By Meaghan Walsh Gerard
As a small child, I would beg to stay up Sunday nights to watch Murder, She Wrote. I can remember being about seven and actually solving one of the crimes before mystery writer/amateur detective Jessica Fletcher revealed the answer (the bad guy had a red carnation in his buttonhole while everyone else had a white one). It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned about Dame Angela Lansbury’s extensive career far beyond the shores of Cabot Cove.
Her success was quickly followed with The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) with George Saunders and Donna Reed. Lansbury plays the jilted lover and won a Golden Globe for her performance. Check out her singing in this clip:
Lansbury, a native of England, fled with her mother and siblings during the Blitz. Their first stop was Montreal, Canada. Her mother found working a touring show, while Angela sang popular songs at a club. With The Harvey Girls (1946) Lansbury cemented her ability to perform in both dramas and musicals.
My favorite adaptation of the Dumas classic The Three Musketeers is from 1946. It has an all-star cast and Gene Kelly gets to show off his Jackie Chan skills. Angela Lansbury plays the cool, regal Queen Anne in this one.
Throughout the 1950s, she played small, villainous parts on screen, while trying to lay a foundation for a Broadway stage career. In 1962, she was cast in The Manchurian Candidate as the mother of returning war hero Lawrence Harvey (whom she is only 3 years older than in real life). The political thriller garnered her another Best Supporting Actress nomination.
The role gave her enough name recognition to get the role of Mame on Broadway after Rosalind Russell turned it down. During the 1960s and 70s, she would focus primarily on stage performances and starred in Gypsy and Sweeney Todd to rave reviews.
She was introduced to a new generation with Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Playing a no-nonsense witch, she and three evacuated children must protect Britain’s coast from invading German forces. It’s a delightfully whimsical take on a dark subject.
It was humble mystery writer Jessica Fletcher that would bring her to the small screen. Murder, She Wrote debuted in 1984. A slightly nosy busybody who lives in a small town in Maine keeps solving crimes in her neck of the woods. After a while one begins to think everyone in Cabot Cove is dead or in jail, but it’s a fun, cosy mystery series.
Lansbury is an accomplished voice actor as well. She sang the title song as Mrs. Potts for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and played the dowager countess in the animated Anastasia. After a turn in Nanny McPhee and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, it was back to the Broadway and West End stage. Lansbury has hardly slowed down since.
In 2013, she was given an Honorary Oscar Award, having never won any of her individual nominations, and in 2014, Lansbury was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
With her most recent appearance in Mary Poppins Returns, this dame shows no signs of slowing down.
Meaghan Walsh Gerard has been writing about films (especially classic ones) and books (especially gothic ones) for more than ten years on her site. She is obsessed with the art of storytelling and holds a master’s degree in cinema studies. Meaghan has been a DVD Netflix member since 2003. Follow Meaghan at mwgerard.com, on Twitter @mwgerard, or Facebook and Instagram.