(BANKHEAD, TALLULAH) (1902-68)
American star of stage and screen; daughter of a US Congressman; her uncle and grandfather were US Senators.
Fascinating behind-the-scenes road gossip from one of Bankhead’s entourage. Tallulah, well into her cups, adds a handwritten postscript on one page.
ALS – Autograph Letter(s) Signed, on stationery of Pittsburghs Hotel Roosevelt and William Penn. Letters are undated but circa 1937. The William Penn letter references opening on Broadway 10 November. That would have been in Antony and Cleopatra at the Mansfield Theater. It enjoyed a five night run. The road tryout at The Nixon Theater in Pittsburgh was deemed a flop. We do not know the identity of writer “Bob”. Tallulah has penned a brief greeting and her signature at the bottom of the Hotel Roosevelt letterhead “Hi David! Tallulah” . (Bob observes she’s as drunk as they come).
HOTEL ROOSEVELT LETTER
Darling, I really think that Beechhurst needs me – apparently you are all going to pieces in my absence – your parties are evidently running away with all of you – I was quite shocked at your account – I do think you’re a lunch of damn fools but I adore you. I’m glad I’m coming home to pull every body in check again and I’d better be quick I’ll have you all sorry I am coming. I’m glad you mentioned that you made a pass at Steve. I shall like telling her that you called me about it, when she rushes up to say how untrue you’ve been she will you know — women do. What’s happened, is it all off definitely between Fanny and Albie? By the way you didn’t say how far you got with Steve, I’ll like to know – I know she likes you. You ought to have done all right. Oh Lord, the mob downstairs just missed me and they all came in after me – Tallulah and John are here too – I hope you’re impressed I am – where John is on her ear – at the moment she is standing on her head on my bed – everyone is screaming at me that the party can’t start till I get there so I guess I’ll have to go. ……. has my black hat with the veil and they can’t get it away from her. Congratulations on your medal winning and good luck tonight. I’m hoping for you my dearest silly. I positively blushed if you can picture it, when I read your letter – I felt all girlish and pleased – thank you for all the lovely clips – I only hope you will keep right on wearing those rose colored spectacles. I;m a little dizzy at the thought of seeing you again so much sooner than I expected I hope if you do meet me at the station you can control yourself. I’ve got to go now. Here is something for you. Love to you always, Bob.
HOTEL WILLIAM PENN LETTER
Darling, your rather frenzied note just came aren’t I prompt? Life on the farm has been picking up and how. I’ve never been to so many parties in my life. Virginia and I gave one the night before last – much to my regret – an orgy but an orgy. Everyone got absolutely plastered and four girls, my dear roommate included, passed right and naturally I had to put them to bed – I actually spent the evening holding people’s heads putting people to bed – and to make matters really good our stage manager assisted. I think that is his official capacity although actually I think he is just there to pamper La Bankhead, any way he is very beautiful and as queer as they come – naturally he followed in his sisterhood habits and has fallen for me – God how I collect queers and when a queer gets a crush you have to literally fight them off – as if that wasn’t bad enough – Miss Bankhead’s secretary, one Edie Smith, who is just as famous as a Les and as … as Tallulah has arrived and she, too, went for me. She nicknamed me The Madam and unfortunately it has stuck. I finally threw them out and went to bed at seven o’clock. Some of the kids are tossing another party downstairs because Tallulah wants me to party so i have to go down there in a minute. Last night I went out with Johnny Thomas a boy who goes to Carnegie Tech. An awfully nice guy I was so glad to see him again. this afternoon I went very camp and Reggie Walker and two of the men of the company and i went to the Carnegie Museum to see the Modern Art Exhibit. I had a marvelous time. Here is the news I’ve been holding til last. I hope you will be pleased. I am terribly. I will be home in two weeks – we open in New York November 10 – we play Columbus, Indianapolis & Cincinnati then home. Although I’m terribly thrilled that I am going to see you and mother and everyone I don’t think that the play is in any condition to go into New York yet. We’ve had quite bad notices and it’s just not right. I’m frightened of it. But I guess the management know what it is doing. I sincerely hope so.
Bankhead’s support of liberal causes, such as civil rights, broke with the tendency of the Southern Democrats to support a more typically aligned agenda and she often opposed her own family publicly. Primarily an actress of the stage, she did have one hit film: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” (1944) as well as a brief but successful career on radio. She later made appearances on television. In her personal life, Bankhead struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, smoked around 120 cigarettes a day, and was known for her promiscuity with both men and women. She also openly talked about her vices. She supported foster children and helped families escape the Spanish Civil War and WWII. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1972 and the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981. Upon her death, Bankhead amassed nearly 300 film, stage, TV and radio roles.