16 October, 2015

An Open Letter to Angela Lansbury on her 90th Birthday

Dear Dame Angela,

It seems inappropriate to be writing this open letter to you on anything other than a now-vintage Royal typewriter, but alas. 

Happy 90th Birthday. 
You sure do know how to live a life. 

I often 'joke' on all forms of social media (and, well, truthfully to anyone who will listen including total strangers on public transportation), that my admiration for you borders on obsession. The truth is there is nothing borderline about it...


Your portrait is absolutely not my iPhone wallpaper...
The greatest day of my teaching life was NOT when my student Kendyl gave a report on you entitled “BOW DOWN...”
Nor did I name my cat after you...  
My cat: Tatiana Angela Lansbury Romanov

I have many personal and artistic role models (Danny Kaye, Cate Blanchett, Marcel Marceau, Irene Pappas and your real-life BFF Bea Arthur to name a few), but you remain, without exception, my only true idol. 

The truth is: not only your career, but your life itself is of profoundest meaning, inspiration, and influence. 

I’m sure you’d be really proud of my parents to know that I first came across you as Princess Gwendolyn in the 1955 classic The Court Jester (my father was Danny Kaye’s biggest fan). This resulted in many a dinner party in which 7-year-old-me regaled guests with citations of you saying “I don’t give a FIG for your wishes!” (and of course, the “Pellet with the Poison” sketch), and once in a while sneaking up behind other children on the playground and whispering “…if he dies, YOU die…” just like Princess Gwendolyn. ...Well, at least I thought I was pretty cool... 

I then devoured “Til The Clouds Roll By—” (like I said: I had great parents). As I grew of course I reveled in the magic of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Beauty and the Beast, not to mention exclusively watching Murder, She Wrote if ever I stayed home from school for any reason. 

"The theater is magical and addictive."

As a teenager I became enamored with the theatre, and that was truly where, what can only be described as the tsunamic-thrall of respect for your legacy deepened. 
I did reports on you.
Devoured your early cinema work.
I delighted in watching you host the Tonys.
Wrote your quotes about life and acting in my journals
     and, perhaps most importantly, 
created THE ANGELA LANSBURY POWER PLAYLIST (starting with “We Need a Little Christmas,” taking the scenic route past “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Worst Pies in London,” Pirates of Penzance and “Bosom Buddies” then ending with your “Rose’s Turn”). 
By the end of college, the deal was sealed. 

When I moved to America from London at the very end of 2009, I was in a state of intense personal turmoil. The only adult life I’d known had crumbled in London, and I was starting over in The Big Apple with nothing to lose—because, frankly, I’d already lost it all. 

But I was lucky enough to be able to catch you live on stage several times. I even happened to sing an aria from Master Class at The Acting Company’s benefit honoring Terrence McNally that you hosted in 2011 (but was honestly so overwhelmed by singing on my first Broadway stage in yours and other luminaries’ presences, I couldn’t even face the CONCEPT of meeting my only idol that evening…) You were a true lady—you gave me a hearty, smiling “Brava” from the seat beside Terrence, and you spoke with eloquence, honesty and warmth. I also had the privilege to meet you personally at Terrence’s opening of It’s Only a Play, in which you were just a gracious and dignified. 

In short: you were everything I hoped you to be. 

But while I always admired your work, something happened to me personally in 2012 that changed me, and your influence was right at the center of it. 

I “awoke”  in the middle of the bitterly cold winter of 2012, to a wave of intense emotions I believe I had been tabling since my move from London, and more than likely a hefty load of feelings from the passing of my father in 2001. I was processing grief, heartbreak, and a total shift in professional identity; and, though it sounds almost laughable at the age of 27, I was feeling that I had started over “Too Late.” 
That it was “too late” for me to make it in the American theatre
Too Late” to find another life partner
Too Late” to recreate myself 
Too Late” to ever feel young and vibrant again.
Above all, that the chance to begin again was “behind me.” 

I took to my sofa—and, in the fashion of all respectable nervous breakdowns, I adorned myself in the customary uniform (aka ‘The Bathrobe of Shame’), stopped eating anything that couldn’t be lazily pawed into my mouth, and promptly contracted walking pneumonia. I was winning at life. 

And then? Then, just like I had when I was a child home sick from school, I began re-watching all twelve seasons of Murder, She Wrote. It was light. Charming, It solved problems in 45 minutes. It was radically comforting. It was also a parade of gigantic theatre actors, screen stars, and stars-to-be. 
I love that as executive producer, you paid your actors well, I love that you gave “first-TV-chances” to young people you believed in, and above all, I love that in Season 6, when your real-life family was having trouble, you left Hollywood and prioritized their wellness, then returned to work like the professional you are. I love and admire your lifelong marriage (it reminds me of the love of my parents), I love how ardently you loved your husband, and your sons; I love that you were a wife and mother who was also an accomplished artist. 

"I was a wife and a mother, and I was completely fulfilled. But my husband recognized the signals in me which said 'I've been doing enough gardening, I've cooked enough good dinners, I've sat around the house and mooned about what more interior decoration I can get my fingers into.' It's a curious thing with actors and actresses, but suddenly the alarm goes off. My husband is a very sensitive person to my moods and he recognized the fact that I had to get on with something. Mame came along out of the blue just at this time. Now isn't that a miracle?"

But something else in that period hit me in the core of my being: 
You have proved that it is never too late for anything.
You not only prove it.
You live it. 
You are fearless. 
You are willing to try and attempt any kind of role, to transform yourself in any way. 
You became an Oscar-nominee at 18
     theatre star at 41
          a household name at 60
               and won your first Olivier at 89.
You work hard (you still do 8-shows a week on tour!)
You have re-invented yourself over and over again as an artist and a woman, from screen starlet to stage diva, to the most famous and beloved woman in television, and repeat.  
You stand like a pillar of fire, for those of us, just like me, that sometimes falter in our belief. That worry that the best of life is behind us...
It is not.  

Thank you for living it. 

"Here I am, I still go on, you know, like the tides..."

I have been putting off completing this open letter to you for years, for a large part of me knows that I could never truly say it all—and in truth, of course I cannot. I could never articulate the full intensity of what your life’s example truly means to me; how much it heartens, galvanizes, and ignites within me a personal, professional and spiritual goalpost. One of hard work, devotion, above all, hope. 

"I'm in a very enviable position, being able to work like this 45 years later. It's always beginning! I never have a sense of finishing up, just new things beginning. When I die, they're going to carry me off a stage."

I’m crying now, to be truthful. But only in joy. 

Thank you for your legacy. 
Your influence.
For the art you have given the world. 
For being the woman you are. 
Happy 90th Birthday Angela. 
The honor has been all ours.  

With infinite love and gratitude,

Alexandra Silber


  1. You couldn't have know how much I needed the pep talk embedded in this

  2. Love her! Saw Angela last year at my aunts service. Amazing woman!

  3. wow...that is just such a beautiful and heartfelt letter!

  4. How lovely to discover this most delicate landscape in you, and our mutual affection for Danny Kaye! Happy birthday to YOU!

  5. The best possible Birthday present. Beautifully written and so heartfelt. I hope Dame will see it. Thank you!

  6. how totally lovely to read!

  7. This is quite simply the best ever tribute to the life force that is Dame Angela Lansbury

  8. I so agree!!! Dame Angela sure would be proud and honored. Best Birthday present ever.

  9. I LOVE THIS!!

  10. Beauty, style, and quality all in one, Happy Birthday.

  11. Wonderful tribute to a great lady!

  12. How beautiful and honest this is Alexandra!! Thank you for sharing! xx



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