She walked onto the stage, in tan slacks, a red sweater and simple jewelry, as normally as one would walk into their living room after retrieving a glass of iced tea from the kitchen. But for us, the audience, it was anything but a walk through the house. It was Angela Lansbury. And she was walking on the stage to a standing ovation and cheering from an audience already engaged in and completely ready for this night of conversation and storytelling from an actress with 70 years in the business, 54 years in marriage and more stories and experience than we had time.
Susquehanna University (SU) in Selinsgrove, PA hosted Angela Lansbury last night. Our previous home was across the road from SU and often we took advantage of nights such as this with different speakers and events. Having moved away from that location three years ago we don’t frequent those opportunities as often, but last night was one worth the 45 minute drive to attend.
The auditorium was packed. We took our seats, sixth row from the front, center aisle, and settled in for what would be a night of laughter, a few tears, memories and soaking in wisdom that far surpassed ours.
Angela Lansbury’s grace, charm and confidence commanded the stage,but not in an overbearing or overstated sort of way. In a way that shows only when you have as many years of experiencing life as she does.
When she walked on stage I didn’t realize how excited I would be by that moment. Truthfully I only know her from multiple watchings as Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote (Angela referred to Jessica as “a good egg. I liked her.”) over the years with my grandmother, mother, and now my own kids. I may have been more excited than my kids….though they were pretty excited too last night.
At one point Angela fist pumped the air to rounding cheers at the slightest mention of Murder She Wrote. She seemed to have the same affection for Jessica we all do,at another point calling her “a terrific dame”.
She was my hero once again.
The evening was a conversation with Angela answering questions asked by the night’s host, but adding in her own stories of wit and experience in her field, both filled with words worthy of listening to. The kind of words you want to settle deep within and the kind of words that mean something both now and 10 years from now.
Her spirit and demeanor were young. A spirit who has not been slowed down by the years, only made more solid and real by them. A couple of times while talking she would lean forward, resting her elbows on her knees clasping her hands together in front of her and talk to the audience like the rest of us might lean forward and have a casual conversation around the campfire.
She had a genuine, honest air about her. I like that. To a couple of questions she simply answered “No.” And ‘no’ was enough unless and until she chose to expound on her answer.
Some words I wrote down in my journal from last night’s conversation:
Q: What is the key to working?
A: I love what I do, what I get to do.
“I had a God-given talent and I used it.”
“If someone offers you something extraordinary go and do it. See if you can pull it off. That’s the fun of the game.”
“I learned what I needed to do, loved to do and always wanted to do.”
“Practice, practice. Refine, refine.”
“When we stopped we were all sad, but you have to stop somewhere.”
Q: Talk to us about Stage Presence. Is that something you can learn? A: “No.” followed by a wink at the audience.
“Staying safe and saying the proper things will get you nowhere.”
“I’m an old bird who has a few truthful things to say.”
“Sometimes things fall apart. If you know anything about my life you know that there have been times in my life where things have fallen apart, but you go on.” With tears from her and cheers from us she blew us kisses. I felt like she had true appreciate for us.
Q: Talk about success as a woman. Your legacy. Are you a role model? A: No. It was a reasonable kind world I came up in. It’s a different world. I barely fit into it.
“I’ve had a wonderful life. Incredible. Different and exciting. Different. I don’t regret any bit of it. Wonderful family. Great husband. I lost him ten years ago. He wanted me to go on. And I did.”
I didn’t want the hour to end. I wanted Angela to invite me over for a salad and iced tea on her deck followed by scones and hot tea, followed by a walk through the gardens talking about flowers and sharing stories. I wanted to hug her.
I wanted her to hug me back.
I bet she’s probably a good hugger.
The 45 minute drive home was filled with conversation between my girls and I on the evening. What we learned, what we took away, what we noticed. It’s safe to say Angela Lansbury has solidified her place in the minds of two young girls.
Kaitlyn, who was sitting on the end of our row, is pretty sure Angela made eye contact with her for about three seconds, including a smile.
I’m pretty sure she did too.