Guest Author - Katy Cacolice
A young Angela Lansbury, with theatrical influences of Bette Davis and Irenne Dunne, pursued a career in the arts at the encouragement of her Belfast mother and stage actress Moyna MacGill. Almost immediately after touching ground in Hollywoodland from New York City and scoring an audition with casting director Mel Ballerino at a party, the seventeen year old signed on the dotted line of a studio contract with Metro-Golden-Mayer. The London-native was put straight to work.
Lansbury's on-screen debut was "Nancy Oliver", a conniving cockney maid, in the thriller remake "Gaslight" (1944), starring opposite lead players Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Her wicked performance would garner the first of three Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. The second nod came with the role as a vaudeville songbird, "Sibyl Vane", in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945). "I was put under contract. A major studio. I got nominated for an Academy Award. Isn't that ridiculous? I mean, at the age of 18! " Lansbury exclaimed. Just starting out in Hollywood and the attention-grabbing newcomer was established with "the other girl" image, a role she would carry throughout her most of her film career.
In "The Harvey Girls" (1946), Lansbury was cast opposite MGM box-office leader and singing sensation Judy Garland. In the wild wild west, saloon singer "Em" and Harvey Girl server "Susan Bradley," respectively, vie for the love and attention of the enigmatic town saloon owner, "Ned Trent," played by John Hodiak. Shortly thereafter, Lansbury was cast in such films as "Till the Clouds Roll By" (1946) and "The Private Affairs of Bel Ami" (1947). Cast with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Van Johnson in "State of the Union" (1948), Lansbury plays "Kay Thorndyke," an admirer of a married industrialist "Grant Matthews" (Tracy) who helps him become Republican nominee for President.
When the five-eight blond was not cast as the other woman, Lansbury often portrayed mothers to other players of her own age. Her most notable character is quite possibly "The Manchurian Candidate"(1962), where the future voice of "Beauty and the Beast"'s "Mrs Potts" played the manipulative mother of a war veteran brainwashed into becoming a Communist assassin. Though her character "Mrs. Iselin" is doted to be much older than her son, "Raymond Shaw," in reality Lansbury was only two years older than co-star Laurence Harvey. Lansbury's cold-blooded matron was so convincing she earned a third Academy Award nomination.
"I just stopped playing bitches on wheels and peoples` mothers. I have only a few more years to kick up my heels!" Lansbury once declared. Throughout the years, the highly respected and versatile actress moved away from film intermittently and into the worlds of Broadway and television. On stage and the small screen there were plenty of more accolades and iconic roles, of both supporting and leading nature awaiting, such as "Auntie Mame" in "Mame"(1966), "Mrs. Lovett" in "Sweeney Tood: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"(1979), and mystery writer/amateur detective "Jessica Fletcher" in the suspenseful television series "Murder, She Wrote"(1984).