Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968)
- Martha Mansfield, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1919 . “Dahling” passed on the first film version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. Of course, she did, dahling - John Barrymore had the best part(s). And so, another big break forMansfield, the ex-Ziegfeld Follies dancer becoming a shining silent movie queen. And tragic… While resting in her car between scenes of The Warrens of Virginia, on location in San Antonio, Texas, in November 1923, someone, carelwessly flicked a lighted match through the car’s open window. It landed on Martha’s inflammable Civil War era dress (all ruffles and hoopskirts). Instant inferno! Co-star Wifred Lytell managed to throw his overcoat over her head, but Martha died the next day from her burns. At 24. The Fox suits added insult to injury by cutting her final role to zilch and increasing that of Rosemary Hill as the sudden new leading lady.
- Joan Crawford, Rain, 1931. Sadie Thompson was all hers until rotten reviews for re-vamping Pola Negri's The Cheat.Rain did not rate any better.
- Jean Harlow, Red Dust, 1932. LB Mayer asked her to take over if Harlow collapsed and could not continue following her husband Paul Bern’s bizarre suicide, two months and three days after their wedding. Although Harlow was absent for 10 days (with scenes shot around her and later, her scenes re-shot, with higher neck-lines),the movie was completed on schedule and made her a superstar.Bern had kept his word.
- Marlene Dietrich, The Song of Songs, 1933. Rushed into production as last film under Dietrich’s Paramountcontract - and her first inHollywood minus Josef von Sternberg as pilot.“Jo, Jo, why hast thou forsaken me?”
- Carole Lombard, Twentieth Century, 1934. “I turned down a lot, dahling. I can't go into all those sordid details.”(She usually did - about her AC DC lovers).
- Florence Eldridge, Mary of Scotland, 1936. Director John Ford, who was never interested in the film and even handed direction over to his star (and lover), Katharine Hepburn, once or twice, wanted Bankhead as Queen Elizabeth I. Ginger Rogers actually tested (!) and then, his other star, Fredric March, mentioned his wife.
- Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
- Rita Hayworth, Blood and Sand, 1940. Eight years earlier, Paramount planned a re-make of Rudolph Valentino’s 1921 silent classic, with Bankhead as a (camp?) vamp socialite toying with Cary Grant’s matador. Paramont then sold out to Fox which put its new pretty boy, Tyrone Power, under the spell of Hayworth.
- Linda Darnell, Blood and Sand, 1941. The ’33 plan had been Cary Grant as the matador, Bankhead as the lady.
- Paulette Goddard, Reap The Wild Wind, 1941.All hands on deck - and fathoms below - for a boisterous CB DeMille adventure classic. With a battle royale to be John Wayne’s lady, Loxi Claiborne. Between Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, and two survivors of the Scarlett O’Hara wars, Bankhead and Susan Hayward.
- Bette Davis, The Little Foxes, 1941.
Having paid Warners $150,000 for Davis, producer Samuel Goldwyn was worried when she and her ex-lover, directorWilliam Wyler, constantly argued. The usual replacements were considered (Bankhead, Miriam Hopkins), until Sam ordered Wyler to shoot around Davis for three weeks to conserve her health. Bankhead said Bette was a hag: “When I get hold of her, I'll tear every hair out of her moustache.”
- Bette Davis, Mr Skeffington, 1943. Bankhead and Davis refused to be Fanny Skeffington. Not because of her loveless marriage with an older man (Claude Rains) to save her brother from jail. But because at 32, they felt they could never be a convincing 50. Then again, apparently Davis thought: What the hell am I talking about? Of course I can. I’m Bette Davis. Result: the eighth of her 11 Oscar nominations. (She won twice).
- Joan Bennett, The Woman in the Window, 1944. She preferred a year off, waiting for director Ernst Lubitsch to complete writing Catherine The Great for her in A Royal Scandal.
- Merle Oberon, ASong To Remember, 1945. For George Sand opposite Cornel Wilde's Chopin!She was still waiting on Lubitsch. Three months became eight and it was Otto Premingerwho helmed Scandal after Lubitsch’s heart attack.
- Gene Tierney, Leave Her To Heaven, 1945. Dahling Bankhead would have been perfect…! Judging by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther description of Ellen: “A thoroughly ornery creature who is so jealous of her author-husband's love that she permits his adored younger brother to drown, kills her own unborn child and finally destroys herself by trickery when she finds that her husband and her sister are in love.”
- Claire Trevor, Born To Kill, 1946. La Bankhead was first up for the woman foolishly attracted to killer Lawrence Tierney. Production Code chief Joseph Breen said the script should not be filmed due to: “gross lust and shocking brutality, and ruthlessness.” So RKO rewrote Tierney’s character was insane. As if he wasn’t to start with.
- Jeannette Nolan, Macbeth, 1947. Bankhead, Mercedes McCambridge and Agnes Moorhead all rejected Orson Welles’ invite to be his Lady M. Their egos were bruised by being second/third/etc choices after… Vivien. Her husband rejected it - “wouldn’t hear of it.” Of course not. Laurence Olivier was planning his own version of “the Scottish play.” On realising the Welles film would be out first, Olivier switched to Hamlet winning four 1949 Oscars including Best Actor and Film. Welles even withdrew from competing at the 1948 Venice Festival, fearing bad comparisons to Hamlet. For once, Welles knew when he was beaten.
- Marlene Dietrich, Stage Fright, 1949. For the second of his first two UK films in a decade, Alfred Hitchcock wanted Tallulah as a suspected murderer. Warner Bros insisted on La Dietrich. (She said that her co-starJane Wyman “looks like a mystery nobody has bothered to solve.") Hitch bought the book when critics said it would make a good Hitchcock movie. It didn’t.
- Ginger Rogers, We’re Not Married! 1952. Bankhead and Myrna Loy were also seen for Ramona Gladwyn - among the five couples suddenly finding out they’re not legally married. Rogers’ husband was Fred Allen
- Gertrude Lawrence, The Glass Menagerie, 1953. Director Irving Rapper had “never seen a star behave in this fashion,” ran Harry Mayer's New York memo to Hollywood about Bankhead’s “disgraceful state” while testing with Ralph Meeker in August 1949. Matching anything Tennessee Williams could write, she'd controlled her boozing for two days, then became"quite difficult" in the final test. She fed Meeker his lines rather than appearing with him, "drank quite a lot more and... made it almost impossible to get the few feet of film that we were so anxious to secure.” (Neither onewas inthe final film).
- Ginger Rogers, Black Widow, 1953. When Georgia auteur Nunnally Johnson phoned Alabamha’s Bankhead about playing Lottie - she spent 25 minutes refusing, dahling. Rogers also passed - until a letter from Johnson said only she could make such a minor (but bitchy) role into a star turn. Of course, if he had said that to Tallulah … Then again, she always insisted that felt All About Eve’s Margo Channing was based on her, but obviously not this similar bitchy diva, Carlotta Marin
- Joan Fontaine, Serenade, 1956. The role of Mario Lanza's high society “protector” was originally written for a man.
- Lila Kedrova, Zorba The Greek, 1965.