‘Murder, She Wrote’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ star Angela Lansbury dies at 96
Angela Lansbury, a versatile actress who captivated generations of fans as a murderous baker, singing teapot, Soviet spy and small-town detective among a host of memorable roles, died on Tuesday, her family announced.
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.
The London-born actress has taken the final salute of her life as one of the most decorated performers in stage history.
Lansbury has won five Tony Awards, most recently in 2009 for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her work in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”
His best-known work on the Great White Way was probably as macabre pastry chef Nellie Lovett, in ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’. She cooked up a Tony for Best Musical Actress in 1979 for this role.
Her other three Tony wins were best actress in a musical for “Mame” in 1966, “Dear World” in 1969 and “Gypsy” in 1975.
Audra McDonald and Julie Harris are the only actresses to have won six Tonys; Harris’ sixth Tony was for lifetime achievement.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Angela Lansbury,” according to declaration by Actors’ Equity, the union representing performing artists.
Lansbury earned his Actors’ Equity card in 1957 with his work in “Hotel Paradiso.”
“A star of stage, television and film, Lansbury was a member of Equity for 65 years. She leaves behind a library of work to be enjoyed for many generations. We extend our condolences to her friends and family. .”
Actor Eric McCormack, best known for his work on the long-running NBC sitcom “Will & Grace,” fondly recalled his time with Lansbury on Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” in 2012.
“So privileged that I was able to spend time with this amazing woman,” he said in a statement. “No one like her.”
Lansbury took her singing talents from Broadway to the big screen, via an animator’s drawing board in the 1991 musical “Beauty and the Beast.”
She voiced the sentimental Mrs. Pott, which was one of the popular film’s most beloved moments.
She took the stage at Lincoln Center in New York City in 2016 to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary and caused a stir with a rendition of the title track.
Referencing the lyrics to the “Beauty and the Beast” theme, NASA paid tribute to Lansbury by posting a photo of a “cosmic rose.”
The actress had already enjoyed a long and successful career when she took on the small-screen role that many Americans will remember most – as mystery writer and amateur crimefighter Jessica Fletcher on the CBS Sunday Night hit. “Murder, She Wrote”.
“Murder” ran for 12 seasons, from 1984 to 1996, with Lansbury playing a widowed mystery writer whose sharp observations always thwarted criminals and even local police before the real killer was unmasked within an hour.
The show was a staple of Sunday night television at 8 p.m. and was one of CBS’ biggest hits of the 1980s.
He followed “60 Minutes” and, in the fall, the National Football Conference game. CBS head of play-by-play Pat Summerall told viewers to stay tuned to “Murder…She Wrote” with a significantly extended break.
“We found our audience and they were loyal until the end,” Lansbury said in a 1998 interview with the television academy.
Shows like “Murder, She Wrote” ushered in a new era of television with more female players playing lead roles on the American small screen. The Television Academy nominated Lansbury for 12 Emmys for “Murder,” though she never won the trophy.
Lansbury was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame in 1996.
“‘Murder, She Wrote’ has given me more attention in the world than any other role I’ve played in movies or on stage,” she said in 2013 while receiving a Honorary Academy Award. “It’s a wonderful thing to be known in Spain, Portugal, Paris, France and Germany and everywhere.”
Lansbury has become such a prominent television figure that some fans may have forgotten what a significant film career she had in the era of black-and-white film, and the top three supporting actress Oscar nominations she received for three legendary works.
She played the maid in the 1944 classic “Gaslight,” about a woman, played by star Ingrid Bergman, who was manipulated into questioning objective truth. The term “gaslighting,” which means psychologically manipulating with lies and false narratives, has become a popular term in 21st century American vocabulary, especially after Donald Trump was elected president.
The role earned Lansbury his first Oscar nomination before landing another for his brief but vital role in 1945’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.
Lansbury recalled that when she was working with director John Frankenheimer on the 1962 film “All Fall Down,” the movie maestro slammed a book on the table in front of her and ordered her to read it. The book was “The Manchurian Candidate” by Richard Condon.
“I took it home and read it and called it and said ‘Wow,'” Lansbury told the television academy in 1998.
She was cast as Mrs. Eleanor Iselin, a scheming and overbearing mother – a role that earned Lansbury her third Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
“We certainly hadn’t considered the longevity” of the Cold War-era thriller, Lansbury said in 1998. “We felt because of the extraordinary subject matter and the way the plot was crafted, it was so extraordinary to sink or swim. And he swam and he still swims.
The future great actress was born Angela Brigid Lansbury on October 16, 1925 in London, the daughter of actor Moyna Macgill and wood manager Edgar Lansbury.
His father and grandfather (George Lansbury) were both active in liberal British politics. Edgar Lansbury was Mayor of the London Borough of Poplar, while George Lansbury was leader of the Labor Party in 1932–34.
“My grandfather was a very important figure in my life as a child,” Lansbury told the television academy. “He was an extraordinary person who aroused the admiration and love of the British labor movement, which he led, and because he was the most charismatic figure, a simple and very kind man. never drank, he never smoked.
Although born into a culturally elite family, Lansbury’s childhood was chaotic.
Lansbury was 9 years old when his father died in 1935. At the outbreak of World War II a few years later, Lansbury’s mother feared that London would soon be bombed by Nazi Germany.
“My mom sold everything she could and we got on a boat,” Lansbury said.
The RMS Duchess of Atholl flew Lansbury, her mother, and two younger brothers to Canada in the summer of 1940, and they immediately boarded a train for New York.
Lansbury landed at the Lucy Fagan School at Rockefeller Center, where she had a bird’s eye view of the ice rink and what seemed like a perfect snapshot of utopian American life.
“I will never forget that first Christmas,” Lansbury fondly recalls. “America still wasn’t at war, the tree was up and everything was fine.”
It marked her first professional gig at the Samovar Club in Montreal. The 16-year-old lied about being 19 and performed characters from Coward’s ‘I Went to a Wonderful Party’ for a whopping $60 a week – what Lansbury then thought was a small fortune.
After the three-week gig ended, Lansbury’s mother was in western Canada with the “Tonight at 8:30” touring company.
Macgill had the brilliant idea of bringing his daughter and sending them both to Los Angeles, capital of the world’s young film industry.
The couple soon found themselves wrapped up in the ex-pat British acting community in Hollywood, and those relationships led Lansbury to his first screen tests for “Gaslight” and “Dorian Gray.”
She signed a seven-year contract with MGM, and by age 17 was earning $500 a week. Under the old studio system, MGM controlled his work and cast the young actor in roles that Lansbury said she didn’t have to play.
But it turned out to be a godsend and launched his extraordinarily versatile career.
“It was like a period of intense training, playing character roles, playing older than me, learning a lot of skills that I would never have learned otherwise,” Lansbury said.
And despite Lansbury’s long and distinguished career in the United States, she never lost touch with her roots and the UK never forgot her.
Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the honor DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire) on Lansbury in 2014 during a ceremony at Windsor Castle.
“It is a very proud day for me to be recognized by my native country, and to meet the Queen in these circumstances is a rare and lovely occasion,” Lansbury said that day.
She is survived by her three children, Anthony, Deirdre and David, her three grandchildren, Peter, Katherine and Ian, as well as five great-grandchildren and her brother, producer Edgar Lansbury.
She was predeceased by her husband of 53 years, Peter Shaw. A private family ceremony will be held on a date to be determined, his family said.