Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968)

The only thing I regret about my past is the length of it. If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.

Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead was an american actress and talk-show hostess with a deep, raspy and sultry whiskey voice, born in Alabama into a powerful Democratic political family consisting of both senators and a Congressional Speaker of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately for her, she is more remembered for her wild and exhibitionistic way of living rather than for her stage performances or political activities.

Bankhead's mother died of blood poisoning only a month after her birth. At fifteen, Tallulah won a movie-magazine beauty contest and moved to New York, the town were she would spend her last days in life.

In New York she got some smaller parts in silent movies, but what soon made her infamous was her habit of partying all night, having lots of affairs (with both men and women) and even made frequent appearences at the Algonquin Round Table. Even though she started using both cocaine and marijuana during this time, she didn't consume any heavy amounts of alcohol, and she was soon well known for her wit, intelligence and sometimes uncomfortable outspokeness. A quote from a member at the Algonquin Round Table, Anita Loos, concerning Bankhead:

"She was so pretty that we thought she must be stupid."

A story is told by talk show host Dick Cavett about a party Bankhead attended, where she met the humouristic and forward version of Don Juan, Chico Marx. According to Cavett, the dialouge went as follows:

- Miss Bankhead.
- Mr. Marx.
- You know, I really want to fuck you.
- And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy.

In 1923 Bankhead went to London and made her theatre debut. Next year she played the leading lady in the Pulitzer Price winning play They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard. Her fame as a stage actress competed with her infame for promiscuos behaviour, and by the end of the decade she was one of London's most notorious celebrities.

1931 she went back to the States to be introduced to Hollywood as "Paramount Picture's next Marlene Dietrich", but audiences wasn't too entusiastic in her first four movies in the 1930's. Alas, those misfortunes didn't keep Bankhead from having fun. She rented a house in Hollywood and began hosting parties that were said to have "no boundaries". After all, Bankhead stated, she didn't enjoy making movies.

"The only reason I went to Hollywood was to fuck that divine Gary Cooper."

1933 Bankhead nearly died during a five-hour emergency hysterectomy for an advanced case of gonorrhea. She would later claim that Gary Cooper was responsible for it, and added to her doctor "Don't think this has taught me a lesson!".

During the thirtie's Bankhead was quite openly bisexual, and on her list of female lovers (some stated, some speculated) you can find names like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Alla Nazimova, Mercedes de Acosta and Billie Holiday.

In 1944 Alfred Hitchcock casted Bankhead as the cynical reporter in his film adoption of John Steinbeck's Lifeboat. Her performance in this film is considered by many to be her best role, and won her a New York Film Critics Circle Award. When she received her prize, she announced in her typical way:

"Dahlings, I was wonderful!"

In the 1950's Bankhead became hostess of a radio show on NBC, called The Big Show. She was introduced as "the glamorous, unpredictable" Tallulah Bankhead, and had guests like Marlene Dietrich, Groucho Marx (see picture below), Judy Garland and Gloria Swanson.
She also made a guest appearance as herself in Lucille Ball's the Lucille Ball-Desi Amaz Show in December 1957.

Tallulah Bankhead died the 12th of December, 1968, at a hospital in New York due to double pneumonia, complicated by emphysema at the age of 66. Her last words were:

- Codeine... bourbon.

Groucho Marx on The Big Show (11-12-1950).

Personal quotes:

I've tried several varieties of sex, all of which I hate. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic; the others give me a stiff neck or lockjaw.

Say anything about me, dahling, as long as it isn't boring.

Cocaine isn't habit-forming. I should know - I've been using it for years.

I'm as pure as the driven slush.

I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education.

Don't think I don't know who's been spreading gossip about me . . . After all the nice things I've said about that hag (Bette Davis). When I get hold of her, I'll tear out every hair of her mustache!


The Maiden said...

What a great tribute to her. It really made my day. I find her rather fascinating and I think you managed to get all the best bits told here.

I wish she would be talked about more.

Lolita said...

The Maiden:
Thank you so much for your kind words! It means a lot to me.

Yes, she was a fascinating woman we at least SHOULD talk more about. Let's fix that!

Anonymous said...

"Where, (oh, where?) do you find this stuff?"

From Karagarga, a private site of torrents, they have everything, it's really incredible. And they have movie stills, analysis, etc. But for me it's dificult to keep the "ratio" and so i make few donwlods. Maybe you are in better conditions. A friend of mine can give you a invite to Karagarga if you want.

Lolita said...

That would be very nice! I think private torrents are more safe than for example Pirate Bay. April 1st a new law will be settled here in Sweden, making our country a nazi state when it comes to downloading. I think I'm gonna move to another country!

Anonymous said...

"a new law will be settled" brrr

Lolita i need your mail to the invitation.

Anonymous said...

Done Lolita. enjoy!

The Divine Miss J said...

Dear Lolita, I can't thank you enough for comparing me to this amazing woman.
I'm truly honoured.
Keep up the writing, we need you

Tata kitten

Lolita said...

The Divine Miss J:
I'm not comparing her to you - I'm stating that you are her reincarnation.

Thanks a lot, my gorgeous mistress!

prahdig said...

does anybody have any more invites to karagarga? this would be amazing. thanks.


Lola said...

Lolita, what a wonderful tribute to this most wonderful lady! Thank you :-) You portrayed her like she was.

I'm currently doing a research project on Tallulah Bankhead for my University and desperate for more specific info, though I've got some great literature on her, it's hard to get hold of audio and video.
Manuel, I read here that you have access to Karagarga?
If you have an invitation code for me, then that would make my day! Actually, it would make my project!
If not, I understand, but it would help me out a lot.

My email is
Thanks in advance.

Lolita said...

Thanks a lot! Always nice to meet someone who also adore this awesome woman.
I've only seen one film with miss Bankhead, though, and it's Hitchcock's Lifeboat. But believe me, it's a great movie! And she steals the show the whole picture through.
I transfered your request to Manuel, I don't have any invites yet.

Lola said...

Thank you Lolita, I hope I'll hear from him. Oh, I looove Lifeboat! It's grand. Yes, Tallulah... amazing woman. I ordered her autobiography and can't wait until it comes in the mail. I also have "Tallulah, the life and times of a leading lady" by Joel Lobenthal. It's a very specific book and not particulary gossipy (in other words: I would've liked it to be a bit juicier!)... it's rather boring in parts/a little clinical, but it gives a huuuuge amount of info on her career and person. I do really recommend it... if not for the gorgeous cover.
Lola xx
ps. thanks again

Lolita said...

Thanks for your tips, I will treasure them!