Angela Lansbury: the scene-stealing grande dame of stage and screen for 75 years – The Guardian

Angela Lansbury: the particular scene-stealing importante dame associated with stage plus screen with regard to 75 many years

Best-known as the novelist-sleuth Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury’s winning charm and towering talent stretches back to the particular days of Noël Coward and Judy Garland

Angela Lansbury has died aged 96

I n a career lasting three quarters of a century, Dame Angela Lansbury won high praise and prizes in cinema, theatre and TV, and became a member associated with the acting aristocracy within three countries – Britain, where she was born; America, her home for most of the girl life; plus Ireland, where she kept a house for many decades.

Her movie career stretched from Gaslight in 1944 to the 2018 children’s films, Buttons and Mary Poppins Returns. The girl went through youthful prodigy – with two Oscar nominations by the age of 21 – to cinematic grande dame: in 2014, as her 90th birthday approached, she received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

She also managed a long theatrical profession, despite not making the girl Broadway musical debut until her 40s. She grew to become one associated with the first ladies of American music theatre, working frequently with her near-contemporary Stephen Sondheim , the Broadway genius of the era. The lady won five Tony awards, and continued to appear on Broadway and in the London West End till her 10th decade.

Lansbury’s impressive 12-year run on the particular crime drama Murder, She Wrote also feels even more sustained than it was, since the 264 episodes have remained almost permanently on screen in re-runs in the US, UK and around the world.

She was born within the Regent’s Park area of London inside 1925, the particular daughter associated with Northern Irish actor Moyna Macgill plus Edgar Lansbury, a socialist politician who was a councillor and mayor in the east London district of Poplar.

Her paternal grandfather was even more prominent in leftwing politics – George Lansbury, leader associated with the Labour party from 1932 in order to 1935 – and, even after emigrating to America, his granddaughter maintained a fascination with British politics, quizzing English interviewers about the merits of Wilson, Kinnock, Blair, and, later, Corbyn.

That interest was a homage to her father, who died when she has been only nine. This blight on her childhood was ameliorated by appearances in school plays, then tuition at dance and episode schools.

The particular sense that she found in performing an escape from pain was confirmed when the girl was asked, in a 90th birthday interview, what advice she would give to young performers. Contradicting the common training of actors in order to channel their own emotional history into roles, the girl counselled: “Leave who you are at home… all that will daily stuff. If I allow my experiences to encroach on the character’s life and experience, I’m putting a stumbling block that will prevent me from becoming someone totally different from the particular person that I am. ”

In the girl childhood, acting had also been more literally a liberation, when the Nazi bombing of Greater london in 1940 led her mother to evacuate along with her children to Canada and then America. There, the adolescent Angela played bit parts, and developed a cabaret act associated with Noël Coward songs. Aged 17, the lady met John Van Druten, at a party thrown by her mother, who had written the screenplay for Gaslight. Cast in that on his recommendation, the lady was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM.

Despite Oscar nominations for both Gaslight plus her next film, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lansbury never quite achieved the particular Hollywood career that seemed promised. This was partly because her strongest cinematic performance – as the manipulative mother of the presidential assassin in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate – had restricted distribution regarding a long time, due to concern that the plot had prophesied the murder of President Steve F Kennedy in 1963.

Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate.

But Hollywood disappointment was soon balanced simply by Broadway fame. In 1966, Lansbury was an unexpected casting intended for the musical Mame, in the lead role of an eccentric socialite during the Depression. She received doting notices, and the girl first Tony award, although, in another setback, the title part within the 1974 movie associated with Mame has been given, in order to rude reviews, by Lucille Ball.

However, Lansbury went on to play assorted Sondheim divas in revivals of Gypsy and A Little Night Music, and creating the function of the particular cannibalistic pie-maker, Mrs Lovett, in Sweeney Todd (1979), for which she drew on childhood memories to assume a plausible cockney accent.

Next Lansbury conquered a third performing art, inside Murder, The girl Wrote (1984-96), which became, and remains, one of the majority of popular TELEVISION shows ever, playing Jessica Fletcher, the novelist-detective.

Network concern about having a woman associated with almost 60 leading the primetime show may be the reason that, inside the opening moments of the first episode, Lansbury was seen first energetically cycling, and then running full pelt to answer a phone.

In the series launch, The Murder of Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Fletcher, a widowed journalist, while volunteering at a local theatre in her New England home town associated with Cabot Cove, watches a few moments of rehearsal for the whodunnit, in which the girl immediately identifies the killer.

In the next scene, the lady learns that a nephew has secretly given a publisher the mystery novel she has written as a hobby. Her profession as best-selling crime writer JB Fletcher is launched, with a sideline as an amateur sleuth, solving murders that occur near her house, or in other locations (New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii) to which she offers gone upon book tours, or speaking engagements.

Angela Lansbury in 2014.

Fletcher is essentially a combination of two Agatha Christie characters: Miss Marple, the rural busybody who is better at detection than the particular clueless local cops – a role Lansbury had performed inside a 1980 Christie-based movie, The Mirror Crack’d – and Ariadne Oliver, the mystery novelist who uses her plotting skills to solve real-life cases.

The particular casting has been another piece of professional fortune that punctuated Lansbury’s career: another admired long-timer, Jean Stapleton, had been offered the part first but turned it down. Lansbury made the role a perfect vehicle for the amiable intelligence and sweet mischievousness that were the central ingredients of her carrying out personality. For the part, she lightly Americanised an accent that continued to be audibly English off-screen throughout her life.

Murder, The lady Wrote grew to become something of the family business, with Lansbury’s second husband, Peter Shaw, and their own son, Anthony, producing or directing many episodes. The draconian schedule of an US TV hit led Lansbury to reduce her own involvement at times – Jessica only appeared inside prologue plus epilogue associated with some shows – yet she was unhappy when the show has been cancelled inside 1996, seemingly because it was now seen as too cosy and too old, with the star having passed the age of 70.

Cheekily, the valedictory 264th episode was called Death by Demographics, finding Mrs Fletcher coming to the particular aid of a veteran radio books display host replaced by a good uncouth shock jock.

There were four spin-off TELEVISION movies associated with Murder, She Wrote, and the show has had a lucrative afterlife within syndication plus repeats. As TV demographics became more democratic, the prominence of an older female lead came to be seen while an advantage rather than an obstacle. Lansbury made various attempts to bring the show back, but these came in order to nothing.

In 2014, in the age of 88, Lansbury appeared on the particular London stage for the last time, as Madame Arcati, the dotty clairvoyant in a revival of Noël Coward’s 1941 comedy, Blithe Spirit.

The production – perhaps the last to feature a performer who experienced been a star in Coward’s personal era – was from the Gielgud Theatre on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. The particular venue brought great sentimental pleasure to Lansbury due to the fact it was where Moyna Macgill got made her London performing debut in 1915. Perhaps appropriately, since the play was about seances, Lansbury told a good interviewer that will she felt her mother’s presence from the building.

In 2015, Michael Blakemore, the girl director within Blithe Spirit, admiringly told the Guardian in the piece in order to mark the particular actor turning 90: “I think people such as her, who have been acting since they were teenagers, develop special gifts because they learn the basis of their particular craft when they are young and impressionable. She’s incredibly disciplined. Keeps herself very physically fit. ”

Angela Lansbury with Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls, 1946.

On the day she became a nonagenarian, Lansbury was interviewed upon US TV, and walked on to a Broadway stage in order to receive the Oscar Hammerstein Award to get Lifetime Accomplishment in Musical Theatre.

Remarkably, she announced plans to return to Broadway in the 2017 season, in a revival of Enid Bagnold’s 1955 play The Chalk Garden. It amused Lansbury that she was a rare actor that would need to ‘age down’ to perform the elderly matriarch, Mrs St Maugham.

However , the girl subsequently acquired doubts regarding sustaining the particular stamina to play eight performances a week. As the consolation, the lady took part in an one -night staged reading of The Chalk Garden with the playhouse of Hunter University, marking her final New York stage overall performance at the age of 91.

Inside the same year, she embodied, along with typical precision, the contradictory harshness plus charm associated with Aunt March in an UK-US adaptation of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women.

That classic American role felt a good ideal farewell to television in everything except its title: Angela Lansbury has been indisputably one of the biggest women of American theatre and screen.