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Angela Lansbury, Broadway darling turned TV favorite, dies


Angela Lansbury, the famous actress who spent seven decades in film, television and theater, died on Tuesday, according to a statement released by her family. She was 96 years old.

“The children of Dame Angela Lansbury are saddened to announce that their mother passed away peacefully in her sleep at home in Los Angeles at 1:30 a.m. today, Tuesday October 11, 2022, just five days before her 97th birthday,” her family said in a statement obtained by NBC News and People.

Lansbury’s starring role as amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the long-running series “Murder, She Wrote” made her something of a feminist idol. She also had a large queer fanbase thanks to her consistent work in musical theatre.

Born in London on October 16, 1925, Lansbury was the daughter of actor Moyna Macgill and socialist politician Edgar Lansbury. Her father died of stomach cancer when she was 9, and in 1940 her family moved to the United States to escape the Nazi blitz. Around 17, she met screenwriter John Van Druten at a party hosted by his mother. Van Druten suggested her for the role of a conniving maid in the 1944 psychological thriller “Gaslight.” It became Lansbury’s first film appearance, and the role earned her an Academy Award nomination. 20 years old. At the height of Hollywood’s studio system era, Lansbury soon signed a seven-year contract with the profitable MGM. She initially earned $500 a week (or about $7,300 in today’s economy).

Lansbury’s path to full-fledged stardom didn’t crystallize with his first Oscar nod, however. MGM tended to stick her in supporting roles, so she often played second fiddle to Elizabeth Taylor (“National Velvet” from 1944), Judy Garland (“The Harvey Girls” from 1946), Deborah Kerr (“If Winter Comes” from 1947). , Katharine Hepburn (1948’s “State of the Union”), Ethel Barrymore (1951’s “Kind Lady”) and Anne Baxter (1960’s “Season of Passion”).

Lansbury in “Season of Passion” from the 1960s.

Photo archive via Getty Images

“They didn’t know what to do with me,” Lansbury said of MGM in a 2015 interview with The Telegraph. “They didn’t make the kind of movies I could have been in, so they used me as a utility. I played a lot of older women.

Still, Lansbury garnered critical acclaim early on. The New York Times called her early performances “interesting” and “commendable”. Lansbury earned her second Oscar nomination, for playing Sibyl Vane in the 1945 adaptation of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, just a year after its premiere.

As the 1960s settled in and the studio system exploded, Lansbury became a name in its own right. Finally, a star was born. His movie roles — some of them, at least — got meatier. In 1962, Lansbury played manipulative mothers in “All Falls Down” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Collectively, the roles earned him an award from the National Board of Review, while the latter anchored his third Academy Award nomination and first Golden Globe win.

When she continued to be relegated to supporting roles on the big screen, this was the stage where Lansbury found her calling. After starring in Stephen Sondheim’s critically acclaimed 1964 musical “Anyone Can Whistle,” Lansbury landed the title role in the musical “Mame,” playing a bohemian who introduces his 10-year-old nephew to his liberated lifestyle, a performance that led to his first of five Tony Awards. (When Lansbury revived the role in 1983, Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote, “You feel a rush as she enters, a golden vision from her toes to her raised bugle.”) Although Lansbury was disappointed that the role de Mame in the 1974 film adaptation went to Lucille Ball, who was considered a more profitable star, Lansbury’s career flourished greatly after the stage ended in 1968.

Throughout the ’70s, Lansbury performed in covers of “Gypsy” in London and New York. She played Gertrude in “Hamlet”, Anna Leonowens in “The King and I” and Mrs. Nellie Lovett in the original “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”. She also got her splashiest movie role, playing a witch in the now-classic 1971 Disney fantasy “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”

Lansbury at a party for the 100th episode of "The Murder She Wrote" in 1989.
Lansbury at a party for the 100th episode of “Murder, She Wrote” in 1989.

But the role that made her a household name ― and fattened her bank account ― didn’t come until the 1980s, when she was approaching her 60s. After Jean Stapleton and Doris Day reportedly turned down the lead role in CBS’ “Murder, She Wrote,” Lansbury accepted the job. She spent 12 seasons playing Jessica Fletcher, the widowed mystery writer who solved crimes in her spare time. The series premiered in 1984, and Lansbury said it was the closest to “universal acclaim”. Jessica’s role also marked a turning point for female characters on television: she was an older, empowered career woman, and Lansbury insisted that Jessica remain single so that she would represent female independence.

“Jessica Fletcher didn’t want to start a whole new life cycle with someone new, because she’s had a very full life as an author,” Lansbury said in 2012. “She’s had success and the comfort and the conviviality of his house, his activities, his friends.

The actor garnered 10 Emmy nominations for the series, though she never won. Lansbury did not appear in stage roles during her stint on “Murder,” but she did make additional film and television appearances, memorably voicing kindergarten Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast.” 1991.

Throughout all of this, Lansbury married twice. At 19, she ran away with 35-year-old actor Richard Cromwell, who had appeared in “Jezebel” and “Young Mr. Lincoln.” The marriage lasted nine months and Lansbury later discovered he was gay, although they remained friends until his death in 1960. Her second marriage, to producer Peter Shaw, began in 1949 and lasted 54 years old, until his death in 2003.

Shaw and Lansbury left California in 1970 and began dividing their time between Ireland and New York. Together they had two children, Anthony Peter Shaw (b. 1952) and Deirdre Angela Shaw (b. 1953).

Lansbury in 2018 "The return of Mary Poppins."
Lansbury in “Mary Poppins Returns” in 2018.

In keeping with her late father’s political career, Lansbury aligned herself with the US Democratic Party and the UK Labor Party.

“I think what’s exciting about acting is that I leave myself at home, and the person who comes on set hopefully looks like the character that I’m going to play,” said Lansbury in 2018. “And it gives me the chance to indulge in the thing that I love doing the most, which is acting. Acting like someone else, not me, because I’m boring as hell. dishwater.

Lansbury’s production had slowed in recent years, but she appeared in “Nanny McPhee” in 2005, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” 2017’s “Little Women” miniseries, and 2018’s “Mary Poppins Returns.” on stage with “Deuce” in 2007, a play by Terrence McNally which earned him another Tony nomination, as well as the 2009 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and a brief run in 2013 as the character lead of “Driving Miss Marguerite.” Lansbury earned three more Emmy nominations for her appearance in the 2004 TV movie “The Blackwater Lightship” and her spots in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Trial By Jury”. In 2014, she received an honorary Oscar.

“I think endurance is part of my constitution,” she said in 2012.

His contributions through “Murder, She Wrote” Live On: 2019’s lucrative murder-mystery comedy “Knives Out” features a brief clip from the show and thanks Lansbury in its closing credits.

Even if MGM didn’t initially let her shine, Lansbury would be defined by her versatility. Through her work, she has put herself in the shoes of freewheeling bohemians, masterful manipulators, romantic artists and gentle go-getters. Britain’s The Independent newspaper posited in 2010 that Lansbury may be “the most successful British actress of all time”.

“I consider myself a journeyman actress,” she said in 2004. “I will try almost anything I think I can pull off.”



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