Famous Like Me > Actress > B > Tallulah Bankhead
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Profile of Tallulah Bankhead
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||31st January 1902
|Place of Birth:
||Huntsville, Alabama, USA
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead (January 31, 1902 - December 12, 1968) was a United States actress, talk-show host and bonne vivante, born in Huntsville, Alabama.
She was the daughter of Congressman William Brockman Bankhead, niece of Senator John H. Bankhead II, and granddaughter of Senator John H. Bankhead, who sent her to Catholic convent schools to stay out of trouble (although he was a Methodist and Tallulah's mother was an Episcopalian), but it did not work.
At 15, Tallulah Bankhead won a movie-magazine beauty contest and convinced her family to let her move to New York. She quickly won bit parts, first appearing in a non-speaking role in The Squab Farm.
During these early New York years, she became a peripheral member of the Algonquin Round Table and known as a hard-partying girl-about-town. She also became known for her wit, although as screenwriter Anita Loos, another minor Roundtable member said: "She was so pretty that we thought she must be stupid."
In 1923, she made her debut on the London stage, where she was to appear in over a dozen plays in the next eight years. Famous as an actress, she was famous, too, for her drinking, drug taking, and many affairs with men and women. By the end of the decade, she was one of the West End's — and England's — best-known celebrities.
She returned to US in 1931 to be Paramount Pictures' "next Marlene Dietrich", but Hollywood success eluded her in her first four films of the 30s. Critics agree that her acting was flat and that she was unable to dominate the camera — and that she was generally outclassed by Dietrich, Carole Lombard, et al.
Nevertheless, David O. Selznick called her the "first choice among established stars" to play Scarlett O'Hara, but nobody else agreed; polled, moviegoers thought otherwise.
Her screen test for Gone with the Wind put her out of the running for good — Selznick decided that she was too old (at 34) for Scarlett's antebellum scenes. (One also wonders if the cynical Bankhead could have played "Fiddle-Dee-Dee" Scarlett with anything approaching a straight face.)
Returning to Broadway, Tallulah's career stalled in unmemorable plays until she played Regina in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1939). Her portrayal won her the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Performance.
More success and the same award followed her 1942 performance in Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth", in which Bankhead played "Sabina", the housekeeper and temptress, opposite Fredric March and Florence Eldridge ("Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus" and also husband and wife offstage) During the run of the play, some media accused Bankhead of a running feud with the play's director, Elia Kazan, but both denied it.
In 1944, Alfred Hitchcock cast her as journalist and cynic "Constance Porter" in Lifeboat. The performance is widely acknowledged as her best on film, and won her the New York Screen Critics Award.
After World War II, Bankhead appeared in a revival of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" taking it on tour and then to Broadway for the better part of two years. The play's run made Bankhead a fortune. From that time, Bankhead could command ten percent of the gross and billing larger than any other actor in the cast, although she usually granted equal billing to Estelle Winwood, a frequent co-star.
Following her father's example, Bankhead was a staunch Democrat and campaigned for Harry Truman's reelection in 1948. While viewing the Inauguration parade, she very decently booed the South Carolina float which carried then-Governor Strom Thurmond, who had recently run against Truman on the Dixiecrat ticket, splitting the Democratic vote.
Bankhead continued to perform in the 1950s and 1960s, on Broadway, in the occasional film, as a highly-popular radio show host, and in the new medium of television. Her appearance as herself on The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Comedy Hour in 1957 as "The Neighbor Next Door" (who, unsuprisingly, doesn't know what the PTA is) — drunk, according to Ball — but is a cult favorite as is her role as the "Black Widow" on the 1960s campy television show, Batman, which turned out to be her final screen appearance. Bankhead's radio program on NBC was "The Big Show" and was billed to stem the tide of television. The program did not keep television from flourishing but it had Meredith Willson as its musical host, and featured top stars from Broadway and elsewhere including Ethel Merman, Dame Vera Lynn and Margaret Truman.
Bankhead's career was in decline by the mid-1950s. Her outrageous behavior — fueled by a two-bottle-a-day consumption of Old Grand Dad — continued unabated. And behavior that was endearingly wicked in a flapper starlet of the Twenties was wearyingly vulgar in an aging, falling star in the Sixties. Bankhead never faded from the public eye, but was increasingly a caricature of her former self. By this time, when she appeared as Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire her adoring coterie of homosexual fans cheered and laughed at her performance, hurting its dramatic tone and preventing her from achieving the desired result of a faded Southern woman.
Although she received fairly good notices for "Midgie Purvis", a character who pretended to be twenty years older in order to be grandmotherly and have access to children, the play did not sell well and it closed within the season. Bankhead's last performance, in Williams' play, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, only lasted a week.
Her shortcomings notwithstanding, Tallulah always remained a personality who got good notices in the media. According to author Brendan Gill's Tallulah, when Bankhead entered the hospital for an illness, an article was headed "Tallulah hospitalized, Hospital Tallulahized."
Dick Cavett repeated on film the story that she responded to Chico Marx's statement: "I'd really like to fuck you", with "And you shall, you dear boy, and you shall." She even purchased a lion cub from a circus in Reno, Nevada for $100 and named him Winston Churchill, but eventually gave him up when he got too large to handle.
Tallulah Bankhead died in New York City of double pneumonia arising from influenza, complicated further by emphysema at the age of 66 on December 12, 1968, and is buried in Saint Paul's Churchyard, Chestertown, Maryland
She was married to actor John Emery from 1937-1941.
- I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me.
- They used to shoot her through gauze. You should shoot me through linoleum. (Referring to Shirley Temple)
- I'm as pure as the driven slush.
- It's the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have the time.
- 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.
- My father warned me about men and booze... but he never said anything about women and cocaine.
- I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education.
- Nobody can be exactly like me. Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.
- If you really want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.
- Here's a rule I recommend. Never practice two vices at once.
- Let's not quibble! I'm the foe of moderation, the champion of excess. If I may lift a line from a die-hard whose identity is lost in the shuffle, "I'd rather be strongly wrong than weakly right."
- Cocaine habit-forming? Of course not. I ought to know. I've been using it for years.
- Who Loved Him Best? (1918)
- When Men Betray (1918)
- Thirty a Week (1918)
- The Trap (1919)
- His House in Order (1928)
- Tarnished Lady (1931)
- My Sin (1931)
- The Cheat (1931)
- Thunder Below (1932)
- Make Me a Star (1932) (cameo)
- Devil and the Deep (1932)
- Faithless (1932)
- Stage Door Canteen (1932)
- Lifeboat (1944)
- A Royal Scandal (1945)
- Main Street to Broadway (1953)
- The Boy Who Owned a Melephant (1959) (narrator)
- Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
- The Daydreamer (1966) (voice)
- 1918 The Squab Farm
- 1919 39 East
- 1919 Footloose
- 1921 Nice People
- 1921 Everyday
- 1922 Danger
- 1922 Her Temporary Husband
- 1922 The Exciters
- 1923 The Dancers
- 1924 Conchita
- 1924 This Marriage
- 1924 The Creaking Chair
- 1925 Fallen Angels
- 1925 The Green Hat
- 1926 Scotch Mist
- 1926 They Knew What They Wanted
- 1926 The Gold Diggers
- 1927 The Garden of Eden
- 1928 Blackmail
- 1928 Mud and Treacle
- 1928 Her Cardboard Lover
- 1928 He's Mine
- 1930 The Lady of the Camellias
- 1930 Let Us Be Gay
- 1933 Forsaking All Others
- 1934 Dark Victory
- 1935 Rain
- 1935 Something Gay
- 1936 Reflected Glory
- 1937 Antony and Cleopatra
- 1938 The Circle
- 1938 I Am Different
- 1939 The Little Foxes
- 1941 Clash By Night
- 1942 The Skin of Our Teeth
- 1945 Foolish Notion
- 1947 The Eagle Has Two Heads
- 1948 Private Lives
- 1954 Dear Charles
- 1956 A Streetcar Named Desire
- 1956 Ziegfeld Follies
- 1957 Eugenia
- 1958 Crazy October
- 1961 Midgie Purvis
- 1964 The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
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