Murder, She Wrote's Angela Lansbury Being Spotted At An S&M Sex Club By John Waters Is The Most '80s Thing Ever

Jessica Fletcher smiling ecstatically in Murder, She Wrote pilot
(Image credit: Peacock)

As fine and dandy as it is to hear celebrity anecdotes from the current crop of Hollywood stars, it’s hard to think anything can ever compare to the buck-wild tales that came out of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and not even just the celebs with reputations for being wild and fancy free. Case in point: in the days following the death of Angela Lansbury, the beloved Murder, She Wrote star and Beauty and the Beast voice actress, the 2019 memoir from the hilariously provocative filmmaker John Waters started gaining attention anew for a passage in which he talked about catching a glimpse of the Bedknobs and Broomsticks star within the walls of an S&M-friendly sex club back in the Me-First Decade.

A director known for NC-17 content and critic-twisting films such as Pink Flamingos and Cry Baby, John Waters released the appropriately titled Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, which features a surfeit of engaging, surprising, and one-of-a-kind stories from his gloriously unique existence. Which, as it happens, included an evening where he laid eyes on Angela Lansbury inside the famed club Hellfire, which he’d described as a “dungeon-like sex club,” and was noteworthy for welcoming heterosexual patrons as opposed to the various gay clubs in the area. Page Six reached out to Waters to share a little more insight into that potentially illicit tale, and he said: 

[Angela] was pure class even forty years ago when these kind of clubs were all the rage. It may have been the only night she was ever there, but just her presence made Hellfire a little more welcoming.

To be sure, John Waters wasn’t trying to spread unnecessarily salacious rumors about Angela Lansbury, whose career kicked off back in 1944 with the term-coining feature Gaslight. In fact, he hadn’t claimed to have caught her in the act or anything, but rather saw her passing her eyes over the surrounding sights. Because of its more welcoming nature, Hellfire was no stranger to voyeurs roaming around, so one can imagine the Nanny McPhee vet wasn’t alone in perusing. 

John Waters' Sheffield smiling in office on Search Party

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Waters further clarified that Hellfire was as much a spot for different kinds of people to hang out together as it was a setting for nudity and BDSM-friendly boinking. Specifically stating that Lansbury wasn’t involved in the X-rated shenanigans, he said:

Everybody went. She wasn’t doing anything. Hellfire was a straight, gay bar [where] people had sex. You would be standing there talking about the new novel of Alain Robbe-Grillet, and a [penis] would come through a glory hole and then you just move down.

I don't know what high-falutin conversations look like where you come from, but they probably didn't compare to what was heard in NYC's meatpacking district in the 1980s. What I wouldn't now give for a photograph of John Waters noticing Angela Lansbury from across a room full of debaucherous acts. 

Waters hasn't written or directed a full-on narrative feature since 2004's A Dirty Shame, but certainly hasn't stopped making quirky TV and film appearances in the years since, from playing himself on The Blacklist to portraying William Castle in Feud to playing a "pornmonger" across two Law & Order: SVU episodes. Just this year, he showed up in the final season of Search Party and the penultimate season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The late, great Angela Lansbury, who had a popping role in Mary Poppins Returns, will still get to win audiences over one more time on the big screen with her final feature role for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Director Rian Johnson spoke humbly and highly about being able to work with both her and the late composer Stephen Sondheim for the same movie. 

Was Angela Lansbury a devoted viewer of Netflix’s somewhat polarizing How to Build a Sex Room? Would she have been in the 1980s if it existed then? The world may never know. 

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.