Today we celebrate the birthday of Miss Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968). I am a gay man of a certain age, and in my time, in my tribe, telling Tallulah stories and imitating the famed personality was de rigueur at brunches and parties. But, nowadays, do the kids even know who she is?
Bankhead lived a singular, spontaneously combustible life, brimming with panache. She loved men, women, liquor, and cocaine. She accessorized with cigarettes like an Alabama smokehouse. The Bankheads were a prominent Alabama political family, her grandfather and uncle were Senators and her father served as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Bankhead’s support of liberal causes, especially Civil Rights broke with the segregationist Southern Democrats and she often opposed her own family publicly.
There are so many great anecdotes about her. Here’s a favorite one:
It was 1931 and Bankhead was traveling to Hollywood for the first time. Riding with her on the train were Joan Crawford and her handsome husband, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Bankhead quipped:
“Joan, Dahling… you’re divine. I’ve had an affair with your husband, and watch out, you’ll be next.”
Bankhead Quotes (and there are plenty of them, dahling…):
Here’s a rule I recommend: Never practice two vices at once.
I did what I could to inflate the rumor I was on my way to stardom. What I was on my way to really, by any mathematical standards known to man, was oblivion, by way of obscurity.
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.
I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That’s what I call a liberal education.
I’d rather be strongly wrong than weakly right.
I’m as pure as the driven slush.
I’ve been called many things, but never an intellectual.
If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.
It’s the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have the time.
They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum.