|This week's star appeared a long while ago in these pages, singing with her bosom buddy Bea Arthur. Here's a peek at an earlier musical appearance.|
Our newest Dame had some early success in Hollywood, snagging juicy roles in two MGM films back to back. Both Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray are better known today than when they were first released back in the early 40s, but Angela earned Oscar nominations for both pictures.
The majority of her film career, at the time, though, was comprised of small supporting roles which annoyed the heck out of our gal. The Three Musketeers and National Velvet are among her films of the period, but the rest of her performances during the 40s were in movies we don't remember today. Though throughout her career she made a relative buttload of theatrical films, we remember only a handful, including another Oscar nominated turn as the politically manipulative Mother From Hell in The Manchurian Candidate.
|Bedknobs and Broomsticks earned the|
Oscar for Special Effects, but did not
measure up to Mary Poppins.
|Mame, Mrs. Lovett, Jessica|
Fletcher, and a teapot. She's a
Dame with Range.
Disney and Lansbury had much, much better luck together with Beauty and the Beast, the animated blockbuster which became the first cartoon to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. Our gal introduced the title song, which won the Oscar and became an international bestseller.
This week's Dance Party comes from one of those forgettable films of Angela's early career, and though she is singing and dancing in this one, her musical talents had been forgotten by the early 60s.
|Stephen Sondheim's most prestigious|
failure remains 1964's Anyone Can Whistle,
in which Angie played a corrupt mayor.
It was a surprise to everybody that she could handle the leading role in a Broadway musical; unfortunately, her first foray into theatrical musical comedy was in the notorious flop Anyone Can Whistle.
|Angela was a smash as Mame; sadly, only grainy|
clips of her performance remain. But on her 84th
birthday, she appeared in this Dance Party,
filmed while she was packing houses on Bway;
it gives a good indication of what her
Mame must have been like.
Lansbury emerged from that debacle unscathed; when she turned in a stellar performance in Mame, she cemented her reputation as a musical star. Back to back Tonys, for Mame and Dear World, followed. She was to win two more Tonys for musical roles, and I was privileged to see her in both.
When I was 17, a group from my high school in Atlanta spent three weeks touring Europe, devoting the first full week to seeing London's sights.
|Other than Roz Russell in the film, this|
was the first time I ever saw Mama
That included a trip to Stratford to see some Shakespeare. We saw As You Like It, set in a forest made of chiffon, and Timon of Athens, set among a motorcycle gang. Things were a little more palatable in the West End, where we caught Angela Lansbury taking Rose's Turn in Gypsy. Our dame had to be persuaded to take on that iconic part, which was still regarded as the exclusive property of Ethel Merman. Producers attempted to present the show in London for almost 15 years before Lansbury took the role. And re-energized it.
|My high school trip to Europe was not|
strictly a Theatre Jaunt, though we saw
Shakespeare at Stratford and Gypsy in
London. After the Follies Bergere in
Paris, we hit Athens and Rome. This
is me. At the Acropolis.
I remember her performance vividly, and after seeing it, could not imagine that battle ax Merman in the part. After an American tour, Angela took the production to Broadway and won her third Tony.
I was also privileged to see the performance which many believe to be Lansbury's finest stage work, as that villainous Kewpie doll who baked people into pies, Mrs. Lovett, in Sondheim's masterpiece, Sweeney Todd.
|Lansbury was the undisputed comic relief in the gruesome|
grand guignol tale of Sweeney Todd. Who knew "popping
pussies into pies" could be so funny?
After playing the show in New York for a while, Angela left the production in the hands of Dorothy Loudon, and opened a touring production in Los Angeles. It was there that the show was videotaped, over a period of three days. I was present in the audience one of those days, and was again bowled over by our dame's work.
Lansbury has continued her stage work as she has aged. She was well-received in a recent revival of A Little Night Music, playing a role created decades earlier by Hermione Gingold, and a year later, she spent some time in a starry revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man.
In the past year, Lansbury has toured Australia in Driving Miss Daisy, opposite James Earl Jones. The old gal certainly isn't slowing down.
This week's clip is from Till Clouds Roll By, a fictionalized biography of Jerome Kern. The film includes several big production numbers by stars in cameo, including Lansbury; this number comprises her entire performance in the movie. But it does include some dancing, a rarity on the Dance Party these days. Let's go spooning with Dame Angela Lansbury.