March 16, 2016
Stage and screen icon Angela Lansbury appeared at Susquehanna University Tuesday to give theatre students a "chance to listen to an 'old bird' who has a few true things to say."
Punctuated by many laughs and a few tears, Lansbury, 90, discussed her 70-year career with Assistant Professor of Theatre Anna Andes. The five-time Tony Award winner was frank about the incredible highs of a career that has spanned movies, Broadway and television, and also about the lows of ageism, professional failure and personal struggle.
"If you have the opportunities in life which I have had—great directors, great writers, great producers—who bring things to me and I think, 'Why would he think I could do this?'" Lansbury said. "I'm challenged, therefore I go with it."
While under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lansbury consistently played supporting characters older than herself, and eventually left the studio to pursue stardom on the stage. Then, in 1966, along came Mame and the leading role that would win Lansbury her first Tony Award.
"I really had to fight for that part," Lansbury said. "It was the first time in my career I was going to be let out to play the most incredible woman, and I just went for it."
Describing it as her breakthrough, Lansbury's career took off from there. She would go on to star in productions of Dear World, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd before taking on the role for which she is best known, Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote.
To the students, Lansbury pointed out that failure is a stepping stone to success. Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle was Lansbury's musical theatre debut. It fizzled, running for only nine performances.
"It was a gross failure," she said. "But it made me realize that I could do it."
To her longevity, Lansbury credits her adaptability, imagination and personal strength, even when "the world is falling in around you. And if you know anything about my life, you know that it has," she said.
As theatre's new blood sat at rapt attention among a sold-out audience in Susquehanna's Weber Chapel Auditorium, Lansbury offered this parting advice: "Go and do it and see how well you can bring it off," she said. "That's the fun of the game."
Earlier in the evening, Lansbury mingled with Susquehanna theatre majors at a reception at the university president's home, conversing and posing for selfies.
Lansbury's appearance was made possible by The Dr. Bruce L. Nary Theatre Guest Artist Fund. The Nary fund was established in 2005 for the purpose of bringing to campus recognized professionals in the field of theatre. It honors the late theatre professor Bruce L. Nary for his love of teaching and the significant contributions he made to the Department of Communications and Theatre during his 31-year career at Susquehanna.