Finally she has her Oscar, an Honorary one but still it’s long overdue. This British born actress has had a career spanning eight decades now on screens big and small as well as delighting millions on Broadway and stages around the world. She is a force of nature and deserves to be recognised for her achievements. In our own way we have all grown up with her with Disney from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to Beauty and the Beast, on TV as the suspiciously unlucky J. B. Fletcher in the long running Murder She Wrote and in three Oscar nominated turns on the bug screen. Even my children have enjoyed her performances in Nanny McPhee and Mr Popper’s Penguins.
At the age of fifteen she left these shores to escape the Blitz in 1940 with her parents taking her across the Atlantic to New York where her biggest journey started just a couple of years later. While her Oscar last night recognised her varied performances in films such as Gaslight, National Velvet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Manchurian Candidate and The Greatest Story ever told for many including me it is her stage work that really marks her out as a tour de force of acting. With five Tony awards to her name she is still proving she can top the bill and produce the goods as she finished a tour of Driving Miss Daisy in Australia earlier this year.
Mame, Gypsy, Dear World and Sweeney Todd saw her pick up Actress in a Musical Tonys and only three years ago won another as Actress in a play for her performance in Blithe Spirit by Coward. She has said – even at the grand age of 88 she still wants to perform in London’s West End again soon and I don’t doubt she will with her work ethic and tenacity. I do wonder why she hasn’t been made a Dame to add to her CBE considering the contribution she has made to the Arts over the last seventy-one years – perhaps if you’re reading your majesty you could slip in a nomination!
To many – and for most over the last thirty years – she has been Jessica Fletcher the crime writer with a jinx, constantly discovering murders and mysteries wherever she travels. From Prime time in the 1980s to afternoon entertainment today both her and the show hold a special place in many people’s hearts. I enjoyed the show growing up and even now during the holidays I find myself sitting watching episodes on a rainy afternoon – sometimes just to see all the famous faces who appeared in the show. What the show – and in particular Lansbury herself did – was put an older strong female character front and centre. Today it sounds twee but at the time it was a male dominated schedule and young females only got the occasional lead role; there were no women of a certain age in the lead role and Lansbury fought to form the character in a certain light to rectify this.
She had influence on the portrayal of the character as a single female by ensuring costumes were appropriate and her behaviour and character were true to her own values. She became a trailblazer in a way opening the door for shows such as he Golden Girls to show older woman in the pole position on TV. She also rejected any romantic connections for Jessica as she was a widow and Angela wanted that to be a core part of who she was as a character like so many other women that would be watching the show. A wise and shrewd move that made her a role model and aspiration figure to millions of women especially in the US where she did shows on exercise and life in your “older years”.
Whether in a play, movie, musical, TV show, voicing a character, leading a revolution in Women’s roles in TV or her humanitarian work she is a much underrated woman who is as proud to be British as she is American and we should celebrate her and her achievements more.