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A Film by Michael Kantor



Angela Lansbury

An actress and singer who enjoyed a prolific career in Hollywood before blossoming into a star of Broadway musicals in the ’60s. Angela Lansbury’s grandfather was George Lansbury, the legendary social reformer, and leader of the British Labour Party for a time during the ’30s. She was taken to America in 1942 by her widowed mother, a popular actress named Moyna MacGill. After attending drama school in New York, Lansbury received an Oscar nomination for her first film performance in GASLIGHT (1944). It was the beginning of a long career in Hollywood, during which she appeared in several musicals including THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1947), THE COURT JESTER (1956), BLUE HAWAII (1961, as Elvis Presley’s mother), and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971).

Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, the maker of meat pies, in Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd."

For much of the time she played characters a good deal older than herself. From 1957 onwards, Lansbury played several straight roles on Broadway, but it was not until 1964 that she appeared in her first musical, “Anyone Can Whistle,” which had a score by Stephen Sondheim. It only ran for nine performances, but Lansbury’s subsequent excursions into the musical theater proved far more successful. She won wide acclaim, and Tony Awards, for her roles in “Mame” (1966), “Dear World” (1969), “Gypsy” (1974 revival), and “Sweeney Todd” (1979). She also took “Gypsy” to London in 1973. In the ’80s, Lansbury began to work more in television and created the part of the writer-cum-supersleuth, Jessica Fletcher, in the U.S. MURDER, SHE WROTE. The program’s long-term success resulted in her being rated as one of the highest-paid actresses in the world by the early ’90s.

It was not until 1964 that she appeared in her first musical.

Angela Lansbury

Born: October 16, 1925
Key Shows
  • "Anyone Can Whistle"
  • "Gypsy"
  • "Mame"
  • "Sweeney Todd"
Related Artists
  • Arthur Laurents
  • Harold Prince
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Jule Styne
In 1991 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and in the same year, she lent her voice to Mrs Potts, the character that sang the Academy Award-winning title song in the highly acclaimed Walt Disney animated feature BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. In 1992 Angela Lansbury was back to her Cockney roots playing a charlady in the television film MRS ‘ARRIS GOES TO PARIS, and two years later she was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. During the remainder of the ’90s she led the cast in a concert version of “Anyone Can Whistle at Carnegie Hall” (1995), played the title role in the television musical comedy MRS. SANTA CLAUS (1996), and was honored in “Angela Lansbury: A Celebration.” The latter gala benefit was held in November 1996 at the Majestic Theater, the same house that launched her first musical, “Anyone Can Whistle.” Paying tribute were Barbara Cook, George Hearn, Tyne Daly, and a host of other stars from theater and film.

A BIOGRAPHY, Margaret Wander Bonanno.

Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2004 MUZE UK Ltd.

Photo credits: Photofest