“Here I am, I still go on, you know, like the tides.” – Dame Angela Lansbury
Angela Lansbury, who is best known for her role in Murder, She Wrote, passed away on October 11th 2022 – aged 96. Tributes poured in from across the globe for the late actress, who had a career spanning nearly eight decades.
Born on October 16th 1925, Lansbury was the second eldest child of Irish actress Moyna Macgill and English politician Edgar Lansbury. Lansbury grew up in London until 1940 when she, alongside her two younger brothers and mother, emigrated to the United States to escape the Blitz: with her father passing away in 1935. Her sister, Isolde, decided to remain in Britain. Upon arriving in America, she began studying at the Feagin School of Dramatic Art in New York City.
After completing her studies and signing with MGM in 1942, Lansbury obtained her first film roles. Her debut in Gaslight (1944) secured Lansbury her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The same year, Lansbury starred alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in National Velvet. In 1945, she starred as Sibyl Vane in The Picture of Dorian Grey. She appeared in a total of fourteen MGM films until she ended her contract in 1952.
Despite the end of her MGM contract, Lansbury continued her cinematic work. Many consider her role in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) as one of the best performances of her career. In addition, the sixties saw the beginnings of her career in musical theatre. Lansbury landed the leading role in Mame (1966), a Broadway musical that resulted in her first Tony Award.
In the 1960s Lansbury’s film career continued to flourish. Some of her roles included Sybil Logan in In the Cool of the Day (1963), Isabel Boyd in The World of Henry Orient (1964) and Phyllis in Dear Heart (1964).
1971 marked Landsbury’s Disney debut, in the classic film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Lansbury plays the protagonist Miss Price, an amateur witch, who hopes to use her witchcraft to bring an end to World War II. However, her role as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast (1991) is one of her most infamous, which she considered a gift for her grandchildren. After performing the title song Beauty and the Beast, Lansbury received a flurry of awards including 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. Lansbury continued to work on Disney projects, such as the 2000 film Fantasia and the 2018 film Mary Poppins Returns.
Beyond her Disney roles, Landsbury starred in countless film projects. Notably, she played Miss Marple in the 1980 film The Mirror Crack’d, which is based on an Agatha Christie novel. 2005 saw her star as Aunt Adelaide in Nanny McPhee. Later, in 2011, Lansbury starred alongside Jim Carrey in Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Lansbury’s final film role is a cameo in the 2022 film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, marking 78 years of film appearances.
In terms of theatre, the success of Lansbury’s leading role in Mame (1966) benefitted her career tremendously. She was able to perform for the 1968 Academy Awards and co-hosted the Tony Awards the same year. Lansbury’s stage success continued in the 1969 musical adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot, earning her her second Tony Award.
In 1972, Lansbury performed in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of All Over. Then, in 1973 Lansbury played Rose in the musical Gypsy, receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews. Lansbury received the Sarah Siddons Award for her performance. Between 1974 and 1975 the show was on Broadway, and then toured through the summer of 1975. She then went on to perform in Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, first appearing in March 1979.
Moving to the early 2000s, Lansbury attempted to return to theatre after the end of her hit show Murder, She Wrote in 1996. However, the tragic death of Lansbury’s husband Peter Shaw in 2003 resulted in her not returning to the stage until 2007 with Deuce. Lansbury’s final Broadway role would be her 2019 one-off portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Lansbury’s most notable role is arguably during her time in the television show Murder, She Wrote. She achieved worldwide fame acting as the main character Jessica Fletcher, a mystery writer and amateur detective. Beginning in 1984, the show ran for twelve seasons – until 1996. This is widely regarded as the peak of Lansbury’s career. The series oversaw 265 episodes and four feature films. During the final four seasons, Lansbury actually gained ownership of the series and acted as executive producer.
Beyond Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury’s television career is not as extensive as her time in film and theatre. However, some of her television appearances included: season 6 of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, The Blackwater Lightship (2004), season 8 episode 7 of Magnum P. I (where she performed as Jessica Fletcher) and The Shell Seekers (1989).
Lansbury’s final television performance would be her depiction of Aunt March in the BBC series Little Women.
Dame Angela Lansbury was one of the last stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. In her lifetime, she was the recipient of six Tony Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award and the Academy Honorary Award. In addition, she was nominated for three Academy Awards, eighteen Primetime Emmy Awards and a Grammy Award.
Lansbury even holds two world records. Her character in Murder, She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher, holds the official Guinness World Record as the ‘most prolific amateur sleuth.’ The second is for Lansbury’s achievement of winning the most Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical throughout her career (winning four in total).
In 2014, Lansbury was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II to honour her lifetime achievements.
Having around 60 films, 21 theater and 50 television appearances, it is difficult to condense the dazzling career of such a commendable woman. However, Lansbury’s influence over the past eight decades is astonishing, and it is undeniable that her on and off-screen legacy will continue for many years to come.