"In early television, there were a handful of tremendously successful televisions producers. They wanted real actors who could learn the roles and give a performance with a modicum of rehearsal. We would go to New York and rehearse for two weeks or less and put on a live television show. It required tremendous training to be able to do that. There weren't very many movie actors who could do that."
About This Interview
In her three-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Angela Lansbury recalls growing up in England before immigrating to New York during the London Blitz and beginning her early motion picture career at MGM with such films as "Gaslight" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Her many appearances on live television shows, including: Robert Montgomery Presents, The George Gobel Show, Ford Television Theatre, Your Show of Shows and Playhouse 90 continued to highlight both her comedic and dramatic talents. She discusses her many television movies over the years, her award-winning Broadway successes in "Mame," "Gypsy" and in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and details her involvement as star and executive producer of the popular 12-season mystery series, Murder She Wrote. Morrie Gelman conducted the interview in North Hollywood, CA on September 15, 1998.
Angela Lansbury's importance to television is primarily related to her production and performance contributions in Murder, She Wrote. From its inception in 1984, the CBS broadcast series enjoyed top ten ratings and performed equally well for USA network when it was placed in strip syndication.
As mystery novelist Jessica Beatrice Fletcher, Lansbury initially offered an image of a mature woman living a comfortable, fulfilling life in a stable community of friends in Cabot Cove, Maine. She had often portrayed women older than herself in film and on stage; she was Laurence Harvey's diabolical mother in The Manchurian Candidate although she was only three years his senior. When the television series premiered, the almost-60 year old Lansbury portrayed Jessica as a settled woman who had added professional success to an already complete life. The early years of the series showed Jessica as a secure figure living out the remainder of her life with the status quo--solving mysteries as a diversion.
The balance of traditional values and contemporary change was carefully maintained. Lansbury's Jessica was by no means a militant feminist. She'd been widowed after a long, happy marriage, and her close friends were male. Yet, the fact that she used the androgynous appellation J.B. Fletcher in her writing was often exploited to make subtle comments on differential treatment of male and female authors.
Following the strong lead in from 60 Minutes on CBS Sunday night, Murder, She Wrote was an immediate success and built a strong base of viewer loyalty. The combination of a comfortable lead character, interesting guest and supporting casts, and solid police-procedural scripts provided something for everyone, and the absence of exploitive violence or sexual activity assured that no one was alienated from the program. It was on the basis of this success that Lansbury and her husband Peter Fisher--who received a producer's credit for the series--began to negotiate changes in the series.
Lansbury eventually tired of the series workload and even of the rather dowdy Jessica. Fearing the loss of its strong Sunday night block, CBS agreed to a season which included several Murder, She Wrote mysteries with Lansbury introducing stories but not taking part in the action. When Lansbury returned to a full production schedule, Jessica had changed. Not only was she trimmer and better dressed, she had a New York apartment and a university teaching job. She was more involved in the marketing of her books and the mentoring of young authors. She even traveled abroad and occasionally dated. And she still exchanged visits with her Cabot Cove friends. Jessica had grown up instead of growing old.
Angela Lansbury exemplifies the power of individual influence within the television production/ distribution system. She is closely identified with a role in a well-constructed popular series; she has retained a significant degree of production authority in that series; and she has used her authority to create a satisfying role for herself while providing a valuable image of a mature woman continuing to explore new and interesting personal activities.
Adelson, Suzanne. "Angela Lansbury Has a Message for Older Women." (interview), People Weekly (New York), 7 November 1988.
Alleman, Richard. "She's Conquered Movies, the Broadway Stage, and, More Recently, Television." (interview), Vogue (New York), December 1991.
Allman, Kevin. "Auntie Angela." (interview), The Advocate (San Mateo, California), 22 September 1992.
Bonanno, Margaret Wander. Angela Lansbury: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.
Weinraub, Bernard. "Angela Lansbury Has a Hit. She Wants Respect." (interview), New York Times (New York), 1 December 1991.
ANGELA (Brigid) LANSBURY. Born in London, England, 16 October 1925; came to United States, 1940; became U.S. citizen, 1951. Studied at Webber-Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art, London; Feagin School of Drama and Radio, New York. Married 1) Richard Cromwell, 1945 (divorced, 1946); 2) Peter Shaw, 1949; children: Anthony and Deirdre. Began film career in 1943 as contract player with MGM; broadway debut in Hotel Paradiso, 1957; stage roles include A Taste of Honey, 1960, Mame, 1966, Dear World, 1969, Sweeny Todd, 1979; appeared as Jessica Fletcher in the television series, Murder, She Wrote, 1984-96. Recipient: four Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical; two Sarah Siddons Awards; Woman of the Year, Harvard Hasty Pudding Theatricals, 1977; Theatre Hall of Fame, 1982; British Academy Award, 1991.
1984-96 Murder, She Wrote
1984 The First Olympics - Athens 1896
1975 The Snow (voice) 1982 Sweeney Todd 1982 Little Gloria...Happy at Last 1983 The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story 1984 The Murder of Sherlock Holmes 1984 Lace 1986 A Talent for Murder 1986 Rage of Angels: The Story Continues 1988 Shootdown 1989 The Shell Seekers 1990 The Love She Sought 1992 Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
1989 The First Christmas Snow (voice) 1993 The Best of Disney (co-host)
National Velvet, 1944; Gaslight, 1944; The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945; Till the Clouds Roll By, 1946; The Hoodlum Saint, 1946; The Harvey Girls, 1946; The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, 1947; If Winter Comes, 1947; The Three Musketeers, 1948; Tenth Avenue Angel, 1948; State of the Union, 1948; Samson and Delilah, 1949; The Red Danube, 1949; Kind Lady, 1951; Mutiny, 1952; Remains to Be Seen, 1953; The Purple Mask, 1955; A Lawless Street, 1955; Enjeu de la Vie, 1955; Please Murder Me, 1956; The Court Jester, 1956; The Reluctant Debutante, 1958; The Long, Hot Summer, 1958; Season of Passion, 1959; The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, 1960; A Breath of Scandal, 1960; Blue Hawaii, 1961; The Manchurian Candidate, 1962; All Fall Down, 1962; In the Cool of the Day, 1963; The World of Henry Orient, 1964; Dear Heart, 1964; Mister Buddwing, 1965; Harlow, 1965; The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965; The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, 1965; Something for Everyone, 1970; Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971; Story of the First Christmas, _____( ); Death on the Nile, 1978; The Lady Vanishes, 1979; The Mirror Crack'd, 1980; The Last Unicorn (voice), 1982; The Pirates of Penzance, 1983; The Company of Wolves, 1985; Beauty and the Beast (voice), 1991.
Hotel Paradiso, 1957; A Taste of Honey, 1960; Mame, 1966; Dear World, 1969; Sweeny Todd, 1979.