Since then, Lansbury has forged a career that defies logic. In her first two years of work, she received two Oscar nominations for supporting actress. At the age of 41 she became a musical comedy star with “Mame”. At 59 she became a TV star with “Murder, She Wrote”. At this age, most actresses cannot find work. She was one of the most powerful women in the television industry for the show’s twelve years. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment: Though powerful women were sometimes vicious, it was thought that you had to be heartless to survive in showbiz. Lansbury has built a 77 year career and no one has a bad word to say about it.
Lansbury, who will turn 95 on Friday (she was born October 16, 1925), is best known for CBS’s “Murder, She Wrote” (1984-1996), but movie buffs will remember her wide-ranging acting from the poisonous mother im 1962 “The Manchurian Candidate” to the voice of the friendly Mrs. Potts in “Beauty & the Beast” (1991). Theater lovers fondly remember her work on Broadway and in the West End (“Mame”, “Gypsy”, “Sweeney Todd”).
Her awards include three Oscar nominations and the 2014 Honorary Oscar; 18 Emmy Commandments; 15 Golden Globe nouns (six winners); Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA; five Tony Award wins out of seven nominations; and the 2000 Kennedy Center Honors. She was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2014) and inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and the Emmy Hall of Fame.
As early as 1943 MGM had set up big stars (Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten) for “Gaslight”, but had problems casting the grumpy but flirtatious maid Nancy. Co-scriptor John Van Druten met Lansbury by chance; She worked at Bullock’s department store, the teenage daughter of British actress Moyna MacGill, a widow who was evacuated to the United States with her family during the London Lightning bolt. Van Druten saw something in Lansbury and arranged a screen test the next day. Two days later, the film’s director, George Cukor, cast her.
In the book “On Cukor” the director said: “On the first day of shooting, although she was only 17 years old and had no experience, she was immediately professional. She became that little housemaid – even her face seemed to be changing. All of a sudden I was watching a real movie. ”
Her work earned her an MGM contract and her first Oscar nomination. Her second nomination came the following year for “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. She has worked steadily in films such as “National Velvet”, “The Three Musketeers”, “The Harvey Girls”, “Samson and Delilah” and “State of the Union”. Always good, but always the daughter of stars like Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Hedy Lamarr, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
In 1945 when she was 20 years old diversity the actress wrote “Don’t wait until she’s older to make a name for herself as a character actress … She currently plays a woman in her thirties in” The Harvey Girls, “while she also starred in” The Picture of Dorian Gray ” elderly person. ”
Most film roles have not used her talent enough, so she found more variety on radio, television and on stage and made her Broadway debut in 1957 in the French farce “Hotel Paradiso”.
At 36, she played the mother of 26-year-old Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii” (1961); the following year she played Laurence Harvey’s mother in The Manchurian Candidate, even though she was only three years older than him. That achievement earned her a third Oscar nomination and remains one of Hollywood’s most memorable displays of cold ambition and creepy motherly love. Vincent Canby in diversity heaped praise that describes the character as “scheming, caustic, moving and diamond hard”.
Another notable breakthrough came in 1966 when she wowed Broadway as a musical comedy actress in “Mame” and played the traditional and loving woman who raises her orphaned nephew. The theater offered Lansbury a wider range of leading roles over the next 50 years, including Mama Rose in “Gypsy” (first in 1973 in the West End, followed by Broadway), the murderess Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” Gertrude to Albert Finney’s “Hamlet” and with Peggy Ashcroft in Edward Albee’s “All Over” for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In the midst of her frequent film and television work, she kept returning to the stage, most recently in 2015 when she revived “Blithe Spirit” at the age of 89. Her name was almost a guarantee of box office success on Broadway, in the West End, or in regional theaters.
“Murder, She Wrote”, created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link, was offered to “All in the Family” star Jean Stapleton, who turned it down. With Lansbury as the mysterious writer Jessica Fletcher, the series debuted with good reviews in September 1984, and two months later Lansbury cautiously told People magazine, “It looks good, but we’ll see if it lasts for the year.”
That remains the character she has identified most closely with, and while she has been Emmy nominees for Murder every year, she never won – the role wasn’t flashy enough. But Jessica Fletcher became a role model, a strong older woman who remained single. The character used only a fraction of her talent, but the show relied on Lansbury’s intelligence, integrity, and warmth that no actress can fake. The audience reacted to that. Although there were clever mystery plots, with loads of guest stars every week, the series rested right on Lansbury’s shoulders.
Lansbury became one of the highest paid television actors, taking on the role of executive producer through Corymore Prods for the last five years of the show. with husband Peter Shaw. She quietly and peacefully increased her control over the series that CBS and Universal TV were happy to give her; diversity outlined her clout on December 10, 1993 when she agreed to another season of the show. The series lasted 12 years and 264 episodes, followed by several telefilms that ran through 2003.
Her brother Edgar is in the business as well as her late brother Bruce Lansbury. Her son Anthony Shaw works as a director.
And through all of this, she has always taken the time to work for charities like the Actors Fund. It’s hard to imagine that other Cinderellas would do so much with their options.
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