You would be so very wrong. Whilst both Garbo and this Southern Belle pop up in each other’s biographies and Marlene Dietrich’s love affairs (oh yes like that) Tallulah Bankhead deserves far more celebration than she receives and gave the world a lot more than ‘I vont to be alone’.
In her autobiography and elsewhere Tallulah Bankhead claimed her love for Greta Garbo helped fuel her ambition to become a famous actress. When she finally met her idol she reportedly pulled at Garbo’s long eyelashes to check they were real (they were, it’s like a glamorous equivalent to the Father Christmas verification check, only with eyelashes instead of a beard).
There are plenty of stories of a long haired Tallulah running about her New York hotel. Her southern aunt’s supervision did little to prevent her from becoming a peripheral member of the famous Algonquin Round Table, nor her consumption of cocaine and marijuana.
The writer Anita Loos confessed she and other Round Table members thought the beautiful Ms. Bankhead must be stupid. Tallulah’s incredibly quick and dark wit corrected them. There is a story of someone at a party making a comment about rape, quick as a flash Tallulah replied “I was raped in our driveway when I was eleven. You know darling, it was a terrible experience because we had all that gravel.”
Another story Tallulah was happy to divulge was that of her attempted suicide. The ambitious actress was devastated to lose a part in the Somerset Maugham play, Rain. She took a handful of aspirin washed down with alcohol and took to her bed, leaving a note “It ain’t gonna rain no more!”
Awaking the next day, fully refreshed and feeling fabulous to an offer from Noel Coward to be in his play. Bankhead demanded an outrageous fee, commenting she, “had wanted to play the role of Sadie Thompson…[I] didn’t give a SH*T about playing in Noel Coward’s play!” and 4 days later was starring in Coward’s 1925 hit play Fallen Angels.
Tallulah went on to make several Hollywood films but the process of filming bored her and her movies did not match the success of her stage career. “The only reason I went to Hollywood was to f*ck that divine Gary Cooper.”
In 1933 Tallulah was rushed to hospital with abdominal pains, she was diagnosed with the STD gonorrhoea and underwent an emergency hysterectomy. As she left hospital she informed her doctor, “Don't think this has taught me a lesson!” It is rumoured she caught the disease from the divine Gary Cooper.
For her part as Constance Porter, in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Lifeboat, Tallulah won the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1944. She accepted it with the words: “Dahlings, I was wonderful!”
A natural comic, when her film and stage careers dried up Tallulah turned to radio and was billed in The Big Show as glamorous and unpredictable.
Tallulah Bankhead died in 1968 aged 66. Her last words were, “Codeine, bourbon.”
Dahlings, she was wonderful.