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For playing the maid with lip in Gaslight, Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, her very first nomination.
The honor was an achievement, but an even greater achievement for an actress just breaking into the movie business because Gaslight was Lansbury’s film debut.
The daughter of an established stage actress, her family moved from England to escape the bombings during World War II in 1940.
Her mother’s reputation assisted the young talent to get her name out, and while working at a department store, Director George Cukor invited her to test for a part.
"She'd had no movie experience at all. Yet the moment she stepped on the stage she was an absolute professional,” Cukor remembered. “[She] had this sullen mouth, and assumed the look of a thoroughly 'bad lot' girl.”
Despite being thoroughly impressed by the eighteen-year-old talent, Cukor found that the studio believed she wasn’t “sexy enough”. Not wanting to discourage her, Cukor called Lansbury to compliment her on her fine work, but to prepare her for a potential let-down.
When co-founder of MGM Louis B. Mayer saw her Lansbury’s test footage, he knew they had to sign her on in 1942, and her first project with the studio thankfully became Gaslight.
“The cast treated me wonderfully well,” Lansbury said. Of course, she made sure to act very respectful on her first movie experience, being a little shy and reserved.
“I had to act a lot more sophisticated and worldly in every sense.”
Since she was still young, Lansbury was given high heels to add height and her costume was padded out all around.
Cukor said, "Ingrid was pleased by my choice. She said Angela Lansbury helped her greatly to discover and keep her own character."
Lansbury felt the appreciation too.
“It was a thrilling experience to work with an absolute ace director George Cukor and to work with Ingrid, a wonderful lovely woman, who was so kind to me and gave me pause,” Lansbury remembered. “It was a great experience for a first movie.”