Friday, July 31, 2009

Her Name was Tallulah, Dahling

Perhaps it's a little bit odd but everyday I have a moment where I think to myself, what the hell would Tullulah Bankhead say at a moment like this. No. . .seriously I do. . .along with the other two moments I have where I wonder what Dorothy Parker and Anita Loos would say. Gone is the age of the sexy smokey voiced actress popping off lines like:

"Cocaine isn`t habit-forming. I should know - I`ve been using it for years."

"I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late start without me. "

"I was raped in our driveway when I was eleven. You know darling, it was a terrible experience because we had all that gravel."

Those quotes, of course, come from the one and only Tallulah Bankhead. Born in 1901 in Huntsville, Alabama the daughter of the Speaker of the House of Representatives the granddaughter of Alabama senators. If you looked up the definition of Southern Democrat in the dictionary you just might find a picture of the Bankhead clan next to it (along with one of George Wallace and one of Strom Thurmond).

But Tallulah was her own woman and struck out on her own at the age of 15 to act, and drink, and blaze her way through 1920s and 1930s high society. Tallulah would be the first to admit she was a woman of strong appetites. She indulged in the roaring 20s and for her the term dirty 30s was far from understatement.

But for all her carousing and partying and pursuing of movie actors, movie actresses, jazz singers and Eaton boys she was a phenomenal actress. She originated the role of Judith Trahern on stage in Dark Victory as well as the role of Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes (both played on screen by Bette Davis). Honestly, I think my personal moment of zen would've been to sit in the audience of the stage production of The Little Foxes to watch Bankhead breath life into the character of Regina Giddens.

I once saw Bankhead in a 1932 pre-code picture called Faithless. She plays a woman who woos Robert Montgomery's rich boy character but once she gets him he loses all of his money then falls deathly ill. In order to get him the medicine he needs to live Bankhead's character starts street walking. Some of the best acting on screen is when Bankhead is walking through her seedy neighborhood trying to pick up Johns. The way she looks at the men that pass her on the sidewalk is downright X-rated. When Montogomery recovers and he learns what she has done to save him, in not so many words he says well if a woman would do that for me she must love the hell out of me. As the credits roll it is implied that they live happily ever after with no baggage or recriminations. That's pre-code Hollywood for you.

Tallulah Bankhead lived a life with no regrets. A classic quote attributed to her is "if I had my life to live over again I would make the same mistakes, only sooner." She died of pneumonia in 1968. Her last words were reported to be "Bourbon. . .codeine."

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