Tallulah Bankhead



  • (1902 - 68) US actress known for her flamboyant style onand off stage and for her habitual husky-voiced greeting of 'Dahling'.Although superb in femme fatale roles, she was frequently accusedof being more personality than actress. Tallulah was born in Alabama,the daughter of a US Congressman, and at 15 won a contest in a filmmagazine that sent her to New York. A year later she made her theatricaldebut there in The Squab Farm.

    It was in London, however, that she found fame, with her performancein The Dancers at Wyndham's Theatre in 1923. With her acidwit and outrageous style, she instantly became the toast of the town.Shops promoted Tallulah hats, dresses, and hair styles. Queues formed48 hours in advance for unreserved seats and police once had to disperse2000 admirers from the stage door. During her seven years in Londonshe took the lead in some 15 plays, including Coward's FallenAngels (1925). the Master always thought her charming but embarrassing.During an evening at Chez Paree, Coward recalled: "Tallulahscreamed and roared and banged the table, etc., and I wished the floorwould open."

    After returning to New York in 1933 she enjoyed two of hergreatest successes as Regina in Hellman's The Little Foxes(1939) and Sabina in Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth (1943).When she played the Queen in The Eagle Has Two Heads (1947)she had the then-unknown Marlon Brando dismissed from the cast becauseshe disliked his attitude. He opened that same season in A StreetcarNamed Desire, the work that made his reputation.

    For years Tennessee Williams begged her to performin his plays. Tallulah consistently refused because the works shockedher; finally, in 1956, she agreed to play Blanche in A StreetcarNamed Desire. Eventually her life of three-day parties, smoking,alcohol, and cocaine took its toll. Her last performance was in 1964as Mrs Goforth in Williams's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore;the play ran for five disastrous nights before closing.

    Tallulah's performances veered from brilliance to calamity.The notices for her performance of Shakespeare's Cleopatra (1937)were particularly miserable; undaunted, she used to read them gleefullyout loud, including John Mason Brown's opinion that "Miss Bankheadbarged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra - and sank"and George Jean Nathan's comment "Miss Bankhead played the Queenof the Nil." see also Mrs Patrick Campbell.

    She was always a star, but only intermittently a good actress.
    Brendan Gill in The Times, 4 August 1973
    A day away from Tallulah Bankhead is like a month in thecountry.
    Show Business Illustrated, 17 October 1961