Monday, October 16, 2017

Angela Lansbury, Happy Birthday!

She got three Oscar nominations for outstanding dramatic performances.  She became a top star of Broadway musicals.  She was the star of one of TV's longest-running hit series.  Let's wish an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday!" to Angela Lansbury.  Dame Angela is 92 today.
I am so glad that the Academy had the wisdom and class to award her an honorary Oscar in 2014 for decades of memorable screen performances.  Her excellence stood out in her film debut, so much so that it brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  The film was MGM's psychological thriller, GASLIGHT, the 1944 drama directed by George Cukor.  Star Ingrid Bergman won her first Best Actress Oscar for it.  Lansbury, who had a style and bearing that her seem older than she was, played the saucy maid who was quite ready to please the master of house in any room she could when his Mrs. was away.
She got another Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing a dear but doomed young lady in MGM's 1945 drama, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.
Her third Oscar nomination was again in the Best Supporting Actress category.  She played the malevolent mother in the 1962 political thriller, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.  She burns up in the screen with her brilliance in that role.  To show you what I meant about her having a style and bearing that made her seem older than she was, she played the mother to Laurence Harvey's character in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.  In real life, there was only a three year gap in their ages.
Angela Lansbury and her mother each appeared in a Judy Garland MGM movie.  Lansbury's mother, Moyna MacGill, says not a word and gets laughs in a funny scene set in a diner.  The film is Vincente Minnelli's 1945 love story, THE CLOCK.  This wartime story starred Judy Garland in her first dramatic film and Robert Walker.  The two stars, Keenan Wynn and Moyna MacGill are in the diner scene.  Wynn is a harmless drunk on his verbal soapbox about society and MacGill is a lady eating at the counter who gets a quick flirt from the drunk.

Lansbury was a supporting actress in Judy Garland's Oscar winning 1946 musical western, THE HARVEY GIRLS.  Angela played the "bad girl" saloon singer and manager rival to Judy's "good girl".  Lansbury looks glamorous and has a number, but MGM dubbed her voice.
MGM dubbed her voice in another movie.  In the 1946 all-star musical, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, featuring just about all the A-list MGM musical talent, Lansbury had an English musical hall number.  Reportedly, she pushed producer Arthur Freed to let her sing the number and be heard with her own voice.  Freed let British-born Angela Lansbury do her own singing for that one assignment.

For a Hollywood studio that was famous for being the Tiffany of movie musicals, MGM really dropped the ball on utilizing Angela Lansbury's musical skills.

Broadway would let those skills of hers shine in its hit musical, MAME, the musical version of the hit Broadway and movie comedy, AUNTIE MAME.  This 1966 musical revived, revitalized and renewed Angela Lansbury's career.  She became the brightest star on Broadway, the songs from the shows were being recorded by a top pop singers of the day like Eydie Gorme and Johnny Mathis.  Also, thousands of Angela Lansbury's movie fans were probably surprised to discover that she could sing and dance.  My late mother was one.  She was a big Lansbury fan who loved her work in movies like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, ALL FALL DOWN, DEAR HEART and DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.  Mom bought the MAME original Broadway cast album.

Mom had no argument from me when she put a record full of show tunes on the hi-fi.  Here's a sample of the Lansbury musical talent that MGM and other Hollywood studios overlooked.

The rest is Broadway history.

And can you believe that, starring in the mid 1980s, she would get about a dozen Emmy nominations for Best Actress on MURDER, SHE WROTE...but she never won?  Angela Lansbury should get a special lifetime achievement Emmy.  In my humble opinion.

I saw Dame Angela on stage in Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD.  She was extraordinary.  Come this Christmas Day, Angela Lansbury will be seen in the big, new Disney movie musical, MARY POPPINS RETURNS.

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