Tallulah Bankhead was an American stage and film actress who was best known for her wit, her outrageous personality, and her husky voice. She gained critical acclaim in the US and the UK for her roles as an actress and gained notoriety in her personal life for her drinking, drug use, and her sexual exploits. Below are 45 scandalous facts about the famous actress.
Tallulah Bankhead was born into a family of Alabama royalty. Her father was Speaker of the House in Congress for two terms, her grandfather and uncle were senators, and her family estate and the building where she was born are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Talk about a lot to live up to!
2. Whirlwind Romance
When Bankhead’s mother Adelaide (Ada) met the man who would become her father, it was on a trip to Huntsville, Alabama to buy a wedding dress. The pair fell instantly in love and she called off her engagement to marry William Brockman Bankhead.
3. Unusual Menagerie
Bankhead was a big animal lover and she loved to collect unusual pets. Her assortment included a lion named Winston Churchill, a myna bird named Gaylord, and a monkey named King Kong. She also had a fondness for dogs and owned a Maltese, a wire-haired terrier, a Pekingese named Napoleon, and a Sealyham Terrier she’d been given by Alfred Hitchcock after they’d finished filming Lifeboat, which she named Hitchcock.
4. An Offer She Couldn’t Refuse
Making movies wasn’t really something that Bankhead aspired to or enjoyed, much preferring the stage to film. Of course, a girl’s got to eat, and when Paramount Studios came knocking with a chance to make $50,000 per film, she couldn’t pass it up. Always the comedienne, she later quipped “The only reason I went to Hollywood was to [hook up with] that divine Gary Cooper.”
5. I Hate You Too!
Bankhead seriously hated the Axis powers in WWII and never hesitated to express her views—unfortunately for her co-star Walter Slezak, who had Austrian background. Despite his being a vocal critic of the German government, she made him her personal punching bag. When Italy surrendered and Slezak said that he hoped that meant the war would come to an end, that still wasn’t good enough for Bankhead, who responded with, “I hope they spill every drop of German blood there is. I hate them all! And I HATE YOU!” How are you supposed to respond to that?
6. A Total Outlier
When asked why he chose to cast someone like Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat, Hitchcock explained that he wanted a someone who was as different and unlike the norm as possible, making her his first choice for the role of Constance Porter.
7. Fabricated Feud
To increase interest in Bankhead’s 1965 film Die! Die! My Darling!, the press invented a feud between her and Stephanie Powers, a la Joan Crawford/Bette Davis. Unlike the latter two, they got along quite nicely and continued their friendship after the movie was done.
8. Camping it Up
Bankhead’s final TV role before her death in 1968 was a guest spot on Batmanas the Black Widow. When producer William Dozier explained that his vision for the cameo was to play up the camp, she reportedly replied: “Don’t talk to me about camp, dahling; I invented it!”
9. Schoolboy Scandal
Trouble seemed to go hand-in-hand with Bankhead, and she almost got thrown out of England when MI5 called her immoral for becoming involved with a group of Eton schoolboys. The only thing that saved her was the fact that the school refused to cooperate with a special branch inquiry in order to keep the scandal from getting out. The boys ended up having to leave school as a result of the scandal, but they probably thought it was worth it!
10. The Savior of Radio
In 1950, Bankhead ventured into a new medium- radio. The Big Show as it was titled, was a 90-minute variety show featuring popular actors, singers, and comedians, with Bankhead as the Mistress of Ceremonies. The show was a huge success, and critics went as far as to call it the “savior of radio.” It wasn’t, but it did run for two years and gained her legions of new fans as well as a Woman of the Year award in 1951.
11. Shocking the Crew
Bankhead famously did not like wearing underwear, a fact which she enjoyed flaunting on the set of the film Lifeboat. Every morning she would have to climb a ladder to get to the set, and she delighted in climbing ahead of her crew members revealing her lack of underwear. When a female reporter visiting the set complained, the studio head went to talk to Hitchcock, who was pretty entertained by the whole thing and wouldn’t interfere.
12. Looping it In
In Hollywood, the process of recording a line of dialogue that has to be matched to an already filmed scene is called looping. When Bankhead recited the famous line from the film “You must die! Die, my darling!”, it didn’t turn out clearly and she had to loop it in. On the day she was to record the line, she arrived at the studio drunk and four hours late, and it took the actress the rest of that day to get it right.
13. Full Circle
In the 1965 film Die! Die! My Darling! Stefanie Powers appeared opposite Bankhead, and probably never imagined that she’d get to play the eccentric actress 45 years later. The play Looped was originally written for Valerie Harper (for which she was nominated for a Tony), but due to her brain cancer diagnosis, Harper was unable to continue with the play on its national tour, and suggested Powers take the role in her place.
14. Take Care of Eugenia
Tragically, Bankhead’s mother Adeline died of blood poisoning just a few weeks after Tallulah was born. As she lay dying, she begged her sister-in-law to take care of Tallulah’s older sister Eugenia, and that “Tallulah will always be able to take care of herself.” Seeing as Bankhead was practically a newborn at the time, how could she possibly have known?
15. Just Clowning Around
Even as a little girl, Bankhead demonstrated a penchant for theatrics. She used to do impressions of their teachers for her classmates, would memorize poems and plays and give dramatic recitations, and all around enjoyed having everybody’s eyes and attention on her. It’s no wonder she went into show business.
16. Seriously Sexy
Bankhead was known for her husky voice, and actor/writer Emlyn Williams once described it as “steeped as deep in sex as the human voice can go without drowning.” She was also considered to be incredibly stunning, which must have made her an irresistible combination!
17. A Different Kind of Education
As Bankhead and her sister got older, the pair became a bit too much for their grandmother to handle and she and her sister were sent to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, New York. It was at these schools that Bankhead was rumored to have had her first sexual experience with girls, giving her a very different kind of education than what her father imagined she’d receive.
18. That’s Even Worse!
During the McCarthy era, a friend of Bankhead’s was accused of being a communist. Bankhead went on the radio to express support for her friend and asked her outright if the accusation was true. The actress told her that since her father was a Republican, she guessed she was as well. Bankhead, a lifelong Democrat, exclaimed “A Republican! That’s worse than being a goddamn communist.”
19. Brilliant But…
Irving Rapper, the director of the film version of The Glass Menagerie, was absolutely blown away by Bankhead’s screen test, calling it the greatest performance he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, studio head Jack Warner refused to cast her, because Errol Flynn (who had already been cast) was an alcoholic, and he didn’t want two alcoholics in the film. Bankhead promised not to drink while they were filming, but that wasn’t good enough, and the role went to Gertrude Lawrence instead.
20. Fierce Temper
To go along with Bankhead’s flair for the dramatic was a fierce temper to match. Growing up, if she didn’t get her way, she’d throw herself on the floor kicking and screaming until her face turned purple. Her sister was a bit freaked out by her tantrums and would hide in the closet, but her grandmother was completely unphased and would throw a bucket of water in her face. That ought to teach her!
21. I Guarantee It!
During the filming of Die! Die! My Darling! Bankhead got sick and couldn’t work. The producers were considering replacing her in the role, but she wasn’t having it. Bankhead promised to forfeit her entire salary as a guarantee that she’d finish filming—as long as they didn’t replace her, of course. Now that would be a hard offer to refuse!
22. Men and Women Equally
Throughout her life, Bankhead enjoyed sexual relationships with both men and women, but she never used the term bisexual. Instead, she described herself as “ambisextrous,” which really has a nice ring to it.