12-12-1968

Tallulah Bankhead in her natural state.

TALLULAH BANKHEAD, American actress, died (b.  1902); By the standards of the interwar years, Tallulah was quite openly bisexual, but she successfully avoided scandal related to her affairs, regardless of the gender of her lovers. She was known to have stripped off her clothes on several occasions while attending parties, which shocked people in attendance, but nonetheless she remained magnetic to those who knew her well.

Rumors about her sex life have lingered for years, and she was linked romantically with many notable female personalities of the day, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, Laurette Taylor, Hattie McDaniel and Alla Nazimova, as well as writer Mercedes de Acosta, and singer Billie Holiday.

She was reportedly extremely excited when she was first able to meet the elusive Garbo, but whether they were sexually involved has never been determined beyond a doubt. The two women played tennis together often, and were said to have enjoyed one another’s company, but Garbo was extremely protective of her private life and secretive about her lovers. Bankhead was married to actor John Emery from 1937 to 1941.

Actress Patsy Kelly made a claim to author Boze Hadleigh, which he included in his 1996 book about Lesbians in Hollywood’s early years, that she had a long affair with Bankhead. John Gruen’s Menotti: A Biography notes an incident in which Jane Bowles chased Bankhead around Capricorn, Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber’s Mt Kisco estate insisting that Bankhead needed to play the Lesbian character Inès in Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (which Paul Bowles had recently translated), but Bankhead locked herself in the bathroom and kept insisting “That Lesbian! I wouldn’t know a thing about it.”

According to author Brendan Gill, when Bankhead entered the hospital for an illness, an article was headed “Tallulah Hospitalized, Hospital Tallulahized,” the headline a testament to Bankhead’s large, charismatic personality (which reportedly inspired much of the character of Cruella De Vil in Disney’s’s One Hundred and One Dalmations). In 1933, Bankhead nearly died following a five-hour emergency hysterectomy for an advanced case of gonorrhea, which she publicly claimed she contracted either from George Raft or Gary Cooper. Only 70 pounds when she left the hospital, she turned to her doctor and said, “Don’t think this has taught me a lesson!”

Bankhead died in St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia arising from influenza, complicated by emphysema, at the age of sixty-six on December 12, 1968, and is buried in Saint Paul’s Churchyard, Chesterton Maryland. Her last words: “Codeine… bourbon