“Actors are not made, they are born.“
In a seven decade-long career, playing ingénues, dowagers, elegant leading ladies and depraved villains, Lansbury has proven her durability and versatility.
An American-Irish-British hybrid, she is a lifelong liberal, a supporter of the Democratic Party and the British Labour Party, Lansbury supports a variety of charities, especially Abused Wives in Crisis, offering support to victims of domestic abuse. Beginning in the early 1980s, she has supported organizations engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Lansbury did not win any of the 18 Emmy Awards for which she was nominated over a 35-year period; She holds the record for the most Emmy losses by a performer. However, she is a winner to me, and she has received six Golden Globe Awards, a SAG Award, and five Tony Awards, surpassed only by Audra McDonald with six. She won a Tony playing Madame Arcati in Noël Coward‘s Blithe Spirit in 2009 at 85 years old. For her work in Blithe Spirit, critic Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote:
“For pure originality and expressiveness, it’s hard to imagine any Broadway chorus line topping the solo dances performed here by an 85-year-old woman with a superfluity of bad jewelry, the gait of a gazelle and a repertory of poses that bring to mind Egyptian hieroglyphs.“
When she was 19 years old, Lansbury married fellow actor Richard Cromwell. The marriage only lasted a few months when they both discovered that he was gay. It was the same old sad story; he had married Lansbury in the unsuccessful hope that it would turn him straight, although they remained friends until his death. She later married British actor Peter Shaw who served as her manager and head of her production company until his passing in 2003. The met at a party hosted by Lansbury’s Picture Of Dorian Gray (1945) gay costar Hurd Hatfield. Shaw had just been dumped by Joan Crawford. He and Lansbury lived together before she proposed marriage. They were together for 55 years.
With Peter Shaw, photo from PBS Masterpiece via YouTube
When she arrived in Los Angeles in 1942, Lansbury and her mother moved into a bungalow in Laurel Canyon, and both Lansbury and her mother found Christmas jobs at the Bullocks Wilshire department store. Her mother was soon sacked, leaving the family with Lansbury’s wages of $28 a week to live on. Befriending a group of gay guys, Lansbury was shown around the Hollywood’s underground gay scene.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I am a Gay Icon. It’s because of the role I played in Mame. She was just every gay person’s idea of glamour. Everything about Mame coincided with every young gay man’s idea of beauty and glory, and it is lovely.“
Lansbury’s career is often associated with the works of many noted gay artists: Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Noël Coward, Jerry Herman, Gore Vidal, George Cukor, and Stephen Rutledge. Because of her giant talent, glamour and awesomeness, she is easily named a Top Gay Icon.