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Charles Busch shares some unique and wonderful memories of his times with Angela Lansbury

This is my favorite Angela Lansbury tribute of all I’ve read today and it comes from actor, playrwight, cabaret entertainer, novelist, screenwriter, drag legend, star of the films Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die Charles Busch.

He writes:

I get embarrassed jumping onto the mortuary bandwagon, but as one can imagine, it was an honor to spend time in the presence of Angela Lansbury and I can’t resist sharing those memories.

In 2007, my friend Barry Kohn, the allergist who was the inspiration for my play “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” invited my partner, Eric Myers, and I to his Passover Seder. Barry had recently become friendly with Angela Lansbury since she’d been back in NY appearing in the play “Deuce” with Marian Seldes. I suggested to Barry on the phone, “You should invite Angela and Marian.” I was half-joking, but Barry replied, “That’s a great idea. I will.”

It was a small group: Barry, his wife Brina, Angela, Marian, Eric, Cherry Jones and her partner at the time, future Emmy award winner Sarah Paulson, and me. Angela confessed that this was the first Seder she’d ever attended. We all sat at the table and began reading from the ancient text that told of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt.

Suddenly, it hit me that I was “acting” with Angela Lansbury, Marian Seldes, Cherry Jones, and Sarah Paulson. I felt enormous pressure to give a performance worthy of this estimable company. It was spellbinding hearing them read with their distinctive voices; particularly Angela with her bright anglicized American accent and Marian in her low cathedral-like whisper. You would have thought they were co-narrating a program on the History Channel. When it came around to me, I made every effort to enunciate beautifully and read with emotional expressivity. I thought I was doing very well. When I finished, Eric, hissed in my ear, “I can’t believe you’re reading the Haggadah as Joan Crawford.” I whispered back defensively, “I’m giving it vocal color.”

During that time, I was appearing in my play “Die Mommie Die.” After a performance one night, a gentleman introduced himself to me and said that he was the director of the costume collection of the Museum of the City of New York. They were presenting a retrospective of the great fashion designer, Valentina, who had made gowns for Katharine Hepburn. Lynn Fontanne and Garbo among others. He said that he’d love to give me a private tour on a Monday when the museum was closed. Reflecting on who would enjoy going on that tour with me, I thought of my new chum Angela Lansbury. I sent a note via the stage door at “Deuce”. Angela emailed me back that she’d love to go. I can only imagine the look on the face of the director of the exhibit when I emailed him and asked if could bring along my friend… Angela Lansbury.

On that day, “Angie’ and I met outside the Museum and once inside we were quickly met by a lovely woman on staff who was so bowled over to meet Angela that she actually curtsied. We had a marvelous time not only having a private tour of the exhibit but then being taken “backstage” and shown drawers full of 18th century French gloves and fashion artifacts.

When we left the museum, it was raining and we jumped into a cab. I was going to drop her off at her apartment in the West fifties. Suddenly, I had this madcap notion and said, “We should have the driver drop us at Petrossian and have caviar and blinis.” Angie laughed and said, “Let’s do it!” I felt like Vera to her Mame and I exclaimed “But Mame! Mame!” I could see that she enjoyed being thrust into that glamorous role again. We had the most divine lunch. I was fascinated by her elegant table manners. She refused to take a bite if I was speaking and naturally, she wouldn’t eat if she was speaking. I couldn’t quite figure out how she ever got any food in her mouth. In the years since, I’ve attempted to emulate her, but can’t figure out how to do it and not let my meal get cold. I wonder if this was a skill she was taught at MGM.

How fortunate all of us were by her returning to the theater not once but four more times and then in several one night play readings for the Acting Company. I treasure the times I was in her presence as a rapturous audience member but also offstage. One last memory. My young twelve-year-old protegee, Nora, and I saw her in “Blithe Spirit” and we went backstage afterwards. It was an anniversary of the opening night of “Mame” and her dresser had surprised her by decorating her dressing room with memorabilia from that legendary production. She was wearing lounging pajamas and had her hair parted on the side and looked amazingly like her younger self. She greeted us at the top of the stairs in a Mame-like pose and exclaimed “It’s today!” Nora and I both nearly passed out.



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