“Meeting Angela Lansbury was like a dream. Did this really happen? I’ve always been a fan of hers. I particularly liked her in Murder She Wrote, but I never once thought that I would one day meet her.”
( Linda Pacey: Mum )
Angela Lansbury has always been an actress who I’ve greatly admired. My first introduction to this legendary icon occurred well before I embarked on my journey into the world of classic cinema. At the time I was totally enamored by Judy Garland and had plunged straight into an obsession that forced me to dismiss the talents of the other co-stars that shared the screen with her.
The fact that I spiraled into the realms of obsession appeared unhealthy to my family, but many years later everyone’s perspective has changed and now they view it as being a fun and innocent passion that enlightened my life. In the long run, discovering Judy Garland turned out to be one of the best things I ever did.
Although my mind was still preoccupied with Judy, I gradually started to venture out of my comfort zone. While watching Garland’s movies, I began to recognize her co-stars and other fellow celebrities who she was associated with. At the start of my journey I gained a strong appreciation for Angela Lansbury, who had appeared with Judy in The Harvey Girls ( 1946 ) and Till the Clouds Roll By, also released in 1946.
Despite Lansbury’s mercurial attitude towards Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls, I realized that she was an actress with considerable depth and promise. No matter how villainous she appeared on screen, I started to look at her through the lens of her talent instead of judging her by the character she played.
After endlessly studying her performance in my repeated viewings of The Harvey Girls, I knew it was time to branch out and delve into the rest of Lansbury’s filmography. My Mother had strongly urged me to see more of her work. She had always held Angela in high esteem and was constantly advising me to attain copies of Blue Hawaii and Murder She Wrote, which at the time was her favorite Angela Lansbury performances.
Like I always do when I develop a fixation on a certain star, I instantly had to go on a spending spree to purchase Angela Lansbury movies. My Father thought that I was treating my latest interest as a necessity and encouraged me to spend my money on items that are more essential, but as usual my enthusiasm knew no bounds and I failed to take notice. The only thing that took precedence at this particular time was attaining my own copies of Angela’s filmography. I realize that many other people might believe that I was taking my passions to extreme by buying movies all at once. I totally understand where everyone who thinks that is coming from, but when you are a classic film enthusiast you can’t resist the temptation and certain films or memorabilia must be in your reach at once.
I must admit that at this stage I had a hard time convincing some people that my classic cinema obsession was advantageous. The younger generation considered me archaic. They didn’t even know that old movies existed nor did they know the stars that graced the silver screen. What they saw was me trying to pursue an interest that would not enrich my life in anyway or serve as a great purpose. My Mother on the other hand, encouraged me wholeheartedly to embrace my passion. She never once thought I was carrying an air of eccentricity. Instead, she was proud that the old movies engrossed me. After all, Mum had always loved Angela Lansbury and the golden age in general.
To cut a long story short: Mum has always thought that Angela Lansbury was one of the greatest actresses cinema has ever produced. She remembers being absorbed in her movies as a child and she has fond recollections of watching Murder She Wrote when it was being aired on television – but that’s as far as it went. My mother never had the slightest inkling that she would one day be in the presence of the great actress. This was one thing that she would never have imagined even in her wildest expectations. She thought that she would have to continue admiring her from afar.
Fast forward to early 2013. A newsflash that read “Angela Lansbury is coming to Australia” had apparently appeared across the television screen. For some reason Mum and I missed the announcement. I can’t recall where we were at that particular time, but the only reasonable answer is that we must have been out walking or running errands. I later heard word of it from Dad, though he never told us the full nature of the story. What he gave us was a fabricated version of the story by saying that Angela Lansbury will only be in certain parts of Australia for interviews and will not be coming anywhere near us. Little did we know it then, but Angela Lansbury was indeed heading our way to perform in the stage production of Driving Miss Daisy.
What happened before this next chapter of events is all very blurred in my memory, but for the following scenario I can provide a vivid detailed account of the occasion as if it took place only yesterday. One Saturday afternoon in early 2013 I was perusing the internet when I stumbled across an announcement that read “Tickets on sale soon to see Angela Lansbury in Driving Miss Daisy.” . As soon as I read that headline a sudden wave of excitement hit me and a wonderful idea sprung into my mind. I seen this as the perfect surprise birthday present for Mum, who shares the same May 30th birthday with me. I have never been a fan of gift shopping, because it gets harder and harder with each passing year to find a unique present, but purchasing these tickets would mean that my birthday shopping spree would be over within one click and the ideal and totally unexpected gift will be on its way. I was exuding that euphoric feeling. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect also.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t order the tickets right at that very moment as they weren’t on sale for a few days later. For somebody who can get impatient like me, the wait was frustrating. All I wanted to do was purchase the tickets . This was an event of a lifetime and I wanted to be sure that I could attain them. Anyway, I left my computer and went for a walk with Jarrahn ( my brother ) to pick up dinner. As we were about to enter the park down the road from us I told him that Angela Lansbury was touring Australia for Driving Miss Daisy, and that I had plans to purchase tickets for both Mum and I. Jarrahn never said much, but he knew Mum would be thrilled about it and agreed that its an ideal surprise.
It was about a week later when the tickets finally went on sale. Having reflected back on previous shows, I knew that in order to attain good seats you had to act fast. That is what I always do, but this time it was even more essential. Angela Lansbury is a prominent actress and her stature and popularity would fuel a successful and monstrous commotion. That is exactly what happened – within a few days the shows were completely sold out.
Once my tickets were ordered the waiting game was on. I could hardly wait to present the surprise tickets to Mum on our birthday, but first and foremost, I was getting impatient waiting for the day of the show to arrive. Those months before our birthday was like an obstacle that I was trying to defeat. I was constantly worried that when the tickets arrived I would not be the first to get to the letter box. What if Mum pulled the tickets out of the box? or what if I was out and Dad got the envelope with the tickets in it? These questions were always running through my mind. I did not want Dad to know anything about the show until the birthday, and it would be difficult to cover up when they would be able to tell by the envelope that the contents were tickets. Luckily, I survived that period without any major difficulties. The only barrier that I struck was getting the envelope with the tickets out of the box and into my room without being caught. When the mail came that day I went outside and got the envelope with the tickets out of the box and raced into my bedroom as fast as I could. Unfortunately, Mum seen me racing into my room with an envelope and immediately thought that I was hiding something that she should know about. It was a major relief when she believed my story about the mail being advertisements and she shrugged it off. Needless to say, she eventually did find out the truth about the mail, and six years later it still gives us a giggle.
After months of waiting in anticipation our birthday that year soon approached. This birthday was more exciting than any other for one reason – the perfect present was awaiting Mum, and I knew that she would never have guessed the surprise that I had in store for her. To be honest, she didn’t even know that Angela Lansbury was touring Australia. She was not in the room when Dad told us the fabricated stories about Angie’s interviews in Australia, and she never heard the news anywhere else. – that was an added bonus.
The revealing of surprise birthday presents has always been a joyous occasion for me, but due to my parents work and my commitments, we have to wait until the night time to open the gifts. However, this particular birthday was different. My Father was on early shifts at the time and he was getting home sometime after lunch, which meant that we could unwrap the presents in the afternoon. By now, I was impatient, but at least Mum would get her surprise sooner. At last the afternoon came. Mum sat down at the table to drink a cup of coffee while Jarrahn and I went to get our gifts to give her. Jarrahn handed over his present first, and then it was my turn to give her the birthday card that had the tickets inside it. Mum took one look at the envelope and said “It must be a gift card.” – how wrong was she? – Five seconds later it was all unearthed. Mum was shocked and elated. I wish I could remember her exact words. I know she said that she had no idea that Angela was coming to Australia, but sadly that’s all I can remember.
After our birthday passed, the time seemed to go slow. We often commented that usually time flies, but just when something really exciting is on the horizon it decided to crawl. Finally, the day arrived. The show was taking place that night at the His Majesty’s Theatre in the city. I remember having our dinner at lunch time and getting showered and dressed straight after so we could leave early. I forget exactly what time we left home, but I know Dad and Jarrahn dropped us at the train station, as we were catching a train into the city and walking to the theatre.
Chugging along the Mitchell Freeway, moving progressively past the still scenery outside, the train was filled with many euphoric faces and lively chatter, the time ticking swiftly as the train approached each station. Finally the train reached its destination, and in an instant, a deluge of passengers disembarked, some carrying signs adored with Angela Lansbury’s name on them, while others sporting Jessica Fletcher t-shirts. It was obvious that all these people were attending the show that night too, and we were all taking the journey together.
As we approached the theatre, the crowds became larger and the noise grew louder. The atmosphere was congenial, the restaurant and coffee strip leading up to the theatre was packed with people wining and dining while waiting for the big colossal doors of His Majesty’s to open. Inside, was a lavishly decked out ballroom that was surrounded by doors and stairs that provide entrance into the commodious, grandiose auditorium, where the show was held.
After taking a peak in through the glass colossal doors, Mum and I walked right around the complex. The most important thing for me at this stage was to find the stage door. I had met Petula Clark the previous year ( I’ve actually met her twice since then ), and now my goal was to meet Angela Lansbury. Mum knew about my plans of meeting Lansbury, but she thought it was nothing more than a fanciful dream. The chances of meeting a prominent star like Angela Lansbury was very slim. She said it would be near impossible, but I continued to cling to hope, and I was certainly prepared to have them shattered.
Even though the stage door was hidden, we managed to find it, and we were going to return there once the show finished. By the time we walked back around to the entrance, the glass colossal doors were open and people were entering the art-deco style ballroom foyer. We followed the crowd in and proceeded to make our way to the auditorium to find our seats, which were situated at the Platinum section ( the most expensive in the house ), and then we sat down and awaited for the legendary Angela Lansbury to appear on stage.
Minutes later the clock struck seven, and out came Angela Lansbury, who illuminated the whole auditorium as her presence swept across the stage, waving and smiling gracefully to the cheerful and spirited audience as she took to her seat, ready to introduce the play and her co-star James Earl Jones.
I won’t rehash the plot of the stage version of Driving Miss Daisy, for the reason that it closely echoes the 1989 film starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. What I do want to say though, is that Angela Lansbury was phenomenal. She perfectly embodied all the characteristics and exuded the same level of emotions as Jessica Tandy displayed in the 1989 picture. Angela is an authentic actress, and witnessing her indelible talents live on stage is something that my Mum and I will never forget.
It was after the show that we discovered that Angela Lansbury is not just an actress with considerable talents. She is a amiable human being, who carries no airs of aloofness. I’ve read few reports that criticize Lansbury’s off-screen attitude, but those articles are written from a third person point of view. What we witnessed is totally different. I was fortunate enough to meet her twice, and on both occasions she appeared very down to earth.
The first time I met her was with Mum after the show that night. As I previously stated, we returned to the stage door in the hopes of meeting Angela Lansbury. At this time, we were the only two at the door, but as it turns out, our idea piqued an interest in other people who followed shortly after. Luck was on our side that night. Ten minutes later the stage door opened and out came Angela Lansbury, dressed in casual clothes. On the road side of the theatre was a chauffeur, who was trying to rush Angie into the car, but he’s pleads were to no avail. As soon as she stepped outside, Angie looked in our direction and immediately walked up to us. Mum almost faintest. She couldn’t believe that she was about to meet Angela Lansbury.
In less than a few seconds, Angela approached and said hello to us. I was star-struck. Before I left that day, I had planned what I was going to say to her, but now that I was in her presence, I became inflicted with sudden bouts of shyness and I went completely blank. I still managed to exchange words with her, and I told her that I really enjoyed the show, especially her performance. Angela thanked us for our kind comments and talked back to us. She exuded graciousness and warmth emanated from her. After we spoke, she autographed our performance book and went on to the next person.
The more I think back, the more I realize how lucky we were that night. There were other people waiting at the stage door, but unfortunately Angela could not go up and talk to them all. She would have liked to, but like all stars, she was on a schedule and her chauffeur was rushing her. I can imagine how disappointed those people would have been. It hurts when you have your dreams crushed, but sometimes it can’t be helped, and it definitely was not intentional.
All the way home that night and for all the days that followed, I was wheeling with joy. Posts about Mum and me meeting Angela Lansbury were constantly posted on Facebook, and many people were envious. I decided to fuel their jealously by taking my brother Jarrahn down to the stage door one afternoon a week later. This time there were a few people waiting, but because it was quiet they were in luck. Once again, Angie appeared and walked up to us. I asked her if I could get a photo taken with her, and she was more than happy to pose for a photo with me. She’s a beautiful soul, and I’m fortunate to have met her twice.
“I never seen the show, but at least I can say that I met Angela Lansbury. That is one day that I will never forget.”
( Jarrahn Brett: Brother. )
At the end of 2013, I sent a letter to Angela Lansbury’s home address and attached the photo of us together. A few weeks later, Angie responded to my mail and signed her name at the bottom of the photo. I’ve also wrote to her since then, and attained another signed photo from her.
It’s now almost six years since I met Angela Lansbury, but its an occasion that will always remain vivid in my memory. I sure do hope to see her again one day, and I’m certainly planning on sending her another letter.
This post was written for The Angela Lansbury Blogathon, hosted by Real Weegie Midget Reviews. To view the other entries being exhibited during this event, please click here. Before I go, I want to say that I was initially planning to host a blogathon dedicated to Angela, but obviously Gill beat me to it.