Food You Can Eat: Celebrity Sunday Matinee: Angela Lansbury’s Angel Hair Pasta with Fresh Summer Tomatoes

Visit Cabot Cove, if you dare, the homicide capital of the United States

"Jessica, it's only 3 in the afternoon!" "Who gives a shit, Seth? It's January in Maine and it's already pitch black outside and 10 below."

The retrospective of FYCE offerings continues. This post is from July, 2022:

It was with great reluctance that I chose a recipe from Angela Lansbury (there are several out there) for this feature, because I feel duty-bound to provide biographical detail and I figured hers was quite extensive. Then I went to her wikipedia page. Oh my God. That woman accomplished more by the age of 25 than most actors achieve in a long lifetime.

Ange was born in 1925 in London to Belfast-born actress Moyna Macgill and wealthy timber merchant Edgar Lansbury who, despite his wealth and comfy circumstances, was a member of the Communist Party and a small-time politician. Moyna brought a daughter with her into the marriage, Isolde, and Moyna and Edgar went to on to have two more children after Ange, Bruce and Edgar. So far, so normal, sort of, but maybe not by 1925 standards.

When she was nine her father died of cancer and Mom became engaged to but apparently never married a Scottish colonel named Leckie Forbes and the brood moved into his house in Hampstead. That’s a lovely part of town. But war clouds were gathering and by 1940 London was being bombed (“The Blitz”) so Moyna packed up Angela, who had already started acting by the age of 14, Bruce, and Edgar Junior and they sailed off to America. Who knows what happened to Leckie. Isolde stayed behind because she had just married Peter Ustinov.

I won’t summarize this:

Macgill [Mom Moyna] secured a job supervising 60 British children who were being evacuated to North America aboard the Duchess of Atholl, arriving with them in Montreal, Canada, in mid-August. From there, she proceeded by train to New York City, where she was financially sponsored by a Wall Street businessman, Charles T. Smith, moving in with his family at their home at Mahopac, New York.

So many questions. Moving in with his family. One wonders what Mrs. Smith thought about all of this. Or maybe he was a widower or divorced? Mahopac is somewhat remote but is considered a New York City suburb; it’s up near Brewster, the home of Ann Marie, aka “That Girl.”

Ange got a scholarship to the Feagin School of Drama and Radio, which was then in Carnegie Hall. That must have been quite a commute. But by the time she graduated, in 1942, Moyna and the kids had moved on again, to Morton Street in the incredibly artsy and louche wartime Greenwich Village. Forget Angela Lansbury; I want to read Moyna’s (auto)biography.

Now according to wikipedia it seems like Moyna and Ange had powers of bilocation, because:

Macgill [Mom Moyna again] secured work in a Canadian touring production of Tonight at 8:30 and was joined in Canada by her daughter, who gained her first theatrical job as a nightclub act at the Samovar Club, Montreal. Having gained the job by claiming to be 19 when she was 16, her act consisted of her singing songs by Noel Coward, and earned her $60 a week. She returned to New York City in August 1942, but her mother had moved to Hollywood, Los Angeles, in order to resurrect her cinematic career; Lansbury and her brothers followed. Moving into a bungalow in Laurel Canyon, both Lansbury and her mother obtained Christmas jobs at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles; Moyna was sacked for incompetence, leaving the family to subsist on Lansbury’s wages of $28 a week. Befriending a group of gay men, Lansbury became privy to the city’s underground gay scene,and with her mother, attended lectures by the spiritual guru Jiddu Krishnamurti; at one of these, she met Aldous Huxley.

Now, remember, Ange was still a teenager and THERE WAS A WORLD WAR GOING ON.

To wrap up: Her mother gave a party where Ange met John van Druten, who was very famous at the time, and he co-authored the script for George Cukor’s 1944 Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman (who also, let me assure you, had a very interesting life.) He got her cast as the sinister Cockney maid. When filming began Ange was all of 17.

There’s so much more but that role in Gaslight made her famous and she’s been working and working ever since, up until fairly recently. Go to the wiki page yourself if you want to learn more (there’s a brief marriage to a gay husband, or course there is) but I’m going to stop here.

Angela Lansbury’s Angel Hair Pasta with Fresh Summer Tomatoes

This recipe is from Ange’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being (1990). As such, it is very light and healthy. I’d serve it as a side but it’s meant to serve 2 as a main.

1 lb. ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and chopped fine
Coarse salt
8 oz. dry angel hair pasta

Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and seeds, and cut into quarters. (I like to use Italian plum tomatoes, but any kind will do.) 

[Plop the blanched tomatoes in an ice bath, a bowl full of ice and water, which will make peeling the tomatoes a lot easier—Ed.] 

Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Then add the onion and sauté until it’s transparent. Add the quartered tomatoes, garlic, and salt, according to your taste. Don’t forget you’ve probably put some salt in the water the pasta is cooking in, and some of that flavor clings to the noodles, even after they’ve been drained. Simmer the tomato mixture gently for about 15 minutes. When the pasta is cooked, pour the hot sauce over it and, if you like, add some fresh basil leaves as a tasty and colorful garnish.



  1. Good for Moyna; she did well for herself and her four children, all the while flouting the social conventions of the day. And good for Angela to be around at age 96.

    The recipe is one of those simple but delicious meals, eh?

    • Moyna sounds like the original Momma Grizzly. In my mind’s eye I imagine seeing her taking one look at Sarah Palin in 2008 (I doubt she was alive in 2008) and saying, in a thick Belfast accent, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You should be ashamed of yourself.” And then getting really drunk and casually sleeping with a bisexual male friend 50 years her junior.

  2. She seemed old in The Manchurian Candidate playing the ex-POW’s mother but she was only 36!

    This is exactly the kind of thing to eat this time of year. I’m glad she (or her shadowy handlers) didn’t screw up the recipe by doing something like using garlic powder and tomato soup.

    • Laurence Harvey who played her son was 34.

      She seemed quite the nice lady in Murder She Wrote and Beauty And The Beast, but when I saw the Manchurian Candidate, I was surprised at how she well played the fucking evil, crazy and callous Eleanor Islin (I read the novel before I saw the movie.)

      BTW, that’s how I see Ginni Thomas.

        • The book and the movie plot line up.  Unlike most book to film translations, the filmmakers did a really excellent job of adapting the book (I don’t like the 2004 version-not because the filmmakers made the Queen of Diamonds like Hilary, but it was pretty fucking stupid trying to shoehorn 1950s paranoia into the 2000s.)

          • Richard Condon, the author of The Manchurian Candidate, wrote a string of books, most of them well-forgotten. He wrote Prizzi’s Honor, which, my opinion, was a terrible book and a terrible movie, and two even more terrible sequels. But TMC (the book and the original movie, not the grotesque remake) are both a kind of time capsule Zeitgeist-y that perfectly exemplify the dissociative paranoia of the age. In hindsight it’s pretty much accepted that Jack Kennedy was probably one of the weakest presidents ever elected, but at least he was young and optimistic, and had Nixon won the cult of paranoia would have extended well into the 1960s. It did, like Nixon himself, return later in the decade but the genie was let out of the bottle and that’s how the 70s became The Me Decade and not some kind of grim IBM/North Korea-like hybrid society.

    • Her cookbook is a little bit obsessed with sodium and its evils (says the guy who has been taking blood pressure medication since he was in his early 30s, but hey, that’s what drugs are for) so garlic powder and commercially produced tomato soup would have been big no-nos.

      According to her wiki page Ange used to complain that she was getting plenty of fan mail while still in her 20s and even then her admirers assumed she was at least 20 years older than she really was. It was partly genetics (although she was quite beautiful IRL in her 20s) and partly the roles she was given and excelled at. She’s just one of those people you can’t imagine being a teenager, like Nancy Pelosi or Richard Nixon.

  3. Again, I definitely appreciate these as I’ve learned a few tips/tricks on making a decent meal without forking over more bucks for takeout.

    BTW, if you find a decent home recipe for chicken shwarma then I’ll never get takeout again (haha, kidding.)

    • For a very brief period I used to live in what used to be Manhattan’s Little India, a patch of the East 20s generally called Murray Hill but in my microhood was called Curry Hill. The Indians themselves didn’t actually live there, but there were Indian shops and restaurants. Like many Manhattan apartments the kitchen was kind of an aspirational nook and little cooking took place in mine. I used to eat at those Indian restaurants all the time, most of the country’s cuisines were well-represented, but did I learn anything from my six-month sublet experience? No.

      I will say that that’s partly because Better Half has an aversion to curries (the restaurants usually had a few “American” dishes geared toward finicky eaters). I don’t know why he doesn’t like it, it is an amazingly varied diet, I think he might have a mild allergy to some of the most commonly used spices. And he lived in London (England, not Ontario) for a year, and London has, by far, the best Indian food from all over the subcontinent outside of India itself. All of this was a lose-lose-lose for both of us so I have no chicken shawarma to share.

      I will share that the much-ridiculed Hudson Yards development, lavishly subsidized by New York taxpayers and failing, as these projects tend to do, has a giant shawarma. It’s closed because people kept throwing themselves off it, probably in despair at what a ghastly waste of public money and resources the whole project was. It could have been worse. This is where former mayor Bloomberg wanted to build an Olympic Village should NYC provide enough baksheesh to the IOC to “win” hosting duties for the games in whatever year they were supposed to be held:

    • In a strange way I have a mirror experience. The first time we went to Rome we stayed in this very large floor-through residence that had been converted to a B&B. The place was massive; there were at least 10 bedrooms. There’s an Italian term for this kind of apartment. It’s from when prosperous Italian families didn’t have quite enough money to own their own houses in the big cities so they bought floors in communal buildings, like in New York at the same time, the latter half of the 1800s.

      Anyway, this B&B was geared toward Italian tourists to Rome and as such had Italian-only TV programming. This frustrated Better Half to no end, but watch it he did, and I was forced to be his interpreter, like Tony Last condemned to reading Shakespeare aloud to his captor in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. We watched some tennis, which really needs no explanation if you play tennis, which Better Half did competitively, and Italians love(d) variety shows that go on for hours so the singing and the comic stunt scenes were also self-obvious. But one late night Better Half was in control of the remote and came across an episode of Murder, She Wrote. It was in the waning years when Jessica moved to New York to teach criminal justice or psychological pathology or fiction writing or whatever at NYU (of course. Had Columbia allowed this brand encroachment they would have been stripped of their Ivy League status.)

      Anyway, I dutifully did a retranslation of something originally written in English, dubbed into Italian with no subtitles, to the grudging gratitude of my TV-obsessed travel companion.

    • It was the sodium she was watching out for, not the carbs. Ange doesn’t mention it but tomatoes like this also have vitamin C, and if you don’t blanch and peel them they’re like super-fruits. Vitamin C+++.

  4. I love Angela Lansbury and have for most of my life. Did you know she played Liz Taylor’s older sister in Liz’s first movie, National Velvet?

    I used to watch Murder, She Wrote with my grandfather.

    Also, this recipe reminds me of one that an ex-boyfriend used to make, the only difference being that he added summer squash or zucchini and some herbs. He was a sweetie… wonder what happened to him? Last time I saw him he had recently gotten married and had a kid. We worked at Renaissance Faire together one year.

    • Although I’ve been coupled off forever (and our anniversary is coming up soon—I was taken out to a very alcoholic and carb-fueled brunch this afternoon to begin the celebrations, hence  my very late contributions to my own FYCE post…) Where was I? Oh yes. I like recipes that remind me of places I’ve been with The Ball and Chain and the occasional ones I make from the Before Times, when I hadn’t even known of his existence.

  5. William Windom… I knew him best as Commodore Decker from Star Trek’s The Doomsday Machine.

    I didn’t know he jumped with the 82nd Airborne on D-Day/Market Garden and suffered the Hurtgen Forrest.

  6. Oh, here we are! RIP Ms. Lansbury. A life well lived. I actually saw her on Broadway in “A Little Night Music.” She was carried onto the stage to sing her song and then carried off. It kind of worked, which is the genius of Broadway and the imaginative minds behind it. She must have been in her 80s, at least. But like QEII she never stopped working. It’s one of the reasons why BH and I will never stop working. I enjoy my work and my charitable endeavors, so that’s good. BH doesn’t enjoy his work necessarily but he’s very good at it and it keeps this Ship of Fools afloat.

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