September 13, 2023 | Henry Gomes

Shocking Facts About Angela Lansbury, A Dame With A Dark Past

Angela Lansbury’s prim and proper reputation hides the truth about her incredibly dark life. From her harsh beginnings to her most recent scandals, the dame's life story is filled with pain, betrayal, and utter fear. One thing's for certain: Lansbury has skeletons in her closet—and they're more disturbing than we ever imagined.

1. She Experienced A Life-Changing Loss

Sadly, Angela Lansbury's journey to stardom began with a stunning tragedy. When she was only nine years old, her beloved father succumbed to stomach cancer, leaving Lansbury drowning in her grief. In remembering the loss, she later stated, "I think that was the defining moment of my life. Nothing before or since has ever affected me so deeply".

From that moment on, her life would never be the same again.


2. She Battled Her Grief

In the wake of her father's passing, Lansbury found refuge in an interesting coping mechanism: acting. As her interest in schooling waned, her passion for playing characters and visiting the cinema soared. She became a dreamer and a self-proclaimed "complete movie maniac". Lansbury escaped her demons by playing different characters—but little did she know, even more terror was in store for her.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

3. She Escaped In The Nick Of Time

In 1940, Angela Lansbury and her family barely escaped Liverpool alive. Due to the threat of WWII, they had no choice but to flee England—but they were oblivious to how severe the danger actually was. The very same day Lansbury sailed for America, Liverpool came under fire. She'd escaped just in the nick of time, safe and sound aboard a steamship: A brand new adventure on the horizon.

Angela Lansbury FactsStore Norske Leksikon

4. She Lied About Her Age

When it came to acting, Lansbury had no qualms about being naughty to get what she wanted. Her mother Moyna Macgill was also an actress. And so, with her mother working in a Canadian production, Lansbury found herself in Montreal. This is where she decided to lie through her teeth. At 16 years of age, young Lansbury pretended to be 19.

This sneaky falsehood allowed her to snag her very first theater role in a nightclub—but this was only the beginning.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

5. She Barely Scraped By

In 1942, Lansbury followed her mother to the alluring promised land of Hollywood—but she quickly discovered that not all that glitters is gold. Lansbury was not a star right out of the gates and toiled alongside her mother at an LA department store. However, when her mother got fired, life got even harder. The entire family depended on Lansbury and her meager $28 a week.

As she struggled to make ends meet, her dream of becoming a famous actress seemed further away than ever before. But that was all about to change.

Louise Brooks FactsPixabay

6. She Wasn't Your Typical Starlet

In a world obsessed with Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall, Angela Lansbury wasn't quite like the seductive sirens that were all the rage n Hollywood. What few auditions she did manage to get only ended in disappointment. However, it was only a matter of time before she got her big break. You see, Lansbury and her mother were masters in net-working before it was even a concept.

And so, she snuck in the back door in the most delightful way.

Rita Hayworth FactsGetty Images

7. She Socialized In The Underground Gay Scene

Although we know the actress as a prim and proper lady, in truth, Lansbury was no stranger to the underground world of acting. While in New York, she befriended many gay young men. In her autobiography, she says, "I was around a lot of gay men. My mother knew a lot of them. It was astonishing how many actors, older actors, were gay". Oh, but that wasn't all.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

8. She Was A Partier

Lansbury's mother certainly knew how to throw a party, and it was this flourishing social circle that gave the aspiring actress the upper hand. At one of these infamous socials, Lansbury met the scriptwriter for 1944's Gaslight, John van Druten—and he put in a good word for her. But this was no ordinary production. None other than the stunning Ingrid Bergman stood at the cast's helm.

It was a golden opportunity, destined to transform 17-year-old Lansbury's life forever.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

9. Her Life Changed Forever

Angela Lansbury went from being a nobody to a somebody in record time. Suddenly, she had a seven-year contract with MGM, a salary, and an Academy Award nomination. It was as though her world had turned topsy-turvy in the best way possible. For Lansbury, there was no slowing down. Her next few films continued to build her fame—but it wasn't all smooth sailing.

You see, while her career reached new heights, her personal life took a shocking turn.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

10. She Fell For An Older Man

Angela Lansbury first set eyes on actor Richard Cromwell when she was just a young girl collecting fan magazines. However, her recent brush with fame allowed her to meet the dashing actor in the flesh. He was the ultimate dreamboat: blonde, suntanned, and older...much older. Although Cromwell was 15 years her senior, Lansbury was completely besotted.

To her, he seemed like a fairy tale come true. But their romance would only lead to unbelievable devastation.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

11. Her First Love Blinded her

Infatuation blinded Lansbury in the way that first love usually does. Cromwell impressed her with his compliments and attentiveness. And before long, he'd introduced her to some of his notorious friends like Cary Grant and Joan Crawford. His intellect and worldliness dazzled her. And so, unsurprisingly, when he asked for her hand in marriage, Lansbury had her answer at the ready.

Mae West FactsGetty Images

12. She Got Carried Away

Later, in her autobiography, Lansbury spilled the truth: "I never really thought through what I was doing, getting married. I was just carried away with the idea". Her life with Cromwell was one of endless entertaining, but beneath the glimmer of the stimulating soirées, trouble began to brew. Something was terribly wrong with her husband.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

13. Her Husband Wasn't Prince Charming

Lansbury worried about her husband and his failing health. He suffered from excruciating migraines and asthma attacks—but at the end of the day, his biggest demon was his drinking. Of course, Lansbury didn't recognize these warning signs and had no clue that her marriage was in jeopardy. Less than a year after tying the knot, however, she came home and made a disturbing discovery.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

14. She Found A Scandalous Note

It was a day she'd never forget. Angela Lansbury arrived home to find her husband's car gone and his closet completely empty. That's when she found a chilling note sitting on the piano. It spelled the end, reading, "I'm sorry, darling. I just can't go on". This had Lansbury reeling. She had no idea why Cromwell had decided to desert her. And so, she went searching for an answer.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

15. She Blamed Herself

In the months that followed, Lansbury began to blame herself for her husband's betrayal. It had completely shattered her self-worth. Desperate to get to the bottom of it, she finally contacted her husband's psychiatrist, who only assured her that it was not her fault. Soon, Lansbury began to realize that there was something fishy about the entire situation.

She felt like the only one who didn't know the truth.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

16. She Uncovered The Sad Truth

Lansbury later described her husband's desertion as "the biggest emotional punch" she'd ever endured—but she was in for an even ruder awakening. After critically thinking about her conversation with Cromwell's psychologist, she finally solved the puzzle. Her husband was gay. And even worse? She suspected that everyone knew, including her own mother.

But the pain didn't end there.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

17. She Shielded Her Heart

After months of suffering, Lansbury finally got her closure. She surmised that Cromwell had only married her in the attempt to change his own romantic preferences. Clearly, he had failed spectacularly. After having her heart broken into a thousand pieces, this revelation changed the young actress indefinitely. From there on out, Lansbury would be the hero of her own story.

She'd never let a man burn her so horrifically ever again.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

18. She Put Herself Out There

Only five months after Lansbury's divorce went through, fate stepped in again. She'd been invited to actor Hurd Hatfield's star-studded party in Ojai Valley but was hesitant to attend. When she insisted she wouldn't be able to make it because she didn't have a ride, Hatfield came to the rescue. He knew a dashing, aspiring actor that could drive her there.

It was a proposition that altered the course of her life forever.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commond

19. She Had Her Head Turned

When Peter Shaw drove up in his rented car, wearing a checkered shirt and gray trousers, Lansbury couldn't believe her eyes. He was "just the most gorgeous thing ever seen on two feet". During their eight-mile drive to the Ojai Valley, the two strangers became fast friends. Their conversations flowed effortlessly, and by the time they arrived, her charm had him hooked.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

20. She Found Her Next Lover

The very next morning, Shaw was at Lansbury's bedside, spoiling her with breakfast in bed. Already impressed with this prospective beau, she told her host and friend, Hurd Hadfield, "He's wonderful"! From that fateful meeting onward, Lansbury and Shaw began to date. However, there was just one problem that cast a shadow over the couple's happiness.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

21. Her Man Couldn't Act

While Angela Lansbury continue to make films in Hollywood, her new boyfriend Peter Shaw struggled. He just couldn't seem to get a movie under his belt, and it wasn't long before she discovered why. When she read with him for a screentest, Lansbury made a horrifying realization. So, before the studio even called to reject him, she hit him with the hard truth.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikipedia

22. She Was Brutally Honest

After the screentest, Lansbury leaned over to Shaw and delivered a blow like no other: "Darling, I love you very much, but an actor you aren't". However, it wasn't a total bust. Director Frank Capra, although revolted by Shaw's performance, was equally as intrigued by Lansbury. And that's when she landed a role that made her prouder than ever before.

Oscar Scandals FactsGetty Images

23. She Was In Danger Of Being Typecast

Angela Lansbury couldn't believe it. Frank Capra wanted her to be in his film State of the Union, alongside the dream team Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. There was, however, one caveat: Something about the script gave Lansbury pause. Once again, she was in danger of being typecast as the spiteful woman—a character she considered to be her "very antithesis".

Still, this was an incredible opportunity she couldn't turn away from. And so, she climbed the ladder...Meanwhile, her lover floundered.

Christmas Movies FactsWikimedia Commons

24. She Outshone Her Boyfriend

Simply put, Lansbury's boyfriend Peter Shaw was never going to be an actor. In fact, it wasn't long before the studio canceled his contract altogether. Lost in limbo, Shaw resorted to painting houses while he figured out his next move. Finally, he settled on the business of agenting. Of course, when it came to making deals, his first and greatest one was with his girlfriend, Angela Lansbury.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

25. She Took A Leap Of Faith

After healing from her first disastrous marriage, Lansbury was finally ready to become a wife all over again. This time, the groom's love seemed genuine. On August 12, 1949, she and Peter Shaw said "I do". After a relaxing honeymoon in the South of France, however, it was time for Lansbury to get back to work. And quite fittingly, her next project was set in the fictional version of France.

Angela Lansbury FactsFlickr

26. She Didn't Want The Part

The Three Musketeers promised to be an exciting picture, but Angela Lansbury was far from satisfied with her role. Again, she played the villainous and older character. She believed her age suited the role of the young Lady deWinter, and yet the studio wanted her for the mature, sinister role of Queen Anne. Finally fed up, the actress did what few dared to do in Hollywood.

Angela Lansbury FactsThe Three Musketeers (1948), MGM

27. She Dared To Defy Him

Angela Lansbury wasn't even remotely intimidated when she strolled into executive Louis B. Mayer's office. She had come to state her case and expressed the role she truly wanted to play. His response was a painful wake-up call. In her autobiography, this was the moment she realized that she "would not go to the top of the class at MGM".

Oh, but her fate was even worse than that.

Judy GarlandGetty Images

28. She Bowed Out

As meteoric as her rise to fame had been, Lansbury now experienced a disheartening decline. She certainly felt the dismal quality of the roles coming in. After all, television was the new kid in town, while feature films endured some serious production cuts. Sensing an imminent end, the actress decided to cut the cord before she got shut out entirely.

In 1952, with the help of her agent, Lansbury left MGM for good. But while the future seemed dark and uncertain, this certainly wasn't the end of the road.

Janet Leigh factsWikipedia

29. She Had New Responsibilities

The very same year Lansbury left MGM in the dust, she took on a daunting new role. She gave birth to her first child, Anthony. This was in addition to becoming a stepmother to Peter Shaw's first child. With a growing brood and no contract to speak of, her career was at an "all-time low". Poor Lansbury seemed to be treading a discouraging path—and it only led her closer to the edge.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

30. She Was Older Than Her Years

After giving birth to her daughter Deirdre, Lansbury became a freelance actress—but it only dug her into a deeper hole of disappointment. According to her, "Hollywood made me old before my time". Even in her 20s, Lansbury's fanmail was like a slap in the face. Many just assumed she was in her 40s based on the characters she played.

It was a curse that continued to stalk her, but that wasn't her only source of melancholy.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

31. She Left Her Children Behind

Lansbury doted on her children, and more than anything, wanted them by her side. Still, as much as she tried to put them before her career, she couldn't deny the truth. Her work often took her far and away from them for extended periods of time. Unlike most mothers who sacrificed their careers for their children at that time, Lansbury depended on her husband to take the reins during her absence.

She'd later come to have huge regrets about this.

Angela Lansbury FactsWikimedia Commons

32. She Has Regrets

Although she praised her husband for supporting her difficult balancing act, she wished she could have done it all differently. After she'd had her babies, Lansbury didn't take a moment's rest. She immediately went back on a diet, ready to jump back into the acting world. She later said, "It was a big mistake. You have to be with your children".

But as her career began to climb once more, there was one crushing mortification waiting in the wings.

Angela Lansbury FactsPicryl

33. She Always Wanted To Sing

In 1966, Angela Lansbury got her first big break on Broadway with her performance in Mame. It was the kind of role she'd always dreamed of having. While working with MGM she'd watched musical actors like Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in rehearsal, yearning to be a part of it all. Lansbury had never sang and danced while playing a leading role, so she had to prove herself in a big way.

Gene Kelly factsGetty Images

34. She Proved Them Wrong

Lansbury absolutely stole the show in Mame. At 41 years old, she'd finally bagged her first starring role, and to go with it, she also took home gold. At first, her casting had shocked the critics, but in the end, her extensive training paid off. She took home a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. The reviews were a welcome burst of light that bolstered her wavering self-esteem.

It seemed like she'd finally found her place in the acting community. Little did she know, Hollywood was going to do her so dirty.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

35. She Faced An Outrageous Snub

Angela Lansbury had reignited her career with Broadway's Mame—but sadly, it wasn't enough to turn Hollywood's head. When the actress learned that Mame was on track to become a major film adaptation, she got her hopes up...only to have them dashed into a million pieces. She'd wanted the role so badly, but instead, Lucille Ball won it.

Later, Lansbury called this snub one of her "bitterest disappointments". However, this turned out to be the least of Lansbury's problems.

Lucille Ball factsWikipedia

36. Her Children Were In Danger

The 60s were a strange time for Angela Lansbury. On one hand, she cleaned up on Broadway and catapulted to renewed fame, but on the other, her family life was in shambles. You see, while busy entertaining her audiences, Lansbury's children had gotten caught up in the counterculture of the 1960s—and the consequences were utterly twisted.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

37. She Almost Lost Him

First of all, both of her children struggled with drug addiction. At first, it started off with the more mild substances, but soon they became hooked on the strongest stuff imaginable. Anthony, in particular, was extremely troubled—and in 1970, his unfortunate choices led him to a disturbing climax. He overdosed and ended up in a coma.

Although utterly distraught, Lansbury had another problem to deal with...Danger also came for her daughter, Deirdre.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

38. Her Daughter Ran With The Wrong Crowd

Down the road, Lansbury would sadly open up about her daughter's dark past. Deirdre had fallen in with the worst crowd possible. She'd become entranced by the infamous cult leader, Charles Manson. Lansbury said, “She was one of many youngsters who knew him—and they were fascinated. He was an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it".

At the time, Lansbury knew she had to do something to save her children.

Charles Manson in Court.Getty Images

39. She Lost Everything

Sadly, there was more tragedy to come. 1970 ushered in her son's chilling overdose and coma, as well as her husband's painful hip replacement. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Everything was about to go up in flames...quite literally. In the midst of all this chaos, Lansbury's Malibu home caught fire and burned to the ground. It was the final straw.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

40. She Messed Up

Around this time, Lansbury had starred in a play that absolutely crashed and burned: The musical Prettybelle was "a complete and utter fiasco". Even Lansbury confessed that her performance was abysmal. This—on top of her troubled children and devastated home—caused her to make one of the most drastic decisions of her life.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

41. She Ran For It

Considering the bloody conclusion of Charles Manson's story, Angela Lansbury made a wise choice. She wrangled her family together and ran for the hills. She moved out of America entirely, taking refuge in Ireland. Settling in a farmhouse in the rural County Cork, she poured her heart into rebuilding her broken foundation.

Angela Lansbury FactsShutterstock

42. She Broke Out Of The Nightmare

Lansbury's life in California was like a nightmare she longed to forget. In fact, the actress took an entire year off acting to be with her children as they recuperated from their addictions. Only years earlier, she'd kicked her own terrible habit. Lansbury had smoked heavily for most of her life and had finally quit just as her own children had fallen down holes of their own.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

43. She Hit Another Wall

Luckily, Lansbury's move to Ireland made all the difference. Her children did recover and even prospered. However, by the mid-7os, the actress hit another wall. She'd finally tired of making musicals. But when she went for a Shakespearean role in Hamlet, it ended badly. She received lukewarm reviews and "hated" the role. With her mood in the gutter, it just took another family tragedy to send her spiraling into a pit of despair.

Angela Lansbury FactsGetty Images

44. She Grieved Deeply

In 1975, Lansbury got the most upsetting news. Her mother had passed in California. The last decade had been an undeniable whirlwind and it seemed that life always had a curveball in store for her. Still, there was one opportunity she never saw coming: A show called Murder, She Wrote—a television series that would captivate countless fans.

But the story behind why she took on the role isn't as romantic as it seemed.

Angela Lansbury FactsMurder, She Wrote, NBCUniversal Television Distribution

45. She Did It For The Money

Quite simply, Lansbury took on one of her most iconic roles for the money. Her work in theatre had been sliding downhill, and television was her chance to make some serious dough. Her role as a detective in Murder, She Wrote continued to keep her career afloat, but as always, it also led to even deeper frustrations with an industry that had failed her time and time again.

Angela Lansbury FactsMurder, She Wrote, NBCUniversal Television Distribution

46. She Never Won Them Over

Although she earned 11 nominations for her role Murder, She Wrote, she never won. She later said, "Everywhere else in the US, 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". Despite all her reservations about her career, however, Angela Lansbury managed to accomplish what few starlets could.

Angela Lansbury FactsShutterstock

47. She Stayed Relevant

Lansbury managed to stay relevant beyond her youth and has acted into her 90s. For the younger generations, she became best known for voicing the Disney character Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. However, in 2003, a terrible tragedy almost ended her career entirely. The love of her life, Peter Shaw, succumbed to congestive heart failure.

Devastated by the loss, Lansbury never thought she'd return to acting. She was so wrong.

Angela Lansbury FactsShutterstock

48. She's Scandalous

Although Angela Lansbury is still alive and kicking, she's most recently gotten herself wrapped up in a fresh scandal—and it sure isn't pretty. With the changing of the times, discussions revolving around the harassment of women—in Hollywood and everywhere—have sparked some serious debates. Unfortunately, Lansbury decided to add her controversial opinions into the mix.

GettyImages-905774118 Angela LansburyGetty Images

49. She Made Controversial Comments

Victim-blaming shouldn't be a thing anymore, but Lansbury certainly seems to be very out of touch. In a 2017 interview, she made some comments that enraged listeners: “There are two sides to this coin. We have to own up to the fact that women, since time immemorial, have gone out of their way to make themselves attractive. And unfortunately it has backfired on us—and this is where we are today".

Then she really put her foot in it.

Angela Lansbury FactsShutterstock

50. She's Trending...And Not In A Good Way

Lansbury's comments about harassment and violence toward women had her trending on Twitter. She said, “We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that". For a woman who'd worked in Hollywood alongside lecherous executives, her statements came as a real shock. After so many years, Angela Lansbury's unwavering image of elegance and respectability has, at least, one disturbing strike against it.

Angela Lansbury FactsShutterstock

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,

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