(Daniel Lewis’s article appeared in The New York Times,. 10/11; via Pam Green; Photo: Angela Lansbury; Ms. Lansbury as Madame Arcati in the 2009 production of “Blithe Spirit” with, from left, Jayne Atkinson, Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett. The role won Ms. Lansbury her fifth Tony.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)
She was a Hollywood and Broadway sensation, but she captured the biggest audience of her career as the TV sleuth Jessica Fletcher.
Angela Lansbury, a formidable actress who captivated Hollywood in her youth, became a Broadway musical sensation in middle age and then drew millions of fans as a widowed mystery writer on the long-running television series “Murder, She Wrote,” died on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 96.
Her death was announced in a statement by her family.
Ms. Lansbury was the winner of five Tony Awards for her starring performances on the New York stage, from “Mame” in 1966 to “Blithe Spirit” in 2009, when she was 83, a testament to her extraordinary stamina. Yet she appeared on Broadway only from time to time over a seven-decade career in film, theater and television in which there were also years when nothing seemed to be coming up roses.
The English-born daughter of an Irish actress, she was just 18 when she landed her first movie role, as Charles Boyer’s cheeky Cockney servant in the thriller “Gaslight” (1944), a precocious debut that brought her a contract with MGM and an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. She received a second Oscar nomination in 1946, for her supporting performance as a dance-hall girl in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
It was a giddy start for a young woman who at 14 had fled wartime London with her mother and had only recently graduated from New York’s Feagin School of Dramatic Art. Ms. Lansbury imagined she might have a future as a leading lady, but, she said in a New York Times interview in 2009, she was not comfortable trying to climb that ladder.
“I wasn’t very good at being a starlet,” she said. “I didn’t want to pose for cheesecake photos and that kind of thing.”