In the golden age of American theater, no celestial body shone more dazzlingly than Tallulah Bankhead. Outrageous, outspoken, and totally uninhibited, she was an actress known as much for her offstage vices as for her onstage roles—the cocaine and alcohol, the blistering tirades, and her scandalous affairs with both men and women.
In Tallulah!, author Joel Lobenthal has captured the private essence of this most public of Broadway stars, the irrepressible diva who enjoyed intimate relationships with the top entertainment luminaries of her day, from Tennessee Williams and Noël Coward to Marlene Dietrich and Billie Holiday. Here also are the close and personal details of her family life and doomed romances, drawn from scores of exclusive interviews, and previously untapped information from Scotland Yard and the FBI. This is the definitive biography of Tallulah Bankhead, a woman even more complex, more nuanced, and more shocking than her notorious mythology suggests.
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Joel Lobenthal is assistant editor of Ballet Review, and has also written for Dance Magazine, Playbill, Quest, and the New York Times. He is the author of Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties.From Publishers Weekly:
Critic Lobenthal (the New York Times, Playbill, etc.) began researching Tallulah Bankhead (1902–1968) as an undergraduate. Twenty-five years later, his exhaustively researched biography is the definitive, gloves-off evocation of the life of the brazen stage and screen actress so roundly ahead of her time. Bankhead was born in Huntsville, Ala. Her mother died three weeks after her birth from peritonitis; her father's family—Dixiecrat politicians and lawyers—provided an endlessly flamboyant if penurious background for her early life. Barely 16, Bankhead fled from Alabama's claustrophobic, restrictive society to New York. Before age 20, she was a resounding success on the London stage and already notorious for what would become her life-long profligate sex- and alcohol-related escapades. The 1930s brought her back to New York, the stage and a burgeoning interest in leftist politics, which landed her on J. Edgar Hoover's list of persons to watch. Unlike previous Bankhead biographers, Lobenthal doesn't pass judgment on the volatile actress or act as apologist; rather, he contextualizes her often outrageous behavior (like arriving onstage drunk) and explains her choices as an actress. And in contrast to Bankhead's autobiography, there is no dissembling; facts are stated, ramifications elucidated. Lobenthal's clean, reportorial prose flows more smoothly once Bankhead leaves the South and her multifaceted persona begins to glitter in earnest; the book's sole flaw is an obsessive attention to detail. Photos.
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