You kind of wonder how her family felt about having branched off such a scion as Tallulah. Her father was Speaker of the House for two terms, and when Wikipedia lists your family as the [location] [last name]s, that’s pretty well an indicator that your family is something special. Her grandfather and uncle were Senators. The family estate has a name and its own Wikipedia page. It and the building where she was born are on the National Register of Historic Places, and not just because of her. The family was very much the Upper Crust of Alabama. And then there was Tallulah.
She said her father had warned her about drinking and men but said nothing about cocaine and women. Indeed, her last recognizable words were “Codeine . . . bourbon.” She called herself “ambisextrous.” She was a nudist. She was famous for not wearing underwear; when her castmates on Lifeboat complained, Hitchcock allegedly said that he didn’t know if it was a matter for wardrobe or hairdressing. She broke with her family over politics, and her support of the Civil Rights Movement was strong enough for her to be the first white woman on the cover of Ebony. Some people speculate, I don’t know with how much authority, that she helped turn the election for Truman by saying that Dewey looked like the little man on top of a wedding cake.
And my goodness but she could act. Mostly on the stage, but also on screen. The Adam West Batman credited her as “Miss Tallulah Bankhead.” She’s said to have been one of the finalists for Scarlett O’Hara. There was no one quite like her, even if your opportunities to discover that today are a bit limited. It’s enough to make me really wish there were some kind of concerted effort to really preserve at least a little of the performances on stage, which there still isn’t even all these years later beyond the occasional Great Performances.
I wonder, really, how much of her outrageous behaviour came from the fact that her mother died of blood poisoning a few weeks after she was born. She apparently always blamed herself for her mother’s death, and her father couldn’t convince her she was wrong. Though he seems to have pretty well disappeared inside a whiskey bottle after his wife’s death—and Tallulah’s christening beside her mother’s coffin, which is all kinds of screwed up. Her mother apparently asked her sister-in-law to take care of her firstborn, who had been premature and had health problems, but said that Tallulah could take care of herself.
I don’t know if I necessarily believe that she slept with both Hattie McDaniel and Billie Holliday; stories like that, without confirmation, rather tend to feel like stringing known names together. Any list of women who slept with women in the ’30s and ’40s will rather assume that they all slept with each other, and sometimes, those women did and sometimes, they didn’t. Did she sleep with Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, too? Well, maybe. To be fair, Tallulah slept with a lot of people just in general; she underwent an emergency hysterectomy because of effects, allegedly, of a sexually transmitted disease.
Strangely, all of this is not why she was basically blacklisted from film by Will Hays, declared “unsuitable for the public.” It was in fact for “Verbal Moral Turpitude.” In short, because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. To which she responded by calling Will Hays “a little prick.” Because Tallulah couldn’t keep her mouth shut, you see.
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