Moyna Macgill

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Moyna Macgill
Moyna MacGill cropped.jpg
Macgill in 1945
Charlotte Lillian McIldowie

(1895-12-10)10 December 1895
Died25 November 1975(1975-11-25) (aged 79)
Years active1920–1964
(m. 1919;div. 1924)

(m. 1924;died 1935)
ChildrenIsolde Denham
Angela Lansbury
Bruce Lansbury
Edgar Lansbury
Relatives Tamara Ustinov (granddaughter)
Malcolm Turnbull (distant nephew)

Moyna Macgill (born Charlotte Lillian McIldowie; 10 December 1895 – 25 November 1975) was an Irish actress from Belfast and the mother of actress Angela Lansbury and producers Edgar and Bruce Lansbury. [1] In 2020, she was listed at number 35 on The Irish Times list of Ireland's greatest film actors. [2]


Early life

Born Charlotte Lillian McIldowie at 42 Eglantine Avenue in south Belfast, she was the daughter of William McIldowie and Elizabeth Jane (née Mageean). [3] Her father was a wealthy solicitor of Scottish parentage who was a director of the Grand Opera House in Belfast, a position that sparked her interest in theatrics. [ citation needed ]


As a teenager she was noticed riding the London Underground by director and producer George Pearson, who cast her in several of his films. In 1918, she made her stage debut in the play Love is a Cottage at the West End theatres Globe Theatre. Encouraged by Sir Gerald du Maurier to change her name to Moyna Macgill (which invariably was misspelt as "MacGill" or "McGill", and on at least one occasion, the film Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven , as "Magill"), she became a leading actress of the day, appearing in light comedies, melodramas, and classics opposite Herbert Marshall, John Gielgud, and Basil Rathbone, among others.

Twenty-six-year-old Macgill was married with a three-year-old daughter, Isolde (who later married Sir Peter Ustinov), when she became involved romantically with Edgar Lansbury, a socialist politician, who was a son of the Labour MP and Leader of the Opposition George Lansbury. Her husband, actor Reginald Denham, named Lansbury as co-respondent when he filed for divorce. A year after it was finalized, Macgill and Lansbury married and with Isolde settled into a garden flat in London's Regent's Park.

With her daughter Angela Lansbury (1951) Angela Lansbury-Moyna MacGill.jpg
With her daughter Angela Lansbury (1951)

Macgill temporarily set aside her career following the birth of daughter Angela and twin sons Edgar, Jr., and Bruce (both went on to become Broadway producers, but Bruce is better known for his work on television, such as the series The Wild Wild West , Mission: Impossible , and his sister's Murder, She Wrote ), although music and dance were prevalent in their upbringing. When they moved into a larger house in suburban Mill Hill, she turned their home into a salon for actors, writers, directors, musicians, and artists, all of whom left an impression on young Angela and were instrumental in directing her interests towards acting.


MacGill’s daughter Angela Lansbury, after having featured in a number of musicals from 1940 to the 1960s, would become a popular stage and film actress in her own right, starring in the long-running television series Murder, She Wrote .

In 1935, Edgar Lansbury died of stomach cancer, a year after publishing a biography of his father George. Macgill began an affair with Scotsman Leckie Forbes, a former colonel with the British Army in India. The two moved their respective families to a house in Hampstead, but Macgill soon discovered Forbes' military career had made him a staunch disciplinarian who ruled the household like a tyrant.

When the opportunity to take her children to the U.S. presented itself just prior to The Blitz, she spirited them away under cover of night. She never spoke to Forbes again. In New York City, Macgill was unable to work in movies or on the stage, not having a work visa, and she took to presenting dramatic readings at private schools for income. [4]

In 1942, she was invited to join a troupe that was rehearsing Noël Coward's Tonight at 8.30 for a touring production designed to raise funds for the Royal Canadian Air Force. She accepted, and when the company finished the run in Vancouver, she headed to Hollywood to seek work there. She soon sent for Angela, and eventually, the twins and the family settled in Laurel Canyon.

Hollywood career

Her career in Hollywood consisted largely of small character parts in films and on television. Among her more notable film credits are Frenchman's Creek and The Picture of Dorian Gray (which co-starred her daughter Angela). In later years she made guest appearances on such television series as Studio One , The Twilight Zone , Dr. Kildare , Mister Ed and My Favorite Martian .


She died of esophageal cancer in Los Angeles, aged 79. [5]



Moyna MacGill, Irene Ryan, Florence Bates and Margaret Hamilton, in Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven (1948) Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven (1948) 2.jpg
Moyna MacGill, Irene Ryan, Florence Bates and Margaret Hamilton, in Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven (1948)
1920 Garryowen Violet Grimshaw
Nothing Else Matters Margery Rose
1923 Should a Doctor Tell? Woman on the Rack
1924 Miriam Rozella Miriam Rozella
1928 Pygmalion Woman BystanderUncredited
1943 Forever and a Day Woman in Air Raid ShelterUncredited
Jane Eyre DowagerUncredited
1944 The Uninvited Mrs. CoatsworthyUncredited
Frenchman's Creek Lady Godolphin
National Velvet WomanUncredited
Winged Victory Mrs. GardnerUncredited
1945 The Picture of Dorian Gray Duchess
The Clock Luncheonette LadyUncredited
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry Hester Quincy
The Sailor Takes a Wife Irate WomanUncredited
1946 Black Beauty Mrs. Blake
1947 Green Dolphin Street Mrs. Metivier
1948 Three Daring Daughters Mrs. Smith
Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven Pearl Cheever
1949 Private Angelo Marchesa Dolce
1951 Kind Lady Mrs. Harkley
Bride of the Gorilla Mme. Van Heusen
1952 Les Misérables NunUncredited
1964 The Unsinkable Molly Brown Lady PrindaleUncredited
My Fair Lady Lady BoxingtonUncredited (final film role)


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  1. Balasundaram, Nemesha (23 January 2014). "Angela Lansbury: I find Ireland an extraordinarily warm place to live". Irish Post . Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  2. Clarke, Donald; Brady, Tara. "The 50 greatest Irish film actors of all time – in order". The Irish Times.
  3. Turner Classic Movies original production "Private Screenings: Angela Lansbury"
  4. "MOYNA M'GILL, 80 ACTRESS, IS DEAD". New York Times . 26 November 1975. p. 32. Retrieved 7 June 2019.(subscription required)
  5. "Arts Theatre Club - "The Way." by Constance Malleson (Colette O'Niel)". No. 44851. London, England: Times. The Times Digital Archive. 26 March 1928. p. 10.