Angela Lansbury Was 'Shocked' When Her Marriage To Her Gay Husband Ended

May 16, 2022 by apost team

Angela Lansbury, 96, is a British-American actress who is known for her many theater, film and television roles. Her career in show business has spanned nearly 80 years and she's actually considered one of the last remaining stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. 

Best known for her roles in “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Mame,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Murder, She Wrote,” Angela has also lent her voice to popular animation films such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Anastasia.”

She's been the recipient of many awards over her lengthy career, including an Honorary Academy Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BAFTA. She's also won an incredible five Tony Awards, six Golden Globes and an Olivier Award, among many other nominations.

But on top of her stellar career, Angela has also had an eventful personal life. At the age of 19, Angela married another actor named Richard Cromwell, who was 35 at the time. Less than a year later the couple divorced but it wasn't due to their age difference. Although it wasn't revealed at the time why they broke up, it later became known that Cromwell happened to be gay. Nevertheless, the pair remained close friends until his death in 1960.

Then in 1949, when Angela was around 24, she married the love of her life, Peter Shaw. Together the couple had two children — a son named Anthony and a daughter named Deirdre. Their love never faltered and the couple remained together until Peter's death in 2003, after which Angela went through a depressive period of mourning.

Read on to learn more about her love life over the years.  

Early Life

Angela Lansbury (1940), (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Angela was born to an upper-middle-class family in central London on Oct. 16, 1925. Her mother was actress Moyna Macgill and her father was a timber merchant and politician named Edgar Lansbury. Angela’s father passed away from stomach cancer when she was 9 and the actress has said that playing characters helped her cope with her grief.

Her mother struggled financially, and when she became engaged to another man, Angela and her mother moved in with him in Hampstead. Angela continued to educate herself with the help of books, movies and the theater. The young girl also learned how to play the piano and studied music at the Ritman School of Dancing. In 1940, she studied acting at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art.

With the onset of the London Blitz, Angela's mother decided to move her family to the United States in 1940. Once there, Angela earned a scholarship from the American Theatre Wing, which granted her access to study at the Feagin School of Dramatic Radio and Arts. After graduating from the school in March of 1942, her family once again moved, this time to Greenwich Village. 

A natural-born actor all of her life, Angela has said:

“I did want people to notice me as a child. At the age of 11 or 12, I remember sitting on buses and trying to look interesting. Or I would get people’s attention by saying something kind of outlandish that simply sounded as if I knew something they didn’t know.”

She added:

“I had no adolescence. And I was too busy preparing to become an actress. It never occurred to me not to go on, not for one second. Nor did I think I was missing anything.”

Start In Hollywood

Angela Lansbury (1947), (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

Angela began her professional acting career at the young age of 17 when she went from working the cosmetic counter at a small department store to suddenly signing a contract with MGM Studios. MGM had been looking for young British actresses to fill their roster, and Angela fit the bill perfectly.

Shortly after she signed with MGM, she had her first major role in the 1944 movie "Gaslight," in which she starred alongside such Hollywood greats as Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Astoundingly, this first landmark role garnered the then-rookie actress an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and sent her career rocketing to the top seemingly overnight. 

Angela's first Oscar nod was followed very shortly thereafter by a second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the film "The Picture of Dorian Gray." However, during this time, most of her roles were supporting characters, as Angela was under contract with MGM, which made her steadily grow unsatisfied with the way she was cast. She voiced her unhappiness in a 2017 Vanity Fair interview where she said:

"I was a utility actress, as far as MGM was concerned. They could put me into almost any role, and I would act it." 

This often had the young actress playing the role of middle-aged women despite the fact that she was a good 20 years younger than the characters she represented. MGM's way of handling her left her feeling underappreciated and stifled in her career and skills. As she explained in the same interview: 

“MGM did not have a clue as to how to use me. And eventually, I couldn’t wait to leave because I wasn’t getting anywhere.”

She finally canceled her contract with MGM in 1952 and left acting for a while and instead chose to focus on her growing family.  

Her Notable Roles 

Angela Lansbury (1962), (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

When she returned to acting, Angela's career continued to rise. However, once again she was typecast in roles as older women who were often villainous or antagonistic characters. She went so far as to complain that "Hollywood made me old before my time." During the '50s and '60s, she portrayed a number of middle-aged women, even though she was only in her 30s. 

In the 1961 movie “Blue Hawaii,” 36-year-old Angela portrayed the mother of Elvis Presley’s character Chad Gates, even though Presley was 26 at the time. The year after, she portrayed Laurence Harvey’s scary mother in “The Manchurian Candidate,” while Harvey was three years her junior. Nevertheless, the role landed Angela her third Academy Award nomination. 

Arguably her most famous character, however, is Jessica Fletcher, the author-turned-sleuth from the long-running television drama series “Murder, She Wrote.” The show debuted in 1984 and remained on the air until 1996. Angela's wit, warmth and integrity made the show a smash hit. Her turn in the series is widely considered to be her most popular, but this signature role of hers almost didn't happen, as she went against her agent's recommendations, who had instead favored the main role in a sitcom that she was offered at the same time.

But Angela went with the role she wanted to play the most, and aren't we all lucky she did! It brought her a great deal of recognition and cemented her icon status in the minds of a new generation of TV viewers while reviving interest among her longtime fans. Furthermore, she also received numerous award nominations for the role, including the Primetime Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and SAG Awards.  

Angela Lansbury (circa 1984), (CBS/Getty Images)

What's more, Angela took on the role in "Murder, She Wrote" in her 60s, an age many in Hollywood would consider past an actor's prime. Instead, it made her a powerhouse in the entertainment industry, and many touted her to be the most powerful woman on television at the time. She wished to make sure her character's personality remained strong, so Angela pushed for changes to the script if the character wasn't to the right standard. Several of Angela's family members, including her husband and son, also worked on the show. She would continue to play that part with her signature passion and charisma past her 70th birthday.    

During an interview with Studio 10 in Sep. 2018, Angela opened up about the iconic show and her role in reshaping Fletcher's character. While the writers originally wanted the character to be a bit sillier, Angela wanted to portray her as a smart woman who was more dynamic.

“By the time we were finished, she had gotten back her sense of purpose as a woman, she was attractive, she had boyfriends, she had a nice wardrobe,” Angela said. “She became much more of an ‘every woman’ rather than a kook.”

Then, towards the end of the century, Angela's career took yet another turn when in 1996 she managed to conquer Broadway when she played the titular character in the musical-comedy smash hit “Mame.” The list of her Broadway triumphs is long and varied. From Mama Rose in “Gypsy” to the murderous widow Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Angela always gave her Broadway audiences something remarkably special. She has continued to remain faithful to the stage to this day, while she appeared in a London West End revival of “Blithe Spirit” in 2015.  

Career Recognitions

Angela Lansbury (1987), (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

Forbes reported that the incredible actress was initially offered the role of Nurse Ratchet in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975, but she turned it down because she didn’t know if she would be able to handle it. Instead, Louise Fletcher was cast and went on to win the Oscar for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role for her portrayal of the character. 

Nevertheless, the list of awards and nominations that Angela has received in the course of her incredibly long career is nothing short of remarkable. In addition to her three Academy Award nominations, she also managed to earn seven Tony Award nominations, five of which she's won. Even if an Oscar for a particular performance eluded her, she was finally given an honorary Academy Award in 2014. In addition, she earned an amazing 18 Emmy nominations and 15 Golden Globe nominations.

With such a long career behind her, it’s no surprise that Angela is one of the most awarded actresses of all time and has been honored multiple times for her hard work and dedication to the entertainment industry. In 2010, Angela passed Meryl StreepJack Nicholson and Alan Alda for the most Golden Globe Award wins. While each of the other actors has six wins, Angela won her seventh that year. She also received the John F. Kennedy Center Honors in 2000 for all of her incredible work and dedication to the arts.

Angela has gone above and beyond in her professional life multiple times, and she has brought that same attitude toward more personal endeavors. The actress has been a strong supporter of certain charities, including Abused Wives in Crisis, an organization that helps victims of domestic abuse, as well as a number of charities aimed at fighting against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Personal Life

Richard Cromwell (circa 1935), (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With such a busy career, it's a wonder Angela had time for a personal life at all. But in fact, she was even married twice. As she found early success in Hollywood, Angela first married Cromwell, a fellow actor, in 1945 when she was just 19 and he was 35. However, the relationship wasn't meant to be and by 1946 they had gotten divorced. The pair didn't discuss why their union hadn't worked at the time, but years later Angela revealed that it wasn't only their age gap that was an obstacle, but the fact that Cromwell was gay. Angela told Radio Times, as reported by Attitude:

"I had no idea that I was marrying a gay man ... I found him such an attractive individual. He wanted to marry, he was fascinated with me, but only because of what he had seen on the screen."

She added 

"But it was a shock to me when it ended, I wasn't prepared for that. It didn't injure or damage me in any way, because he maintained a friendship with me and my future husband (Peter Shaw) ... It was just a terrible error I made as a very young woman. But I don't regret it."

Cromwell died of liver cancer in 1960. However, Angela found true love soon after with Peter, an actor and producer who she married in 1949. Her marriage to him proved to be the big one. Peter already had a son from his first marriage, David Shaw, and Angela took him in as her own. David once said:

“She’s a great lady. I came in and she didn’t have to have me. It was an incredible thing to do. She always puts family first.”

However, the couple had plans for more children, so in 1952, Angela gave birth to her son Anthony Shaw, while one year later the couple had a daughter named Deirdre Shaw. 

Peter Shaw, Angela Lansbury (1998), (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images)

Angela's family has always been incredibly important to her and even when she was off working as an actress, she knew her children were in good hands with Peter. Angela said in a 2012 interview:  

“I give Peter credit for so much that I probably wouldn’t have done had I been left to my own devices. He would say, ‘Go do it; I will take care of things here. Go.’ And I was always thankful that he did.” 

So strong was the couple's love that when Peter died in 2003, after 53 years together, Angela took it hard. She said in the same 2012 interview:  

“It’s not the life plan that one has. And it never occurs to you until suddenly it happens and that special person is gone.”  

The power couple worked together on many of Angela's projects over the years, and she noted that losing her soul mate was one of the biggest "dividing times" in her life. Angela talked to CNN about the depressive phase she entered after Peter died and how she didn't want to force herself to move on prematurely:

“I just knew I had to wait, and the moment would arrive when I had to look at the surface again and find a way to mend the rift inside my soul.” 

When asked in a 2018 interview if there was anything she still longed for after looking back over her long and illustrious career, Angela said:  

“We live on the memory of our lives, and I think that’s one of the things I cherish (most) is the memory of my family, the memory of my children growing up, the memory of life with my husband, the memory of knowing the people that I do. I just don’t want ever to forget.”  

Angela Lansbury (2019), (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/AFI)

Did you know about Angela Lansbury's two marriages including the one with her true love Peter Shaw? If you enjoyed reading this then pass this on to those you know so they can read about it too!  

Please scroll below for more stories :-)