Tallulah Bankhead biography
Posted 03 May 2005 - 03:58 PM
Bankhead might be better known today if she had become a big film star, but she did not make it for several reasons. Bad timing – she arrived at Paramount when Marlene Dietrich was already in place and at the top of her box office; Norma Shearer over at MGM had a patent on the naughty modern woman roles that would have been naturals for Bankhead. Also, like many oversize stage personalities, she lost something in front of the camera. She returned to the stage and made infrequent film appearances from then on. (She can be seen to best advantage in Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” IMO although many people, including Lobenthal, like “A Royal Scandal” better than I do. I’m also partial to “The Devil and the Deep" in which Tallu drives ship captain Charles Laughton bananas with her yen for Gary Cooper; a callow Cary Grant shows up in the backwash. ) Bette Davis became her movie star doppelganger, improving on the stage productions of “Dark Victory” and “Jezebel” (but Tallulah retained the acting honors for Foxes; Bette just wasn't at her best and reportedly followed the Tallulah template for the role too closely. I should imagine, also, that Bankhead had a lushness and vibrancy that Davis missed).
Lobenthal gives us a thorough accounting of the mostly unmemorable Bankhead vehicles. Much of it is fascinating, but I have to admit it’s not exactly like reading about Scofield’s Hamlet or Ralph Richardson in Peer Gynt. All in all, great book. Buy at once. I recommend Bankhead's autobiography, too, although it should be read in tandem with this one.
Posted 04 May 2005 - 06:46 AM
Posted 04 May 2005 - 07:33 AM
TB: "May I ask you, a big favorite all over the world, a question? Are the other two gentlemen... of the four of you... are they still in India?"
JOHN: "No, they're in England."
TB: "I want to ask you something, because I wish I'd learned to meditate, and I can't... I don't know how you do it. I would love to."
JOHN: "Well you gotta go and find out, haven't you."
TB: "Well I'm not going that far."
JOHN: "Oh well."
PAUL: "Forget it."
TB: "If it's taken me this long, and couldn't do it, I couldn't learn there."
JOHN: "Well, you can't learn to swim if you keep inland, can you? Unless you've got a pool around you."
TB: "Oh honey, I can float sitting up. Don't be silly."
Posted 04 May 2005 - 09:12 AM
Posted 04 May 2005 - 09:38 AM
Posted 04 May 2005 - 09:52 AM
Posted 04 May 2005 - 10:39 AM
Also, then as now there were very few good roles for older actresses. A few women stars went on and on, but many worked on snagging a Good Provider with the idea of leaving the spotlight while they were looking good. Lobenthal records Bankhead’s unsuccessful efforts with Jock Whitney in this direction.
Thanks for that “Tonight Show” anecdote, Mme. Hermine. I read in a Carson obituary that he was livid about NBC’s copying over those old tapes.
Posted 05 May 2005 - 05:51 AM
Posted 09 May 2005 - 01:14 PM
Tallulah, with her signature “dah-ling”s and her notorious peccadilloes and her endlessly caricaturized baritonal gurgle of a voice—a voice that the actor-writer Emlyn Williams said was “steeped as deep in sex as the human voice can go without drowning”—would be easy to dismiss as a joke if she hadn’t also been a woman of outsize capacities. As it is, the story of her life reaches beyond gossip and approaches tragedy.
Gottlieb observes that “Not one of Tallulah’s most important rivals crashed and burned the way she did.” I’d suggest that the crackup of Jeanne Eagels – dead before forty – qualifies. (Yes, she was a decade older than Tallulah and so not really a "rival," but Ethel Barrymore, included the list of Tallulah’s rivals, was 22 years older.)
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