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Angela Lansbury: Acclaimed star of stage and screen who puts her family first

Dame Angela Lansbury was arguably the most talented and successful British actress of her generation, with an eight-decade career in film, theater and television that has garnered her a multitude of awards.

Her prolific production has spanned more than 50 films – many of them classics such as Gaslight, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Bedknobs And Broomsticks – and a string of Broadway and television successes.

It was her role as crime writer Jessica Fletcher on the hit television series Murder, She Wrote that garnered her millions of fans around the world.

Her 12-year stint on the show, beginning in 1984, was so popular that she became both an executive producer and a star.

The boost to her career from the TV hit as she hit her sixties also gave new impetus to her film and stage work.

Born in London on October 16, 1925, Dame Angela left England as a teenage evacuee to pursue leading roles in Hollywood and Broadway, but despite her seemingly unstoppable success, she was essentially a family man.

It was this devotion to her family that led both Lansbury and her husband Peter Shaw to temporarily give up successful careers in the 1970s to help two of their children overcome drug addiction.

Her grandfather was George Lansbury, leader of the Labor Party at the time of her birth, and her father Edgar, also a staunch socialist, was Mayor of Poplar in London’s East End.

When war broke out, Dame Angela was evacuated to the United States with her mother, actress Moyna MacGill, a flamboyant Irish beauty.

She studied acting in New York and then worked as a saleswoman and in a nightclub, where she made impressions of Wagner singers and comedic actress Beatrice Lillie.

They relocated to Hollywood, where Moyna hoped to find work in films, but it was her 17-year-old daughter who was spotted by director George Cukor when she came along to watch a friend take a screen test at MGM Studios.

Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer signed her to a seven-year contract in 1943, and in 1944 Dame Angela appeared in her first role as Charles Boyer’s maid in Cukor’s film Gaslight, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

The next year, she played Elizabeth Taylor’s older sister in National Velvet, and in the same year received another Oscar nomination for her role as a variety singer in The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

There was nothing of the conventional glamor girl about Dame Angela, and in her early films she rarely played the heroine who got her man, but the filmmakers quickly realized that she was a top-notch character actress.

She used to seem to play the mother of everyone — Elvis Presley on Blue Hawaii, Warren Beatty on All Fall Down, and Laurence Harvey on The Manchurian Candidate, even though he was 34 at the time and just two years younger than her.

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In 1949 she married British-born actor and businessman Peter Shaw, a former friend of Joan Crawford. He died in 2003.

When Dame Angela’s contract with MGM expired, she made her way to New York and had to start all over again at the bottom of the ladder.

Settling in town with her two children, she endured long breakups with Shaw, a theater agent who stayed in Hollywood.

In 1966 she became an overnight musical comedy star with her role in Mame opposite Bea Arthur. The Broadway show earned Dame Angela the first of her five Tony Awards.

Three years later, she got her second Tony for Dear World, before disaster struck her family.

Her two teenage children had become addicted to heroin, and treatment at the hospital and psychiatric facility was unsuccessful. Things came to a head when her Malibu home burned down in 1970.

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