Monday, January 31, 2011

In Memoriam: Tallulah Bankhead

In an age of enforced propriety, Tallulah Bankhead was a committed vulgarian; that many of her most notorious comments couldn't be repeated in mixed company for decades after she uttered them has ensured her reputation as a cult figure in perpetuity. Today, in an age when minding your tongue is as old-fashioned as hoop skirts and seemingly as irrelevant as Republicans, the husky-voiced actress from Alabama is long overdue for rediscovery...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1902, the daughter of future US House Speaker William Brockman Bankhead, her mother Adelaide Eugenia Bankhead died of blood poisoning shortly after Tallulah's birth; an overweight child, frequently described as 'homely', Tallulah was virtually destined to become an entertainer.

She overcame her homeliness early enough that by 15 she had won a movie magazine beauty contest, at which time she moved to New York City. Almost instantly she became famous for being famous, dwelling as she did on the fringes of the Algonquin Round Table. In 1923 she made her debut on the London stage and fortunately was possessed of immense talent, after which she would be as famous for her talents onstage for the rest of her life as she was for her talents in the bedroom, on the back seat, or sprawled across a restaurant banquette.

Bankhead's movie career was skimpy, but her influence over American cinema was immense nonetheless... Frequently the roles she played on Broadway would make their way to Hollywood played by Bette Davis, most notably when she originated the role of Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. She did, however, manage to commit the full range of her talents to celluloid while she was at her loveliest in Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 film Lifeboat.

She died in December 1968 of complications arising from emphysema, which was the official cause; her fellow sybarites know, however, that having always lived her life to the hilt she'd simply lived herself to death.  What a way to go!
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once she was in a skit, I think on Berl's Your Show of Shows, that was at a Horn and Hardart Automat. She was told that to use the Automat one needed nickels and she replied "What are nickels?!"