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Angela Lansbury

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Also Known As: Angela Brigid Lansbury Died:
Born: October 16, 1925 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: actor, singer, salesgirl

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

An incredibly talented, versatile and durable actress-singer, Angela Lansbury garnered the industry's top awards in film, theater and television in career that spanned more than 60 years. Nominated for an Oscar with her feature film debut in "Gaslight" (1944), Lansbury took home the prize for Best Supporting Actress the following year for her work in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945). She made the often difficult transition from ingénue to mature actress appear easy in such lauded films as the classic political-thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962). Lansbury began her multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway career with the 1966 production of "Mame," only to eclipse its success with her heralded starring turn in "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in 1979. More acclaimed theatrical work was still to come, although it would temporarily take a backseat to the role the actress would become most associated with in the years to come - that of matronly sleuth Jessica Fletcher on television's long-running "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996). Lansbury gained still another generation of fans when she gave voice to Mrs. Potts in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (1992) and played a kind-hearted...

An incredibly talented, versatile and durable actress-singer, Angela Lansbury garnered the industry's top awards in film, theater and television in career that spanned more than 60 years. Nominated for an Oscar with her feature film debut in "Gaslight" (1944), Lansbury took home the prize for Best Supporting Actress the following year for her work in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945). She made the often difficult transition from ingénue to mature actress appear easy in such lauded films as the classic political-thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962). Lansbury began her multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway career with the 1966 production of "Mame," only to eclipse its success with her heralded starring turn in "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in 1979. More acclaimed theatrical work was still to come, although it would temporarily take a backseat to the role the actress would become most associated with in the years to come - that of matronly sleuth Jessica Fletcher on television's long-running "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996). Lansbury gained still another generation of fans when she gave voice to Mrs. Potts in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (1992) and played a kind-hearted restaurateur opposite Jim Carrey in "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (2011). Admired by her peers and beloved by her fans, both young and old, Lansbury was, without a doubt, one of stage and screen's most treasured stars.

Born Angela Brigid Lansbury on Oct. 16, 1925, in London, England, Lansbury's mother was Irish actress Moyna MacGill, while her father, Edgar Lansbury, was the leader of the Labour Party. Lansbury developed an interest in performing at an early age, attending dancing and drama schools at her mother's behest. After Lansbury's father died from cancer in 1934, MacGill took charge of the siblings - two twin brothers, Edgar and Bruce, who later became successful Broadway and television producers, respectively, and a half-sister from a previous marriage - but with the outbreak of World War II looming on the horizon, she booked passage to New York City. There, Angela studied drama until MacGill, who had been supporting the family by appearing in a touring production of a N l Coward play, sent for her daughter to join her in Los Angeles.

Lansbury and her mother worked at Bullocks department store, while MacGill hosted parties for British performers making their first visits to California. At one of these soirees, Lansbury was introduced to an MGM casting agent, who was assembling actors for a film version of the Broadway play "Gaslight." The 19-year-old Lansbury was offered the role of Nancy, the malicious maid to Ingrid Bergman's Paula, who is being driven mad by her husband (Charles Boyer). Lansbury's conniving turn earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, a feat she would accomplish again just one year later with 1945's "The Picture of Dorian Grey," in which she appeared as the title character's doomed love.

In 1945, Lansbury married actor Richard Cromwell; the union lasted less than a year after she discovered that he was gay. Undaunted, she concentrated solely on her film career until meeting actor Peter Shaw in 1949, who served as her escort to a party at the house of her "Dorian Gray" co-star and friend, Hurd Hatfield. The couple soon fell in love and was married in 1949, later having two children, son Anthony and daughter Deirdre, as well as David, a son from Shaw's previous marriage. In later years, Shaw shifted from acting to agenting and producing, and oversaw a number of American and English features in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as managed Lansbury's career. In 1987, he and Anthony and David formed Corymore Productions, which produced Lansbury's "Murder She Wrote" and several of her TV movies in the early '90s.

Unfortunately, most of Lansbury's subsequent films in the late '40s and early '50s under her MGM contract did not match the quality of character or material as her debut films. She filled out generic supporting parts with charm in "National Velvet" (1944) and "The Harvey Girls" (1946) - for which her singing voice was dubbed - but did her best work in character roles like the predatory heiress in "State of the Union" (1948) with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and Orson Welles' mistress in "The Long Hot Summer" (1958). She adapted well to all genres, from comedy with Danny Kaye in "The Court Jester" (1956) to Westerns in "A Lawless Street" (1955) and thrillers with "Kind Lady" (1951). And unlike many major film stars, did not shy from making numerous appearances on live television dramas throughout the 1950s. Live performance was Lansbury's bread and butter, and she soon made a name for herself as a capable dramatic actress on Broadway, starting in 1957 with "Hotel Paradiso" opposite the legendary Bert Lahr. Three years later, she scored her first substantial hit on the Great White Way with "A Taste of Honey" in 1960. She would go on to host, co-host or perform on the Tony Awards 12 times between 1967 and 2007.

Film continued to yield steady work for her, though the quality of the parts often varied greatly: "The Dark at the Top of the Stars" (1960), as the alleged town floozy whose friendship with married Robert Preston threatens to destroy his reputation, and "All Fall Down" (1962) as Warren Beatty's mother for John Frankenheimer were highlights, while "Blue Hawaii" (1962), as Elvis Presley's mother, and the tabloid biopic "Harlow" (1965), as 1930s platinum blonde star Jean Harlow's mother, was engaging fluff. Lansbury's willingness to play older women - in many cases, she was less than five years older than her on-screen sons - led to her casting as the malevolent mother of brainwashed ex-G.I. Laurence Harvey, who was just three years Lansbury's junior, in Frankenheimer's gripping "The Manchurian Candidate," which earned her a third Oscar nomination.

Lansbury made her Broadway musical debut in 1964 in the short-lived "Anyone Can Whistle," but two years later, she scored her first major musical success with "Mame" (1969) as the eccentric and beloved Auntie Mame. The show ran for 1,500 performances and earned her a Tony for her memorable turn. For the next four years, Lansbury kept away from film and television to concentrate on her stage career, which by 1969, included "Dear World," a musical version of "The Madwoman of Chaillot" which, despite savage reviews from critics and an abbreviated Broadway run, won Lansbury her second Tony.

By 1970, Lansbury, now in her forties, began an audience-pleasing run of film roles that tapped her boundless energy and flair for eccentric comedy. She earned a Golden Globe nomination as a European noblewoman who runs afoul of a scheming butler in the cult comedy "Something For Everyone" and charmed children as a benevolent witch who tries to use magic to aid the Allies in World War II in Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971). She also began her long association with mysteries with a flamboyant turn as a besotted romance novelist who becomes involved in a murder on board an Egyptian boat cruise in "Death on the Nile" (1979), which brought her a National Board of Review award and a BAFTA nomination. Back on Broadway, she landed a third Tony for her performance as the determined Mama Rose in the revival of "Gypsy" (1974) and as Mrs. Lovett, daffy co-conspirator to a ghoulish plan of revenge in Stephen Sondheim's gory blockbuster "Sweeney Todd" (1979). Lansbury recreated the role for a 1982 PBS broadcast of the production, which brought her a Cable ACE award and an Emmy nomination.

Offscreen, however, Lansbury's personal life had taken on a darker tone. Both of her children with Shaw had become involved with hard drugs, and Deidre became briefly involved with the Manson Family. A fire in 1970 destroyed the Lansbury's home in Malibu, CA which prompted a move to Country Cork, Ireland. In interviews, Lansbury credited the disaster for helping to put her children on a healthier path.

Lansbury returned to features and television with a vengeance in the miniseries-friendly 1980s, starting with a turn as Agatha Christie's elderly sleuth Mrs. Marple in the garish, campy 1980 film version of "The Mirror Crack'd," starring aging Hollywood icons Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor. She was perhaps better served as the domineering aunt of Gloria Vanderbilt in "Little Gloria Happy at Last" (1982), which brought her an Emmy nomination, and "A Talent for Murder" (1983), in which she appeared opposite Sir Laurence Olivier. Her vocal talents received a glossy showcase in the 1983 film version of "The Pirates of Penzance," which featured much of the successful Broadway cast but failed to find an audience due to its simultaneous release on cable television and in theaters. Lansbury also portrayed the quintessential Granny in Neil Jordan's "The Company of Wolves" (1984), his suggestive and grown-up take on werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood.

Lansbury's savvy portrayals in the Christie adaptations helped lay the groundwork for "Murder, She Wrote," an endearing television whodunit from producers William Levinson and Richard Link of "Colombo" fame (NBC, 1968-2003), in which she starred (and later executive produced) as Jessica Fletcher, a mystery novelist with an unerring knack for finding herself in the middle of a murder and the ability to solve it without the help of police. Lansbury appeared in all 256 episodes of the series, as well as four television movies (aired between 1997 and 2003), going on to earn a record 12 Emmy nominations for her performance - one for every season the series was on the air - as well as four Golden Globe Awards.

The series kept her exceptionally busy for the better part of the decade, but she did manage to appear in several television movies, including the Emmy-nominated adaptation of "The Shell Seekers" (1989) and the charming "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris" (1992), all of which played heavily on her inherent charm and popularity with older viewers. In 1992, her vocal abilities endeared her to a generation of children as the voice of Mrs. Potts, the enchanted teapot who narrates Disney's Oscar-nominated "Beauty and the Beast' (1991) as well as sings its enchanting title song. She also lent her voice to the Dowager Empress in 1997's "Anastasia."

After "Murder, She Wrote" left the airwaves, Lansbury busied herself with a score of television projects; she starred in "Mrs. Santa Claus" (1997), a likable TV movie musical with songs by Jerry Herman of "Mame" fame, and starred as Emily Pollifax, amateur spy in "The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax" (1999). She also reaped the rewards of a lifetime of solid performances with a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and an American National Medal of the Arts in 1997, a Kennedy Center Honor in 2000, and was bestowed the title of Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

Sadly, the accolades were dimmed by the passing of her husband in 2003. Lansbury handled the tragedy with typical grace, and made occasional screen appearances, most notably in "The Blackwater Lightship" (2004), a moving drama about a family caring for a son with AIDS which earned her another Emmy nomination. This was soon followed by a nod for a two-part turn as the controlling matriarch of a wealthy family on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and "Law and Order: Trial By Jury" (NBC, 2005). She also made her first screen appearance in over two decades in Emma Thompson's sweetly funny "Nanny MacPhee" (2005), for which she gamely took a dessert to the face.

In 2007, Lansbury returned to Broadway for "Deuce," Terrence McNally's drama about bickering former doubles tennis partners. The limited run engagement yielded another Tony nomination for Lansbury, but the play broke her unbroken streak when she failed to take home the award that year. Lansbury set things right, however, with her 2009 Broadway turn as Madame Arcati in the revival of Coward's "Blithe Spirit," which won her one more Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. Never content to rest on her laurels, a 2009-2010 performance in Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" earned her yet another Tony nod. Far from ready to retire, the 85-year-old actress returned to cinema screens for an appearance opposite funnyman Jim Carrey in the family comedy "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (2011).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Nanny McPhee (2006)
4.
5.
 Murder She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle (2003) Jessica Fletcher
6.
 Murder, She Wrote: The Last Free Man (2001) Jessica Fletcher; Sarah Mccullough
7.
 Murder, She Wrote: A Story to Die For (2000) Jessica Fletcher
8.
 Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, The (1999) Mrs Pollifax
9.
 Fantasia 2000 (1999) Host
10.
 Forever Hollywood (1999) Herself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1940:
Moved to America with family; first settled in NYC
1942:
Worked as a singer at the Samovar Club in Montreal
1942:
Family moved to Los Angeles
:
Signed to contract at MGM after a screen test
1944:
Nominated for an Academy Award for her film debut in "Gaslight" as the slightly malevolent maid Nancy
1945:
First leading lady role in film, "The Picture of Dorian Gray"; earned second Academy Award nomination
1946:
Portrayed a madam in "The Harvey Girls"; singing voice dubbed
1948:
Played a matronly newspaper editor in "State of the Union" (was only 23 years old)
:
Briefly went on unemployment in the early 1950s after her MGM contract expired
1953:
American TV debut, "Revlon Mirror Theater" (CBS)
1957:
Broadway debut, "Hotel Paradiso" co-starring Burt Lahr
1960:
Had stage success with the Broadway production of "A Taste of Honey"
1960:
Received critical attention for her performance in the film "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs"
1962:
Received third Academy Award nomination for her role in "The Manchurian Candidate"; played the mother of Laurence Harvey who was only three years her junior
1964:
First Broadway musical, "Anyone Can Whistle"; first collaboration with composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim
1966:
Cast in the title role of Mame Dennis in the Jerry Herman Broadway musical "Mame"
1968:
Re-teamed with Jerry Herman for the musical "Dear World"
1970:
Co-starred in the Harold Prince directed "Something for Everyone"
1971:
Appeared in the Disney animated-live action feature "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"; last film for seven years
:
Due to family problems, retreated to Ireland in the early 1970s
1972:
Made London stage debut in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of "All Over"
1974:
Cast in the role of Mama Rose in the Broadway revival of the musical "Gypsy"; lyrics provided by Stephen Sondheim
1978:
Played Anna for two weeks in the Broadway revival of "The King and I" opposite Yul Brynner
1978:
Returned to features as a dotty novelist in the Agatha Christie adaptation "Death on the Nile"
1979:
Triumphed as the Cockney baker Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A Musical Thriller"
1980:
Portrayed the Agatha Christie sleuth Miss Marple in "The Mirror Crack'd"
1982:
Had featured role of Ruth in the film version of the New York Shakespeare Production of "The Pirates of Penzance"
1982:
Reprised role as Mrs. Lovett in the Showtime adaptation of "Sweeney Todd"
1982:
Portrayed Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in the NBC miniseries "Little Gloria...Happy at Last"
1984:
Starred as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher on hit TV series "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS)
1985:
Played Granny in Neil Jordan's "The Company of Wolves"
:
Formed Corymore Productions
1989:
Starred in the ABC "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation of "The Shell Seekers"
1991:
Voiced the character of Mrs Potts in Disney's animated "Beauty and the Beast"; sang Oscar-winning title song
1992:
Became executive producer of "Murder, She Wrote"
1992:
Starred in the CBS TV-movie "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris," directed by son Anthony Shaw
1994:
Named a Comander of the British Empire
1996:
Production company, Corymore, signed development deal with Universal
1996:
Had title role in the CBS original musical "Mrs. Santa Claus"
1997:
Voiced the character of the Dowager Empress in the animated film "Anastasia"
1997:
Reprised signature role of Jessica Fletcher in the CBS TV-movie "Murder, She Wrote: South By Southwest"
2000:
Again played sleuth Jessica Fletcher in "Murder, She Wrote: A Story to Die For" (CBS)
2004:
Starred in the CBS drama "The Blackwater Lightship"; earned an Emmy nomination for Supporting Actress in a Miniseries
2005:
Earned an Emmy nomination for her guest starring role on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC)
2006:
Co-starred with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth in "Nanny McPhee"; also scripted by Thompson
2007:
Returned to Broadway to star opposite Marian Seldes as retired women tennis players in "Deuce"; earned a Tony nomination
2009:
Cast as Madame Arkati in the Broadway revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit"
2009:
Co-starred with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "A Little Night Music"; earned a Tony Award nomination for Featured Actress in a Musical
2011:
Co-starred opposite Jim Carrey in "Mr. Popper's Penguins"
2012:
Starred in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man" on Broadway
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

South Hampstead High School for Girls: -
Webber-Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art: - 1939 - 1940
Feagin School of Dramatic Art: New York , New York - 1940 - 1942

Notes

"Those were a couple of golden years for me, really they were, on Broadway. Unbelievable. Because I got to be everything I'd never had the chance to be in movies." --Angela Lansbury

Lansbury was named Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year by the Harvard Hasty Pudding Theatricals in 1968.

She was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1982.

Lansbury has been nominated for 16 Emmy Awards without a win.

She was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame in 1996.

In 1997, Lansbury was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton.

She underwent hip replacement surgery in 1998.

Lansbury was announced as the star of a new musical, "The Visit", set to premiere on Broadway in 2001. Because of family considerations, however, she was forced to withdraw. The producers reportedly were seeking a replacement for Lansbury (for whom the project was written by Terrence McNally and John Kander & Fred Ebb).

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Richard Cromwell. Actor. First husband; married on September 27, 1945; Cromwell moved out in 1946; divorced in August 1946 after Lansbury discovered he was a homosexual.
husband:
Peter Pullen Shaw. Agent, former actor. Introduced by mutual friend actor Hurd Hatfield; married on August 12, 1949; his second marriage; had son David with first wife; underwent heart surgery in June 2000; died Jan. 29, 2003, of congestive heart failure at age 84.

Family close complete family listing

grandfather:
George Lansbury. Politician. Leader of the Labour Party.
grandmother:
Elizabeth Jane Lansbury. Had twelve children with her husband; died in 1933.
grandfather:
Willie McIldowie. Solicitor, director of Belfast Opera.
grandmother:
Elizabeth McIldowie.
father:
Edgar Isaac Lansbury. Lumber merchant. Married Moyna Macgill in 1924; died of stomach cancer in 1934 at age 48.
mother:
Moyna Macgill. Actor. Born on December 10, 1895; formerly married to writer-director Reginald Denham; married Edgar Lansbury in 1924; died of throat cancer c. 1971.
brother:
Edgar Lansbury. Producer, director. Born on January 12, 1930 in London; produced London and Broadway revival of musical, "Gypsy" starring Angela; twin brother of Bruce Lansbury; father of actor David Lansbury.
brother:
Bruce Lansbury. Executive, producer. Born in January 12, 1930 in London; twin of Edgar.
step-son:
David Shaw. Director.
son:
Anthony Peter Shaw. Born in 1952; in the 1960s and early 70s, had serious addiction to heroin.
daughter:
Deirdre Angela Shaw. Born in 1953; in the 1960s was briefly involved with the Manson family; also suffered from substance abuse; underwent liver transplant in November 1998.
nephew:
David Lansbury. Actor. Son of Edgar Lansbury; married to Ally Sheedy.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury" Little, Brown

Contributions

Rob Edelman ( 2006-03-14 )

Source: I am a co-author of this book.

Add to Bibliography:
Angela Lansbury: A Life on Stage and Screen, by Rob Edelman & Audrey Kupferberg (Birch Lane, 1996)

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