Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


TALLULAH! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady. Joel Lobenthal. ReganBooks; 2004.

A very readable and thorough look at the life of Tallulah Bankhead, from her childhood, to her years on the London stage, her brief forays into Hollywood, and her triumphs and flops on Broadway – and her mostly upfront life as a "bisexual" adventuress. The book successfully debunks many of the myths about Bankhead, including her alleged lack of talent [many saw her merely as a personality], her supposed bad relations with Hitchcock during the making of Lifeboat [they actually got along quite well], etc. A problematic section of the book deals with her relationship with and pandering to gay fans of a certain stripe According to Lobenthal, Bankhead would try to give serious performances in plays but the gay fans – at least some gay fans -- would hoot at any halfway suggestive line and after awhile she catered some of her performances to this contingent, to the detriment of her art. [Lobenthal doesn't quite make it clear that these obsessive fans hardly constituted the entire gay community and that not every gay fan came only for Bankhead's camp value]. There are many solid interviews and good documentation of Bankhead's final years and performances. And plenty of humor, such as when Bankhead lies in wait in Gary Cooper's dressing room and he comes “bounding out with lipstick printed from forehead to chin.” The book is peppered with amusing anecdotes of Bankhead's sexual and alcoholic escapades but is always written with compassion and understanding.

Verdict: Good read. ***.

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