Costume Inspiration: Tallulah Bankhead

Bankhead by Cecil Beaton in the 20's

Bankhead by Cecil Beaton in the 20's

With a deep voice, saucy nature and southern hospitality to her bone, Tallulah Bankhead is most certainly one of the most standout actresses of the years of the talkies. She made her way from the South to New York City in her teen years and became a big favorite on the broadway stage. This success guided her to become one of the frequent guests of the Algonquin Round Table. The frequent visits to the vicious circle lair created a new friendship with Harpo Marx, which led to her affair with the womanizing Chico Marx (Harpo’s younger brother).

With great success on broadway under her belt, Bankhead made her jump across the Atlantic to London’s West End in 1923.  As her career in London skyrocketed was her immediate foray into the Bright Young People realm. In London, Bankhead found her inne sexual predator and went after every person she found attractive, man or woman, famous or not. She never described herself as bi-sexual, rather “ambidextrous.” She also began to experiment with drugs. One of my favorite quotes from her is “My father warned me about men and booze, but he never mentioned a word about women and cocaine.”

Sadly her sexual escapades came with a price, in 1933 she was diagnosed with VD and underwent an emergency hysterectomy. She almost died on operating table and endured several years of recuperation from the surgery. Tallulah was also not the most competent lady since she was ushered to the stage at the age of 15. Bankhead was most certainly honest about her shortcomings, for example she was notoriously bad at directions. She would hire taxi’s to drive to destination and follow them in her car.

As years progressed she certainly became one of the most wittiest people in history. She’s had so many wonderfully truthful quotes spoken from that raspy voice. Here are a few more of my favorites.

Bankhead on set in Hollywood with a young Montgomery Clift

Bankhead on set in Hollywood with a young Montgomery Clift

"I've been called many things, but never an intellectual."

"Television could perform a great service in mass education, but there's no indication its sponsors have anything like this on their minds."

“I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education.”

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

In the early 30’s Bankhead jumped back over the pond and headed West to Hollywood. The moment she stepped onto the sound stage on the Paramount lot, she won over director George Cukor in an instant. It also helped the writer on the picture was also her old pal Donald Ogden Stewart from the Vicious Circle. Bankhead was a busy woman for most of the 30’s and was sought for some major roles in cinema. Director David O. Selsznick first choice for Gone With Wind’s Scarlett was Bankhead. She went through the vetting process and almost had the part. Sadly being 36 was not going to allow her to play Scarlett in her teen years. While Bankhead was busy in Hollywood, she was not getting the admiration that Broadway bestowed up one her. In the mid-30’s she started to live between the two coasts. 


For the next 20 years Bankhead starred in several plays that garnered her many great Broadway awards. Sadly she was only nominated for Tony once in her career. some of the plays would go on to become great films, for example Bankhead starred in The Little Foxes in 1939 which garnered her the New York Drama Critics award. Two years later Bankhead got the last laugh, Bette Davis was casted in the film version of the play and she was only nominated for an Oscar. One of my personal favorite films staring Bankhead is Aflred Hitchcock’s Life Boat. Her career in Hollywood was dismal because she found Broadway more rewarding and she enjoyed the fast paced life of NYC to LA. Bankhead only made less than a handful of pictures and graced the stage the last 10 years of her life.