Angela Lansbury, musical theater star who is best known for her role as a crime writer in Murder, She Wrote

Angela Lansbury, who has died aged 96, became a West End and Broadway celebrity thanks to her starring roles in lavish musicals, but is best known for her role as Jessica Fletcher, the dugout crime writer flower and the killer in the hit TV series Murder, She Wrote.

not a role she was well suited for, having appeared as a suspect in the 1975 Agatha Christie mystery Death on the Nile and played Miss Marple in whodunnit in 1980 The Mirror Crack’d. Despite – or perhaps because of – the predictable plot and flimsy script, the series was a resounding success.

Ignoring the “skepticism” demanded on the part of viewers when accepting that a retired teacher from Cabot Cove, Maine, can solve a new murder every week, Angela Lansbury emphasizes that popularity Jessica Fletcher’s is based on her credibility. She continued in this role until the series ended in 1996 when she was 71 years old.

Her film career spans 70 years, starting when she joined MGM as a star in the 1940s. She describes herself as “one of the few girls that Louis B Meyer didn’t chase. around the studio”. Small, squat and blonde, she never considered herself a leading lady, though she stole scene after scene in supporting roles with her trendy, versatile, and engaging personality. .

Despite winning Oscar nominations for her first two films, her looks don’t fit MGM’s mold for glamorous stars, and she’s frequently cast as a maid or older sister. . At the end of her contract with MGM, she made a name for herself playing mothers in Reluctant Debutante, Blue Hawaii and Manchurian candidate.

When her career faltered in the early 1960s, Angela Lansbury left Hollywood for Broadway, where she became a star and was hailed as the most successful musical actress of her day. She has won awards for her performances in Mame, Dear World, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd.

In 1985, Angela Lansbury, then 60 years old, was cast as Jessica Fletcher, a detective on the Miss Marple circuit, and the star of the show. Murder, She Wrote became one of the highest paid artists on television, reportedly earning over $200,000 an episode. Her husband, Peter Shaw, gave up his job as an agent to become her manager and the couple headed a multi-million dollar production company.

A firm believer in diversification, in 1989 she made a video about diet and exercise, Positive move, aimed at middle-aged businesswomen. The following year, she negotiated a lucrative film deal with Disney, which led to more big screen appearances throughout the 1990s.

Angela Brigid Lansbury was born in east London on 16 October 1925, the niece of Rt Hon George Lansbury, one-time leader of the Labor Party and eldest daughter of the mayor of Poplar, Edgar Lansbury, and his wife, Moyna McGill. , a popular Irish actress and the first stage star to serve as a goddess of luck.

In 1939, Angela left Hampstead Girls’ High School for the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, but when the London Blitz began the following year, she left London for the United States. She and her mother joined 600 other evacuees on the last ship to leave England before German U-boats stopped their further Atlantic crossings.

In New York, her mother enrolled her at the Feagin School of Drama and at the age of 16, Angela made her theatrical debut in a pub at a nightclub in Montreal, Samovar.

In 1942 Angela and her widowed mother moved to Hollywood and found work at a Bullocks department store, where Angela sold cosmetics and earned $28 a week. When an actor friend arranged for her to participate in a screen test session at MGM the following year, Louis B Meyer offered her the role of Nancy, the Cockney maid, in the studio’s upcoming film Gaslighta Victorian horror film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten.

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Gaslight earned her an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, and later that year she got the chance to play Elizabeth Taylor’s older sister in National Velvet. In 1945, Angela Lansbury won a Golden Globe and a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in only her third film, where she played the singer in Painting by Dorian Gray. After such a promising start, Angela Lansbury found herself somewhat stifled by MGM.

For the next five years, she played an unsympathetic wife (If winter comes), the other woman (State of the Unionboth in 1948) and was booed in public after a scene in Harvey Girls (1946), in which her character was unkind to Judy Garland.

When her contract with MGM ended in 1950, Angela Lansbury made a name for herself playing the mother. She started out as Kay Kendall’s goofy, dodgy parent in Reluctant debutant (1958) and played a similar character to Elvis Presley’s mother – although she was only 10 years older than the star – in Blue Hawaii (In 1961).

In the same year, she was the mother of Warren Beatty in It all falls down and two years later appeared as Laurence Harvey’s in Manchurian candidate, to cool the effect. Although Harvey is only three years younger than her, this is one of her most memorable roles.

Despite all this, Angela Lansbury’s film career was faltering, and in hopes of finding more work, she left Hollywood and moved back to New York, where in 1957 she made her debut. Broadway as the famous wife Marcelle in Peter Glenville’s film. By Feydeau Paradiso Hotel. Three years later, she is Helen, the mother of the pregnant heroine, in Shelagh Delaney’s The taste of honeybefore finding the Broadway star in the musical Mother.

Despite taking place during the show’s two-year run in New York, she was disappointed to hear from family in Malibu that her two children had become addicted to heroin. Both received psychiatric help and hospital treatment, but to no avail. She decided that the family should move out of California when she learned that Charles Manson was trying to convince her daughter, Deirdre, to join his “family”. A fire that destroyed their home in 1970 forced the problem, and the Lansburys moved to Ireland, buying a farm in Co Cork.

After five years, she returned to New York to take on the role of Ethel Merman in the revival of another musical, Gypsy, replay it as it moves to the West End (Piccadilly, 1973). She has returned to London to play the role of Gertrude for Albert Finney’s Hamlet at the Old Vic. Among her other notable film roles is that of Miss Price in Bed Cover and Broom (In 1971); and she won a new generation of young fans with her role as the singing teapot, Mrs Potts, in the 1991 Disney animated film. Beauty and the Beast, in which she sings the title track. One of the hardest working players of her generation, she’s a better actress than Hollywood knows.

She has won a total of six Golden Globe Awards, including four for Murder, She Wrote, as well as her three Academy Award nominations. In 2002, she received a lifetime achievement award from Bafta, and in 2013 an honorary Oscar to mark 70 years in the film industry.

Naturalized in the US since 1951, she was appointed CBE in 1994 and promoted to DBE in 2014. Angela Lansbury has been married twice. Her first marriage, to actor Richard Cromwell in 1945, disbanded a year later. Her second husband, Peter Shaw, whom she married in 1949, died in 2003. She had a son and a daughter.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Angela Lansbury, musical theater star who is best known for her role as a crime writer in Murder, She Wrote

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