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Angela Lansbury received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Gaslight. The honor was an especially great achievement because the classic drama was her 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 initially, but Lansbury's presence was undeniable on camera. While working at a department store, Director George Cukor invited her to test for a part in his upcoming film.
"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.
Thankfully, when co-founder of MGM Louis B. Mayer saw Lansbury’s test footage, he knew they had to sign her. And so, her first project 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 to make her appear more mature.
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.”