‘Murder She Wrote’ star dies after lifetime of roles on TV, Broadway and movies
Dame Angela Lansbury — who played everyone from a Soviet spy in “The Manchurian Candidate” to mystery author/sleuth Jessica Fletcher on the long-running CBS series “Murder She Wrote” — has died.
She was 96.
Her children announced the London native died peacefully in her sleep at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She would have turned 97 on Oct. 16.
Ms. Lansbury was an acting tour de force, known for her work on stage, TV and in movies. She won Tony awards for her Broadway work, which included “Mame” and ”Sweeney Todd,” and she enchanted children as the voice of Mrs. Potts (the singing teapot) in Disney’s animated 1991 film “Beauty and the Beast.”.
Ms. Lansbury talked to this writer about her career in a 2003 phone interview. At the time, she was appearing in her final outing as Jessica Fletcher in a “Murder She Wrote” TV movie filmed in Ireland. It was subtitled “The Celtic Riddle.”
Ms. Lansbury asked this writer whether it was evident who the killer was, and this writer had to admit he kept changing his mind as the clues piled up and never got it right. Ms. Lansbury seemed pleased by that.
Ms. Lansbury acted in the exterior scenes that were filmed in a village outside Dublin. The interior scenes were filmed at Universal Studios, the longtime home of ”Murder, She Wrote.” Jessica’s home of Cabot Cove, Maine, was actually part of Universal Studios Hollywood’s backlot. The town was around the big pond long used for the “Jaws” portion of the studio tour, and Jessica’s house was actually from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1982), starring Dolly Parton.
Ms. Lansbury, who has a home in Ireland, said she enjoyed making “Murder She Wrote: Celtric Riddle.” But she was glad it was her final outing for Jessica and told this writer she was ready to move on.
”We’ve made four movies since the series (1984-1996 on CBS) closed down, and we were contracted to do four,” Ms. Lansbury said. ”I really, really want to do other things. Before ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ I had an eclectic career between television, theater and movies. But my role of Jessica Fletcher has clinged to me like ivy for the last 19 years
”I had no idea that it would. I thought maybe it would be for a year or two,” Ms. Lansbury said.
She explained why Jessica proved to be so popular.
”I think she’s like every woman. Women can relate to her; men like her enormously,” Ms. Lansbury said. ”She’s not a fool; she doesn’t act like a silly woman. She has so many traits that are attractive. She’s warm. …
”I don’t want to give up playing that type of person, but I want to play other professional women,” she said. ”I don’t want to play an old lady in a retirement home, a part which I’m offered all the time. Why should I stifle all of that energy?”
In recent years, Ms. Lansbury played the balloon lady in Disney’s 2018 sequel “Mary Poppins Returns” and Rose in “Buttons, A New Musical Film,” also from 2018. She portrayed Aunt March in the “Little Women” miniseries in 2017 and had fun playing Mrs. Van Gundy in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” starring Jim Carrey, in 2011.
Ms. Lansbury also played Aunt Adelaide in “Nanny McPhee” (2005), and she guest-starred as Eleanor Duvall on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” also in 2005.
Her big break in Hollywood came in early films such as “Gaslight,” the 1944 psychological drama starring Ingrid Bergman. Ms. Lansbury played the young maid.
After that, she was acting regularly, in everything from “The Harvey Girls” (1946) to “The Three Musketeers” (1948), in which she played Queen Anne. In “The Manchurian Candidate,” she played Soviet spy Eleanor Shaw Iselin, who’s the mastermind behind the brainwashing of an American POW in the Korean War: Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra).
But Ms. Lansbury was mostly known for her more positive characters, such as the one she played in Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971), a movie that combined live action with animation. Ms. Lansbury played Eglantine Price, a role initially offered to Julie Andrews.
In 2013, Ms. Lansbury received a well-deserved honorary Academy Award.