February 17, 2010
"Actors are not made, they are born," says Angela Brigid Lansbury as written in her biography "Balancing Act- The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury," by Martin Gottfried. You've heard her unique voice in many animations such as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, The Last Unicorn as Mommy Fortuna, and The Dowager Empress, Marie in Anastasia. She's often seen in plays or films as a mistress, a sister, or a mother. I not only admire Angela Brigid Lansbury for her hard work, but also because she has had both a very long and successful career; a successful career that came with many challenges and obstacles to overcome, such as family deaths and even having to flee her own country including dealing with the great depression. She has been able to entertain audiences all across the world with her films, live television, voice overs, and her most proud, the stage. Even with these major setbacks in front of her, Lansbury was able to make her way into the world, overcoming all of her trials and tribulations, and make herself known.
The Marvelous tall Angela Lansbury was born in London, England on October 16 of 1925, to Moyna MacGill and Edgar Lansbury. Her mother, Moyna, was the daughter of a well-known solicitor and she became a famous actress herself. Her father, Edgar, was the son of George Lansbury of the Labour Party and member of the British Parliament. Like his father, Edgar also worked in politics for a brief amount of time, eventually becoming the mayor of a small town; however, most of his wealth came from the lumber business. Edgar Lansbury died at the early age of 48 in 1935. Angela was already facing deaths in her family at the young age of 9.
Angela states in an archive interview by Morrie Gelman that the reason she was so intrigued with theater was because she thought her actual life was boring and depressing so being in theater helped her escape from reality. Growing up around the theatre at an early age, Angela’s interest was quickly piqued, but when Angela was 5 years old, her mother gave up on acting due to raising and caring for her four children. While Angela was in school in London she sang in a group class as an Alto and her mother thought it was a good idea to also put her in a dance class in 1939. I believe that this was a great idea since there is almost always some sort of dancing in musicals and it prepared her for her future roles. With her long legs and her dancing determination, she was bound to be a hit. Her mother would later help her get a scholarship at the Webber Douglas School of Dramatic Arts in London by helping with an audition scene from Romeo and Juliet.
According to some cases, Lansbury was born into a very wealthy family. While they were most assuredly rich in England, the rise of World War II caused them to take refuge in America; unfortunately for her and her family, the United States had just been stricken with the Great Depression. Money is a huge problem with starving actors and she was definitely one of them. Once they got to the United States, Angela and her mother worked at a Bullocks Department store until Angela was soon on her own (in addition to taking care of her twin siblings) to search for the work of her destiny meanwhile, her mother went on tour to make some money for the family.
In the fall of 1940, Angela was able to receive a scholarship at the Fegan School of Dramatic Arts in the International building of Rocker Feller Center in New York. She was a part of small productions such as “House Party.” She was then approached by Author Berben, a professional dancer, who thought she had potential so he taught her to act and they worked out an act called “I Went to a Marvelous Party” where she showed off her extraordinary talents that comprised of humor, funny voices, languages, and singing, which scored her her first professional gig, a job in Montreal, Canada for three weeks for $60 a week at a night club at the age of 16. A friend of hers, Michael dyne, took her to MGM studios to be considered for The Picture of Dorian Gray and then asked her to sit for a screen test to study a scene from Gaslight. Although he felt that she was a little too young to play the role granted that Lansbury had the looks of someone much older and mature. Her looks would eventually grant her access to more mature roles later on in a film dealing with War and politics, The Manchurian Candidate as the manipulating mother of Laurence Harvey where she wore regular make up instead of stage make up and was very convincingly much older than she really was. She got many older roles because she not only looked more mature, she acted with a more mature sense of nature. Louie B Mayer saw her screen test and was amazed of her talent and told the company to sign her to a 7 year contract. She was soon enough cast in the film Gaslight as Nancy. It is amazing how, on just her very first film, she received her first Oscar Nomination. Her second Oscar Nomination came in 1946 for her role in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
While in the film business, Angela acquired numerous Golden Globe awards as well as three Oscar nominations as she worked at MGM Studios. She has now been in over 40 motion pictures. She would run in and out of the musical theater rehearsals as much as she could to see Gene Kelly and more. She knew from watching the rehearsals that musical theater is what she desired to do. She always felt that this was a beginning of a long journey. In the 1950's, she liked being on live television better because it reminded her more of theater. Her accent was not much of a problem for her different characters because she was able to lose her accent with a snap. Angela realized her passion was for Broadway and was itching to get there. So she left MGM studios and moved on to New York to Audition for a friend, Director Peter Glenfield, and got cast in her first Broadway show Hotel Party and soon in 1957 won a Tony Award.
What I like about Angela Lansbury is that she doesn't always play the same kind of character in in her many different shows. She is a great variety actress from being Auntie Mame in Mame to Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Her first actual theater show was The Hotel Paradiso which opened on April 12, 1957 at Henry Miller's Theatre and it ran for 6 months. In 1960, She won another Tony in A Taste of Honey by Sheila Delaney in London and was asked to be in the motion picture but decided against it because her character in the play version was never seen and her character was going to be seen in the film and she didn't think she would be able to portray the character correctly. She was later requested to be in a musical when she received a letter from Arthur Laurents in 1963. Anyone can Whistle was the musical and this was her chance to finally be in a musical, which was her dream. Anyone can Whistle opened at the Majestic Theater in New York on April 4, 1964. Angela got her Third Oscar nomination in The Manchurian Candidate in 1963. In 1966, She won a Tony Award in her role of Mame, that opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on May 24, which was what made her known World Wide and a big time introduction to the Broadway Musical Theatre big time. She won yet another Tony in Dear World that was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and Directed by Joe Layton. In the year of 1996, Angela played the role of the charming and most magical character of Mrs. Clause, the television musical which received an Emmy award Nomination. Awards from the of 1957 to 2007 include –Hotel Paradiso, A Taste of Honey, Anyone Can Whistle from Stephen Sondheim that started her on the road to musical theatre, Mame, Dear World, Prettybelle, which closed in only one week, All Over, Gypsy, Hamlet, Counting The Ways and Listening, A Little Family Business, Deuce and of course our favorite, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She now holds the record for the most Emmy nominations without a single win but Angela has accepted Four Tony Awards for “Best Actress in a Musical” in Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Gypsy (1975) and Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979). Some may even argue that Sweeney Todd is the greatest American musical of all time. Angela Lansbury & Len Cariou reprised their original Sweeney Todd roles for Stephen Sondheim's 75th Birthday benefit concert in July of year 2005. In 1971, She was in most enchanting movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, where she plays a majestic witch that puts a magical traveling spell on a bed. Angela Received Three “Drama Desk Award” for “Outstanding Actress” in Gypsy (1975), Sweeny Todd (1979), and in Blithe Spirit (2009). She was nominated for this same award in The King and I but did not win.
Angela obtained her Fifth Tony Award for “Best Supporting Actress in a Play” for Blithe Spirit which opened at the Shubert Theatre in March of 2009, making her the second actress in history to win 5 tony awards. Angela Lansbury is disappointed but she is glad she didn't win the 3rd Oscar nomination because she thinks it will put a “damper” on your career and you don't know what to do next and she believes that it is a sign that she belongs in the Theatre. In 2001, she was announced to be the leading lady in a Kander and Ebb musical called, The Visit, but unfortunately had to quit the show before it opened because her husband’s health was doing very poorly, leading to a heart surgery. Angela says that after 25 years of her absence from Broadway, in Deuce, which she actually didn't have any intentions to come back to Broadway that the play just fell in her lap without making any effort and she couldn't say no. Deuce opened at the Music Bow Theatre in 2007 and ran for eighteen weeks. Angela also wanted to run for “Best Leading Actress in a Play” for Deuce but was beat out by Julia White in The Little Dog Laughed.
Angela Lansbury is now 84 years old and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. Even after losing her parents at a young age and having to deal with tough times during the World War and Great Depression, Angela Lansbury continues to do great work in her career. She recently has starred in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music where she magnificently portrayed Madame Armfeldt. She is teamed up with Academy Award Winner Catherine Zeta Jones who plays Desiree Armfeldt.
Angela Lansbury has had a long, tough, and yet very exciting life. She started in a great place and in my opinion, she will end in a great place. She managed to conquer her goals and was able to swiftly soar to her dreams that she has retained since her childhood. Angela Lansbury says with great Pride and Pleasure - "I've had an incredible relationship with my husband, with my family. I know they've had problems of their own, but we have never wavered in our closeness as a family. I've had a hell of a life."