The world just got a little bit less… polished.
Angela Lansbury was the Grand Dame of stage, screen, and television for 75 years. Her first film role at 17 years of age was in the 1944 film Gaslight. Lansbury captured audiences, with her stunning beauty wrapped in a depth of talent well beyond her years. Lansbury was nominated for three Oscars, won seven Tony Awards, and holds the record for 12 nominations for Best Actress Emmy. In 1984, Lansbury entered our living rooms every Sunday evening as crime-solving mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote.
In a 2019 overview of Lansbury’s career, Variety’s Tim Gray noted of “Murder, She Wrote” that “the show relied on Lansbury’s intelligence, integrity and warmth, which no actress can fake. That’s what audiences responded to; even though there were clever mystery plots, with a slew of guest stars every week, the series rested squarely on Lansbury’s shoulders.”
Murder She Wrote ran for 12 successful seasons, and sparked four TV movies between 1997 and 2003. In this age of limited creativity in Hollywood and tons of old series reboots, part of me was hoping they would reboot this show, with some cameo appearances from Lansbury to round out the new stories.
Alas, that dream will not be fulfilled. The massive talent and Lansbury’s luminescence is now dimmed. Angela Lansbury died Tuesday in her home in Los Angeles. She was 96, just five days shy of her 97th birthday.
Lansbury was born in London on Oct. 16, 1925. Her mother was an Irish-born actress named Moyna Macgill, who appeared in West End productions, and who had roles in more than two dozen English and American features. It was obvious that grease paint was in Lansbury’s blood, and she studied music and acting in her teens.
After the onset of the Nazi Blitz, Lansbury’s mother moved her and her younger brothers to the U.S. They settled in New York, where Lansbury studied acting on a scholarship. She joined her mother during a touring appearance in Canada, and briefly worked as a nightclub performer. Macgill and her family ultimately moved to Los Angeles. There, Lansbury was introduced to Van Druten — whose play “I Am a Camera” became the basis for the musical “Cabaret” — at a party held by her mother.
Lansbury’s critically acclaimed turn in Gaslight won her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and was instrumental in her garnering a contract with MGM. She was loaned out to Paramount from time-to-time, where she filmed the 1947 drama The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, and the 1949 Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical melodrama Samson and Delilah.
Gaslight landed her a contract, but it was her turn as the evil double agent Eleanor Iselin, mother to Sergeant Raymond Shaw in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, where Lansbury left her mark on Hollywood and the world.
Between the 1960s and ’70s, Lansbury split her time between Broadway and Hollywood.
She frequently starred on the London boards, notably playing Queen Gertrude in a 1975 National Theatre production of “Hamlet.” Prophesying her stint as Jessica Fletcher, her movie work included whodunits like “Death on the Nile” (1978) and “The Mirror Crack’d” (1980); in the latter feature, she portrayed Agatha Christie’s sleuth Miss Jane Marple.
Lansbury also captured the hearts of the young through her animated film work. In 1971, she starred in the musical fantasy Bedknobs and Broomsticks, then in 1991, she voiced “Mrs. Potts,” the singing teapot in the animated feature Beauty and the Beast. Lansbury sang the title song to the film, “Tale As Old As Time.” The Beauty and the Beast soundtrack album was nominated as Grammy Album of the Year, and Lansbury shared in that success. She reprised the role of Mrs. Potts in a direct-to-video Beauty and the Beast sequel, and a video game.
Lansbury returned to the Great White Way in the 1980s, and found a home there through the Millennium. Along with star turns in Terrence McNally’s 2007 play Deuce, and a 2009 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, Lansbury also served as host five times for the Tony Awards. Also, two of her Emmy nominations were for her work on the live Tony’s telecasts.
Lansbury’s late-career kudos included an honorary Oscar in 2013 and lifetime achievement awards from the Screen Actors Guild (1997) and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (2003). Queen Elizabeth II appointed her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2014.
Lansbury was married twice and had two children (Anthony and Deirdre) with her second husband, the late Peter Shaw. Lansbury was also stepmother to Shaw’s son David, from a previous marriage. Lansbury is survived by her brother Edgar Lansbury, her three children, three grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
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