When the Rev. Brian Palmer was searching for ideas for a fundraiser for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the answer was no mystery.
Palmer, parish priest at St. Paul’s, called up an old friend who just happened to have an extensive background in the theater. And movies. And television.
The friend in question was none other than Angela Lansbury, best known for her leading role of mystery writer and amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the long-running mystery series, “Murder, She Wrote.”
Lansbury accepted Palmer’s invitation to appear in “A Conversation with Angela Lansbury,” scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at Cuesta College.
“It’s an interactive evening,” Palmer explained. “I will interview her, and then there will be traveling mics so people in the audience will have a chance to talk to her personally.”
Palmer met Lansbury in 2005 before he entered the ministry. He recalled he was developing properties in Los Angeles at the time, and Lansbury “just needed a renovation” on her ranch house in Brentwood. The pair hit it off immediately, he said.
“She’d come to the door and say, ‘Tea time, Ducky,’ ” Palmer recalled. “We just became wonderful friends. She’s the same person she is on ‘Murder, She Wrote.’ She’s just delightful.”
Lansbury’s connection to Cambria goes beyond her friendship with Palmer. He said she has fond memories of the area, having visited often when her brother-in-law, Pat Pullen, owned an antique store on Burton Drive called
Upstairs Downstairs. (In an interesting coincidence, another antique shop on Burton — Evans and Gerst — is providing the sets for Lansbury’s appearance at Cuesta, including Chinese screens and antique tables.)
“The green hills here in spring remind her of Ireland; she has a home there,” Palmer said.
Palmer said Lansbury was only too glad to fit the Cuesta event into her busy schedule. Not only that, he said, but “she put this show together for this audience; she had a 30-minute film produced, and I think they just finished it today.”
The film presentation will be followed by Palmer’s interview of Lansbury and a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Palmer said the actress’ willingness to help out is emblematic of her giving nature. He relates that, during her time on “Murder, She Wrote,” Lansbury went out of her way to help aging actors who were having trouble getting work — and, as a result, weren’t qualifying for benefits.
“She identified these great actors who hadn’t been acting in a while,” Palmer said. “She found out how many times they had to work to get acting benefits, and she would have her writers write them in. Her husband, Peter, would have them picked up in stretch limousines, and would have flowers waiting for them in their dressing rooms.”
Although she’s most widely known in the United States for her work on “Murder, She Wrote,” Lansbury’s career spans seven decades and includes an honorary Oscar, five Tony Awards, six Golden Globes and an Olivier Award. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in her first film, “Gaslight,” in 1944, and was nominated again in the same category a year later for her role in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
Other notable film roles include Mrs. Iselin in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1963), Miss Elgantine Price in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) and Great Aunt Adelaide in “Nanny McPhee” (2005).
Her Broadway work includes roles in “Mame” (1966), “Dear World” (1969), “Gypsy” (1974) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979), each of which earned her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
“She considers herself a comedian in the classic sense,” Palmer said. “She has been working from her 16th birthday with ‘Gaslight,’ and she’s leaving here to open a new play, ‘The Chalk Garden’ in London at 90.”
A conversation with A ngela Lansbury
- When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8
- Where: Cuesta College Cultural and Performing Arts Center
- Tickets: $75 for general admission; $150 for general admission and gala — available at www.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006.