It was Tuesday afternoon, and I was in the middle of a Teams meeting. For the uninitiated, that’s a digital gathering during which you may or may not be seen, depending on how you joined the meeting. I always join with audio only, simply because I prefer to be a faceless voice from the great beyond. The others in attendance had begun a discussion ‘mongst themselves that really didn’t involve me, so I logged into my computer to check the news. After all, it had been a busy day. The world could be blowing up and I wouldn’t have a clue. I opened MSN and there, smiling back at me from the monitor, was Angela Lansbury.
It’s never a good sign when a vintage celebrity is smiling back at you from the interweb. I came real close to telling the other folks on the call that I had to go.
Sure ‘nuff, she had died at the grand old age of 96—just five days shy of her 97th birthday. For most of you that probably isn’t a big deal, but you need to understand, every night, when I get home after a very long day (meaning it’s usually around 10:00 or later), I turn on the TV, set the channel to 95 (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries), and proceed to watch an hour or so of Murder, She Wrote starring the aforementioned, newly deceased actress. That is unless it’s Christmas in July . . . or Christmas in October . . . or some other Hallmark something that replaces the mysteries half of their scheduling. At which point I am annoyed.
Anyone who wants to know anything about her career can consult my good friend Google and read about every stage, screen, and television role she’s ever had. You can find out her first real acting gig was in Gaslight at the age of 17, playing a cockney maid to Ingrid Bergman’s lead. That first film role earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress—and a social worker who had to follow her around on the set because she was so young. You can read about her extraordinary dedication to her family and their move to Ireland to help her children recover from their drug addictions. You might find out that with 111 film credits already, she had just this year finished her 112th role. And of course, any parent would recognize the voice of Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast. And any fan of television mysteries from 1984 – 2003 would remember the ever-observant Jessica Fletcher, retired English teacher, author, and amateur detective from Cabot Cove, Maine who traveled the world solving crimes . . . because you can only have so many murders in one small town.
What you may not find is that she loved simply staying at home, spending evenings with family and friends—and housekeeping. This woman loved cleaning her house. Reading, riding, and cooking . . . playing tennis and the piano . . . and gardening . . . all of those activities held a special place in her life. F. Scott Fitzgerald was her favorite author—and she claimed Roseanne and Seinfield as her preferred TV shows. She understood the responsibility that came with her position of influence, conducted her personal life in privacy, and her professional life with dignity, grace, and consideration of those with whom she worked. People magazine gave her a perfect score on their “lovability index”, while the New York Times referred to her as “The First Lady of Musical Theatre” and her biographer termed her an American icon with a “practically saintly” public image. As Variety put it in their October, 2020 article about her life and work, “Though powerful women were sometimes maligned . . . Lansbury has created a 77-year career and nobody has a bad word to say about her.” Make that 80 years now.
So this past Tuesday night, I walked into the kitchen a bit after 11:00, switched on the TV, and changed the channel to 95. It was a re-run of “Death Takes a Curtain Call” and Jessica had just informed Major Anatol Karzof, a Russian police officer played by William Conrad, that she was about to board a bus back to Cabot Cove. He spread his arms wide and said, “Then it is farewell only. Never goodbye.” And given the events of the day, I found that to be very fitting.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.