Angela Lansbury, Star of Film, Stage and ‘Murder, She Wrote
Entertainment News

Angela Lansbury, Star of Film, Stage and ‘Murder, She Wrote

Angela Lansbury, a formidable actress who captivated Hollywood in her youth, became a Broadway musical sensation in middle age and then drew millions of fans as a widowed mystery writer on the long-running television series “Murder, She Wrote,” died on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 96.

Her death was announced in a statement by her family.

Ms. Lansbury was the winner of five competitive Tony Awards for her starring performances on the New York stage, from “Mame” in 1966 to “Blithe Spirit” in 2009, when she was 83, a testament to her extraordinary stamina. She also received a special Tony for lifetime achievement at this year’s ceremony. Yet she appeared on Broadway only from time to time over a seven-decade career in film, theater and television in which there were also years when nothing seemed to be coming up roses.

The English-born daughter of an Irish actress, she was just 18 when she landed her first movie role, as Charles Boyer’s cheeky Cockney servant in the thriller “Gaslight” (1944), a precocious debut that brought her a contract with MGM and an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. She received a second Oscar nomination in 1946, for her supporting performance as a dance-hall girl in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

It was a giddy start for a young woman who at 14 had fled wartime London with her mother and had only recently graduated from New York’s Feagin School of Dramatic Art. Ms. Lansbury imagined she might have a future as a leading lady, but, she said in a New York Times interview in 2009, she was not comfortable trying to climb that ladder.

“I wasn’t very good at being a starlet,” she said. “I didn’t want to pose for cheesecake photos and that kind of thing.”

It might also have been a matter of bones. Her full, round face was not well suited for the dramatic lighting of the time, which favored the more angular looks of stars like Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn. In any event, she appeared in many a forgettable film before breaking out as the glamorous, madcap aunt in “Mame” on Broadway.

MGM regularly cast her as an older woman, or a nasty one. Of the 11 movies she made after “Dorian Gray,” perhaps her most notable role was in “State of the Union” (1948), with Ms. Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, in which she played a newspaper magnate trying to get her married lover elected president.

With the expiration of her MGM contract in 1951, Ms. Lansbury joined the national touring productions of two stage plays, “Remains to Be Seen” and “Affairs of State.” But when she returned to the movies as a freelance actress, she again found herself cast as either of two types: as she put it, “bitches on wheels and people’s mothers.”

She was Elvis Presley’s possessive mother in “Blue Hawaii” (1961). She was Laurence Harvey’s sinister mother in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), a role that won her a third supporting actress Oscar nomination. (Though she was only three years Mr. Harvey’s senior, her maternal authority was entirely convincing when she told him, “You are to shoot the presidential nominee through the head.”) She played a woman who kills her husband in “Please Murder Me” (1956) and an overbearing mother in “The Reluctant Debutante” (1958). And so it went.

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