Legendary actress, Tallulah Bankhead, was born Tallulah Brockman Bankhead on Jan 31, 1902 in Huntsville, AL. Bankhead died at the age of 66 on Dec 12, 1968 in New York City, NY and was laid to rest in Saint Pauls Kent Churchyard Cemetery in Chestertown, MD.
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was born on January 31st, 1902 in Huntsville, Alabama into a life of wealth and privilege. She came from the Bankhead-and-Brockman political family, a powerful dynasty of southern democrats active in the south with particularly strong roots in Alabama. Her father, William, was member of the House of Representatives and eventually Speaker of the House who went on to become a fervent supporter of the Roosevelt New Deal plans. Her Uncle and Grandfather, both named John, were both prominent political figures who served as an Alabama State Senators. Bankhead's cousin, Walter, also became a national politician, serving as congressman and eventual delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 1940. When Tallulah was just three weeks old her mother, Adelaide, died of septicemia (poisoning of the blood.) Her death came as a shock to William and the young man grew despondent and distant, turning to the bottle to numb his pains. He threw himself into his work and became absent from his family. In turn Tallulah and her sister, Evelyn, were primarily cared for by their grandmother.
While Bankhead demonstrated a natural gift for showmanship at a young age, she also showed innate tendency for troublesome behavior. Her family sent the vivacious young girl to several private schools, as well as many years at Catholic Convent school, in hopes of calming some of her histrionic nature. Their plan didn't seem to work, as Bankhead remained a headstrong attention getting for the rest of her life. Bankhead developed an interest in exhibition at a young and was noted for saying her first ever performance was witness by the Wright Brothers at one of Aunt's lavish house parties. At the age of 15 Bankhead entered a film magazine beauty contest and won. Soon after she convinced her family to finance her move to New York so that she may start an acting career.
When the teenaged Bankhead landed in New York, she immediate found work playing bit parts, making her Broadway stage debut with a small, non-speaking role in the drama The Squab Farm. She then quickly developed a reputation in New York, but more for her social habits than her acting abilities. Despite her relatively young age, Bankhead became widely known as a celebrated party girl. The young actress would spend her nights drinking and drugging about town, indulging in all sorts of illicit drugs like cocaine while simultaneously exploring her ravenous sexual appetite. She befriended the famed Algonquin Round Table, a group of artist, performers, and intellectuals famed for daily luncheons in which they would engage in wisecracks and witticisms. Her lunch companions included the likes of Robert E. Sherwood and Dorothy Parker. Acting-wise, Bankhead continued to act in mostly small, inconsequential parts on Broadway, including roles in Footloose, Nice People and Everyday. During this time she also made her film debut, playing the part of Nell in the 1918 drama Who Loved Him Best? and followed that up with two uncredited roles in the films When Men Betray and Thirty a Week. After five years on Broadway, Bankhead felt her career on stagnating and after completing her obligations for the play The Exciters, Bankhead decided to pack her bags and give London a try.
The London Stage
When Bankhead arrived in London in 1923, she was immediately made her West End debut in Hubert Parson play The Dancers. Although the play was not a critical success, it managed to capture the attention of the West End audiences. The play's grand and splendorous production value, coupled with the fine performances made the play a huge commercial success. Draped in Feather headdress, pearls to her knees and golden hair that descended to her waist, Bankhead was tranformed into a new exotic pleasure for old London Town. She developed a ravenous fan base, mostly young women, who hoped to emulate their iconoclastic idol and imitated the stars flamboyant costumes. Bankhead, of course, was more than happy to make herself readily available to her fans, often greeting them before and after her performances. She remained in London for the next eight years, enjoying both a wild and fulfilling personal life while finally achieving the professional acclaim she do desperately wanted.
Although the critics lambasted many of her plays, Bankhead's triumphant performances almost always ensured they would remain open. In 1926 Bankhead starred in the Sidney Howard play They Knew What They Wanted. Bankhead took the role of the plain and non-glamour Amy to prove to the critics that she could act just as well in prestigious, literate material as she did in her more flamboyant pieces. The play was hit and the critics were amazed at the restrain Bankhead showed in her performance. Her most obsessive fans, however, were disappointed that Bankhead had abandoned her trademark extravagance in favor of appealing to the critics. After completing the shows run, Bankhead returned to the lavish characters that brought her fame, realizing she cared more about popular appeal than critical attention. For next play, The Gold Diggers, Bankhead played a feisty chorus girl hoping to snatch a wealthy gentleman and wore golden pajamas that caused quite a sensation for her most adoring fans. In 1928 returned to the silver screen, appearing in the British film His House in Order. She appeared in one film, the 1929 short Her Cardboard Lover before returning the states in the early 1930s.
After eight years in London, Bankhead returned to the states in 1931 with Hollywood in her sights. That year she signed a contract with Paramount Studios and began work on her first major motion picture, George Cukor's Tarnished Lady. Bankhead quickly found she disliked the slow pace of filmmaking and remained in Hollywood largely due to the hefty paycheck that came with each film. That year she also starred in the forgettable flicks My Sin and The Cheat. Although her professional life may had taken a turn for the worse, she nonetheless made sure to enjoy her private life. Much like in the U.K, Bankhead retained her party-girl habits and threw lavish parties for her new Hollywood comrades. In 1932 she appeared in the film Devil and the Deep opposite Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. Although the story held little interest for the actress, she was more than happy to star opposite the "Divine Gary Cooper." She made one more film at paramount Faithless, before calling it quits. Despite the studios eagerness to resign the actress, Bankhead had grown bored of the Hollywood and returned to Broadway.
Return to Broadway
In 1933, after leaving Hollywood, Bankhead was forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy due to her contracting gonorrhea. Of course, the stubborn and brazen Bankhead was reported as to telling the doctor "Don't think this has taught me a thing." Weighing only 70lbs when leaving the Hospital, Bankhead then spent months revering in her home state of Alabama before returning to New York. In 1934 she made her return to Broadway, starring in the original run of the Alexander McKaig produced Dark Victory. The play was flop. Her next play, Rain, didn't fair very well either. In fact, her next three plays were all flops, especially her role as Cleopatra in the Reginald Bach revival of Antony and Cleopatra, with many seeing her entirely miscast due to her lack of classical training. In 1937 Bankhead did her most shocking act yet: getting married. After years of living a fast and loose lifestyle, Bankhead married fellow stage actor John Emery. Their union, however, was short one and ended in 1941. Many people speculated Bankhead married to appease her father, who had become the Speaker of the House 1936.
Although Bankhead had long been a star of the stage, she had yet to reach true acclaim on the Broadway stage. All of that would change in 1939 when Bankhead was cast in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. Her portrayal of the cold, cruel and downright ruthless Regina Giddens was nothing short of astounding. After years of chasing success on the Broadway stage, Bankhead finally won over the New York critics, who simply gushed over her performance. For her efforts, she received the New York Drama Critics Circle award. She followed that up yet another success in 1942 as Sabina in Thorton Wilder'sThe Skin of Our Teeth. Once again, Bankhead won over the critics of the Great White Way and won their award for Best Performance. After a decade away from the silver screen, Bankhead returned to star in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat. In the film Bankhead played the sophisticated and witty journalist, Constance Porter, trapped on a lifeboat with other survivors of a Nazi attack in the waters of the North Atlantic. The film was Bankhead's biggest commercial and critics hit. For her work Bankhead was won another New York Critics Circle Award.
Later Career and Life
After starring one more Hollywood film, Otto Preminger's A Royal Scandal, Bankhead once again grew bored of the Hollywood lifestyle and went back to New York. She then went on a highly successful tour of Noel Coward's Private Lives, ending the two-year tour with a successful revival on Broadway in 1948. Despite the plays immense success by the 1950s Bankhead's career began to falter. She grew more and more dependant on alcohol and pills, while managing to keep herself in the spotlight via television appearances such Schlitz Playhouse and The Milton Berle Show. In 1956 she played the icon Blanche Dubious in a revival of Tennessee Williams A Street Car Named Desire to very poor reviews. Her last great stage role same with the 1961 play Midgie Purvis, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award. In 1964 she made her final stage performance in the revival of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. The next year Bankhead would make her final silver screen appearance in the British gothic-horror film Die! Die! My Darling! In 1967 Bankhead gave her final performance as the Black Widow in the TV series Batman. Tallulah Bankhead died on December 12th, 1968 of complications due to pneumonia. She was 66 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
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