Angela Lansbury has enjoyed a career without precedent. Her professional career spans more than half-a-century, during which she has flourished, first as a star of motion pictures, then as a four-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical star, and most recently as the star of "Murder, She Wrote," the longest running detective drama series in the history of television.
Angela Brigid Lansbury was born in London on October 16, 1925. Her father, Edgar Isaac Lansbury, was a timber merchant. Her mother, Moyna Macgill, was a popular actress. At age ten, Angela saw John Gielgud as "Hamlet" at the Old Vic and vowed that someday she would become an actress. She attended the Webber-Douglas School of Dramatic Art in London.
The great influence on Angela's young life was her grandfather, the Right Honorable George Lansbury, a prominent pacifist, and leader of the British Labor Party form 1931-35. "He was a fierce pacifist, and great friend of Gandhi's, yet all his desperate efforts to seek peace came to naught. He went to see Hitler personally. He came to America to see Eleanor Roosevelt. He died in 1940, really of a broken heart."
That same year, in order to escape the London Blitz, Moyna Macgill (who had driven an ambulance during the early days of the aerial Battle of Britain) evacuated fourteen-year-old Angela and her younger twin brothers, Edgar and Bruce, to the United States. (Their father had died when Angela was nine.) Together with 600 other young refugees, they escaped with the last boatload of children to leave the British Isles before German submarines made further Atlantic crossings impossible.
The family lived in Putnum County for a year, during which time Angela commuted to the Feagin School of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. She received her first professional job at age sixteen when she performed a cabaret act in Montreal.
Eventually the family relocated in Los Angeles, where Moyna Macgill hoped to find work in the movies. Instead, it was seventeen-year-old Angela who landed a seven-year contract at MGM after director George Cukor cast her as Nancy, the menacing maid, in "Gaslight." Her cunning performance won her a 1944 Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The following year she received a second nomination, again as Best Supporting Actress, as the doomed Sybil Vane in "The Picture of Dorian Gray." That poignant role earned her a Golden Globe Award.
Lansbury has appeared in 44 motion pictures to date. They include such classics as "National Velvet," "The Harvey Girls," Frank Capra's "State of the Union," Cecil B. DeMille's "Samson and Delilah," "The Court Jester," "The Long Hot Summer," "The Manchurian Candidate" (for which she received a second Golden Globe Award, the National Board of Review Award and her third Academy Award nomination), "The World of Henry Orient" and "Death on the Nile" (a second National Board of Review Award). In 1991 she was the voice of Mrs. Potts in the Disney animated feature, "Beauty and the Beast," and in 1997 she was the voice of the Grand Duchess Marie in the animated movie, "Anastasia."
The actress made her Broadway debut in 1957 when she starred as Bert Lahr's wife in the French farce, "Hotel Paradiso." In 1960 she returned to Broadway as Joan Plowright's mother in the season's most acclaimed drama, "A Taste of Honey" by Shelagh Delaney.
In March 1963, Lansbury told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, "This sounds corny as hell, but I really have an enormous amount of dancing and rhythm in me. This is going to come out one of these days--then watch out. I've never been an entertainer, and I want to be. I've done the acting; now I want to entertain."
One year later, she starred on Broadway in her first musical. "Anyone Can Whistle" closed after only nine performances. But Lansbury returned to New York in triumph in 1966 as "Mame." She played the role for two years on Broadway and later to sellout audiences in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"Mame" earned Lansbury the first of her unprecedented four Tony Awards as Best Actress in a Musical. She received the others as the Madwoman of Chaillot in "Dear World" (1968), as Mama Rose in the 1974 revival of "Gypsy" and as Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" (1979). In 1978 she starred as Mrs. Anna for a limited engagement of "The King and I.
Concurrent with her musical ventures, Lansbury continued to act in serious dramas. In 1971 she returned to London to appear in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Edward Albee's "All Over." In 1975, again in London, she played Gertrude to Albert Finney's Hamlet in the National Theater production. In 1976 she acted in two Albee one-act plays, "Counting the Ways" and Listening," at the Hartford Stage Company. As the actress once told an interviewer, "If you want to keep revitalizing yourself as an artist, you have to go where the work is. That's the way to continue to find new audiences."
She was to find her largest audience on television. Although Lansbury had acted in live dramas during "the golden age of television" in the 1950's in such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents and Lux Video Theatre, when she starred as Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in the 1982 mini-series "Little Gloria...Happy at Last," she had not acted on television in seventeen years. She followed that Emmy-nominated performance with roles in the mini-series "Lace" and "A Christmas Story: The Gift of Love."
From 1984-1996 she starred as Jessica Fletcher, mystery-writing amateur sleuth, on "Murder, She Wrote." In 1992, Lansbury added to her responsibilities by becoming the series' executive producer.
During the past decade she has also found time to star in the motion picture-for-television, "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris" (directed by Anthony Shaw), "Shootdown," "The Love She Sought" and the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, "The Shell Seekers." She developed a video and co-wrote a book, both titled Positive Moves, about fitness and well-being.
After "Murder She Wrote" concluded its twelve season run in May 1996, Lansbury returned to her theatrical roots by starring in "Mrs. Santa Claus," the first original musical for television in four decades.
In 1997 Lansbury appeared in "South by Southwest," the first of a series of two hour "Murder, She Wrote" movies for CBS and has recently completed "The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax," also for CBS.
She has been unstinting of her time with scores of civic involvements, ranging from the American Red Cross to the Salvation Army. As a member of the AmFAR National Council, her energies in the war against AIDS have raised several millions of dollars. Most recently she has become the National spokesperson for Childreach.
In 1982 she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. In 1990 she received an honorary doctorate in humanities from Boston University. In 1992 she received the Silver Mask for Lifetime Achievement from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 1994 she was named a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1996 she was inducted into the T.V. Hall of Fame, and in 1997 she was given a Lifetime Achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild. She has been nominated for 16 Emmy Awards (twelve for "Murder, She Wrote"). She has won six Golden Globe Awards (four for "Murder, She Wrote") and has been nominated for an additional eight. In September 1997 President Clinton presented her with the National Medal of the Arts. In November of 1999, Meadows School of the Arts at Texas' Southern Methodist University presented Angela with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
Angela and her husband Peter were married in 1949. Peter enjoyed a successful career both as an agent at the William Morris Agency, and as a top production executive at M-G-M. In 1972 he resigned to form their own company, Corymore Productions. They have worked together ever since. Angela and Peter have three grown children, Deirdre, Anthony and David and three young grandchildren..