writing, "That's Aunt March, played with magnificent imperiousness by Angela Lansbury, wielding power by lording her wealth over all." Daniel Feinberg at The Hollywood Reporter praised Lansbury declaring, "Angela Lansbury towers over a solid cast...rests on no laurels and steals her every scene."
On The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, Lansbury said that she spoke in a Cockney English accent when she moved to the United States but since then, she had "lost" her original native accent. She held Irish citizenship. Biographer Martin Gottfried characterized her as "Meticulous. Cautious. Self-editing. Deliberate. It is what the British call reserved", adding that she was "as concerned, as sensitive, and as sympathetic as anyone might want in a friend". Also noting that she had "a profound sense of privacy", he added that she disliked attempts at flattery.
Lansbury was married twice, first to actor Richard Cromwell, when she was nineteen and Cromwell was 35. They eloped and they were married in a small civil ceremony on 27 September 1945. They divorced in 1946, but they remained friends until his death in 1960. In 1949, Lansbury married actor and producer Peter Shaw, and they remained together for 54 years until his death in 2003. She acquired a stepson, David, from Shaw's first marriage. They had two children of their own, Anthony Peter (b. 1952) and Deirdre Ann (b. 1953). While Lansbury repeatedly stated that she wanted to put her children before her career, she admitted that she frequently had to leave them in California for long periods of time when she was working elsewhere. She brought up her children to be Episcopalian, but they were not members of a congregation. She stated, "I believe that God is within all of us, that we are perfect, precious beings, and that we have to put our faith and trust in that."
Anthony became a television director and he directed 68 episodes of Murder, She Wrote. Deirdre married a chef, and together they opened a restaurant in West Los Angeles. Lansbury had three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren at the time of her death in 2022.
Lansbury was a cousin of the Postgate family, including the animator, writer, and social activist Oliver Postgate. She was also a second cousin of the academic and novelist Coral Lansbury, whose son Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister of Australia from 2015 to 2018.
As a young actress, Lansbury was a self-professed homebody, who commented that she loved housekeeping. She preferred to spend quiet evenings with her friends inside her house because she did not like to engage in the Hollywood nightlife. Her hobbies at the time included reading, riding, playing tennis, cooking, and playing the piano; she also had a keen interest in gardening. She cited F. Scott Fitzgerald as her favourite author, and Roseanne and Seinfeld among her favourite television shows. Lansbury was an avid letter writer who wrote letters by hand and made copies of all of them. At Howard Gotlieb's request, Lansbury's papers are housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
Lansbury was a supporter of the Democratic Party in the United States, describing herself as a "Democrat from the ground up", and of the Labour Party in her native United Kingdom. Throughout her career, Lansbury supported a variety of charities, particularly, she supported charities which helped Abused Wives in Crisis and combated domestic abuse. In the 1980s, she began to support a number of charities engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In her early life, Lansbury was a chain smoker, but she conquered her addiction to smoking in the mid-1960s. In 1976 and 1987, she underwent cosmetic surgery on her neck in order to prevent it from broadening with age. During the 1990s, she began to suffer from arthritis. Lansbury underwent hip replacement surgery in May 1994 and knee replacement surgery in 2005.
Lansbury died in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles, California, on 11 October 2022 at 01:30 PDT, five days before her 97th birthday.
Lansbury had a prolific career in film, theatre, and television. She was one of the last film stars of the golden age of Hollywood, having been a contract player with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s. She acted alongside actors such as Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Elvis Presley, Bette Davis, and Maggie Smith in such classic films as Gaslight (1944), National Velvet (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), The Harvey Girls (1946), State of the Union (1948), The Court Jester (1956), The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Blue Hawaii (1961) The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Death on the Nile (1978).
She is also known for her roles in classic children's films such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), The Last Unicorn (1982), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Anastasia (1997), Fantasia 2000 (2000), Nanny McPhee (2005), The Grinch (2018), and Mary Poppins Returns (2018). Lansbury is also known for her iconic work in Broadway musicals working Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle (1964), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1978), Gypsy (1973), and A Little Night Music (2009–2010). She also starred in Jerry Herman's Mame (1966), and Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I (1978). Lansbury is known for her performances in plays such as the Terrence McNally play Deuce (2007), the Noël Coward comedy Blithe Spirit (2014), and the Gore Vidal political drama The Best Man (2012). She gained international fame for her role as mystery writer turned sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the CBS crime series Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996).
Honours and legacy
In the 1960s, The New York Times referred to Lansbury as the "First Lady of Musical Theatre". Lansbury described herself as an actress who also could sing, with Sondheim stating that she had a strong voice, albeit with a limited range. Lansbury's authorized biographer Martin Gottfried described her as "an American icon", with a "practically saintly" public image.
A 2007 interviewer for The New York Times described her as "one of the few actors it makes sense to call beloved", noting that a 1994 article in People magazine awarded her a perfect score on its "lovability index". The New Statesman commented that she "has the kind of pulling power many younger and more ubiquitous actors can only dream of, while an article in The Independent has suggested that she could be considered Britain's most successful actress. She was a gay icon, and asserted that she was "very proud of the fact", attributing her popularity among the LGBT community to her performance in Mame, while Murder, She Wrote broadened that appeal.
Lansbury was recognized for her achievements in Britain on multiple occasions. In 2002, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) gave Lansbury a Lifetime Achievement Award. Lansbury was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1994 Birthday Honours and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to drama, charitable work, and philanthropy. On being made a dame by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, Lansbury stated: "I'm joining a marvellous group of women I greatly admire like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It's a lovely thing to be given that nod of approval by your own country and I really cherish it."
Lansbury never won an Emmy Award despite 18 nominations (17 of them Primetime Emmy Awards) for which she was nominated over a 33-year period. As of 2009, she held the record for the most unsuccessful Emmy nominations by a performer. She was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but never won; reflecting on this in 2007, she stated that she was at first "terribly disappointed, but subsequently very glad that [she] did not win" because she believed that she would have otherwise had a less successful career. However, she received Golden Globe and People's Choice Awards for her television and film work.
In 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors voted to bestow upon her an Honorary Academy Award for her lifetime achievements in the industry. Emma Thompson and Geoffrey Rush offered tributes at the Governors Awards where the ceremony was held, and Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies presented her with the Oscar, saying in part "Angela has been adding class, talent, beauty, and intelligence to the movies ever since" her film debut in 1944. The Oscar statue is inscribed "To Angela Lansbury, an icon who has created some of cinema's most memorable characters inspiring generations of actors".
In Spanish: Angela Lansbury para niños
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