Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Costumes, She Wore

This is a frivolous, random and rather brief post that has hardly any point to it, but you may find some of it interesting. I have to preface it by saying that most of the content didn't stem from my own imagination. It came to me after reading a post at one of my own favorite blogs, Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For. One of the movies profiled there not too long ago was The World of Henry Orient (1964), a comedy featuring Peter Sellers that I had long avoided until reading about it there (and then seeing it several weeks later on one of my hi-def movie channels.)

I thought the film was captivating, gently amusing and tenderly touching, much to my surprise, but one thing that definitely stood out for me was the appearance and performance of Miss Angela Lansbury. She plays a wealthy, snooty, dissatisfied wife and mother who tries to have her cake and eat it, too, but risks winding up with just an empty plate.

Lansbury got an early start in the movies, playing a tarty housemaid in 1944's Gaslight at the age of nineteen and copping an Oscar nomination for her very first cinematic performance! (Ethel Barrymore took the statuette home for None But the Lonely Heart.) Within a year, she'd been nominated again for The Picture of Dorian Gray (this time losing to Anne Revere of National Velvet, a film which also featured Lansbury.) With apologies to the amazing Miss Angela, I always thought that she had highly unusual looks, sort of like a very beautiful sculpture that had somehow been allowed to melt a bit, with her large, but slighty droopy, eyes and a mouth with a curious down-turned quality.

"Cuz I'm 50 and I can kick!"
Though a veteran of many movies (often playing mothers of performers not all that much younger than she - and in many cases outliving those people by decades in real life!), Lansbury's most tremendous successes came on the Broadway stage from the mid-1950s on. She scooped up five Tonys along the way for shows such as Mame, Dear World, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Blithe Spirit. She also continued to make a mark in movies, gleaning another Oscar nom for her chilling work in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), losing to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker.

In Mame mode.
At the time of Henry Orient, Lansbury was coming off her Candidate triumph and was busily accepting colorful supporting roles in movies like In the Cool of the Day (1963), as a neurotic, scarred wife of an adulterous husband, and Dear Heart (1964), as a woman in danger of losing her fiance to a plain postmistress. Though her role in Orient couldn't be any further from that of the free-wheeling, fanciful and fun-loving Mame, the way she looks in the movie sometimes gives us an idea of what she might have looked like had she been permitted to star in the film Mame (1974), which was instead played by Lucille Ball. All the pics beginning below are from Orient, with Mame-ish quotes sprinkled in at times.

"Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"
"Missy Dennis, stockbroker want to say hello before he jump out of window."
"Light the candles, get the ice out, roll the rug up... It's today!"
Look at this sensational dress and Angie's fab up-do.
She's even sporting some hefty cleavage as she introduces down-to earth Phyllis Thaxter and Bibi Osterwald to her other guests.
Her married character has a little side thing going with pianist Peter Duchin.
"You're my best girl..." Duchin was the son of celebrated pianist-bandleader Eddy Duchin and became a successful tinkler of the ivories in his own right, with positions at top hotels and performances at The White House.
"Oh, Patrick, your Auntie Mame's hung..."
Lansbury's husband in the film was played by Tom Bosley, later of Happy Days.
Of course, Bosley also had a recurring part on a certain little television show of Lansbury's called Murder, She Wrote!
"Would I make the same mistakes, if he walked into my life today...?" I loooovvve this fur coat and hat ensemble.
There was only about a half-inch height differential between Peter Sellers and Lansbury.
Check out those luminous eyes, capable of everything from immense joyfulness to steely evil.
Red is an awesome color on Lansbury and I love her hair this way, too.
"Haul out the holly..." You know, just once I want to descend a staircase while my voluminous gown trails behind me.
Lansbury was only thirty-nine at this point and still had well over fifty years of career left to go! She's still at it now, having a cameo and a song at the end of Mary Poppins Returns (2018.)
As mentioned earlier, Lansbury and Bosley (who are both excellent in Henry Orient) play a married couple with palpable strain between them.
Thirty years later they were reunited on Murder, She Wrote with Lansbury as a resourceful and dogged amatuer sleuth and Bosley as the sheriff in her hometown of Cabot Cove.
It's fascinating to watch them face various domestic issues as man and wife...
...when you're used to seeing them pair up to solve crimes in their oceanside community.
Though she was cleanly casual and occasionally dressed even nicer, Jessica Fletcher was generally an unglamorous type. In one of those things that one hears once and can never forget, I recall her mentioning in interviews that Lansbury always cut her own hair! (A relative of mine at that time snarkily said, "Well, it looks like it!")
But when the occasion called for it, she could always still ratchet up the glitz as in this glorious appearance at the Tony Awards.
Angela Lansbury wanted very much to land that one meaty film role that would win her an Oscar and that didn't happen, but thank God in 2014 she was presented with an Honorary Oscar for her considerable body of work. I encourage you to check out this recent interview with her (in which the ninety-two year-old legend is still perfectly charming, lucid and able to walk around on her own steam.) Someone ought to cast her in something with Betty White!


Alan Scott said...

I love Angela Lansbury! Even though she always seemed to play the bitch. Manchurian Candidate, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Something for Everyone (with Michael York!) and another favorite The Reluctant Debutante (with John Saxon!).

Thank you for featuring her!

D ODay said...

I've long dreamed of being a successful tinkler.
The day after seeing her in 'Sweeney Todd' at the KenCen, la Lansbury swept into my store wearing a floor length silver fox coat - just the thing that becomes a legend most.
I well recall the first time I saw 'Manchurian Candidate'. Not wanting to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, I will just say she had one line that quite literally sent a chill up my back and had my jaw on the floor.
'Mame' was one of the last movies to play Radio City Music Hall, and I got to see it there on my senior class trip. If only....

Scooter said...

Fun! I've always liked Angela Lansbury. I saw her perform on Broadway in Blithe Spirit with Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole. Just terrific!

Gingerguy said...

Cute idea Poseidon, what is that book from in the photo? Something I have to see I think.
I love this movie and her in it. I know people who are lifelong friends who grew up in Manhattan, and what they tell me about their childhood hijinks always remind me of this sweet film.
Angela looks alternately haughty and trampy, and I feel so sorry for Tom in the film as her husband.
Phyllis Thaxter and Bibi Osterwald seem like a couple to me.
Eddy Duchin is quite a cutie. For some reason I read his book years ago and he had quite an interesting life. Kim Novak played his Mom in a movie, and he married Brooke Hayward.
Total agreement on the red color! I love Angela and wish I had a time machine to go back and see her in all her 60's roles. Thank goodness for movies like this. Long may she reign.

David Kenilworth said...

I have seen AL twice on the stage: once in NYC in The Best Man, and once in San Francisco in Blithe Spirit.

I have a special regard for her. Way back in the 1960s, Miss Lansbury was on the same flight as my grandparents, TWA from STL to LAX. She walked back and noticed my grandmother with an arthritic leg in the aisle. She inquired, and thereupon traded her seat in first class with my grandmother back in economy.

I love her forever!!!

Poseidon3 said...

Hello, my loves! I'm happy to see that several of you enjoyed this post.

Alan, one of these days I'm going to finally see "Something for Everyone." I've never gotten to as of yet! I only saw "Manchurian" for the first time in the last year or two! "Bedknobs" was a delight, though I recall as a kid being afraid of the ghostly military uniforms at the end. LOL

D ODay, how amazing that you got to see and meet the great AL in person like that! I hope it was winter and that she wasn't decked out in floor-length fur in July. Ha ha!

Scooter, glad you're one of the people who has seen her live in action. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

Gingerguy, I'm sure you've seen the book before. You see, my angel, I photoshopped that by taking the opening credits of "Murder, She Wrote" and applying my own text! LOLOL I, too, had my doubts about Miss Phyllis and Bibi, but it seemed pretty open to interpretation. Neat that you know more about Peter. I bet he had some stories if her was married to Brooke Hayward. I never read it, but she also had a best-selling book that was made into a TV-movie! Now, knowing who he is, I may read it.

David, that is such a wondrous story about Angela and your grandmother! It doesn't surprise me in the least that she was kind like that, but it does my heart good to hear it. She's a true class act. Thank you for sharing that with us!

Shawn McGuire said...

I used to listen to AL on my Disney album, on the song from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Age of Not Believing. Coming after When You Wish Upon a Star and I Wanna Be Like You, and other magical tunes, her voice was to me, strange, not Disney-like. I was so young and had no idea who was singing. But her voice wasn’t like a cartoon character or particularly beautiful. I never picked up the needle, though, I kind of liked it. Later the Disney Channel came out and it was a featured movie of the month. And when the song came on, it was so familiar to me, it was strange seeing her being the source of the voice. Loved AL in Manchurian Candidate. (Meryl wasted her time in the remake.)

Lucky7Camper said...

I always felt a connection to Angela Lansbury because she reminded me of my 5 white haired clear blue eyed great aunts who all hung out together. Then I saw Sweeney Todd on Broadway and Angela walked into the restaurant we were having dining at post show and she walked in like the Broadway royalty she was. I never thought she looked like my little old aunties again. She looked as pretty as she does in the black mink set. Thank you once again for making me smile at what becomes a legend most.....

Ken Anderson said...

I'm so pleased you had the opportunity to check out this film you'd previously avide/had no interest in! Really something of a surprise isn't it? I can't imagine they didn't have a hell of time knowing how to sell it, because the pleasures to be found are such small, gentle ones (you can't promote it as an out and out comedy, nor is it a wholly a coming of age drama.)
In any event, I'm glad you enjoyed it, thank you for the shout out (so generous), and applaud your highlighting Lansbury. Your description of her looks is one of the most accurate I've ever come across. Certainly a quality that makes her so interesting when playing attractive women with unsavory sides. Very much enjoyed the imagining of Lansbury as a movie MAME through screencaps of ORIENT. Well done! (As usual.)

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks, Shawn, for your recollections. I was so dense as a kid I used to play those 45 records with a read-along book and at the end of some of them it would say "When you hear the tone, flip to side B" and then the tone would come and I'd RACE across the room and flip the record because I thought if I waited, the story would continue without me! LOL (In my defense, it's because one time I must have put the needle down too far into the 45 and caught the story mid-sentence.) Also, "I" did not waste my own time with the "Manchurian" remake... it's like they say, they ought to remake the BAD movies, not the good/great ones!

Lucky7Camper, how wonderful that you got to see her on stage AND in person! I can see that was a lasting memory. :-)

Ken, I truly enjoyed "Henry Orient." I think you say it (or something like it) in your own profile of the film that Peter Sellers isn't given the screen time to become grating as he could sometimes become. He's in it enough to be amusing, aided by an expert cast in support. The whole movie is a blend of comedy, gentle and broad, and relatable drama. And it's beautiful to look at, too. Thanks bunches for coming here and reading/commenting!

Shawn McGuire said...

Poseidon, are you implying you were a part of the Manchurian remake production? I’m sorry if I sounded like a hater. I actually liked the film overall. It just wasn’t the right role for Meryl. But in what capacity were you involved? With such a diverse cast and so many great talents, there must be some good stories from that underworld.

Poseidon3 said...

Shawn, no no! I'm sorry if I misled you. I just meant that I didn't waste my time VIEWING it. I saw no need to... If you liked it I'm glad. I just didn't feel the need for it to be redone and thought I could get by without watching it. BTW, I've never been involved in any major film. I wasn't even selected to be in "Fresh Horses" when it was filmed here - LOL! One of my best friends was, however. And as I'm not free during the day I never even get to attempt to be in the many films that are made here now ("Carol," "The Ides of March," "Reprisal," "The Old Man & the Gun" and so on...), though friends of mine often pop up in small roles... <:-(

Narciso Duran said...

It's nice to drop in here again. Odd that for the past several days I have been on an Angela Lansbury kick, and then I visit the Underworld for the first time in ages, and there she is!

You must visit YouTube and seek out "A Talent for Murder" (1984) a BBC TV movie starring Lansbury and Sir Laurence Olivier. She is over the top and hilarious as a murder mystery writer, with hilarious dialogue between her housekeeper and her. It verges on camp, with Lansbury in a Bette Davis "Dead Ringer" hairdo and "Dear World" eye shadow, and is quite enjoyable. Claudette Colbert had a success with it on Broadway in 1981.

Poseidon3 said...

Narciso, I will indeed look up that movie. It's great to see your name again. I'm sorry I lost you! Maybe you can take a little time to wander back through recent posts and see if anything captures your interest again. I don't know why, but it surprises me that Claudette Colbert was on Broadway in 1981! Thanks for sharing that information.

VictorG said...

I'm late to the party but a big fan of Miss Lansbury's. I love The World of Henry Orient, it is such an off-beat film and I adore seeing the photos of the gorgeous fashions and hairdos created for Angela Lansbury. And your interpolation of Mame dialogue is brilliant! I have been lucky enough to see some of her Broadway shows and must say that my stage door experiences with her have always been a fan's dream come true. When she starred in Blithe Spirit, the producers had a car waiting for her in Shubert Alley with cordons set up on both sides for her fans to wait behind. Miss Lansbury emerged from the stage door to the cheers of hundreds of people waiting in the cold and she signed autographs for as many as she possibly could, taking her time and engaging her fans. When the time came to leave she entered her car and departed to a tumultuous ovation from her adoring fans, as befits a true legend. It was an unforgettable experience and aside from her formidable talent is another reason why she is such a beloved star. Thank you for your fabulous site which always brings so much happiness to so many.

Poseidon3 said...

Never too late, Victor. I'm glad you like the application of "Mame" lines onto some of the pics from "Orient!" ;-) I love hearing about how wondrous Lansbury was to her fans. She's truly special. Thanks very much for your comments and for sharing your experiences with her!