14 March 2016

A tissue of lies and misquotations

Recently I saw Tallulah Bankhead in Royal Scandal (1945) and Devil and the Deep (1932), which are the first films I've seen her in. Knowing very little about her, I read up on her a bit and learnt that she had actually made very few films (she apparently thought cinema was very boring). Bankhead had been quite active on the stage though, her most critically acclaimed performances being in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes in the role Bette Davis would later play in William Wyler's 1941 film adaptation and Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. Apart from being famous as an actress, Bankhead was also known —and perhaps more so for her flamboyant personality, her mannerisms (often the subject of parodies), her uninhibited sex life, her drug and alcohol problems, and also her outrageous remarks. (About sex she once said: "I've tried everything. Going down on a woman gives me a stiff neck. Going down on a man gives me lockjaw. Conventional sex gives me claustrophobia." (source))

Marie Bankhead Owen
Tallulah Bankhead came from a very prominent political family in Alabama, the Brockham Bankheads. Her grandfather and her uncle were both U.S. Senators, and her father was Speaker of the House of Representatives (from 1936 to 1940). In 1932, Bankhead caused quite a commotion when she gave an interview to Gladys Hall of Motion Picture Magazine, in which she ranted about the state of her life, about how she hadn't had an affair for six months and how she desperately wanted a man. Bankhead's bosses in Hollywood were very upset about the article, and so was her family back home

On 6 August 1932, Marie Bankhead Owen wrote a letter to her niece reprimanding her for her interview with Gladys Hall. Five days later, Tallulah replied by telegram (shown below) stating that the article was "a tissue of lies and misquotations". Tallulah was very concerned about what her father's reaction would be and promised to refuse all magazine interviews from then on. As you can see, the telegram was addressed to Mrs. Bankhead Owen at the Department of Archives and History of Montgomery Alabama; Tallulah's aunt Marie was head of the department and, after succeeding her husband Thomas Owen on his death in 1920, was the first woman in Alabama to hold such a position.

Transcript: (for your convenience I added some punctuation)

1932 Aug 11 AM 6 06

BMA17  172 NL Los Angeles Calif 10

Mrs. Bankhead Owen
Dept Of Archives And History Montgomery Ala[bama]

Darling Aunt Marie,

I entirely agree with every word you say. The article is a tissue of lies and misquotations from beginning to end. If you don't give interviews, they get annoyed and make up any malicious and untrue thing they can, protecting themselves from libel by prestacing every remark with an 'I hear' or 'It is rumored'. 

My only reference to love or men in the entire interview was quote I am bored when I am not in love. This sole remark is a substance of the distorted article. If daddy has read it, please send him this wire. I don't know where he is. If he has not, don't worry him about it. Hereafter I shall refuse all magazine interviewers. I am so sorry you being so upset, but please believe me, I could not and would not say or do one tenth of the things accredited to me. It is one of the many disadvantages of being in the public eye in any capacity.

Love and bless you

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