How MS is Like Angela Lansbury
Right. You’re probably thinking I’ve really gone ‘round the bend this time. What in the world does Angela Lansbury have to do with multiple sclerosis? It’s a terrible insult to compare a legendary actor to a debilitating, incurable disease. What did Angela Lansbury ever do to me?
Loss of innocence
Angela Lansbury has done nothing except thrill me. Her range is freakishly broad. Her performances are precisely crafted in language and nuance, convincingly wrought and ruthlessly honest. She is not what you would describe as chameleon-like, changing her look with each role so as to be unrecognizable, like Gary Oldman in DRACULA or Charlize Theron in MONSTER. In fact, her appearance has remained eerily unchanged from her first roles in GASLIGHT and NATIONAL VELVET (both made in 1944) at age 19, to her iconic role as the evil mother of all mothers-turned-Communist-operative in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) at age 37, to her 12-year stint playing amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher in MURDER, SHE WROTE (1984-1996) from age 59-71, to her television performance in DRIVING MISS DAISY (2015) at age 89. Her eternal sameness despite the passage of some 50 years is alarmingly similar to the lead character in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, a depraved man who remained young and beautiful decade after decade while his portrait grew grotesque—a movie which, come to think of it, she had a part in as well--as that of an innocent love-struck girl who kills herself when Dorian abandons her. “I was never young,” Lansbury remarked in a 2012 interview as an explanation for her teen-aged adult bearing. Life in war-torn London had robbed her of her youth. That loss of innocence added a world-weary credibility to her early roles, making her seem much older than her actual age.
Likewise, multiple sclerosis robbed us of ours. For many of us, our innocence was burgled as suddenly and unforgivingly as buzz bombs obliterated Lansbury’s family flat in 1939.
But, again, why compare Angela Lansbury to a bunch of misfiring nerves? Just this. Many of her characters are those of schemers and tormenters. Insidious would only be skimming the surface of those women. In film after film, she preyed on the weak, vulnerable, sick, and elderly.
- In GASLIGHT (1944), she plays Nancy, a Cockney chambermaid in cahoots with her employer to drive fragile, high-strung Ingrid Bergman insane in that big scary house using flickering lights and heavy overhead footfalls late into the night, all to rob her of the family jewels hidden in the attic.
Multiple sclerosis schemes to rob us of our sanity in the same Gothic style by putting objects in front of us to trip over, making our personal items mysteriously disappear into the bowels of our homes, and robbing us of our family fortunes to pay for all those expensive meds, treatments, and tests, to name just a few.
- In KIND LADY (1951), Lansbury plays Mrs. Edwards, a grifter married to homicidal butler Keenan Wynn. Again she plays a wolf in servant’s clothing, scheming along with her domestic posse to force genteel old Dame Ethel Barrymore to sign over her wealth before they throw her out the bedroom window as a feigned suicide.
Multiple sclerosis can isolate us inside a stifling room with seemingly no way out except through that proverbial second story window to freedom.
Isolation, identity, and free will
- In THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), she plays Eleanor Shaw Iselin, the wife of a radical conservative politician who accuses his peers of being communists while campaigning to be the next vice presidential candidate. Under the guise of a commie-hating super-patriot, Eleanor is actually a communist operative who manipulates her brain-washed son, Raymond, into ruthlessly eliminating the presidential candidate and replacing him with covert communist Iselin.
Multiple sclerosis can infiltrate the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, and that’s just the physical stuff. Like control freak Eleanor Iselin, MS can also demoralize, bully, and otherwise rob us of our identity and free will.
Still think I’m crazy to compare Angela Lansbury to MS? Okay, maybe so. But it’s a good crazy, because MS hasn't robbed me of my humor, free will, and creativity. I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had trotting it out.
How well do people around you understand MS?