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Angela Lansbury wins record-tying fifth Tony Award

June 7, 2009 |  5:38 pm

Angela Lansbury already holds one Tony Awards record — hosting the ceremony more often than anyone else (five times) — and now she has tied a second with her win tonight. In rare form as the medium in "Blithe Spirit," Angela Lansbury picked up her fifth Tony Award, winning the featured (supporting) actress in a play race. Angela Lansbury's previous four victories were all for lead actress in a musical: "Mame" (1966), "Dear World" (1969), "Gypsy" (1975) and "Sweeney Todd" (1979).

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Julie Harris won five times for lead actress in a play: "I Am a Camera" (1952), "The Lark" (1956), "Forty Carats" (1969), "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" (1973) and "The Belle of Amherst" (1977). And Harris still holds the record for most nominations for a performer with 10 nods.

But was Lansbury's role as the wacky Madame Arcati really a "featured" one? It was placed in that category after "Blithe Spirit" producers requested that classification from the Tony nominating committee, knowing that Lansbury had better odds of prevailing there.

The original 1941 run of "Blithe Spirit" predated the Tony Awards by six years. However, in the 1964 musical version – "High Spirits" – Beatrice Lillie contended in lead, losing to Carol Channing for "Hello, Dolly!" And for the 1987 revival Geraldine Page was also in lead for playing Madame Arcati. She lost to Linda Lavin in Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound."

Lansbury has lost only one Tony race — when she competed for best lead actress in a play for "Deuce" two years ago and was bested by Julie White ("The Little Dog Laughed").  However, she failed to prevail in any of her three Oscar nods for supporting actress ("Gaslight," 1944; "The Picture of Dorian Gray," 1945; and "The Manchurian Candidate," 1962). And she holds the dubious distinction of having lost more Emmy races for acting than any other performer — 18 times, including 12 consecutive nominations for lead actress in a drama series for "Murder, She Wrote" from 1985 to 1996 and two for hosting the Tonycast.

Photo: Shubert Theatre

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