Even though Angela Lansbury has passed away, she lives on in the hearts of many fans. A few days after her death on October 11, 2022, at the age of ninety-six, the lights on Broadway were dimmed in her honor. Many tribute videos have been posted online. And it’s not difficult to understand why. The actress had nothing short of an illustrious career.
Lansbury’s first role was a part in the film Gaslight at the age of seventeen. Over the course of her career, she would continue to get other roles in films, such as Eleanor Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate, Ms. Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. But she was never cast as the lead. Some of this had to do with the aesthetics of Hollywood at the time (and still today). To those running the film industry, Lansbury was not considered to be attractive enough or desirable enough to play a lead role. Lansbury herself stated that “I didn’t think of myself as being pretty or beautiful, certainly not that. [….] Somebody once said that I had a face like a bread pudding with black widows for eyes.” Another reason for her odd roles in films was, in Lansbury’s own words, because “I don’t think they’ve ever, to this day, really known how to use me. I cannot get arrested in the movie business. I really cannot. I cannot get a job in a movie.” Interestingly enough, Lansbury would not be cast in a lead role until she left the film industry in favor of the stage, creating the lead character in the 1966 Broadway musical Mame. However, when the musical was adapted into a film, Lansbury’s role was given to Lucille Ball.
When Lansbury was in her sixties, she was cast as the lead character Jessie Fletcher in the television series Murder, She Wrote, which ran for twelve seasons. Some people have attributed this role as ‘the one which made her a household name’. Lansbury herself had many fond memories in relation to the character of Jessica Fletcher. In a 1996 interview with 60 Minutes, she described Jessica Fletcher as “a feisty broad. Much more so than I am. She’s nosy, and she’s perceptive. Far more perceptive than I am.” When asked how she went about creating this character, Lansbury stated “[…] I find that male writers, as a whole, don’t know how to write women. Therefore, you have to put that in yourself. And I did. I used to fight and squabble and get on their backs about writing her as a real person.” Despite Lansbury’s passion for the role and the show’s success with audiences, it was cancelled. When Lansbury was asked about this in the 60 Minutes interview, she actually teared up.
Even though she was sometimes dealt bad cards in the film industry, Lansbury remained optimistic. She found roles that enticed her and inspired her, and she fought for them when necessary. Her quiet strength and spark helped propel her forward, so much so that she still wanted to perform when she was in her seventies. When asked about this on 60 Minutes, Lansbury stated, “I really feel that I have as much energy, certainly in the morning, as I ever have had.” That determination, that strength, is quite admirable. And it did not dim with the passing of the years. When Lansbury was given a Lifetime Achievement award in 1997, she stated “I’ve won my Lifetime Achievement award. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. I have no intention of stopping.” For many years, that was true, but the actress did take a step back at certain points in her career. There was even a time when she considered leaving the show business behind entirely in order to put her family first. In the end, her love for performing was too great to be let go of in its entirety. Angela Lansbury continued to take part in films and plays until her death, with her last role being in the film Glass Onion, the upcoming sequel to Knives Out.
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