Angela Lansbury's Journey To The US Was Fraught With Chaos

Angela Lansbury, who passed away on October 11, 2022 (per NBC News), lived a relatively privileged life as a child and young teenager –- right up until when she didn't anymore. As Britannica reports, she was born in London in 1925; her mother was an accomplished stage actress, her father a prominent politician, and her paternal grandfather the founder of the U.K.'s Labour Party.

As often as she could, she'd go to the movies, as she told The Harvard Gazette. "For nine pence you go see the matinee of a film ... And I saw — and this really did [have] an effect on me, as I think it did on all young women of my age who loved to dance – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I grew up with them," she said.

Unfortunately, over the course of a few years beginning in 1935, her idyllic life was shattered. When she was 9 years old, according to The New York Times, her father died of stomach cancer. His death was a trauma she carried with her throughout her life, per Biography. Five years later her beloved grandfather also died, whom she called an "extraordinary individual" per NBC News.

Around the same time, the Germans began bombing British cities. Angela's mother, now in "a rather unproductive and unsuccessful love affair," as Angela described it to NPR News (via WJCT), decided that life would be better for the family if they got out of England in favor of the United States.

Two Narrow Brushes With Death

Whereas just a few years earlier young Angela Lansbury had been living an idyllic life as the daughter of a politician and successful actress, by her middle teens her life, and that of her mother, were effectively in shambles. Lansbury had lost her father and grandfather, and her mother, now facing financial difficulties, was in a relationship with a Scottish colonel, Leckie Forbes (per Old Time Radio Catalog) that was going nowhere.

When the Germans started bombing London during World War II, the family decided it was time to skip town. They boarded a ship in Liverpool with a view towards crossing the Atlantic and may have narrowly missed death. 

"Liverpool, the city that we embarked from ... was bombed the night we left," she told Larry King in 2018 (via YouTube). Obviously, Lansbury and her family survived the journey –- but again, just barely. "Our ship was also bombed and was lost at sea after we got off," she added. 

Picking Up The Pieces

With the lives of her family in shambles, and her home country at war with Germany (and the larger cities facing nightly bombing raids), Angela Lansbury and her family arrived in New York in 1940 flat broke (per The Gentlewoman). "We came to America without a penny in our pockets," she told Larry King (via YouTube). Her family was fully supported by a generous American family.

Angela, 14 years old at the time, was too young to get a job to support her family. As she told NPR News, via WJCT, her mother (pictured above) was keen to restart her acting career on this side of 'the pond.' "She wanted to have a career," Lansbury said. "She was a very earnest and terribly hard-working actor, actress who found working and learning roles very, very difficult," she said.

Within a few years, the family had moved to Los Angeles, and not long after, Angela, now 17, got her big break. "My career in movies was jump-started by my being accepted for the role of Nancy in 'Gaslight,'" she said.