Angela Lansbury, Star of Film, Stage and ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ Dies at 96

Angela Lansbury died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles, according to a statement from her three children. She died five days shy of her 97th birthday.

The scene-stealing British performer Angela Lansbury, who kicked up her heels in the Broadway musicals “Mame” and “Gypsy,” has passed away. In the long-running TV series “Murder, She Wrote,” Lansbury played crime novelist Jessica Fletcher, who solves numerous crimes. She was 96. According to a statement from her three children, Lansbury passed away on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She passed just five days before turning 97.

Her 75-year career encompassed theatre productions of well-loved musicals, roles as stoic women in movies, singing the theme song for the animated picture “Beauty and the Beast,” receiving the title of Dame from Queen Elizabeth II, and creating one of television’s most adored characters.

For her Broadway appearances, Lansbury received five Tony Awards as well as a lifetime achievement honour. She received supporting actress nods for two of her first three movies, Gaslight (1945) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1946), and was nominated once again in 1962 for “The Manchurian Candidate,” for which she played a lethal Communist operative and the mother of the titular character.

Producers chose to depict her considerably older than her true age because of her composed manner. When she was 23 years old and appearing in “State of the Union,” her hair was streaked with grey so she could portray a newspaper editor who was in her forties yet had a thing for Spencer Tracy.Angela Lansbury

Her stardom came in middle age when she became the hit of the New York theater, winning Tony Awards for “Mame” (1966), “Dear World” (1969), “Gypsy” (1975) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979).

In Terrence McNally’s “Deuce,” in which she played a feisty, brazen former tennis great who reflects with another former star while watching a contemporary match from the stands, she was back on Broadway and received another Tony nomination in 2007. She earned her sixth Tony in 2009 for her performance in the Noel Coward production of “Blithe Spirit,” for which she also won an Olivier Award in 2015.

The stars of Broadway paid their tributes. “She was an icon, a legend, a jewel, and about the nicest person you’d ever want to meet,” tweeted Audra McDonald. “Dame Angela was extremely lovely to me when I made my Broadway debut,” Leslie Uggams posted on Twitter. She played a major role in integrating me into the neighbourhood. She really did live a full life!

Paul Rudnick, the playwright, said, “She gave the most amazing, unreplaceable delight. She was adored both as a person and an actor, and she was charming, gorgeous, and tragic all at once. She will be missed, honoured, and loved.

However, Lansbury achieved her greatest level of celebrity in 1984 when she debuted “Murder, She Wrote” on CBS. The series was centred on Jessica Fletcher, a middle-aged widow and former substitute teacher who lived in the coastal community of Cabot Cove, Maine, and was partly based on Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple tales. She had become well-known for her mystery novels and work as a home detective.

The actress found the first season of the show to be draining.

I was surprised to find that I had to work 12 to 15 hours a day, nonstop, every day, she recounted. “Look, I can’t do these concerts in seven days; it will have to be eight days,” I had to declare at one point.

Particularly because “Murder, She Wrote” had become a Sunday night smash, CBS and the production firm, Universal Studio, concurred. Lansbury kept up a steady pace despite the long days—she left her Brentwood, West Los Angeles, home at 6 a.m. and didn’t get back until after dark. She was happy that older ladies might look up to Jessica Fletcher as an example.

She said that it has never been easy for women to act as role models for other women in the entertainment industry. They have long been seen as having attractive careers.

Jessica donned outfits in the first season of the show that were practically frumpy. Then Jessica developed intelligence, since Lansbury reasoned that a successful lady should dress accordingly.

Through its eleventh season, “Murder, She Wrote” continued to receive good ratings. Then CBS moved the series to a less appealing midweek time period in an effort to attract a younger audience for Sunday night. Lansbury vehemently objected, but to no avail. The ratings collapsed as predicted, and the programme was discontinued. CBS made two-hour movies of “Murder, She Wrote” and other specials featuring Lansbury as consolation.

She had 18 Emmy nominations for “Murder, She Wrote” and other television projects, but she was never awarded one. She has received the most Emmy nominations for lead actress in a drama series and the most Golden Globe nominations overall. She also holds the record for both categories.

Despite not wanting to play “old, decrepit ladies,” Lansbury remarked in an interview with the Associated Press from 2008 that she would still accept the appropriate screenplay. “I want women my age to be seen as the active, contributing members of society that they are.”

“I’m amazed at how much I was able to accomplish in the years I spent working in this industry. I’m still here, too!

On October 16, 1925, she was born in London, where she was given the name Angela  Lansbury. Her father owned a veneer factory, her mother was a successful performer named Moyna MacGill, and her grandpa was the fiery leader of the Labour Party.

Lansbury recalled her childhood: “I was incredibly bashful, completely unable of breaking out of my shell.” It took me a long time to recover from it,

The family survived for a while on money her mother had saved from her acting profession when the Depression put her father’s factory into bankruptcy. When Angela’s adored father passed away in 1935, she was dealt a devastating blow. The tragedy made her independent and “almost a surrogate spouse to my mum,” according to her mother.

In 1940, as German bombers threatened England, Moyna Lansbury battled bureaucracy to secure her family’s passage to America. They relocated to New York with assistance from two sponsoring families, where they made a $150/month living. Angela, who was 16 at the time, was hired to perform songs and impersonations in a nightclub in Montreal to supplement their income.

She added, “The one thing I’ve ever been confident in is my ability to perform.” The thing that has unquestionably supported me through thick and thin has been the grace note in my life’s sonata.

In an effort to obtain acting jobs, Moyna relocated the family to Hollywood. If not, she and Angela would sell apparel and wrap goods at a department shop. The character of Sybil Vane in “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which was being developed at MGM, was suggested by an actor acquaintance as being perfect for Angela. Louis B. Mayer, the head of the studio, commanded: “Sign that girl!” after she tried.

She received an Oscar nomination for her debut movie, “Gaslight,” when she was just 19 years old, but MGM wasn’t sure what to do with the new contract actor. She portrayed Queen Anne in “The Three Musketeers,” Judy Garland’s adversary in “The Harvey Girls,” Walter Pidgeon’s bitter wife in “If Winter Comes,” and Elizabeth Taylor’s older sister in “National Velvet.”

She quit her job at MGM to pursue a freelance career because she was sick of playing characters twice her age, but the outcomes were largely the same: she played the mother of Warren Beatty in “All Fall Down,” Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii,” Carroll Baker in “Harlow,” and Laurence Harvey in “The Manchurian Candidate,” where she memorably manipulates her son and aids in starting a killing spree.

Richard Cromwell, a soulful young star of the 1930s, and Angela Lansbury were married for nine miserable months in the middle of the 1940s. In 1949, she wed Peter Shaw, a British man who had been employed by MGM as an actor and later rose to the position of studio executive and agent. He took over as Lansbury’s manager. He has a son from a previous marriage in addition to their two children.

The Shaws experienced difficulties during the 1950s. Angela’s profession slowed down, her mother passed away after a fight with illness, Peter had hip surgery, the kids started using drugs, and the family’s Malibu home burnt down.

Later, Lansbury compared the fire to chopping off a large, juicy branch of one’s life and sealing it with sealant to prevent bleeding. The human mind approaches certain issues in that manner. You must continue after picking up the pieces.

20 years of typecasting had worn Lansbury down, so she tried her luck on Broadway. “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Hotel Paradiso” (with Bert Lahr) were the failures of her first two productions.

Then “Mame” appeared. Rosalind Russell turned down the opportunity to reprise her iconic performance as Patrick Dennis’s queasy aunt in a musical adaptation. Ethel Merman and Mary Martin both concurred. Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall, Beatrice Lillie, and Judy Garland were other candidates. Jerry Herman, the composer, choose Lansbury.

The May 24 opening caused a buzz. The wrinkled, fat old harridan from the movies with a snakepit for a mouth was described by one critic as “the movies’ liveliest dame to kick up her heels since Carol Channing in ‘Hello, Dolly.'”

Lansbury went back to Hollywood after her success with “Sweeney Todd” to try her hand at television. A comedy starring Charles Durning or “Murder, She Wrote” was presented to her. Jean Stapleton had been requested by the producers but declined. Lansbury agreed to.

She was able to host Emmy and Tony award-winning shows while the series ran for a long time, appear in TV movies, and even provide her voice to a Disney animated film. She sung the title song and portrayed Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast.” With regard to her growing fan base, she commented, “This was really a milestone for me.” It helped me connect with a generation that I may not have otherwise met.

In order to assist her spouse in recovering from heart surgery, Lansbury pulled out of the 2000 Broadway production of “The Visit.” She wrote to the producers, “The type of devotion required of an artist carrying a multimillion-dollar production needs to be 100%.”

2003 saw her husband’s passing.

In 2012, she returned to Broadway in a production of “The Best Man,” co-starring on stage alongside Kerry Butler, James Earl Jones, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, and Candice Bergen. She most recently appeared alongside Jim Carrey in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and Emma Thompson’s “Nanny McPhee.”

Her “Sweeney Todd” co-star Len Cariou accepted the lifetime Tony award presented to Lansbury at the 2022 Tony Awards. There is no one I’d like to manage a ruthless business with, Cariou declared.Angela Lansbury

In 1990, Lansbury reflected, “I have occasionally pulled back from my work. to what Home. Work and home life balance each other out.

She is survived by her three children, Anthony, Deirdre, and David, as well as her brother, producer Edgar Lansbury, and three grandkids, Peter, Katherine, and Ian, Angela Lansbury.

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