Angela Lansbury just passed away five days short of her 97th birthday. I got to see her perform live twice. Once in 1981 in Sweeney Todd with George Hearn as Sweeney at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (I liked Hearn, but I loved Len Cariou on the soundtrack album.)
The second time I saw her live was at the Hollywood Bowl concert for Stephen Sondheim’s 75th birthday on July 8, 2005. They were a little rusty, but I finally got to Lansbury and Cariou as the definitive Mrs. Lovett and the definitive Sweeney Todd performing their definitive version of “A Little Priest” as shown below. Definitely (and definitively) worth the wait.
My first awareness of Angela Lansbury was probably her role as Eglantine Price in Disney’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971). I knew that the film was based in part on “The Magic Bed Knob” by Mary Norton, a book that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Young had read to the class. I had been absolutely enthralled by the book and was looking forward to seeing on the big screen. Alas, I missed seeing the film in the movie theaters during its first run.
A few years later, the Seal Beach recreation department had a screening of B&B as part of their children’s summer program. The screening was held on a Saturday afternoon in the Seal Beach city hall council chambers because it was large enough to seat an afternoon crowd of kids.
I remember being trusted enough to supervise my two brothers, probably around age 5 and 7 at the time, after being dropped off with them. I’m happy to report that they were very well-behaved and loved the film. That afternoon is one of my fond and treasured memories of the three of us from our shared childhood.
Over 40 years later I spent too many unpleasant hours in those same council chambers as the history chair during Seal Beach Centennial chair meetings, and I would sometimes imagine Angela Lansbury leading an army of empty suits of medieval armor animated by “substitutiary locomotion” into the room to smite the more obnoxious people at the table.
Sigh. That sound you hear is the ancient creaking door of the Twentieth Century slowly shutting.