7 Surprising Facts You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Angela Lansbury

Dame Angela Lansbury has entertained audiences for seven decades on stage and screen, including a 12-year stint on Murder, She Wrote. We dug up some lesser-known facts about the star.

At 93, Dame Angela Lansbury is often touted as Britain’s most successful actress. It should come as no surprise, given her seven decades in show business, wowing audiences on stage and screen. She’s shown no signs of slowing down, either—Lansbury is set to play cranky Aunt March in 2018’s Little Women miniseries and filmed a small cameo in the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt.

Born on October 16, 1925, in East London, Angela Brigid Lansbury immigrated to the United States with her family during the Second World War. It was during her stay in New York City that she cultivated her natural talent for performing. Unlike the usual rigors most aspiring actors face, Lansbury had a relatively smooth rise to the top, earning an Oscar nomination for her film debut in 1944’s Gaslight.

Although she continued to work steadily in stage and film throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, it was her role as Jessica Fletcher on TV’s Murder, She Wrote that cemented her status as a British acting icon. The series, which aired from 1984 to 1996, earned a rabid following and kept Lansbury in steady employment for more than a decade. It even helped her land the role of Mrs. Potts, the kindly teapot, in the 1994 Oscar-nominated Disney animated musical, Beauty and the Beast.

We look at some lesser-known facts about the life and career of Dame Angela Lansbury.

1. Global citizen
Lansbury holds not one, not two, but three citizenships. Her passports include England (her place of birth), Ireland (her mother’s homeland) and the United States (her adopted country) as her homes.

Angela Lansbury’s mom, Moyna Macgill, in 1945, one year after her daughter received her first Oscar nomination. Photo: WikiCommons

2. Catching the acting bug
Lansbury’s first spark of interest in acting came at the age of nine after her father’s death from stomach cancer, as performing became an outlet for her grief. In 2014, Lansbury revealed that his death was “the defining moment of my life. Nothing before or since has affected me so deeply.” To help them both cope, her mother, Irish actress Moyna Macgill (pictured above), travelled around doing stage work and ultimately secured Angela her first job in the entertainment industry: her very own nightclub act at the Samovar Club in Montreal where her mother was performing in Tonight at 8:30. Lansbury was 16 at the time, but told promoters she was 19 so she could perform.

Angela Lansbury in a Hollywood publicity still, 1944.

3. The Blitz
In 1940, Lansbury was forced to flee England with her mother and two brothers during the Blitz. The family relocated to the United States, where Lansbury eventually studied acting in New York City.

4. Beginners luck
Lansbury never had to wallow in obscurity: after signing a contract with MGM in 1942, she was immediately put to work, receiving an Oscar nomination for her first feature film, 1944’s Gaslight. Only 17-years-old at the time of filming, Lansbury more than held her own against costars Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten. Her work was acknowledged by the Academy with a Best Supporting Actress nod.

Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur during a 1966 performance of “Mame.”

5. Famous friends
Lansbury counted Golden Girls star Bea Arthur as one of her best friends. The pair first met during the 1966 stage production of Mame, in which they both starred. Arthur passed away in 2009. Lansbury was also a lifelong friend of Elizabeth Taylor (d. 2011) after the two met on the set of 1944’s National Velvet, in which she played Taylor’s older sister.

6. Emmy, She Lost
She holds the record for most Emmy losses, having received 18 nominations—and zero wins!—in 33 years. However, 12 of those 18 noms came for her portrayal of the beloved Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, which aired between 1984 and 1996.

Photo: Steve Parsons—WPA Pool/Getty Images, 2014

7. What a Dame!
In 1994, Lansbury was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1994, and later promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to drama, charitable work, and philanthropy at Windsor Castle. On being made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II, Lansbury said: “I’m joining a marvellous group of women I greatly admire like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It’s a lovely thing to be given that nod of approval by your own country and I really cherish it.”