One of my favorite people ever was the actress/iron fisted broad Tallulah Bankhead
. What a stitch she was, with that raspy baritone voice and her penchant for calling everyone "Dahling", a habit she developed as a result of never remembering anyone's name: "Because all my life I've been terrible at remembering people's names. I once introduced a friend of mine as Martini. Her name was actually Olive."
I love her sense of fearless honesty, which was something she demanded in everyone. I remember her films like Lifeboat
, and Fanatic (Die! Die! My Darling!)
, and those are very memorable, but they are nothing compared to her witticisms and true life stories. A self avowed agnostic, insatiable bisexual nymphomaniac (after an emergency hysterectomy resulting from an advanced case of gonorrhea, contracted - she said - from either actor George Raft or Gary Cooper, and only 70 pounds when she was able to leave the hospital, she stoically said to her doctor, "Don't think this has taught me a lesson!"
) and lifelong Democrat (she once booed and hissed at Strom Thurmond while on the sidelines of a parade he was riding in), she was quite a hardcore broad. Her last words, uttered just before she died,were "Codeine...bourbon..."
Many years ago, when I happened upon the books by ex-child star/avant-garde filmmaker/occultist/author Kenneth Anger (dossier)
called Hollywood Babylon
, I found out about her by default. Those books by the way are FANTASTIC reading. Errol Flynn. Louise Brooks. Rudolph Valentino. Judy Garland. Charlie Chaplin. Carole Landis. Peg Entwistle. Mae West. Clara Bow. Frances Farmer. Ramon Novarro. Thelma Todd. Marilyn Monroe. Lana Turner. Jayne Mansfield. Jean Harlow. The Black Dahlia murder. Joan Crawford.
SEX!! DRUGS!! SUICIDE!! MURDER!! CRIME!! RAPE!! It's every lurid Hollywood scandal ever unearthed from the time when scandals were REALLY something - in two volumes, packed with images that are not for the faint of heart or squeamish. I still haven't recovered from the picture
of Jayne Mansfield's death car, with her wig on the hood of her car (thinking it was her severed head) after the accident that killed her. Anyway, back to Tallulah.
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was born on January 31, 1902 in Huntsville, Alabama to William Brockman and Adelaide Eugenia Bankhead. She was named after her paternal grandmother, who, in turn, was named after the town of Tallulah Falls in Georgia (location of the film Deliverance
). The Bankhead's first child, daughter Ada Eugenia, was born on January 24, 1901. The following year, Tallulah was born on their anniversary. Ada died tragically of blood poisoning just three weeks following Tallulah's birth. On her deathbed, she told her sister-in-law to "take care of Eugenia, Tallulah will always be able to take care of herself"
. More of her biography can be found here
My three favorite stories about Tallulah are:
• There was the time she was in Washington for a Democratic Convention honoring her "divine friend, Adlai Stevenson"... And during a long speech by some senator she had to go to the john, but found when she was settled in for the duration that there was no toilet paper at hand. "So I looked down and saw a pair of feet in the next stall. I knocked very politely and said: 'Excuse me, dahling, I don't have any toilet paper. Do you?' And this very proper Yankee voice said: 'No, I don't.' Well, dahling, I had to get back to the podium for Adlai's speech, so I asked her, very politely you understand, 'Excuse me dahling, but do you have any Kleenex?' And this now quite chilly voice said: 'No, I don't.' So I said: 'Well then, dahling, do you happen to have two fives for a ten?'" (from People Will Talk by John Kobal)
• She told a friend that her doctor had advised her to eat an apple every time she had the urge to drink. She arched an eyebrow and added, "But really, dahlings, sixty apples a day?" (from The Hollywood Reporter by Tichi Wilkerson)
• As soon as Mrs. Roosevelt [the First Lady of the United States of America] left, Kirkwood exploded:
"Oh, God, Tallulah, why would you ever do that? Now really! That was so embarrassing."
"What do you mean?" she replied.
"Getting up and going to the bathroom in the middle of the conversaion and taking your pants down and sitting there with the door open!" Tallulah gave him her queenly look: "Mrs. Roosevelt knows we all have bodily functions. That was no news to her." (from Tallulah, Darling: A Biography of Tallulah Bankhead by Denis Brian)
Lots more here
Perhaps even better are the quotes:
"Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it."
"My father warned me about men and booze, but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine."
"Cocaine isn't habit-forming. I should know--I've been using it for years."
"It's the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have the time."
"I'm as pure as the driven slush."
On seeing a former lover for the first time in years: "I thought I told you to wait in the car."
"I was there in the South of France When Zelda (Fitzgerald), poor darling, went off her head. She had gone into a flower shop and suddenly for her all the flowers had faces. Of course, some flowers, such as pansies, do have faces."
Earl Wilson: "Have you ever been mistaken for a man on the telephone?"
Tallulah: "No, have you?"
"Never practice two vices at once. "
"I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education."
"Acting is a form of confusion."
"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."
To a young actress: "Oh , my Gawd, cranberry Juice! When I was 16, dahling, I had a shoebox full of cocaine."
"Whats the matter, dahling? Don't you recognize me with my clothes on?"
"If you really want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, dahling. Be an audience."
“I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late start without me.”
“They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum.”
“I have three phobias which, could I mute them, would make my life as slick as a sonnet, but as dull as ditch water: I hate to go to bed, I hate to get up, and I hate to be alone.”
“The less I behave like Whistler's mother the night before, the more I look like her the morning after.”
“I've tried several varieties of sex. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic and the others give me a stiff neck or lockjaw.”
“No man worth his salt, no man of spirit and spine, no man for whom I could have any respect, could rejoice in the identification of Tallulah's husband. It's tough enough to be bogged down in a legend. It would be even tougher to marry one.”
“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..”
“It's one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work - the night watchman.”
“I did what I could to inflate the rumor I was on my way to stardom. What I was on my way to, by any mathematical standards known to man, was oblivion, by way of obscurity.”
“I'm not at my best when I moralize or philosophize. Logic is elusive, especially to one who so rarely uses it.”
And my personal favorite: On one Christmas Eve, after she had been to entirely too many cocktail parties, a friend foolishly convinced her to attend midnight mass. Seated next to the aisle, Tallulah squinted through bleary eyes at the approaching procession led by a priest in a long robe, carrying the smoking incensure. Leaning into the aisle Tallulah loudly proclaimed: "Dahling, your gown is lovely but I’m afraid I have to tell you that your purse is on fire."