Chamblee54

Tallulah Bankhead And Billie Holiday

Posted in Georgia History, GSU photo archive, History, Music by chamblee54 on January 18, 2020

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Tallulah Bankhead was born January 31, 1902 in Huntsville AL. She had a year-older sister, Eugenia. Their mother died February 23, 1902. Legend has it her last words were
“Take care of baby Eugenia. Tallulah can take care of herself.” This is a repost.
The father of the actress was Will Bankhead
. He was a prominent politician, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington. Mr. Bankhead was on the short list of Vice Presidential candidates for Franklin Roosevelt, but was passed over. The Bankhead national forest and the Bankhead Highway are both named for Will Bankhead.
Tallulah Bankhead was an actress, radio show hostess, and personality. She went to London in the early twenties and became a stage sensation. Returning home, she became a Broadway star with “The Little Foxes.” She made movies, but saved her best public performances for the stage.

Miss Bankhead was known for being sexually active, with both men and women. Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammie in Gone With The Wind, was rumored to be one of her “friends”. Her introduction to Chico Marx went like this
“Miss Bankhead.” “Mr. Marx.” “You know, I really want to fuck you.”. “And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy.”
One legend has Miss Bankhead at a dinner party with Dorothy Parker and Montgomery Clift. As might have been expected, the cocktail hour went on most of the evening. At one point, Mister Clift had his head in Miss Parker’s lap. “oh you sweet man, it’s too bad that you’re a cocksucker. He is a cocksucker, isn’t he?” Miss Bankhead replied “I don’t know, he never sucked my cock.”

Her most famous movie role was in “Lifeboat”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Her co stars complained that she was not wearing panties under her dress. Mr. Hitchcock posed the question, is this a matter for wardrobe or for hairdressing?

In the fading days of radio, Tallulah was the host of “The Big Show”. She became known for her deep voice, and for saying “Dah-ling”. More than one guest got big laughs by calling her Mister Bankhead. After “The Big Show” ended, Miss Bankhead remained active on stage and television. She died December 12, 1968.

Miss Bankhead was a staunch Democrat, as is fitting for the political family she was raised in. During the McCarthy era, an actress friend of hers was accused of being a communist. Miss Bankhead made a statement of support for the actress on the radio, and then asked her, are you a communist? The actress said that her daddy was a republican, and so she guessed that was what she was. Miss Bankhead was horrified.
“A republican! That’s worse than being a goddamn communist.”

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One of Miss Bankhead’s more explosive friendships was with Billie Holliday. “The truth of the matter is that the evidence strongly suggests they probably first met in the early 1930’s during Bankhead’s Harlem rent party and nightclub-slumming days, well before Holiday ever became famous. What is known is that by 1948 they were bosom buddies. A year earlier, Holiday entered the Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women to serve her famous “one day and a year” sentence after being found guilty on dope charges. Four months after her release in 1948, Holiday was appearing at New York’s Strand Theater with Count Basie on the first leg of a cross-country tour. At the same time, Tallulah Bankhead was nearby on Broadway starring in her hit play, Private Lives. Bankhead caused quite a commotion every night thundering late down the ailse during Billie’s show to sit in her special seat to stare in amazement at the gifted & stunningly beautiful Lady Day. Because Holiday’s license to perform in nightclubs where liquor was being served had been revoked (and not renewed) she was forced to earn her living in gruelling tours on the road. For months after the Strand performance, Bankhead traveled with her whenever she could. Also on the tour was dancer/comedian James “Stump Daddy” Cross – nicknamed after his wooden leg, who joined the two famous ladies to make a treacherous threesome.”

“…it appears that during the late 1940s she and Holiday were also lovers. Perhaps they had been all along. Holiday later told William Dufty, who ghostwrote her autobiography, that when Tallulah visited backstage at the Strand Theatre, the thrill she took in exhibitionistic sex made her insist on keeping Holiday’s dressing room door open. Holiday later claimed that Tallulah’s brazen show of affection almost cost her her job at the Strand.”

Before long, Miss Holiday got busted again. Apparently, Miss Bankhead made a phone call to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, asking for leniency. There is a remarkable thank you – you’re welcome correspondence between Miss Bankhead and Mr. Hoover. “As my Negro Mammy used to say ‘When you pray, you pray to God don’t you……I had only met Billie Holiday twice in my life….and feel the most profound compassion for her…she is essentially a child at heart whose troubles have made her psychologically unable to cope with the world in which she finds herself…poor thing, you know I did everything within the law to lighten her burden”. “A giddy and twitterpated Hoover wrote back , “Your comments are greatly appreciated, and I trust that you will no hesitate to call on me at any time you think I might be of assistance to you.”

At some point, the two became less intimate. Miss Bankhead had her own legal headaches, and put some distance between her and Miss Holiday. (Eleanora Fagan was the birth name of the chanteuse. Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was the real name of the thespian.) When “Lady Sings the Blues” was being prepared, Miss Bankhead got an advance copy, and was horrified by what she saw. A fierce note was sent to the book’s publisher, and scenes were edited out. Miss Holiday was outraged. The letter that resulted is a poison pen classic. “My maid who was with me at the Strand isn’t dead either. There are plenty of others around who remember how you carried on so you almost got me fired out of the place. And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!”

The first part of this story is a repost. Pictures today are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. “Members of the Atlanta Woman’s Club, during a luncheon for retiring president W.F. Milton, in the AWC banquet hall, in Atlanta, Georgia, March 5, 1937.” Picture of Billie Holiday from The Library of Congress.

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