April 25, 2012


I don’t read much biography, I admit. My taste in non-fiction runs to science or politics or finance. Those few I have read are eclectic: Count Cagliostro, Rasputin and even the 600 page tome on Emily Post’s life. 

Still, I hovered over a puff piece recently about Angela Lansbury (“Angela Lansbury” by Len Cariou, “Vanity Fair,” 4, 2012). I’m old enough to recall her chilling performance as Milady de Winter in an early film version of the “Three Musketeers” and her portrayal of themanipulative mother in “The Manchurian Candidate.” She’s best known for her role as a lady sleuth in the TV series, “Murder She Wrote but she’s a chameleon actress, capable of many faces, which accounts for her staying power long after wearing a pushup bra had any cachet.

(courtesy: celebirony.com)

What interested me about her story was the revelation that before her film break in such classic films as “Gas Light” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” she earned her living as a salesclerk, working the perfume counter at Bullock’s, a west coast department store chain, now defunct.

She’s not the first to have risen from obscurity to the world stage. J. K Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame is a recent rags to riches saga. Life stories are nothing if not tales of human triumph either for good or ill. Adolf Hitler, we remember, began as a house painter.

To say that biographies inform as well as entertain is a truism, of course. But they do more than allow us to peek into the lives of famous people. They remind us that life can seem a game of chance — a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Certainly that’s what I came away with after reading Angela Lansbury’s monograph. Who knows, the next girl I meet behind a perfume counter may be destined to be the first woman president of the United States. If so, I hope I meet her soon.