Hearing the sad news of the death of Dame Angela Lansbury on the 11th of October broke my heart. Yes she was 96 years old and death at that age is to be expected, but she was one of those people who had always been there and seemed like she always would be. When I was little she was a huge part of my childhood thanks to her films Bedknobs And Broomsticks, the 1991 Disney classic Beauty And The Beast, and the beloved detective series Murder, She Wrote.
Angela Lansbury was one of the most versatile people in the entertainment industry working on stage, in film and in TV. She was still working right up to her death, with her final film appearance being a cameo in the soon to be released Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
Angela Lansbury was born in London on the 16th of October, 1925. Her mother was the Irish actress Moyna Macgill and her father was Edgar Lansbury, a member of the British Communist party and a former Mayor, who died in 1935 of stomach cancer. Angela’s grandfather was George Lansbury who was the leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935.
Angela’s younger twin brothers, Bruce and Edgar, were born in 1930. Angela was a supporter of the Labour Party here in the UK and of the Democrats in America. She supported many charities during her life and in the 1980’s supported charities engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS, raising millions of dollars.
She began to study acting in 1940 at the Webber Douglas School Of Singing And Dramatic Art. With the onset of WW2 and the Blitz, Angela’s mother moved with her children to the United States, where Angela received a scholarship to study at The Feagin School Of Dramatic Art.
At a party hosted by her mum in 1943, Angela met the playwright and theatre director John van Druten, who had just co-written the script for the film Gaslight. He thought she’d be perfect for the role of the conniving maid. Angela received the role and also gained a seven-year contract with MGM Studios. When the film was released her performance received rave reviews and she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She literally went from being an unknown teenager to a star overnight. Her next role was as Elizabeth Taylor’s older sister in National Velvet, and the pair became lifelong friends.
While she never became a glamourous star and leading lady like so many of her colleagues and friends, she did become one of the best and most dependable character actresses. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s she worked steadily in films such as The Court Jester and Blue Hawaii, in which she was bizarrely cast as Elvis’s mother, despite only a nine year age gap between them. In 1962 she delivered possibly her best performance in The Manchurian Candidate, in which she played the chilling and scheming Eleanor Iselin.
She predominately worked on stage during the 1960’s and 1970’s winning Tony Awards and gaining many new fans through her performances in shows including Mame, Gypsy, The King And I, A Taste Of Honey and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.
In the 1970’s she received some of her most interesting roles such as trainee witch Eglantine Price in Bedknobs And Broomsticks, Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d, and the larger than life Salome Otterbourne in Death On The Nile.
In 1984 Angela took on the role with which she would forever after be associated when she was cast as mystery novelist turned detective, Jessica Fletcher, in Murder, She Wrote(1984-1996). The role of Jessica Fletcher had been created specifically for actress Jean Staepleton who turned it down. The producers sent the script to Angela but didn’t think she would be interested in making a TV series.
For her work in the series she was nominated for 10 Golden Globes, of which she won four, along with 12 Emmy Awards nominations, which earned her the record for the most Golden Globe nominations and wins for Best Actress in a television drama series and the most Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She was also an executive producer on the series during the 1990’s.Her brother Edgar who was a TV producer and screenwriter also worked on the series as a producer on 88 episodes, he also wrote 15 episodes for the series.
Angela received an honorary Oscar in 2013 and was made a Dame in 2014. She was married to Richard Cromwell from 1945 to 1946. She married her second husband, the actor and producer Peter Shaw, in 1949 and the pair were together until his death in 2003. The couple had two children together, Anthony Peter and Deidre Ann.
I will miss Angela Lansbury very much but she leaves behind an absolute treasure trove of performances for us all to enjoy. R.I.P, Angela. Thank you for all the happy memories.