Moyna Macgill

Moyna Macgill (born Charlotte Lillian McIldowie; 10 December 1895 – 25 November 1975) was an Irish-born British stage, film and television actress, and the mother of actress Angela Lansbury and producers Edgar and Bruce Lansbury.[1]

Moyna Macgill
Moyna Macgill in 1945
Charlotte Lillian McIldowie

(1895-12-10)10 December 1895
Died25 November 1975(1975-11-25) (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1920–1964
Reginald Denham
(m. 1919; div. 1924)

Edgar Lansbury
(m. 1924; died 1935)
ChildrenIsolde Denham
Angela Lansbury
Bruce Lansbury
Edgar Lansbury
RelativesTamara Ustinov (granddaughter)

Early life

Born as Charlotte Lillian McIldowie in Belfast, she was the daughter of William McIldowie, a wealthy solicitor who was a director of the Grand Opera House in Belfast, a position that sparked her interest in theatrics and Elizabeth Jane (née Mageean).


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 misspelled as "MacGill" or "McGill", and on at least one occasion, the film Texas, Brooklyn and 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.

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.


Angela Lansbury would become a popular stage and film actress in her own right, starring in the long-running television series Murder, She Wrote after a string of successful musicals spanning between the 1940s and 1960s. 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.[2]

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, 15 days shy of her 80th birthday.[3]




  • The Way (1928)[4]


  • Gottfried, Martin (1999). Balancing Act, The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury. Little, Brown and Company.


  1. Balasundaram, Nemesha (23 January 2014). "Angela Lansbury: I find Ireland an extraordinarily warm place to live". Irish Post. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  2. Turner Classic Movies original production "Private Screenings: Angela Lansbury"
  3. "MOYNA M'GILL, 80 ACTRESS, IS DEAD". NY Times. The New York Times Company. 26 November 1975. p. 32. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  4. "Arts Theatre Club - "The Way." by Constance Malleson (Colette O'Niel)" (44851). London, England: Times. The Times Digital Archive. 26 March 1928. p. 10.
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