Day 219 of Colourisation Project – December 12
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Marlene Dietrich called her “the most immoral woman who ever lived.”
Joan Crawford reminisced, “We all adored her. We were fascinated by her, but we were scared to death of her, too. . . . She had such authority, as if she ruled the earth, as if she was the first woman on the moon.”
Vanity Fair wrote, “she’s the only actress on both sides of the Atlantic to be recognized by her first name only.”
Flamboyant and award-winning actress, Tallulah Brockman Bankhead‘s popularity derived in part from her extravagant personality, hard-drinking lifestyle and a libertine approach to life and sex. Notorious for her unrestrained exhibitionism, Bankhead was known for stripping off at parties, for leaving her bathroom door open, and for not wearing underpants while working. After her performance in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, Actors’ Equity had to order her to wear underpants onstage because of complaints from the audience!
Fielding similar complaints during the making of Lifeboat, Alfred Hitchcock has famously been quoted on his deliberation as to “whether the matter needed to be referred to the makeup or the hairdressing department.”
Hailed as one of the wits of Manhattan, Bankhead worked hard to make sure the reputation stuck. In 1933 after nearly dieing in a five-hour emergency hysterectomy due to venereal disease, she reportedly said to her doctor, “Don’t think this has taught me a lesson!”
Rumours about her sex life would never go away. She was romantically linked with many of the great female personalities of the day, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, Hattie McDaniel, Alla Nazimova, as well as writer Mercedes de Acosta and singer Billie Holiday.
Bankhead who would never publicly describe herself as bisexual, once told a friend, “I could never become a lesbian, because they have no sense of humor!” She did, however, describe herself as ‘ambisextrous.’
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Bankhead dazzled theater audiences in London and New York, throughout the 1920s and 1930s before landing a film contract with Paramount Pictures. Her 1944 performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was acknowledged as her best on film and won her the New York Film Critics Circle Award.
Although her film career slowed down in the mid-1950s, Bankhead continued performing on Broadway, and also found work as a highly popular radio show host.
A lifelong insomniac, she was a heavy consumer of sleeping pills. She was also a heavy smoker (reportedly 150 cigarettes/day). Her hedonistic lifestyle and excessive drinking was taking its toll. “My father warned me about men and booze, but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine.”
On this day, December 12, 1968, she succumbed to double pneumonia. She was 66 years old. Her last coherent words reportedly were, “Codeine … bourbon.”
Bankhead was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6141 Hollywood Blvd.
“The only thing I regret about my past is the length of it. If I had to live my life again I’d make all the same mistakes – only sooner.” – Tallulah Bankhead