T is for Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” on Broadway in 1937

Everybody seemed to have a colorful anecdote  about Tallulah Bankhead. She was said to have inspired the characters of Margo Channing in the film “All About Eve,” Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and Cruella De Vil in Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. .She called everybody “Darling” (because, she said, she couldn’t remember anybody’s name) and kept a lion for a time in the New York hotel where she usually lived (“I didn’t realize it was illegal…”)

But for all the stories about her outsized personality, Tallulah Bankhead was much admired as a stage actress. Over the course of half a century career, she performed in 23 Broadway plays, originating the roles of the ruthless Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” and Sabina in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer winning play “The Skin of Our Teeth,” as well as the leads in “Dark Victory.” and  Clifford Odets’ “Clash by Night.” All four roles won her great acclaim, all four plays were turned into Hollywood movies.. and she was replaced in all four films (by, respectively, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Davis again, and Barbara Stanwyck.) Tallulah Bankhead is surely a worthy figure to be part of my revived Broadway Alphabet Series.

Click on each photograph to read the caption.

Excerpts from what’s considered her best film, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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