Tallulah Bankhead: The Dazzling Star Who Redefined Hollywood

By sheer coincidence, Tallulah Bankhead, an influential figure in Hollywood, was born into a political family in Huntsville, Alabama in 1902. Her early exposure to the world of politics and the tragic loss of her mother shaped her resilient and fiercely independent spirit.

Transitioning from silent films to captivating performances on stage in New York and London, Bankhead's extraordinary talent and daring performances left an indelible mark on Hollywood and the theater world. Known for her beauty, wit, and advocacy for racial tolerance, she redefined the Hollywood star.

This article delves into the remarkable life and career of Tallulah Bankhead, a woman who defied conventions and left an enduring legacy in the entertainment industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Tallulah Bankhead was a renowned actress and celebrity known for her beauty, wit, and daring personality.
  • She had a successful career in both film and theater, gaining acclaim for her performances in productions such as 'They Knew What They Wanted' and 'The Little Foxes.'
  • Bankhead transitioned between Hollywood and the theater, starring in films like 'Devil and the Deep' and 'Lifeboat,' and also hosting the popular radio program 'The Big Show.'
  • Her autobiography was a bestseller, and her legacy as an actress and advocate for racial tolerance and equality continues to be celebrated.

Early Life and Family Background

Tallulah Bankhead's early life was shaped by her father, William Brockman Bankhead, a U.S. Congressman, and the absence of her mother who passed away shortly after her birth. Her father's influential political career exposed her to the world of public speaking and performance, laying the foundation for her future success on stage and screen.

However, the tragic loss of her mother left a profound impact on her upbringing, leading her to seek validation and attention through her extraordinary talent and daring personality. Despite this adversity, Tallulah Bankhead's resilience and determination ultimately propelled her to become a dazzling star who redefined Hollywood, leaving an indelible mark on the entertainment industry.

The combination of her father's influence and the void left by her mother's absence played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of her remarkable career.

Early Career in Film and Theater

Following the influential role of her father and the impact of her mother's absence, Tallulah Bankhead's early career in film and theater propelled her into the spotlight with a combination of talent, beauty, and daring personality.

At the age of 15, Bankhead won a screen test in a movie magazine contest, leading to appearances in six silent films and a few Broadway plays in New York. Her breakthrough came with her London stage debut in 'The Rope Dancers' in 1923, and she gained further acclaim for her role in the 1926 London production of 'They Knew What They Wanted.'

Bankhead's audacious costumes and magnetic performances made her a notorious celebrity of the Jazz Age, setting the stage for her successful transition to Hollywood and her later triumphant return to theater.

Transition to Hollywood and Return to Theater

  1. In 1931, Bankhead returned to the United States under contract to Paramount Pictures. She embarked on a Hollywood comeback, starring in six films for Paramount, notably 'Devil and the Deep' alongside Charles Laughton and Cary Grant.
  2. However, she soon shifted her focus back to the theater, where she achieved remarkable success. Her portrayal of Regina Hubbard Giddings in Lillian Hellman's 'The Little Foxes' earned her the New York Drama Critics Award.
  3. Bankhead continued to captivate audiences with her theater success, touring the United States with 'The Little Foxes' and other plays. Her ability to seamlessly transition between Hollywood and theater showcased her versatility and talent.

Success in Film and Radio

Tallulah Bankhead achieved success in both film and radio through her remarkable talent and versatility. In 1944, she starred in Alfred Hitchcock's film 'Lifeboat' and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. Her compelling performance in 'Lifeboat' solidified her as a distinguished actress in Hollywood. Bankhead's iconic style captivated audiences in both film and radio, showcasing her remarkable talent. She broke traditional molds with her daring and captivating presence, becoming a symbol of female empowerment in Hollywood. Transitioning effortlessly from the silver screen to the airwaves, Bankhead became a prominent radio personality, hosting the NBC program 'The Big Show.' Her wit and enthusiasm endeared her to audiences, establishing her as a beloved host. Bankhead's remarkable success in both film and radio further solidified her legacy as a trailblazer in the entertainment industry.

Later Career and Legacy

Tallulah Bankhead continued to showcase her talent and charm on stage and television, solidifying her status as a beloved celebrity. Her later career and legacy are marked by significant contributions and enduring influence:

  1. Philanthropic Efforts: Bankhead was known for her philanthropy, supporting various charitable causes, including organizations devoted to racial tolerance and equality. Her efforts in championing these causes left a lasting impact on society.
  2. Fashion and Style: Bankhead's distinctive fashion sense and bold style set her apart as a trendsetter. Her daring costumes and elegant ensembles not only captivated audiences but also influenced the fashion industry, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture.
  3. Enduring Influence: Even after her passing, Tallulah Bankhead's legacy as an actress and advocate for social change continues to inspire generations, showcasing the enduring impact of her remarkable career.

Impact on Racial Tolerance

Bankhead's advocacy for racial tolerance and equality left a lasting impact on society, influencing numerous charitable causes and societal change. In a time when racial equality in Hollywood was far from the norm, Tallulah's activism stood out.

She openly supported civil rights organizations, spoke out against racial discrimination, and worked to advance the cause of racial equality in the entertainment industry. Bankhead's outspoken support for racial tolerance challenged societal norms and paved the way for greater inclusivity in Hollywood.

Her efforts helped to bring attention to the importance of diversity and representation in the film industry, leaving a significant imprint on the ongoing fight for racial equality. Tallulah's unwavering commitment to this cause continues to inspire and shape conversations around racial tolerance in Hollywood and beyond.

Lasting Influence

Her advocacy for racial tolerance and equality continues to shape the entertainment industry and inspire ongoing conversations about diversity and representation.

Tallulah Bankhead's lasting influence and impact on social change can be seen in various ways:

  1. Pioneering Representation: Bankhead's unapologetic embrace of her individuality and support for marginalized communities paved the way for greater representation in Hollywood.
  2. Cultural Conversations: Her fearless approach to addressing social issues through her work sparked dialogues that persist today, encouraging the industry to prioritize inclusivity.
  3. Enduring Inspiration: Bankhead's legacy serves as a continual wellspring of inspiration for current and future generations, motivating them to advocate for social change and equality in the entertainment sphere.

Bankhead's unwavering commitment to fostering a more diverse and inclusive entertainment landscape has left an indelible mark on the industry, shaping its trajectory for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Did Tallulah Bankhead Have Any Siblings?

Tallulah Bankhead had three siblings: Eugene, William, and Ada Eugenia. Growing up in Alabama, the Bankhead siblings were part of a prominent political family, shaped by their father's career as a U.S. Congressman.

What Was the Inspiration Behind Tallulah Bankhead's Daring Costumes in the Jazz Age?

During the jazz age, Tallulah Bankhead's daring costumes were a fusion of glamour and rebellion, mirroring the era's influence on fashion. Her iconic style exuded boldness, reflecting the avant-garde spirit of the time.

How Did Tallulah Bankhead's Experience in Hollywood Differ From Her Experience in Theater?

Tallulah Bankhead's Hollywood experience showcased her success in film, highlighted by her award-winning role in "Lifeboat." In theater, she excelled with "The Little Foxes," earning her the New York Drama Critics Award. Bankhead's bold fashion influence, celebrity guests, and social activism defined her performance style.

What Were Some of the Guest Stars That Appeared on 'The Big Show' Hosted by Tallulah Bankhead?

Guest stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Bob Hope appeared on 'The Big Show' hosted by Tallulah Bankhead. Her Hollywood and theater experiences, daring costumes, and advocacy for racial tolerance and equality inspired many.

How Did Tallulah Bankhead Champion Racial Tolerance and Equality in Her Career?

Tallulah Bankhead championed racial tolerance and equality by using her platform to advocate for social justice, breaking boundaries in Hollywood, and promoting diversity in her performances. Her impact on society continues to resonate.


In conclusion, Tallulah Bankhead was a trailblazing actress who defied conventions and left an indelible mark on Hollywood and the theater world. Her daring performances and advocacy for racial tolerance solidified her legacy as a beloved celebrity.

Despite facing personal and professional challenges, Bankhead's resilience and independent spirit propelled her to success in film, radio, and the theater, redefining the Hollywood star.

Her influence continues to resonate in the entertainment industry, making her a timeless icon of the silver screen.

Our Reader’s Queries

Where did Tallulah Bankhead grow up?

Raised in the grand 1910 mansion of her grandfather, Senator John Hollis Bankhead, in Jasper, Alabama, she later hopped between boarding schools due to frequent expulsions. A magazine contest victory in her teenage years propelled her to New York, where she transitioned into an actress in 1920s London.

Who did Tallulah Bankhead leave her money to?

Kenneth Carten of London, England, is bequeathed with the amount of $10,000.

Who was Tallulah Bankhead mother?

Adelaide “Ada” Eugenia, a Como, Mississippi native, was initially committed to another man when she crossed paths with William Bankhead during a visit to Huntsville to purchase her wedding gown. Their immediate connection resulted in a swift marriage on January 31, 1900, in Memphis, Tennessee.

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