Childhood & Early Life
Angela Brigid Lansbury was born on October 16, 1925, in Regent's Park, Central London, to actress Moyna Macgill and timber merchant Edgar Lansbury. Her father became a politician, following in the footsteps of her grandfather George Lansbury, who was the leader of the ‘British Labour Party’ and an anti-war activist. She was left devastated after her father died from stomach cancer when she was only nine.
She attended ‘South Hampstead High School’ from 1934 to 1939, but was largely self-educated, learning from books, theatre, and cinema.
In 1940, she began taking acting classes at the ‘Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art’ in Kensington, West London.
After the death of her grandfather in 1940, her mother moved to the United States to escape the Blitz. In the US, she gained a scholarship from the ‘American Theatre Wing’ and started studying at the ‘Feagin School of Drama and Radio,’ from where she graduated in 1942.
Back in Britain, she had appeared onstage in a school production of Maxwell Anderson's 'Mary of Scotland.' In the US, she initially appeared in performances of William Congreve's 'The Way of the World' and Oscar Wilde's 'Lady Windermere's Fan.'
Continue Reading Below
Angela Lansbury started her career in 1942, at the age of 16, when she worked as a nightclub act at the ‘Samovar Club,’ Montreal. She pretended to be 19 years old and earned $60 a week, singing Noël Coward songs.
She soon met John van Druten, one of the screenplay writers of the film version of 'Gaslight,' at a party hosted by her mother. He recommended her for the role of ‘Nancy Oliver,’ a conniving cockney maid, in the 1944 movie ‘Gaslight.’ She impressed the critics as well as the audience with her debut film role and earned an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for 'Best Supporting Actress.'
She hired an agent and signed a seven-year deal with MGM. In 1944, she acted alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the commercially successful film 'National Velvet.' The next year, she starred in the film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray.' The film did not do well commercially, but her performance earned her a ‘Golden Globe’ award and her second ‘Oscar’ nomination.
Throughout the next decade, she appeared in a number of MGM productions, including 'The Harvey Girls' (1946), 'State of the Union' (1948), and 'The Three Musketeers' (1948). She was often cast in negative roles, sometimes playing characters much older than her, which prompted her to end her contract with MGM. She then moved back to stage productions.
She debuted on Broadway in 1957, playing ‘Marcel Cat’ in the play 'Hotel Paradiso.' She received critical acclaim for her role and went on to feature in another Broadway production in 1960, 'A Taste of Honey.'
Following a couple of well-received roles in movies like 'The Dark at the Top of the Stairs' (1960) and 'All Fall Down' (1962), she was cast in the 1962 movie 'The Manchurian Candidate.' She earned her third ‘Academy Award’ nomination for her role of a scheming mother in the film.
In 1966, she got her first starring role on stage as ‘Mame Dennis’ in the musical 'Mame.' She surprised the critics with her song and dance routines, and received overwhelmingly positive reviews, winning her first 'Tony Award.'
She continued to appear in films in the next few years. She started to receive major roles in the 1970s, and played a countess in 'Something for Everyone.' In 1971, she was cast as ‘Miss Eglantine Price’ in the partially animated ‘Disney’ movie 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks.' She then played ‘Salome Otterbourne’ in 'Death on the Nile' (1978), a British mystery film based on Agatha Christie's novel.
In 1984, she chose to appear in the detective television series 'Murder, She Wrote,' despite her agents advising otherwise. Her portrayal of protagonist ‘Jessica Fletcher’ became one of her most remembered roles, which she would play for the next 12 years.
Continue Reading Below
Even after the series ended in 1996, she continued to play ‘Jessica Fletcher’ in a number of telefilms based on the same storyline. She later appeared in another TV series titled 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' and then played an important role in the 2005 movie 'Nanny McPhee.'
In 2009, she returned to Broadway in a revival of the production ‘Blithe Spirit.’ For playing the role of ‘Madame Arcati,’ she earned her fifth ‘Tony Award’ and became one of the two artists with highest number of ‘Tony Awards’ after Julie Harris. She also earned her first ‘Olivier Award’ for her performance in the play.
She has since appeared in two other Broadway revival shows, such as ‘A Little Night Music’ and ‘The Best Man.’
In 2017, she was part of the BBC TV mini-series ‘Little Women.’ She also had a cameo role in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (2018), which is a sequel to the 1964 film of the same name.
Angela Lansbury's major films include 'Gaslight,' 'The Picture of Dorian Gray,' and 'The Manchurian Candidate.' Her portrayal of ‘Miss Eglantine Price’ in 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' is one of her most popular roles.
She became a household name when she started appearing on the television series 'Murder, She Wrote.' The series became so popular that she eventually started to produce the show, which ran for 12 consecutive seasons.
Awards & Achievements
Angela Lansbury has received three 'Academy Award' nominations for 'Gaslight,' 'The Picture of Dorian Gray,' and 'The Manchurian Candidate.' She has also received 15 'Golden Globe' nominations throughout her career, winning six of them.
For her stage appearances, she has received five 'Tony Awards.' She was nominated for 'Emmy Award' for 12 successive years for her portrayal of ‘Jessica Fletcher’ in the television series 'Murder, She Wrote.' However, she failed to win the award.
In 2014, she received an ‘Honorary Award’ by the ‘Academy Awards’ for being “an entertainment icon who has created some of cinema's most memorable characters, inspiring generations of actors.”
Personal Life & Legacy
At the age of 19, Angela Lansbury eloped with actor Richard Cromwell and married soon after in 1945. However, the marriage ended in divorce within a year. It was reported that Cromwell was gay, which Lansbury was unaware of at the time of their marriage.
In 1949, she married actor Peter Shaw and lived together for over five decades till his death in 2003. They had two children, Anthony and Deirdre, both of whom later became part of the anti-establishment movement and started using recreational drugs. Anthony later became a television director, while Deirdre opened a restaurant.