Nationality: American. Born: Angela Brigid Lansbury in London, England, 16 October 1925; granddaughter of the politician George Lansbury; became U.S. citizen, 1951. Education: Attended Webber-Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art, London; Feagin School of Drama and Radio, New York. Family: Married 1) Richard Cromwell, 1945 (divorced 1946); 2) Peter Pullen Shaw, 1949, one son and one daughter. Career: 1942—in nightclub act in Montreal; 1943—given seven-year contract with MGM, and made debut in Gaslight the following year; 1957—Broadway debut in Hotel Paradiso : later stage roles in A Taste of Honey , 1960, Mame , 1966, Dear World , 1969, and Sweeney Todd , 1979; from 1984—in TV series Murder, She Wrote ; also in 1984, in TV mini-series Lace , and The First Olympics: Athens 1896 ; 1986—in TV mini-series Rage of Angels: The Story Continues . Awards: 4 Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical. Agent: William Morris Agency, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
Gaslight (Cukor) (as Nancy Oliver); National Velvet (Brown) (as Edwina Brown)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin) (as Sibyl Vane)
The Harvey Girls (Sidney) (as Em); The Hoodlum Saint (Taurog) (as Dusty Willard); Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf) (as guest star)
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (Lewin) (as Clotilde de Marelle); If Winter Comes (Saville) (as Mabel Sabre)
Tenth Avenue Angel (Rowland) (as Susan Bratten); State of the Union (Capra) (as Kay Thorndyke); The Three Musketeers (Sidney) (as Queen Anne)
The Red Danube (Sidney) (as Audrey Quail); Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. DeMille) (as Semadar)
Kind Lady (John Sturges) (as Mrs. Edwards)
Mutiny (Dmytryk) (as Leslie)
Remains to Be Seen (Weis) (as Valeska Chauvea)
Key Man ( A Life at Stake ) (Guilfoyle) (as Doris Hillman)
A Lawless Street (Joseph H. Lewis) (as Tally Dickinson); The Purple Mask (Humberstone) (as Madame Valentine)
The Court Jester (Panama and Frank) (as Princess Gwendolyn); Please Murder Me (Godfrey) (as Myra Leeds)
The Long Hot Summer (Ritt) (as Minnie Littlejohn); The Reluctant Debutante (Minnelli) (as Mabel Claremont)
Season of Passion ( Summer of the 17th Doll ) (Norman) (as Pearl)
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Delbert Mann) (as Mavis Pruitt); A Breath of Scandal (Curtiz) (as Countess Lina)
Blue Hawaii (Taurog) (as Sarah Lee Gates)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minnelli) (as voice of Marguerite Laurier); All Fall Down (Frankenheimer) (as Annabel Willart); The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer) (as Raymond's mother)
In the Cool of the Day (Robert Stevens) (as Sibyl Logan)
The World of Henry Orient (George Roy Hill) (as Isabel Boyd); Dear Heart (Delbert Mann) (as Phyllis)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens) (as Claudia); The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (Terence Young) (as Lady Blystone); Harlow (Douglas) (as Mama Jean Bello)
Mister Buddwing ( Woman without a Face ) (Delbert Mann) (as Gloria)
Something for Everyone (Prince) (as Countess Herthe von Orstein)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Stevenson) (as Eglantine Price)
The Story of the First Christmas Snow (Bass and Rankin—animation for TV) (as voice of Sister Theresa)
Death on the Nile (Guillermin) (as Mrs. Salome Otterbourne)
The Lady Vanishes (Page) (as Miss Froy)
The Mirror Crack'd (Hamilton) (as Miss Marple)
The Last Unicorn (Rankin Jr. and Bass—animation) (as voice of Mommy Fortuna); Little Gloria . . . Happy at Last (Hussein—for TV) (as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney); Sweeney Todd (Hughes and Prince) (as Nellie Lovett)
The Pirates of Penzance (Leach) (as Ruth); The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story (Delbert Mann—for TV)
Ingrid (Feldman—for TV)
The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan) (as Granny); The Murder of Sherlock Holmes (Corey Allen—for TV)
A Talent for Murder (Rakoff—for TV)
Shootdown (Pressman—for TV)
The Shell Seekers (Hussein—for TV) (as Penelope Keeling)
The Love She Sought (Sargent—for TV) (as Agatha McGee)
Beauty and the Beast (Wise and Trousdale—animation) (as voice of Mrs. Potts)
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (Shaw—for TV) (title role); Disney Sing-Along-Songs (as voice of Mrs. Potts)
Mrs. Santa Claus (Hughes) (as Mrs. Santa Claus)
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (Knight—for video) (as voice of Mrs. Potts); Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest (Shaw—for TV) (as Jessica Fletcher); Anastasia (Bluth, Goldman) (as voice of Dowager Empress Marie)
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (Anthony Pullen Shaw—for TV) (as Mrs. Emily Pollifax); Murder She Wrote: A Story to Die For (Shaw—for TV) (as Jessica Fletcher)
By LANSBURY: book—
Angela Lansbury's Positive Moves (physical fitness), with Mimi Avins, New York, 1990.
By LANSBURY: articles—
"Safety Zone," interview with T. Gilling, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1972.
Interview, in Radio Times , 17 December 1983.
"Auntie Angela," interview with Kevin Allman, in Advocate (Los Angeles), 22 September 1992.
"That's All She Wrote," interview with Robert Massello, in TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 4 November 1995.
On LANSBURY: books—
Parish, James, Good Dames , New York, 1974.
Bonanno, Margaret Wander, Angela Lansbury: A Biography , New York, 1987.
Edelman, Rob, Angela Lansbury , New York, 1996.
On LANSBURY: articles—
Hallowell, John, "A Smashing New Dame to Play Mame," in Life (New York), 17 June 1966.
Current Biography 1967 , New York, 1967.
"Angela Lansbury, Sondheim, Prince and Sweeney Todd ," in Horizon , April 1979.
Pacheco, Patrick, "Angela Lansbury: A Bloomin' Wonder," in After Dark , January 1980.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Angela Lansbury," in Films in Review (New York), February 1980.
Films Illustrated (London), October 1980.
Olmsted, Dan, "Why Angela Lansbury Is Everyone's Cup of Tea," in USA Weekend (Arlington, Virginia), 29 November-1 December 1991.
Murphy, Mary, "Angela Gets Tough," in TV Guide (Arlington, Virginia), 26 December 1992.
Nosferatu (San Sebastian), January 1996.
* * *
Although recent years have seen the enormously talented Angela Lansbury become the definitive leading lady of Broadway musicals, she has never enjoyed a similar stardom on the screen despite the many film roles and awards she has to her credit. While she possesses unarguable acting ability and star quality, under the scrutiny of the camera her less than glamorous looks have made leading-lady, star-vehicle roles difficult for her to obtain from the very beginning.
Born in London, Lansbury began dramatic training as a child, continuing in the United States after being evacuated during the German blitz. After signing with MGM, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her first film, Gaslight . Although still in her teens at the time, this role started her on a path of character parts in which she was often younger than the unsympathetic character.
A second Academy Award nomination followed for The Picture of Dorian Gray , an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel. Lansbury subsequently appeared in a series of fine supporting performances, notably in Capra's State of the Union , Martin Ritt's The Long Hot Summer , and Delbert Mann's version of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs . Perhaps the best example of Lansbury's ability to play characters much older than herself is her unforgettably chilling portrayal of Laurence Harvey's devious mother in The Manchurian Candidate . In reality, she was only three years Harvey's senior.
Watching Lansbury the television hostess pop up on awards shows like a latter-day Toastmaster General seems a thorough waste of this versatile actress's time. These great lady stints could also be viewed, however, as a measure of the respectful affection audiences feel for her reassuring Jessica Fletcher, a television detective character with a record number of relatives to clear of murder charges. Since resoundingly garnering the megastardom denied her during her MGM contract period, Lansbury has evidenced a regrettable taste for bland, but high-rated, star vehicles such as The Shell Seekers and Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris . Lansbury acolytes who have experienced her glamorous Mame , indefatigable Mama Rose in Gypsy , and homicidally enterprising Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd , know that Jessica Fletcher and subsequent television appearances only tap a smidgen of this powerhouse's talent. On-screen, Lansbury remains an unparalleled character star who can look back with pride on her psychologically crippling mother in All Fall Down , her divine poseur in Death on the Nile , her foolish adulteress in The World of Henry Orient , and her stylishly decadent countess in Something for Everyone .
After being shortsightedly passed over for the movie of Mame in favor of human foghorn Lucille Ball, Lansbury did get to kick up her heels in Bedknobs and Broomsticks , an affable treat but no Mary Poppins . Mothballing her musical comedy ambitions and once again donning old lady drag in The Mirror Crack'd and The Lady Vanishes , is it any wonder Lansbury embraced the nonfrumpy vistas of Murder, She Wrote in which she could play her own age and display the personal warmth not required by most of her celebrated acting outings? After her long-running series is history, Lansbury will continue to delight and astonish her fans, but one hopes her hard-won and long-overdue stardom will not tempt her to orphan her unscrupulous schemers and larger-than-life eccentrics in favor of variations on reliable, gracious, down-to-earth buttinski, J. B. Fletcher.
—Bill Wine, updated by Robert Pardi