I recently finished reading a biog of the life of Tallulah Bankhead. Very interesting read. Such a liberated lady, hehe! Very much a democrat too. She could be absolutely incandescent on the stage, apparently; but there certainly were various 'turkeys' in her career as well. Any older threadsters actually see her on stage? If so, what were your impressions? It seems to be acknowledged that her greatness on the stage did not translate well for the silver screen, with perhaps Hitchcock's Lifeboat as the exception. Comments, Dahhhhlings...? :-))
She's was a total,complete, absolute drunken cunt.
Lucy and Desi
Like Ethel Merman and Carol Channing, she never learned how to dial it down a notch for the silver screen.
It's not as if she was liberated when sober. The booze provided the platform for her views.
How about giving us the title of the biography?
The book is "Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady" by Joel Lobenthal.
So... anyone who did witness one of her stage performances?
Her performance in "Lifeboat" is a perfect blend of absolute stillness and focus paired with Tallulah unleashed.
I love the story where one of her weekend guests is woken by the butler with a large vodka. Tallu sweeps by and says "better drink it dahling, there won't be any more served until after breakfast".
Or to the bishop at a church service: "lovely outfit dahling but your handbag is on fire" - meaning the item containing the burning insence.
"Do you have two fives for a ten?"
She wasn't a true actress. She was a personality actress.
Thanks r5/OP, sounds good, I will check it out.
When they were fitting Tallu into her skintight Black Widow costume on Batman, she exclaimed "well, there goes one ball!"
When asked if Monty Clift was gay, she said " well I don't know Darling. He's never sucked MY cock!"
When they put a costume over her head and it got stuck, she said "that reminded me of being in the back of a taxi with those two nuns,"
Tallulah was a Democrat at a time when every white voter in the South was a Democrat, including sheet-wearing Klan members.
Southerners didn't abandon the Democratic Party until after the big Civil Rights victories of the mid-60s under LBJ.
"When I was 12, I was raped in our driveway. It was terrible—all that gravel ..."
"My father was always warning me about men and alcohol. He never said a thing about women and cocaine."
Earl Wilson: "Miss Bankhead, have you ever been mistaken for a man on the phone?"
Tallu: "Why, no, dahling, have you?"
One Christmas Eve, she was in St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC, and when she went up to kneel at the front railing for communion, she looked up and saw the most grotesque crucifix staring down at her -- a tortured, bleeding, suffering Christ.
So she said, "Smile, Dahling -- it's your BIRTHday!"
Any more Tallulah? Please keep them coming. Very funny.
Ted Hook, Bankheads live-in assistant came home one night and found that Tallulah, who smoked in bed, had flicked a live ash onto the pillow Delores, her dog slept on.
After several failed attempts to awaken her from her slumber, he finally got a response when he urgently screamed "Miss Bankhead, Delores is on FIRE!"
"Well for Christ sake, PUT HER OUT!" Bankhead bellowed and then promptly went back to sleep.
Tallulah was interviewed by a woman from one of those "ladies' magazines," and the uptight, haughty woman clearly disapproved of Tallulah and her lifestyle and didn't keep it from her either. After the interview, Tallulah walked the woman to the elevator which was full of people and just as the doors were closing Tallulah said to her "dahling, you were the nicest lesbian I've ever met!"
r12, now you know you fucked up for trying to saying Tallulah was like every racist southerner.
She was in a Batman two-parter. I believe she'd had a stroke.
Did she go out with any famous women?
I think she screwed Greta Garbo and Billie Holiday.
Didn't they say she slept with Hatti McDaniel? I also heard Garbo, Holiday, and I think Crawford.
• I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late start without me.
• I've tried several varieties of sex. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic and the others give me a stiff neck or lockjaw.
• Cocaine isn't habit-forming. I should know -- I've been using it for years
Ester Williams said Tallulah went up to Ester and Rock Hudson and Tallulah said, who shall I pick to have sex with? Ester Williams laughed out loud when Tallulah said that.
I think Tallulah's father was a politician in the south.
I think she died broke because she was not good managing her money at all.
Tallulah had a threesome with Billie Holiday and male black club performer. I don't remember who the male was.
Her estate was worth 2 million. A reporter said to her that she was in a lot of junk to which she replied Yes, but I got paid for it.
OP, Tab Hunter in his autobiography devotes an entire chapter on working with Ms. Bankhead in Tennessee Williams' "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." The title of the chapter: "Train Wreck."
Apparently, at this point in her life (62 yrs), Tallu was more gay icon than actress. During rehearsals she was unprofessional, disruptive, prima donna-ish, and a major pain in the ass. Hunter grew increasingly agitated with her antics and blew up at her. When the play finally opened on Broadway, he quickly realized what Tallu had known all along -- it didn't matter what the play was about, or what the other actors had to say, Tallulah's gay fans came to see their goddess do her schtick. So she camped it up, turning innocent phrases into double entendres, arching her brow, and throwing them knowing glances. She turned Williams' drama into a one-woman play, and the audiences loved it. The critics, however, didn't. The show closed after five performances.
When Tallulah met Joan Crawford, they were introduced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.--who was married to Joan at the time. Tallulah reportedly took Crawfard by the hand and said "Delighted to meet you dahling. I've already had him...I believe you're next!".
Bankhead also had a long-term relationship with actress Patsy Kelly, and she "knocked boots" with Louise Brooks.
Bankhead had most of the gay/bi actresses in Hollywood during her prime
Her's a nice article by someone who knew her, OP...
Tallulah's father was Senator Bankhead from Alabama.
Tallulah once allowed Vincent Price to give her sleeping husband a blow job while she stood and watched.
When her husband, the well endowed actor John Emery, began to wake, Tallulah shouted, "Let him finish, dahling, I almost got lockjaw sucking you last night".
I just remembered I have her 1948 film A ROYAL SCANDAL filed away - must rescue it and wallow, she plays Catherine the Great and its by Otto Preminger, produced by Lubitsch, and has Anne Baxter supporting. Must be a wow ....
When I was a very young man in the sixties in New York I was in a gay bar in Greenwich Village called CARR's that was temporarily the "in" place for the hip crowd; a quiet cozy place. One night Tallulah Bankhead came in with two "escorts", obviously gay men acting as bodyguards. They were well dressed up and apparently out slumming and Tallulah spotted me sitting alone at the bar--in a dark blue suit--and waved me over to her table. I was an attractive young man at the time and this upset her escorts greatly, as I was more attractive then they. She pulled out a chair at the table and patted the seat to invite me to sit beside her. Granted I was 19 and starstruck to meet this legend; being gay I knew even at that age who she was although she was well past her prime. I was overwhelmed--speechless--at her interest in me as she rattled on as if we were old friends. I sat no more then six inches from her for about 10 minutes conversing and she was immaculately dressed, very elegant and expensively dressed, hair and makeup perfection. In the soft light of the bar you could tell she was old, but even up that close there was something quite beautiful about her face. The camera never caught it, she was not photogenic, but in person even at that age you could see instantly what all the shouting was about "in person" on stage. The personality was pure Tallulah, pitch perfect to what you ever heard or saw of her on the screen or radio or TV. I remember saying something about THE LITTLE FOXES and she was amazed someone my age even knew about it. She did most of the talking as well she should; a monologue--witty and intelligent--on her upbringing in Alabama, her father etc. Yes, looking back I suppose she was roaring drunk at the time, but also perfectly in control of her situation; delightful really. It was obvious this woman was use to--demanded to be--the center of attention. While she seemed enthralled with me (why?) because she was probably bored, I was getting glaring eyes from her escorts to go away and not encourage her. She wanted me to stay and go bar-hopping with them but her "guards" made it clear I was to leave. I politely stooexcused myself and I always remember her farewell. "God Dahling, but it's hot in here!" (it was summer before bars were air-conditioned) she exclaimed, and in a swift slight-of-hand hiked up the side of her as she sat next to me, and snapped the elastic of her black lace panties at me, with an audable "snap" and then lowered her skirt in a gesture so fleeting and deft--theatrical one might say--one could hardly believe it had happened. I stood, bid a polite goodnight and she graciously shook my hand and the trio left the bar.
At about this same period in my life I knew a fellow who had tickets to what I believe was Bankhead's last Broadway appearance. It was New Years day in the sixties, and the show was a production of Tennessee Williams' "The Milktrain Doesn't Stop Here". It only ran for one or two performances and got shredded by the critics, and my friend said you must come because it's the last performance. I don't know what the other performances were like, but this being the final one and in view of the dreadful reviews, the production became travesty and a full-blown homage to Tallulah. The theatre was packed with gay men applauding her EVERY move and gesture. She was ad-libbing most of what I saw because she brought the house down with every line, and this couldn't possibly be the words Tennessee Williams wrote, although there was a thread or remnant of a Williams plot you could still discern. I can't remember anything other then how beautiful she looked on stage--at fifty feet. She had a death scene in something like a swan bed that beggers description in hilarity and unrepentent glamour. I would have to say everything written about her was true. She lived up to her reputation. BUT . . . there was something more that you felt in her presence, that made you toss out your better judgement and just worship at her shrine. There was intelligence there.
She's buried at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay in a beautiful cemetery in Eastern Maryland.
Wow, r34. Great stories. Thank you.
[quote]She's buried at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay in a beautiful cemetery in Eastern Maryland.
If by "the edge" you mean "five miles away."
[quote]Tallulah's father was Senator Bankhead from Alabama.
No, her father was Congressman William Bankhead of Alabama who became Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Her grandfather and her uncle were Senators.
I saw 'Lifeboat' last night.
Was Tallulah Bankhead really bi in her personal life?
My favourite characters of this movie are those of Hume Cronyn and Mary Anderson. They had a nice aura.
And yes, John Hodiak is very sexy in this movie. Like a handsome ape!
Hitchcock is always peculiar and classy with his work.
'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!' -Tallulah Bankhed
Wow...lol! Tallulah could get really edgy!
I just read this article about her:
She was wildly promiscuous, with both men and women – she once tried to list all her lovers and got to 185 before the doorbell rang. She had at least four abortions in her twenties, but in 1933 she was rushed into hospital with violent abdominal pains and was so critically ill that one newspaper published her obituary. Eventually she was found to be suffering from advanced gonorrhoea and given a hysterectomy. It didn't curb her wit – as she left the hospital, she told her consultant, "Don't think this has taught me a lesson!" and threw herself into affairs with the artist Rex Whistler, the playwright Clifford Odets and the actor Burgess Meredith. But she later told a friend that she didn't feel anything during sex, and this is borne out by a comment in Odets's diary that: "She suffers from an awful and big sense of 'insufficiency'. She feels all people are aware of that lack and she compensates for it by giving you her sex instruments for your use and possible pleasure. That is her way of binding you to her."
Perhaps this "insufficiency" also explains her lifelong habit of exhibitionism. As a young woman, she was always turning cartwheels to reveal that she wore no knickers; later, she simply took her clothes off at parties. The comic actress Beatrice Lillie complained: "I can't stand it when she lifts up her dress." The actors' union Equity had to reprimand her for flashing at the audience in The Skin of Our Teeth, and Hitchcock, faced with similar complaints on the set of Lifeboat, said that he was never sure whether to refer the matter to the hairdressing or costume department.
By her fifties Bankhead was drinking heavily – adding "spirits of ammonia" to her tea – and also using massive doses of barbiturates to sleep. When she went to bed, her maid would tape her wrists together to prevent her taking more pills if she woke in the night. Inevitably, her speech became slurred, her timing poor, and her last Broadway appearance, as Flora Goforth in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, closed after just five performances. The director, Tony Richardson, described her in his memoirs as "the most unpleasant person I've ever worked with – or let's blame it on her senility and decay". She died in 1968 of emphysema, pneumonia and malnutrition – the latter because, like many alcoholics, she never bothered to eat.
[quote]One account in McLellan's books says that Bankhead liked to apply some of Dietrich's signature hairdressing gold dust to her pubic hair, open the door and flash anyone who passed by, asking them what they thought she had just finished doing. The author speculates that the two stars shared more than champagne during this time, though of course, there is no proof.
R34 Thank you so much for the stories. Reading them, I was transported away... visualizing the events unfolding. Just wonderful.
If Tallulah spoke well of Bette and then Davis stabbed her behind her back, she had the right to be choleric with Davis.
You can't provoke a wild feline like Tallulah Bankhead and then expect that she won't strike back!
Gloria Swanson and Tallulah Bankhead at the Celebrity of the Year awards, New York, 1951.
Was Lifeboat written for Tallulah? Hard to imagine anyone else doing that role justice.
r15 reminds me of another story of Tallulah in church. When the priest walked by holding that little gold container of burning incense, Tallulah exclaimed "Dahling, your DRESS is DIVINE, but your PURSE is on FIRE!"
Tallu had a THING for women of color, and chased Billie Holiday (success), Hatti McDaniel (rumored to be a success), Lena Horne (unsuccessful).
Once, at a party, one of her friends brought along a young man who boldly told Bankhead that he wanted to make love to her that night. She did not bat an eye and said, "And so you shall, you wonderful, old-fashioned boy."
Another version of the story holds that Bankhead met Chico Marx at a party before her reputation had overturned the presumption that William B. Bankhead's daughter would be disgusted by Marx's typically crude (yet generally effective) approach. According to Dick Cavett, after Marx had been cautioned to be on his best behavior with Bankhead, the two first spoke at the punch bowl.
And, as everyone breathed a sigh of relief, Chico told her, "You know, I really want to fuck you." She replied, "And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy."
And the story of her on the elevator, when a drunk came up to her and mumbled, "I sure would like a little pussy." She replied, "Me too, mine's as big as my hat."
Another elevator story: Somebody asked her, "Did you pass gas?" She replied , "Sure, do you think that I smell like that all the time?"
I love a good apocryphal Tallulah Bankhead story. One of my favorites:
A stewardess on a TWA flight asked her, "Miss Bankhead, would you like some of our TWA coffee?" She replied, "I really wouldn't care for any, dahling, but I'd just [italic]love[/italic] some of your TWA tea!"
I think she was an incest survivor and acted out accordingly.
The exhibitionism, promiscuity, drinking to oblivion, joking about sex constantly---all earmarks to that sort of situation.
The second hour long Lucy-Desi special is not to be missed. Tallulah was drunk/high the entire time and acted circles around Lucy...
So Lucy was in the closet R55?
I don't believe that Tallulah is drunk or high in that Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour. She is too on the mark and seriously funny to be in an altered state. She nails every scene she is in. It is a classic episode.
Tallulah was good at doing cartwheels. Sometimes she'd be asked to do a few at parties. If she was wearing a wide skirt, she'd say, "Let's play now-you-see-it-now-you-don't." she would take off her panties and commence doing a series of cartwheels across the room. The guests immediately realized what she was talking anout.
The comment about Bette Davis came from The Big Show, Tallulah's radio program on NBC in the early fifties, when the networks were giving primetime radio a last shot after the advent of TV. Tallulah was the host of a variety show with weekly guest stars. She got the job when All About Eve reinvigorated her fame. Since she had been seen almost universally as the model for Margo Channing, she invited Davis, in the spirit of good fun and better publicity, to be her guest on the premiere show. A decade earlier, after Davis had starred in successful film adaptations of two Bankhead plays, Dark Victory and The Little Foxes, Tallulah tried to manufacture a public feud that would attract attention for her -- an actressy version of Benny vs. Allen. But Davis refused to play along and, whenever asked about her, replied with praise (which she meant). So Davis declined to appear on Tallulah's radio program, and Tallulah proceeded to make fun of her on air every week. It was the next best thing to having her there. The Big Show, however, didn't last long, and neither did Tallulah's post-Eve heat (or, for that matter, Davis's).
Two more things, and then I'll shut up:
(1) Contrary to the myth, Bankhead and Davis didn't despise each other. They barely knew each other but supposedly had a reasonable amount of respect for each other's talent. The rumors of a feud were fabricated by Bankhead for publicity. On the other hand, many people who worked with Bankhead hated her: Lillian Hellman, Fredric March and Florence Eldridge, Elia Kazan, Tab Hunter. And Davis really did despise Miriam Hopkins, Joan Crawford, and Faye Dunaway.
(2) Mankiewicz said that the story in All About Eve wasn't inspired by anything that had happened to Bankhead but by a much less malicious incident between Elisabeth Bergner and Irene Worth during the Broadway production of The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Davis said that Bankhead wasn't on her mind when she played Margo. She happened to be wearing her hair long when she was offered the part, and just before filming began, she had damaged her throat (and deepened her voice) in a shouting match with her soon-to-be ex-husband. Of course, the rumored decade-old feud between Bankhead and Davis played a part in fanning speculation.
Too much information, right? Sorry.
Author (and lesbian) Lee Israel had to be super careful and tip-toe around Tallulah's lesbianism in her 1971 book bio even though Bankhead was dead.
[quote]Davis said that Bankhead wasn't on her mind when she played Margo.
Yes, Davis claimed that, but I don't believe it for a minute. Margo's look and style and bitchiness were pure Tallulah (esp. during that period). Movie critics and audiences at the time immediately recognized this and duly commented on it, which I believe was what led to Bette's disclaimer. Also, according to the book "All About All About Eve," Bankhead was briefly considered for the part of Margo, but Joe Mankiewicz blanched at the thought of having to direct such disruptive, undisciplined star, and Edith Head even said herself that she used Bankhead as her inspiration for Margo's wardrobe.
I've been told that in R60 I distributed bad information: The story behind All About Eve had nothing to do with Irene Worth. It was inspired by something that occurred between Elisabeth Bergner and a young woman, unknown to her at the time, who showed up one night during the London production of The Two Mrs. Carrolls, insinuated herself into Bergner's life, and tried, like Eve, to replace her.
And it wasn't Mankiewicz who knew about the incident but Mary Orr, an occasional actress who wrote "The Wisdom of Eve," the short story on which Mankiewicz based his screenplay.
You really shouldn't believe anything I say.
R64, you may be right. Of course, Mankiewicz wrote the part for Claudette Colbert, who sounded and looked nothing like Bankhead. In fact, Anne Baxter was cast partly because she resembled Colbert -- the shape of her face, her hairstyle, her voice, her mannerisms. So at least what's on paper probably wasn't inspired much by Bankhead. Still, you may be right about Bette Davis and what inspired her. In any event, whomever she had in mind, she gave a great performance. She elevates the movie by engaging the audience viscerally, in a way that the screenplay and the other actors, entertaining and witty as they are, don't.
She was the Zsa Zsa of her time. Zsa Zsa was 15 years younger.
Also originated the role of Sabina in "The Skin of Our Teeth" to much acclaim.
Great story tells of Eleanor Roosevelt coming to Tallu's apartment for a visit. In the middle of the conversation, Tallulah went to the bathroom (to pee or take a dump, who knows?), leaving the door open and simply continued to chat.
She was also a huge baseball fan.
There's an early talkie starring her, Charles Laughton, and Gary Cooper (the title of course escapes me at the moment) that's quite good. And also her screen version of "The Cheat" where she gets branded by her Eurasian lover.
"Die, Die, My Darling" of course is a real treat.
R66, Yes, Davis delivered one of the greatest and most iconic female performances with AAE. So iconic, in fact, that the Margo Channing persona has become so closely associated with Bette that that's how many people remember her as (or has Baby Jane Hudson!). What they don't realize is, at the time, Bette's transformation into Margo was astounding, and gave her the glamour and allure that, for better or worse, pushed her into the camp pantheon occupied by glamour queens Crawford and Dietrich (perhaps it began with "Now Voyager" but AAE definitely cemented her fate). The inspiration -- Tallulah, on the other hand, outside certain circles, is largely forgotten. I remember several years ago when the Tallulah episode of "The Lucy & Desi Hour" came on on "Nick at Nite," my roommate at the time, who was no classic movie buff, thought Tallu was Bette Davis. When I told him it was Tallulah Bankhead, he goes, "Why is she imitating Bette Davis? Is she supposed to be Bette Davis?"
No, she most definitely wasn't, r67. You haven't been listening.
FYI, Youtube has recordings of Bankhead's radio performance of ALL ABOUT EVE, and she essays the role of 'Margo Channing' as Herself, replete with [italic]dahhh-lings[/italic] and [italic]how divine![/italic], never wavering from the Tallulah persona. 'Karen Richards' is played by Mary Orr, the one who wrote the short story the screenplay is based on. Orr later described Tallu as a complete bitch.
Someone here mentioned A ROYAL SCANDAL. This movie can currently be found on youtube. (I say "currently" because old films posted on youtube frequently disappear. But, based on what I've seen, Fox is fairly lax about removing its classic films unless they are ones that can still bring in streaming/dvd revenues.)
Valerie Harper does a wonderful job playing Bankhead in 'Looped'
[quote] She gave anal to Milton Berle.
My, she WAS experienced.
At a Christmas holiday party, Tallulah disappeared into her kitchen, from which was heard the most god-awful sounds, demarcated by Tallu's well-known dirty mouth. A seeming eternity later, La Tallu appeared, carrying a large silver tray, upon which were arranged charred lumps of who-knows-what(which turned out to be burned cookies) She announced to one and all, "Fuck Betty Crocker!!!"
"Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it ... You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"
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