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Tallulah Bankhead: Liberated and gay in Hollywood

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Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead: Liberated and gay in Hollywood

Some people were born to break the rules. However, the famous actress Tallulah Bankhead was born both gay and a rule-breaker.

After all, in a time when being gay could get one arrested, Tallulah managed to flout conventions with her love affairs with both men and women.

The child Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah was born on January 31, 1902 in Huntsville, Alabama. Coming from a very rich and political family, she was named after the Tallulah Falls in Georgia.

Unfortunately, Tallulah’s mother died of blood poisoning three weeks after she was born, which drove her father to depression and drink.

Because she was homely and overweight whereas her sister was slim and pretty, she tried everything to gain attention and approval of her father, from doing cartwheels to throwing tantrums.

Because of chronic bronchitis when she was a child, she gained her famous husky voice. However, she had a prodigious memory for literature as she memorized poems and plays.

In 1912, she was enrolled with her sister in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, New York at the age of 10.

Because her father’s political career, they were moved to different schools nearer and nearer to Washington, DC.

Tallulah Bankhead untamed

At the age of 15, Tallulah was encouraged by her aunt to improve her appearance and confidence by going on a diet. So while her sister married at the age of 16, Tallulah went into acting.

However, despite making waves with the pubic and at the Algonquin Hotel where she met women like Estelle Winwood, Eva Le Gallienne, and Blyth Daly, success proved elusive for her.

She had several lovers, like Le Gallienne and the English aristocrat Napier George Henry Alington.

It was also in this period that she made a name for herself and her sharp tongue, like: “Cocaine isn’t habit forming. I should know—I’ve been using it for years.”

Another is whenever she introduced herself in parties, she said: “I’m a lesbian. What do you do?”

With her relationship with Alington throwing her into a tailspin, she decided to throw everything to chance and sail to London in 1923 to jumpstart her career on stage.

Tallulah Bankhead the actress

In London, despite some missteps, she finally found her fame in a number of plays like The Dancer and Sidney Howard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play They Knew What They Wanted.

She moved back to the US in 1931 and landed roles in Tarnished Lady and Devil and the Deep, which also starred top leading men Gary Cooper and Cary Grant.

She had a health scare after she got hit with VD that ended up with a hysterectomy in 1933.

Through it all, she had a lot of lovers like Marlene Dietrich, Hattie McDaniel, and Alla Nazimova.

As she once said, “I’ve tried several varieties of sex. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic. And the others give me either stiff neck or lockjaw.”

She once married actor John Emery in 1937, which ended in 1941.

She once saved then-upcoming jazz singer Billie Holiday from jail in 1949 by calling up her fan, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Tallulah’s career and health slowly declined in the ’50s and the ’60s because of her heavy drug and alcohol use.

She died on December 12, 1969 at the age of 66 due to pneumonia complicated by emphysema and malnutrition.

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