Movie Magazine International

Tallulah Bankhead

1903 - 1968

Tribute By Monica Sullivan

For those who care, there is still a chance to see Kathleen Turner in "Tallulah" before the show closes at San Francisco's Curran Theatre. Turner, one of the busiest, hardest-working & most disciplined actresses of the eighties & nineties is no more Tallulah than any other contemporary actress I can think of, although several drag queens come to mind. Turner says that actors must change their voice as wel1 as manner to suit their characters, here, Turner tries both, but she is as close to Tallulah as chiseled glass is to a real diamond. To begin with, Turner is stuck with a godawful script by Sandra Ryan Heyward. For the course of a full-length play, the audience is deluged with a torrent of self pity & self loathing, neither of which Tallulah would ever let anyone see her exhibit. All the so-called 'facts' are wrong, too: this Tallulah claims never to have heard of Helmut Dantine nor to have recognized Marlon Brando's genius in the middle of 1948 when the real Bankhead worked with both on-stage in early 1947, & was fully aware that Brando knew every scene-stealing trick in the book. This Tallulah refers to "Abbott & Costello Meet the Bride of Candy Rock" when "The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock" wasn't filmed until 1959 when Costello alone, shortly before his death, co-starred with Dorothy Provine, who was all of eleven in 1948. These factual errors are the least of the show's problems. Tallulah Bankhead was blessed with theatrical gifts which were captured effectively on the big screen only once, when she made "Lifeboat" with Alfred Hitchcock in 1944. He let her be herself, which worked just fine for 96m. She was miscast in most of her other films, but, as one of her critics noted, "I have never seen Tallulah in a good play," either. Tallulah was a phenomenon, something of a Roaring 20's Spice Girl, with an enormous cult following of mostly young girls who tried to see every single crummy play she was in between 1923 & 1930, all of them yearning to be exactly like her. Her still photographs always look like she's been caught saying, "So what?" & it is her what-the-hell joie-de-vivre that is among Tallulah's most appealing qualities. As deep as her voice was (and it became deeper over the years thanks to her habit of smoking 150 cigarettes everyday), there was a lightness to her phrasing that is missing from Turner's froghorn facsimile. At her best, Tallulah was as funny as tonight's party & as fresh as tomorrow morning's brunch. She would be horrified by the whining hag in Bob Mackie gowns who treads on her well-earned reputation in "Tallulah."

© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 2/7/01

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