Angela Lansbury, Broadway luminary and ‘Murder, She Wrote’ star,
dies at 96
the English-born actress who excelled as the world’s most evil mother in “The
Manchurian Candidate,” became a luminary of Broadway musical theater, and starred
for 12 years as a warmhearted crime writer and sleuth in the TV series “Murder,
She Wrote,” died Oct. 11 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 96. To a younger
generation, Ms. Lansbury was best remembered as the voice of Mrs. Potts in
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991).
cherished performances may have suggested that Ms. Lansbury was a specialist in
plucky, non-threatening roles. Yet over seven decades in show business, she had
two earlier and distinct phases of her career — on-screen and then on Broadway
— in which she revealed herself as an artist of immense range and power.
of playing unsympathetic or over-the-hill women — “I’ve played so many old hags
most people think I’m 65 years old,” she quipped at 41 — she turned to theater
Broadway, Ms. Lansbury received six Tony Awards, including four for best
actress in a musical and one for lifetime achievement. Her first win recognized
her performance as a bohemian socialite caring for her orphaned nephew in Jerry
Herman’s musical comedy “Mame” (1966). The show brimmed with chorus boys and
flamboyant costumes and provided Ms. Lansbury with the showstopper “It’s Today.”
Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” (1979), a brooding and dissonant “musical
thriller,” Ms. Lansbury garnered a Tony as a London piebaker who becomes an
accessory to murder and cannibalism.
collected a Tony for her starring role in the 1969 Herman musical and
anti-capitalist satire “Dear World.” As the forceful stage mother Mama Rose, she won
again for “Gypsy,” a 1974 revival of the Sondheim-Jule Styne-Arthur Laurents
musical that allowed her to reinvent with nuance and subtlety a part that had
all-but-been defined for years by the Broadway belter Ethel Merman.
Lansbury’s final competitive win — for best featured actress in a play — was
for “Blithe Spirit,” a 2009 revival of the Noel Coward comedy in which she
played a dotty clairvoyant.
Brigid Lansbury was born in London on Oct. 16, 1925. Her paternal grandfather,
George Lansbury, became leader of England’s Labour Party in the 1930s. Her
father, Edgar, was a businessman, and her mother was a stage and film actress
known as Moyna Macgill.
parents divorced, and Angela was 9 when her stepfather died from cancer. Movies
became a refuge, she said. Her mother made sure she and her three siblings had
piano and dance lessons.
the German blitz during World War II, the family came to New York in 1940 and
later settled in Los Angeles. At 17, Ms. Lansbury won a screen test at MGM,
which led to roles in “Gaslight” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
fully showcased the sweep of her abilities. She proved a deft farceuse in
“Hotel Paradiso” (1957), featuring the comic great Bert Lahr, and played a
vulgar mother in “A Taste of Honey” (1960), a drama with Joan Plowright as her
pregnant and abandoned daughter.
Lansbury’s musical theater debut came in “Anyone Can Whistle” (1964), a
Laurents and Sondheim musical in which she was the imperious mayor of a seedy
town. Critics loathed the show — finding its absurdist satire and nonconformist
theme too clever by half — and it ran only nine performances.
one ticket-buyer, composer Jerry
loved it and became Ms. Lansbury’s champion for his show “Mame.” She spent two
years in the role, which transformed her into a theatrical star.
series of demanding musicals, especially “Sweeney Todd” opposite Len Cariou in
the title role, cemented her reputation as a consummate professional, able to
conjure a bonkers music-hall spirit with tunes such as “The Worst Pies in
and “By the Sea.”
Lansbury’s accolades included the National Medal of Arts in 1997 and the
Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. In 2013, she received an honorary Oscar and was
made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
interviews, Ms. Lansbury played down her hard-charging ambition and said she
considered herself a “journeyman actor” who had gotten lucky.
just did what was handed to me but the things that were handed to me were quite
extraordinary,” she told the Sunday Express in 2014. “I have an inordinate
amount of energy, and I’ve got to expend it somehow. I always say there are two
things in life that I know how to do — one is to keep house and the other one
is to act.
acting usually takes precedence, so the place is a bit messy at times.”
Adapted from the Washington Post article by Adam Bernstein
I was fortunate to pass by the quietly regal star many times in the theater district going to a meeting or coming from a tribute . She was always immediately recognizable as beautifully dressed and poised, handling spontaneous compliments with grace and dignity .
I will cherish those moments as I would meeting royalty.
R.I.P dear lady