Angela Lansbury was probably the most talented and successful British actress of her generation, with an eight-decade career in film, theater and television that has garnered her a multitude of awards.
His prolific production has spanned more than 50 films – many of them classics such as Gaslight, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Bedknobs And Broomsticks – and a string of Broadway and television successes.
It was her role as crime writer Jessica Fletcher on the hit television series Murder, She Wrote that garnered her millions of fans around the world.
Her 12-year stint on the show, beginning in 1984, was so popular that she became both an executive producer and a star.
The boost to her career from the TV hit as she hit her sixties also gave new impetus to her film and stage work.
Born in London on October 16, 1925, Angela left England as an evacuated teenager to become a leading figure in Hollywood and Broadway, but despite her seemingly unstoppable success, she was essentially a family man.
It was this devotion to her family that led both Lansbury and her husband Peter Shaw to temporarily give up successful careers in the 1970s to help two of their children overcome drug addiction.
Her grandfather was George Lansbury, leader of the Labor Party at the time of her birth, and her father Edgar, also a staunch socialist, was Mayor of Poplar in London’s East End.
When war broke out, Lansbury was was evacuated to the United States with her mother, actress Moyna MacGill, a flamboyant Irish beauty.
She studied acting in New York and then worked as a saleswoman and in a nightclub, where she made impressions of Wagner singers and comedic actress Beatrice Lillie.
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They relocated to Hollywood, where Moyna hoped to find work in films, but it was her 17-year-old daughter who was spotted by director George Cukor when she came along to watch a friend take a screen test at MGM Studios.
Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer signed her to a seven-year contract in 1943, and in 1944 Lansbury appeared in her first role as Charles Boyer’s maid in Cukor’s film Gaslight, which earned her an Oscar nomination.
The next year, she played Elizabeth Taylor’s older sister in National Velvet, and in the same year received another Oscar nomination for her role as a variety singer in The Portrait of Dorian Gray.
Lansbury was none of the conventional glamor girl and in her early films she rarely played the heroine who got her husband, but the filmmakers quickly recognized that she was a top-notch character actress.
She used to seem to play the mother of everyone — Elvis Presley on Blue Hawaii, Warren Beatty on All Fall Down, and Laurence Harvey on The Manchurian Candidate, even though he was 34 at the time and just two years younger than her.
In 1949 she married British-born actor and businessman Peter Shaw, a former friend of Joan Crawford. He died in 2003.
When Lansbury’s contract with MGM expired, she headed to New York and had to start from the bottom again.
Settling in town with her two children, she endured long breakups with Shaw, a theater agent who stayed in Hollywood.
In 1966 she became an overnight musical comedy star with her role in Mame opposite Bea Arthur. The Broadway show earned Lansbury’s the first of their five Tony Awards.
Three years later, she got her second Tony for Dear World, before disaster struck her family.
Her two teenage children had become addicted to heroin, and treatment at the hospital and psychiatric facility was unsuccessful. Things came to a head when her Malibu home burned down in 1970.
Lansbury and Shaw decided to buy a farmhouse on 20 acres of land in Co Cork to put Anthony and Deirdre and their older stepbrother David in a drug-free environment.
The couple put their careers on hold while they helped their children overcome their addictions and rebuild their family unit in Ireland, with Lansbury not returning to work until she felt her children were on the road to recovery.
In 1972, she starred in two films including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which was made by the same crew as Mary Poppins.
After five years, she returned to New York and took Broadway by storm again in the lead role of Gypsy, which earned her another Tony Award.
She then spent time in England in 1975, appearing as Gertrude in Hamlet with the National Theater and in Albee’s play All Over with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
On her return to Broadway, Lansbury gained further recognition and won another Tony in The King And I and in Sweeney Todd.
In 1980 she directed the film The Mirror Crack’d, in which she took on the role of Miss Marple and starred alongside Elizabeth Taylor for the first time since National Velvet.
The film was a game changer because it alerted TV makers to their options for a new detective-style series.
At first, Lansbury had doubts about taking on the role of Jessica Fletcher as it would mean returning to California, but with her husband’s encouragement, she accepted the role.
Jessica Fletcher has become a role model for women around the world – so much so that Lansbury even released a fitness, nutrition and beauty video for the older woman.
The program proved a positive step for her family and they moved back to the States.
In the 1990s, Lansbury, along with her husband and sons, started their own production company and almost immediately struck a lucrative deal with Disney.
In 2007, at the age of 81, she returned to the Broadway stage for the first time in more than 25 years, in Terrence McNally’s play Deuce, at the Music Box Theatre. She received a Tony nomination in the Leading Actress category for her performance.
At the age of 88, already a CBE, she received her maternity leave at Windsor Castle in recognition of a lifetime of acting and charity work.
She was nominated for an Oscar three times and finally received an honorary Oscar in 2013.
In 2002, she received a Bafta Lifetime Achievement Award and also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Her return to the West End was crowned with an Olivier Award for Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theater in 2015, following in the footsteps of her mother, who debuted on the same stage nearly a century earlier.
https://www.independent.ie/style/celebrity/celebrity-news/angela-lansbury-celebrated-star-of-stage-and-screen-who-put-her-family-first-42059540.html Angela Lansbury: Acclaimed star of stage and screen who puts her family first