Angela Lansbury, back on Broadway


It’s no secret why “Murder She Wrote” was such a big hit on CBS for so long. Credit goes to Angela Lansbury, who has received 12 consecutive Emmy nominations for her role. . . he has never won before! These days, she’s back on Broadway, where she’s won five Tonys — and is up for her SIXTH Tony Award for “A Little Night Music.” “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric chatted with her for this Sunday profile, originally broadcast on December 9, 2009:

Don’t let the wheelchair fool you: Angela Lansbury is as fit — and as fierce — as ever.

And he’s in a familiar place, starring on Broadway in a revival of the Stephen Sondheim classic “A Little Night Music.”

There’s no slowing her down, she’s done three Broadway shows in the past three years.

“Do you ever feel like, ‘Gee, I’ve had an amazing career. I’ve worked my tail off. Am I ready to relax a little bit?'” he asked. Courage.

“The bottom line is, I don’t really know how to relax to the point where I could quit,” Lansbury said. “So when something comes up and it’s presented to me and I think, ‘Gee, I could have fun with that,’ or ‘I think I could bring something to it,’ I do it.”

“Doing it” means Angela will be eligible for a record sixth Best Actress Tony Award. It also means he will be playing eight shows a week at the age of 84.

“I mean, there are times when you walk into that locker room and think, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this.’ And it’s strange: When you sit in front of that mirror and take that first bit of makeup and start applying it – do you see how I immediately go under the eyes? First thing! – and suddenly you transform yourself into that person who is able to go on stage and perform that performance. And you will, and yes, you can. Yes I can! Yes I can!”

For “A Little Night Music,” she transforms each night into the elderly but elegant Swedish matriarch, Madame Artfeldt, a grand dame.

“It was her humor and her joy of life did that interest you?” Courage he asked.

“Well, sure, I thought her history was so interesting. Here was a woman who had been a great courtesan in her youth and had carried the kings of Europe and raised this daughter. Catherine Zeta Jones plays my daughter Desiree.” “

“If only she were a little more attractive!” Courage he jokes.

“I know. Isn’t that a shame? If only—”


“We’re naughty aren’t we?” Lansbury said.

While the industry’s gates have long since closed for most actresses her age, Angela Lansbury—with more than 50 films, dozens of Broadway shows and a major television series under her belt—is still traveling the only highway she’s ever known.

“This is the only thing I’m really good at,” she said, “and I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it my whole life. 14 years old.”

Her Irish mother, Moyna, was also an actress; her English father, Edgar, a timber merchant. The only Lansbury who seemed destined for legendary status was her controversial and charismatic grandfather George, who is clearly better known in England than she is.

“Yes, absolutely true,” said Lansbury. “He was the leader of the Labor Party. He was a great pacifist. And he was definitely a supporter of women.”

But after her father died, Angela’s champion became her mother. Moyna sent her to drama school. . . first in London, then in New York and finally in Hollywood. At 17, she appeared in her first MGM film as a coquettish maid in the 1944 classic “Gaslight.” (left, drive away).

Courage notes that the film’s director, George Cukor, was “appalled” that a woman her age could play such a convincing seductress.

“I know. Isn’t it weird?” Lansbury said. “Because you’d think I’d been around—I’d been around the block, as they say. I wasn’t, you know. I really wasn’t!”

“Glad to hear it,” Courage he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Lansbury replied, blushing.

But playing characters beyond her years has become the story of Lansbury’s life.

Despite multiple Oscar nominations — for “Gaslight” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” — she spent her twenties and thirties hopelessly a mother. . . in “The World of Henry Orient”. . . “Blue Hawaii” as Elvis’ mother. . . and “The Manchurian Candidate” (left, drive away)in which she gives son Laurence Harvey advice that only a loving mother could give (“You’re supposed to shoot the presidential candidate in the head.”).

“That’s what you have to have, the ability to control other characters,” Lansbury explained. “And if you can do that effectively at any age, you’re going to be cast in that role. And I’ve really been cast in that role over and over and over again.”

A lack of imagination in Hollywood made her pack her bags for Broadway. And it wasn’t until she scored a trio of Tonys in “Mame,” “Dear World” and “Gypsy” that things finally took off for Angela Lansbury.

“Did you see Broadway as an oasis away from the limitations imposed on you in Hollywood and somewhat liberating when it came to choosing characters?” Courage he asked.

“Oh, there’s no doubt about it. I felt liberated as soon as I got to Broadway. Those years at MGM — I wasn’t judged as an actress until I got to Broadway.”

Soon after being crowned queen of Broadway for the fourth time in “Sweeney Todd,” Lansbury found herself in television limelight when she played amateur mystery writer Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote.”

“All I needed was a body, you know, a crime, and I was off and running,” she said.

“This is murder, she wrote” (left, drive away) went on to run and run and run… for twelve seasons here on CBS, making it the longest-running detective drama series in history. . . and Angela became one of pop culture’s few older female role models.

“You said, ‘When women get older, they become invisible. They lose their place in society.’ Have you ever felt it? And how could you fight it?” Courage he asked.

“Just by working and doing what I do,” she said, “and I think I only really come alive when I’m working. My whole modus operandi has been work and family, really those two.”

But for Angela, work and family were almost always intertwined. Her husband, former actor Peter Shaw, was also her manager. And when he died of heart failure in 2003, Angela lost both her business and her life partner of 53 years.

“How hard was it to go on and work without him?” Courage he asked.

“It was a huge adjustment period for me to work without him and not have that backup and have that person you can go home to and talk to about it,” she said. “Not having it is the worst part of losing a partner. It really is.”

Angela says it’s all about being busy. . . whether it’s dinner with friends at Joe Allen’s (where we met) or being a spokesperson for the ALS Association – the disease that claimed her sister Isolde’s life.

“We don’t have a cure” for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lansbury said, “but this is the year that ALS is going to be cured.

“It feels good to do something that touches so many people,” Courage suggested.

“Well, it does, it does, and it’s my way of giving back…”

“All the presents you got?”

“Yes. We don’t know how lucky we are until we lose our health. And so many people aren’t ready for that.”

One thing Angela isn’t ready for is retirement. And he still sees his film career as unfinished business.

“I’d like to make one great movie before I go on the road,” she said. “I don’t know what it will be. But I think there’s one out there somewhere.”

If any casting agents are interested, you know where to find her – a place where Angela Lansbury can always call home. . . before the next role comes?

“Until that phone call comes!” she was laughing.

More information:
“A Little Night Music” –


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