Angela Lansbury: Biography, Movies & TV Shows

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Did you know exactly what you wanted to do when you grew up? What if it all came true? In this lesson, we'll explore the life and career of legendary actress Angela Lansbury, who has performed on stage, in movies, and television.

Early Years and A Quick Start in the Movies

Angela Lansbury (1925 - ) was born in London and always had an interest in show business. As a child she attended drama school, and sometimes snuck into movie theaters on her way home. Her father died when she was only nine, and the rest of her family emigrated to the United States during World War II, settling in New York City. Young Lansbury, whose mother was a stage actress, knew what she wanted to do with her life and started acting by age 13. She eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she quickly gained notice for her talent.

In 1944, nineteen-year old Lansbury earned an Academy Award nomination with her very first film, the MGM atmospheric thriller Gaslight, where she played an English housemaid opposite Ingrid Bergman. The next year, Lansbury again scored a nomination for her role as a dance hall girl in the movie The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Young Angela Lansbury in a still from her second screen role in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Still from movie Dorian Gray

Quite an auspicious beginning for a young actress! But from this point on, MGM usually cast her in supporting parts, and it seemed that the movie studio didn't know what to do with her. A change in her personal life came in 1949, when, after a brief failed first marriage, she married actor and agent Peter Shaw. (The couple had two children and would be together for 54 years until his death in 2003.)

Through the 1950s and early 1960s, Lansbury continued to make movies. In 1962, she was again nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate. And in 1971, she played a witch in the Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which combined animated characters with live action. Imagine how you would feel, acting with animated fish! But after 1962, she increasingly turned her focus to the stage.

Stage Performances

Lansbury made her Broadway debut in 1957 and began picking up more and more stage roles. She found a freedom on the stage to pursue more satisfying work than what she was getting in motion pictures. In 1966, she got to showcase her singing chops with her performance in Mame, which won her a Tony Award. More Tony award-winning performances followed, for Dear World in 1969 and Gypsy in 1975. And in 1979, Lansbury won another Tony for playing the comically sinister meat-pie making Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim's bloody revenge musical Sweeney Todd.

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