The Untold Truth Of Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury is one of the most recognizable faces in the entertainment industry thanks to the fact that she's enjoyed a long and successful career as an actress. Speaking with The Telegraph in 2017, Lansbury said, "I feel very lucky to have had the experience of life that I've had. It's never enough, but I have to say thank you." She is a woman who's made her name thanks to her ability to convincingly delve into onscreen drama while also dealing with real (and sometimes shocking) drama in her personal life.

Frankly, the beloved star who you've likely seen in at least one episode of her long-running sleuthy series, Murder, She Wrote, has lived a life that sounds like the plot of one of the shocking fictional mystery stories that she so frequently starred in. Read on to find out the untold truth about the actress who has endured and overcome more life-changing — and even life-threatening — experiences than you could imagine while also entertaining countless fans over the years. 

Angela Lansbury came from a political family

Angela Lansbury may be the most famous member of her family these days, however, when she was young, her grandfather was the well-known public figure among her relatives. From 1932 to 1935, George Lansbury was the leader of the still-existent Labour Party in England. "This was the man who tried to stop World War Two," the actress explained to the Mirror while noting that he was the biggest inspiration in her life. She also opened up about George's final years before he passed away in 1940 at the age of 81. "He went and spoke with the various leaders — Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt. He didn't give up. Many people feel that killed him."

Although it apparently took a toll on George, he wasn't the only one in the family who was active in politics. Angela's paternal grandmother, Bessie, was a Suffragette, while her father, Edgar Lansbury, "was a noted politician," as revealed by Biography. He served as the mayor of Poplar in East London as a communist, eventually passing away when his daughter was nine. Sadly, George's efforts to prevent the war were clearly unsuccessful, however, that fact is why Angela eventually ended up in America.

WWII forced Angela Lansbury's family to flee England

Despite the fact that Angela Lansbury's own family attempted to stop WWII, her family was forced to leave England in 1940 during the international conflict. "The day we sailed from Liverpool, it was bombed," the actress told the Radio Times in 2017. "But we escaped! On a Canadian Pacific Line steamship called the Duchess of Atholl."

Lansbury admitted that her family "didn't really understand how crucial that journey was, or how imminent [their] demise might have been," adding that they were "lucky enough to have an escort of destroyers, weaving around [them], all the way." That fact was devastatingly proven true when, according to the Radio Times, "the Atholl was sunk by a German U-boat in the South Atlantic, killing [four members of] its crew," not long after it had safely taken Lansbury and her family to their new life in the United States.

"It was a huge adventure," Lansbury later recalled. "Can you imagine, coming to America, with the World's Fair on, and we were greeted by the American people with such incredible warmth and friendliness? My mother also happened to be getting out of an unfortunate love affair [to Scotsman Leckie Forbes, a former British Army colonel] and was very happy to be leaving England, for that reason. So, here we were, with a chance for a new beginning."

Angela Lansbury eloped with a much older gay man

Angela Lansbury was married to her second husband, actor Peter Shaw (pictured), for over 50 years until his death in 2003. While she obviously enjoyed a lengthy relationship with Shaw, her first marriage didn't even last a year.

Lansbury eloped in 1945 with a man named Richard Cromwell, who was a fellow actor and had appeared in the 1938 film Jezebel with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda. Lansbury was just a budding 19-year-old starlet at the time while her husband was 15 years older. "I understand younger women marrying older men," she said while talking to the Radio Times. "It's a father — she didn't have the father, and now she's looking for it." Lansbury's own father died when she was nine, so she was likely speaking from her own personal experience.

However, beyond the age difference between Lansbury and Cromwell, there was also a secret issue that doomed the union from the start. "I had no idea that I was marrying a gay man," Lansbury explained. When the relationship fell apart seven months after they had wed, she says, "[I]t didn't injure or damage me in any way, because he maintained a friendship with me and my future husband." Despite that, she still says it was "a shock" that she "wasn't prepared for." She also claims that she doesn't "regret it," but is "sorry for the sadness that it caused him down the road... [when] he realized he couldn't fulfill his function."

Drugs and the Manson family were very real problems

Angela Lansbury and her second husband, Peter Shaw, had two children, Anthony and Deirdre, who faced serious issues that put the family through tough times. In the '60s, both Lansbury's son and daughter were apparently addicted to drugs, including one incredibly dangerous substance: heroin. Speaking to the Express of those times, Lansbury mused, "It was a juggling act. Juggling marriage and children and problems ..."

Per Radio Times, things became even scarier when Deirdre got caught up with members of the infamous Manson family. According to Biography, the Californian "messianic cult" was led by Charles Manson, a man who "prophesied that a race war was on the horizon ... ordering his 'family members' to go on a killing spree." Their actions resulted in multiple murders including the killing of actress Sharon Tate who was pregnant at the time of her death. "Everybody knew about Charles Manson — the family [was] living up there in the hills, you couldn't be a resident and not know," Lansbury told the Radio Times. "God, that was a terrible period."

In the end, Lansbury's family survived the ordeals. "[A]ll those things contribute to building the person you become and the person they become," she admitted to Express.

Why did Angela Lansbury relocate to Ireland?

Angela Lansbury was dealing with her children's problems with drugs as well as her daughter's involvement with the deadly Mason family when she was dealt another serious blow: the family's house burned down in 1970. According to the Radio Times, the actress decided to pack up her family and move them all to Ireland where she had lived briefly with her mother, Moyna MacGill, who was born in Belfast. "I was unable to help my kids so I pulled them out of where they were and put them in a safe place," Lansbury told Express in 2014. "That was the most I could do at the time, because we didn't have the help back then, the places where youngsters could go that they have today."

After settling in Cork, the entire family embraced their new life, which included learning "how to cook and tend to the garden." They stayed in Ireland for a decade, while Lansbury focused on theater roles in London instead of accepting gigs back in Hollywood.

These days, Lansbury still has a home in Cork — in the "beautiful" and "tranquil" Ballycotton area, to be exact — although she did eventually return to America when the time was right.

Plastic surgery and diets? Angela Lansbury has no need

Despite the fact that there's a lot of pressure to appear as young as possible for as long as possible if you work in show business, Angela Lansbury, who was born in 1925, has never had plastic surgery and doesn't diet, according to the Radio Times. "I'm very English in my eating habits. I love a baked potato, that's my absolute fave. And bacon and eggs. And sausages — yes!" Mmm, yes, indeed.

As for Lansbury's youthfulness, the Bedknobs and Broomsticks actress says, "It's genetics. It really is, absolute genetics, yes." Giving credit for that inherited trait to her grandfather George Lansbury, she says that he was the kind of man who "had tremendous energy and stayed on top of everything until the end of his life." That certainly sounds like someone else we know of, no?

The actress addressed her own healthy lifestyle, saying that she walks and "keep[s] moving a lot, by choice." She also admitted that while she does "sometimes find [her]self sitting and reading and knitting and such things," she doesn't like to do too much of that. "You've just got to get up — and get on with it, y'know?"

Angela Lansbury was friends with another Hollywood icon

When you think of The Golden Girls, you surely find yourself reminiscing about the onscreen antics of the four best friends on the show: Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), and Dorothy Zbornak, who was played by beloved actress Bea Arthur. In real life, however, Arthur was also good friends with Angela Lansbury. "Bea Arthur and I first met when we did Mame together in 1965. She became and has remained 'My Bosom Buddy' ever since," Lansbury once said to Entertainment Weekly, referring to the song the duo performed together during the Broadway show's original run.

As for Arthur, she talked to the Independent about Lansbury in 2003. "She was a class act and a real joy to work with. When I first met her I thought I was meeting this patrician, classically trained actor, but she has a mouth like a longshoreman," Arthur revealed. "No kidding. She loved telling dirty limericks. She started in British music hall and taught me 'What Can You Get A Nudist For Her Birthday' and it's really saucy." Oh my!

When Arthur died in April 2009 from cancer at age of 86, Lansbury hosted a memorial service for her friend and released a statement, saying, "I am deeply saddened by her passing, but also relieved that she is released from the pain. ... She was a rare and unique performer and a dear, dear friend."

Over 70 years in Hollywood with more than 100 roles

Angela Lansbury has been in the business for a long time. Her mother, Moyna MacGill, a stage actress, may have inspired her daughter to pursue the same kind of career. When the family settled down in the United States after leaving England, Lansbury earned a scholarship to study drama at the Lucy Fagan school in New York.

Eventually going professional, Lansbury nabbed her first gig in 1944, playing a character named Nancy in the film Gaslight, which starred Ingrid Bergman. From there, she went on to rack up over 100 other credits that include everything from serious dramas to animated classics. Who can forget her as Mrs. Potts in 1991's Beauty and the Beast? She also appeared on shows like Newhart, Touched by an Angel, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, to name a few. Of course, Lansbury's most well-known part is undeniably her starring role on Murder, She Wrote.

"I really can't honestly give any tips beyond hang on to your dream," she once told The West Australian — which is obviously something she knows a thing or two about. "Hang on to what you want, what you feel you want to achieve and go for it. We are all the victims of our own talent and our own shortcomings sometimes, and we have to be aware of those things because they will trip us up and stop us from achieving what our aims are."

Angela Lansbury did Murder, She Wrote 'for the money'

When Angela Lansbury finally returned to the United States after living abroad with her family in Ireland, she took on the starring role on Murder, She Wrote, playing a mystery novel-writing, homicide-solving amateur detective named Jessica Fletcher from 1984 to 1996.

"I did it for the money," Lansbury blatantly admitted to the Mirror in 2016. While others might be ashamed that they let finances guide their creative profession, the actress has a very practical attitude concerning the choice she made. "There comes a time in a theatrical life when you say to yourself, 'Well I can't make any money in the theatre', so television was a very specific decision I made."

Thankfully for the actress, the people behind Murder, She Wrote were looking for its lead at that same time. "When this came on the horizon I thought, 'That's interesting... I think I can make something of this,'" Lansbury recalled. And she certainly did make something of it! These days, she's estimated to have a fortune that hovers around $70 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. It seems like going into television was certainly a financially-savvy decision.

The real crime of Angela Lansbury's award show snubs

Angela Lansbury may have earned fame, fortune, and countless fans over the years, but, as Variety points out, she's also "felt her fair share of awards show snubs throughout her legendary career." Among other snubs, the most notable is the fact that she never earned an Emmy Award for her starring role in Murder, She Wrote, despite being nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series every year from 1985 until 1996 (she's also earned noms for other roles, yet failed to win).

"It p***ed me off! Because I just didn't add up at all in Hollywood," Lansbury admitted to the Radio Times in 2016, years after she left behind her popular show. "Everywhere else in the U.S., Murder, She Wrote was huge, but not in Hollywood — no, no, no, they didn't want to know. I wasn't upset... well, I was upset, really. It rankled me. I can't say it didn't."

Thankfully, Lansbury did take home four Golden Globe Awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Drama Television Series for her work on Murder, She Wrote (as well as two others for Best Supporting Actress for 1945's The Picture of Dorian Gray and 1962's The Manchurian Candidate). She was also eventually inducted into the Emmys Hall of Fame in 1996 and was given an honorary Oscar in 2014, which seems about right when it comes to the kind of industry recognition that she deserves.

Angela Lansbury is 'thrilled to be part of reggae.' What?

Angela Lansbury may be an icon on the television side of the entertainment industry, but she also has a pair of surprising yet super cool connections to the music scene that might surprise and delight you.

"Frank Sinatra and his wife invited my husband and I for dinner. He proceeded to ask me all about the show and how we put it together. It turned out he was a huge fan — I mean, Frank Sinatra!" Lansbury gushed to the Mirror in 2016. That's right, ol' blue eyes who was the king of Vegas-worthy crooning liked to unwind by putting on an episode of Murder, She Wrote. "I was very touched to realize it gave him some sense of entertainment to watch this silly show."

But that's not the only way that Lansbury is connected to the music side of showbiz. Her hit show happened to be the inspiration for "famed reggae duo" Chaka Demus and Plier's 1993 "Murder, She Wrote" song. While the tune has been a favorite on party playlists for years, the actress only found out about it in 2019 and was pretty happy about the situation, telling CBC Radio Q DJ Tom Power, "Oh, reggae. Oh, I'm thrilled to be part of reggae. Of course." Of course!