“Tallulah, Darling” by Denis Brian

This biography on one of my favorite actors is brimming with anecdotes that perfectly capture the immutable charisma of Tallulah Bankhead. Unlike most actors, I always thought Tallulah’s best performances were at the beginning of her career. In her first talkies, her characters are arguably more natural and entrancing than even Bette Davis. But her personality and antics over the decades led to audiences refusing to forego their perception of her to make room for the characters she portrayed. One anecdote in the book talks about her performance as Blanche Dubois (whom Tennessee Williams actually based on her). Some of Blanche’s most heart wrenching lines were dismissed by the audience as camp. They refused to take her seriously, only acknowledging Tallulah, unwilling to see Blanche. Though the book details her tempestuous and often tragic life, it’s also peppered with “Tallulah-isms,” such as “Cocaine isn’t habit-forming, darling. I ought to know, I’ve been doing it for years,” and “I’m as pure as the driven slush.” The woman had a wit to rival Dorothy Parker (whom she often encountered at the Algonquin Round Table).

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