Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Murder She Wrote
Star of stage, television, and the silver screen, Angela Lansbury was born to an upper-class British family. Her father, a lumber dealer, died when Lansbury was nine, and at ten she saw Sir John Gielgud on stage at the Old Vic as Hamlet, and decided by intermission that she would become an actress. At 14, amid the blitz of London, her mother took Lansbury and her twin brothers to America.
She made her professional stage debut as a cabaret dancer at 16, after telling the club’s management that she was 19. She made her Broadway debut playing Bert Lahr‘s wife in the 1957 bedroom farce Hotel Paradiso, and had her first starring role — and her first hit — in the 1960 play A Taste of Honey with Joan Plowright and Billy Dee Williams. She was Broadway’s original Mame, and starred in New York productions of The King and I with Yul Brynner, as Gypsy Rose Lee‘s mother Mama Rose in Gypsy, and as the baker of human meat pies in Sweeney Todd. She won four Tonys over her stage career, winning every time she was nominated. She has been Oscar-nominated three times and Emmy-nominated a remarkable 18 times, and never won either award.
Priceless Video Clip of Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur performing, “Bosom Buddies” from the Broadway Musical, “Mame”
Her widest fame came on television as Jessica Fletcher, the retired English teacher who became a best-selling mystery writer, with a hobby of solving murders on Murder, She Wrote. Over a dozen seasons and hundreds of episodes, Fletcher was suspiciously always in the vicinity when murder most foul was committed, and the show became a haven for old-time movie and TV stars from Linda Blair to Cesar Romero. In very special episodes she traveled to England to assist the Scotland Yard, and to Hawaii to hobnob with Tom Selleck‘s Magnum, PI, and after the series was cancelled Lansbury returned as Fletcher in several made-for-TV movies.
Lansbury has said that her only regret is that she never had the opportunity to star in films, but she was occasionally a movie star, and turned in some unforgettable supporting roles. In her film debut at age 19, she played the Cockney, saucy maid in the haunting thriller Gaslight with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, and in the classic National Velvet she played 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor‘s older sister. In the 1945 film of Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray with George Sanders, she played his the music hall singer who became his first conquest. In many of her films while under contract to MGM she played the other woman, the star’s best friend, the nagging wife, and other characters that offered little to an actress. In the original Manchurian Candidate she played Laurence Harvey‘s deliciously wicked mother, and she was undoubtedly the star of Disney’s delightful Bedknobs and Broomsticks as an apprentice witch who dazzles young children and dances in mid-air with David Tomlinson. She had the nominal lead as the detective Miss Marple in the all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie‘s The Mirror Crack’d, and she voiced the teapot, Mrs. Potts, in Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast — and sang the movie’s Oscar-winning theme song.
Angela Lansbury & Len Cariou reprise their original Sweeney Todd roles for Stephen Sondheim’s 75th Birthday benefit concert. Some minor flubbing, and Len Cariou does not have the voice he once had, but an absolutely charming performance. July 8, 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
A benefit concert for Children Will Listen, a program of the ASCAP Foundation.
Lansbury’s genealogy features numerous notable names. The family’s show business tradition began with her great-uncle, Robert Mantell, a Broadway producer and star from the 1880s to the 1920s, who performed with Ethel Barrymore. Lansbury’s mother was Moyna MacGill, a successful actress on the London stage and star of several silent films in the early 1920s. MacGill’s first husband, before she married Lansbury’s father, was movie director Reginald Denham, best known for directing Vivien Leigh‘s pre-Gone With the Wind comedy The Village Squire, and writing the thriller Ladies in Retirement starring Ida Lupino and Elsa Lanchester. MacGill and Denham’s daughter Isolde Denham, Lansbury’s half-sister, married actor Peter Ustinov and spawned well-known British stage actress Tamara Ustinov. After her children were grown, Lansbury’s mother resumed her acting career, mostly appearing in small roles as eccentric Englishwomen in films from the 1944 Jane Eyre with Joan Fontaine to My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, and she appeared on Broadway in the 1954 production of The Boy Friend with Julie Andrews.
Her brother is Bruce Lansbury, the long-time Hollywood producer of enjoyably fluffy TV shows such as The Wild Wild West with Robert Conrad, Mission: Impossible with Peter Graves, Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter, and Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff. Bruce Lansbury’s twin, Edgar Lansbury, is a very successful stage producer whose biggest hits include the original New York production of Godspell and the Broadway debut of The Subject Was Roses with Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen. He also produced the feature films based on both plays, and won a Tony for The Subject Was Roses.
Lansbury’s first husband was actor Richard Cromwell, who played Henry Fonda‘s brother in Jezebel with Bette Davis, and was one of the boys defended by Fonda’s Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr Lincoln. Their marriage fizzled, and Lansbury later said she never knew he was bisexual until they were divorced. Her second marriage was to then-struggling actor Peter Shaw, who had his biggest success with a supporting role in the 1939 film Sons of the Sea with Kay Walsh, and had a tiny role in Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. After marrying Lansbury, he became a top executive at William Morris Talent Agency, and was later credited as producer of Murder, She Wrote.
Her son, Anthony Shaw, is an erstwhile actor who had tiny roles in numerous films in the 1970s and ’80s, and has worked as a director, exclusively in projects starring Angela Lansbury. Her daughter, Angela Battarra, is a chef and co-owner of the Enzo & Angela Italian restaurant on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. Her stepson David Shaw is a TV producer whose credits include the 1960s TV western Shane starring David Carradine, and his stepmother’s Christmas telefilm Mrs Santa Claus.
Lansbury’s nephew is actor David Lansbury, who had supporting roles in films from Gorillas in the Mist with Sigourney Weaver to Michael Clayton with George Clooney, and is married to actress Ally Sheedy. Lansbury’s cousin, Oliver Postgate, is beloved in England as the creator of popular children’s programs including Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, and The Clangers. His SmallFilms productions have been staples of British television since the 1950s, and even 25 years after production ceased on Bagpuss, it was named the most popular children’s program of all time in a 1999 UK survey. Felicia Lansbury, another cousin, has worked occasionally as an actress, and was a backstage assistant for Penn & Teller.
Her grandfather, George Lansbury, served in Britain’s Parliament, led the Labour Party, championed the women’s suffrage movement, and founded the socialist newspaper The World in London in 1912. Later renamed The Herald and still later The Sun, it is now a tabloid of little journalistic reputation published by Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp.
Father: Edgar Isaac Lansbury (lumber merchant, b. 1883, d. 1934 cancer)
Mother: Charlotte Lillian McIldowie (“Moyna MacGill”, actress, b. 10-Dec-1895, d. 25-Nov-1975 cancer)
Brother: Edgar Lansbury (stage and film producer, twin, b. 12-Jan-1930)
Brother: Bruce Lansbury (television producer, twin, b. 12-Jan-1930)
Sister: Isolde Denham (half sister, married actor Sir Peter Ustinov d. 1987 motor neurone disease)
Husband: Roy Radabaugh (“Richard Cromwell”, b. 8-Jan-1910, m. 27-Sep-1945, div. Aug-1946, d. 11-Oct-1960)
Husband: Peter Pullen (“Peter Shaw”, b. 24-Jun-1918, dated 1947-49, m. 12-Aug-1949, d. 29-Jan-2003, heart failure)
Son: Anthony Peter Shaw (TV director, b. 7-Jan-1952)
Daughter: Deirdre Angela Shaw Battarra (chef, b. 26-Apr-1953)
Son: David Shaw (TV producer, Peter Shaw’s son from his first marriage, b. 1944, adopted by Lansbury)
High School: Webber-Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art, London, UK (left school for America)
University: Feagin School of Drama and Radio, New York, NY (1942)
amfAR National Council
Commander of the British Empire honorary
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6623-1/2 Hollywood Blvd. (motion pictures)
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6259 Hollywood Blvd. (television)
Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses 1993
Kennedy Center Honor 2000
National Medal of Arts 1997
Tony 1966 for Mame (lead actress, musical)
Tony 1969 for Dear World (lead actress, musical)
Tony 1975 for Gypsy (lead actress, musical)
Tony 1979 for Sweeney Todd (lead actress, musical)
Edgar Allan Poe Award Raven Award (1988)
Naturalized US Citizen 1951
Hip Replacement Surgery 1994
Knee Replacement 14-Jul-2005
Murder, She Wrote Jessica Fletcher (1984-96)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Nanny McPhee (21-Oct-2005)
The Blackwater Lightship (4-Feb-2004)
Fantasia 2000 (17-Dec-1999) Herself
Anastasia (21-Nov-1997) [VOICE]
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (11-Nov-1997) [VOICE]
Mrs. Santa Claus (8-Dec-1996)
Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris (27-Dec-1992)
Beauty and the Beast (13-Nov-1991) [VOICE]
The Shell Seekers (3-Dec-1989)
The Company of Wolves (15-Sep-1984)
The Pirates of Penzance (18-Feb-1983)
The Last Unicorn (19-Nov-1982) [VOICE]
Little Gloria: Happy at Last (24-Oct-1982)
Sweeney Todd (12-Sep-1982)
The Mirror Crack’d (19-Dec-1980)
The Lady Vanishes (1979)
Death on the Nile (30-Oct-1978)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (11-Nov-1971)
Something for Everyone (22-Jul-1970)
Mister Buddwing (15-Jul-1966)
The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (26-May-1965)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (15-Feb-1965)
Dear Heart (2-Dec-1964)
The World of Henry Orient (19-Mar-1964)
The Manchurian Candidate (24-Oct-1962)
All Fall Down (11-Apr-1962)
Blue Hawaii (22-Nov-1961)
A Breath of Scandal (16-Dec-1960)
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (22-Sep-1960)
Season of Passion (1959)
The Reluctant Debutante (14-Aug-1958)
The Long, Hot Summer (3-Apr-1958)
Please Murder Me (Mar-1956)
The Court Jester (27-Jan-1956)
A Lawless Street (15-Dec-1955)
The Purple Mask (15-Jun-1955)
Remains to be Seen (15-May-1953)
Kind Lady (20-Jun-1951)
Samson and Delilah (31-Oct-1949)
The Red Danube (22-Sep-1949)
The Three Musketeers (20-Oct-1948)
State of the Union (30-Apr-1948)
Tenth Avenue Angel (20-Feb-1948)
Till the Clouds Roll By (5-Dec-1946)
The Harvey Girls (18-Jan-1946)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1-Mar-1945)
National Velvet (14-Dec-1944)
Alternate Bio Info
Angela Brigid Lansbury, CBE (born 16 October 1925) is an English actress and singer whose career has spanned eight decades. Her first film appearance was in Gaslight (1944) as Ingrid Bergman‘s conniving maid, for which she received her first Academy Award nomination. Among her other films are The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) and Beauty and the Beast (1991).
She expanded her repertoire to Broadway and television in the 1950s, and she was successful in Broadway productions of Mame, Gypsy (revival), and Sweeney Todd. She is best-known to many for her television role as mystery writer Jessica Fletcher on the long-running U.S. television series Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996). She most recently appeared on Broadway in a revival of Blithe Spirit as Madame Arcati, for which she won her fifth Tony at the age of 83, tying her with Julie Harris‘s record for most Tony wins. Lansbury has been appearing since December 2009 in a well-received revival of Stephen Sondheim‘s A Little Night Music as Madame Armfeldt (for which she has been nominated for a Tony as well). The production stars Catherine Zeta-Jones. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “A Little Night Music” this past January. Angela was superb! -The whole cast was great. Definitely one of the top 10 musical performances I have ever seen.
Lansbury has won five Tony Awards, six Golden Globes, and has been nominated for numerous other industry awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress on three occasions, and eighteen Emmy Awards
Angela Brigid Lansbury was born in Poplar, London, England,[dead link] to Belfast-born actress Moyna MacGill and Edgar Lansbury, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and former mayor of the London borough of Poplar. Her paternal grandfather was the Labour Party leader George Lansbury. She is the elder sister of producer Edgar Lansbury and a cousin of the late English animator and puppeteer Oliver Postgate (another grandchild of George Lansbury). Her cousin, the academic Coral Lansbury, was the mother of former Australian federal Opposition Leader and noted republican Malcolm Turnbull.
Her earliest theatrical influences were the teenage coloratura Deanna Durbin, screen star Irene Dunne, and Lansbury’s mother, who encouraged her daughter’s ambition by taking her to plays at the Old Vic and removing her from South Hampstead High School for Girls in order to enroll her in the Ritman School of Dancing and later the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
Following her father’s death from stomach cancer, her mother became involved with a Scotsman named Leckie Forbes, and the two merged their families under one roof in Hampstead. A former colonel with the British Army in India, Forbes proved to be a jealous and suspicious tyrant who ruled the household with an iron hand. Just prior to the German bombing campaign of London, Lansbury’s mother was presented with the opportunity to take her children to North America, and under cover of dark of night they fled from their unhappy home and sailed for Montreal; from there they headed to New York City. When her mother settled in Hollywood following a fund-raising Canadian tour of a Noel Coward play, Lansbury (and later her brothers) joined her there.
“Beauty and the Beast”
Lansbury worked at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles. At one of the frequent parties her mother hosted for British émigré performers in their Laurel Canyon home, she met would-be actor Michael Dyne, who arranged for her to meet Mel Ballerino, the casting director for the upcoming film adaptation of Oscar Wilde‘s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ballerino was casting Gaslight (1944) as well, and he offered her the part of Nancy Oliver, Ingrid Bergman‘s conniving maid, which was her first film role. Appearing with Bergman and Charles Boyer, Lansbury was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and the following year gained another nomination for her heartbreaking performance as the doomed Sibyl Vane, opposite Hurd Hatfield, in the 1945 film version of Oscar Wilde‘s classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
On Broadway, Lansbury received good reviews from her first musical outing, the short-lived 1964 Stephen Sondheim musical Anyone Can Whistle, which co-starred Lee Remick. In 1966, she was offered the title role in what would become the enormously successful Mame, Jerry Herman‘s musical adaptation of the novel and subsequent film Auntie Mame, which had starred Rosalind Russell. Mame opened at the Winter Garden Theater in May 1966 and Lansbury received her first Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Additionally, Lansbury’s recording of the play’s song “We Need a Little Christmas” has become widely popular, and receives substantial airplay each Christmas. Lansbury won her second Tony Award for her performance in Dear World (1969).
In May 1973, the first revival of Gypsy opened in London’s West End and played for 300 performances. Lansbury played Rose, the infamous stage mother (originated on Broadway by Ethel Merman). In September 1974, the same production opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. Lansbury received her third Tony for her performance in Gypsy. In her acceptance speech, she thanked Ethel Merman for creating the role of Rose in the original 1959 production.
Lansbury starred as Mrs. Lovett in the original 1979 production of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical thriller Sweeney Todd. She starred opposite Len Cariou who played the title role, and later played the role in the first U.S. tour (1982) which was recorded for television while playing in Los Angeles. She won another Tony Award for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett.
n 1971, Lansbury was cast in the title role in the musical Prettybelle. After a difficult rehearsal period, the show opened to brutal reviews in Boston, where it closed within a week. In 1982, a recording of the show was released by Varese Sarabande which included most of the original cast, and Lansbury’s 11 o’clock number “When I’m Drunk, I’m Beautiful” along with “You Never Looked Better”, a song removed early in the run.
Lansbury returned to Broadway for the first time in twenty-three years in Deuce, a play by Terrence McNally, co-starring Marian Seldes. The play opened at the Music Box Theatre in May 2007 in a limited run of eighteen weeks. Lansbury received a Tony Award nomination in the category of Best Leading Actress in a Play for her role in this production.
In October 2008, she was cast as Madame Arcati in the revival of Blithe Spirit, which opened at the Shubert Theatre in March 2009. The New York Times praised her performance, for which she won numerous awards, including the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play (her fifth win).
Lansbury currently stars as Madame Armfeldt alongside Catherine Zeta Jones in the first Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, which opened on December 13, 2009 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. She will leave the show on June 20, 2010. For her performance as Madame Armfeldt, Lansbury received a 2010 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in A Musical.
Lansbury has enjoyed a long and varied career, often in roles older than her actual age, appearing in such films as The Harvey Girls (1946) (when she was 19 and playing a much older character), Till the Clouds Roll By, Samson and Delilah (1949) and Disney‘s Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). She appeared on the NBC drama The Eleventh Hour as Alvera Dunlear in the 1963 episode “Something Crazy’s Going on in the Back Room” and had a prominent supporting role in the film The Manchurian Candidate (1962) in which she portrayed the invidious Mrs. Iselin. She received acclaim for her performance and received several industry awards, as well as an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category. (Lucille Ball had been considered for the role; a decade later, Ball coincidentally landed the title role in the film version of Mame, the role Lansbury had created on Broadway.) Lansbury also starred in several dramas before and during her Broadway success, including The World of Henry Orient (1964) and Something for Everyone (1970).
Lansbury’s popularity from and association with Mame on Broadway in the 1960s had her very much in demand everywhere in the media. Ever the humanitarian, she used her fame as an opportunity to benefit others wherever possible. For example, when appearing as a mystery guest on the popular Sunday night CBS-TV show What’s My Line?, she made an impassioned plea for viewers to contribute to the 1966 Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraising drive, chaired by Jerry Lewis.
After many years performing on Broadway and in the West End, Lansbury returned to film in Death on the Nile (1978), and portrayed Agatha Christie‘s sleuth, Miss Marple, in The Mirror Crack’d (1980). She began doing character voice work shortly thereafter in animated films such as The Last Unicorn (1982) and Anastasia (1997); her most famous voice work is the singing teapot Mrs. Potts in the Disney film Beauty and the Beast (1991), in which she performed the title song. She reprised the role for its midquel and the video game Kingdom Hearts II (2006). Lansbury made her first theatrical film appearance since The Company of Wolves (1984) as great aunt Adelaide in Emma Thompson‘s Nanny McPhee in 2005.
Lansbury has won every Tony Award for which she has been nominated except the nomination for Deuce in 2007, but has not been the recipient of an Academy Award or an Emmy Award. She has been thrice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; she reflected on these losses in 2007 and stated that she was at first “terribly disappointed, but subsequently very glad that [she] did not win” because she believes that she would have otherwise had a less successful career. Lansbury has received eighteen Emmy Award nominations, and holds the record for the most losses by a performer, twelve of which as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. However, she has received several other prominent awards, including the Golden Globe, and was tied with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep for most Golden Globe Award wins with six each until Streep won her seventh in 2010.
In 1983, Lansbury starred opposite Laurence Olivier in a BBC adaptation of the Broadway play, A Talent for Murder, which she described as “a rushed job” in which she participated solely to work with Olivier. Subsequent to this performance, Lansbury continued to work in the mystery genre, and achieved fame greater than at any other time in her career as mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher on the U.S. television series Murder, She Wrote (1984—1996). It became one of the longest-running detective drama series in television history and made her one of the highest paid actresses in the world. She assumed ownership of the series in 1991 and acted as executive producer from that season onward.
In 1945, Lansbury married American actor Richard Cromwell when he was 35 and she was 19. Unbeknownst to her, Cromwell was bisexual (some sources suggest he was gay), and the marriage dissolved after a year, but the two remained friends.
In 1949, Lansbury married British-born actor and businessman Peter Shaw, who was a former boyfriend of Joan Crawford. Shaw was instrumental in guiding and managing Lansbury’s career. They were married for 54 years until his death in January 2003.
Lansbury is the mother of two, stepmother of one, and a grandmother several times over. In an interview with Barbara Walters, Lansbury revealed a firestorm that destroyed the family’s Malibu home in September 1970 was a blessing in disguise, as it prompted a move to a rural area of County Cork in Ireland, where her children were separated from the hard drugs with which they had been experimenting. Her daughter, Deirdre, had reportedly been briefly involved with the Manson Family. Her son Anthony Shaw, after a brief fling with acting, became producer/director of Murder, She Wrote and currently is a television executive and director. Her daughter and son-in-law, a chef, are restaurateurs in West Los Angeles.
Lansbury’s half-sister Isolde was married to Peter Ustinov for some years but divorced in 1946. Lansbury and her former in-law Ustinov appeared together professionally once in Death on the Nile (1978). Lansbury is related by marriage to actress Ally Sheedy, wife of her nephew David Lansbury. Both her brothers, twins Bruce and Edgar, are successful theater producers: Edgar Lansbury, Jr. was instrumental in bringing Godspell to Broadway and Bruce Lansbury was a television producer for such shows as The Wild Wild West and Mission: Impossible.
Lansbury was a long-time resident of Brentwood, California, where she supported various philanthropies. In 2006, she moved to New York City, purchasing a condominium at a reported cost of $2 million. The following year, she returned to Broadway in Deuce, opposite Marian Seldes.