Tallulah Bankhead

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  She also made Devil and the Deep, that year. Why? “So I could fuck Gary Cooper.”
  3. 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.
  4. Marlene Dietrich, The Song of Songs, 1933.   Rushed into production as last film under Dietrich’s Paramount contract – and her first inHollywood minus Josef von Sternberg as pilot.“Jo, Jo, why hast thou forsaken me?”
  5. 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).
  6. 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 (telling everyone she was a British actress called Lady Ainsley) and then, the  other star, Fredric March, mentioned his wife. And Ford went with the Flo.   Mary was first of two characters Hepurn abhored; the second being Montgomery Clift’s evil  mother in Suddenly Last Summer in 1959.
  7. Bette Davis, Dark Victory, 1938.  When still at MGM, David O Selznick bought the Bankhead play in 1935 – not for her (“too Broadway”) but Garbo and Fredric March. However, Gone WithThe Wind got in the way. Gloria Swanson tried to set it up but  Warner Bros paid $50,000 for it – for Miriam Hopkins. She pondered. Merle Oberon simply refused and head bro, Jack Warner, told a very interested Davis in 1938: “Who wants to see someone going blind?” Everyone!  It was this one of the biggest Warner hits. Producer Hal Wallis told Bette to use her current marital problems as Judith Traherne (her favourite role at the time). She djd more than that, starting a two-year affair with co-star George Brent, in the first of their eleven films.  Director William Wyler was waiting to marry her, Brent as well, when she upped and wed her #2, a certain Arthur Austin Farnsworth. 
  8. Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  9. 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.  
  10. Linda Darnell, Blood and Sand, 1941.   The ’33 plan had been Cary Grant as the matador, Bankhead as the lady.
  11. 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.

  12. 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.”

  13. Bette Davis, Mr Skeffington, 1943.  David O Selznick wanted the book in 1940 for James Stephenson and Bette Davis but head bro Jack Warner won it for  Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Merle Oberon,  Norma Shearer orGloria Swanson at Mrs S., wed to John Loder, Paul Lukas or Richard Waring – after  James Stephenson died before the filming began.  (Waring instead became  Mrs S’ brother, Trippy Trellis). Davis rejected her Mrs role first time around. She “couldn’t play 50 at 32“– plus lines like “You’ve never loved anyone but yourself” were way too close to home. Then again, apparently Davis thought: What the hell am I talking about? Of course I can. I’m Bette Davis. She then insisted on Claude Rains: her favourite “actor and colleague.”  as Mr. Plus Vincent Sherman as her director., and, inevitably, had an affair with him. Which usually guaranteed more and better close-ups…hence the eighth of her 11 Oscar nominations. (She won twice).The 30-day shooting schedule took 110 days. Because, said the scenarist twins Julius J and Philip G Epstein, “Bette Davis is a slow director.”  
  14. 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. 
  15. Gene Tierney, Leave Her To Heaven, 1944. A real pulp soap opera… despite its Shakesperean title. (Via Hamlet). Bankhead and Rita Hayworth were passed over, leaving us with what New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called “Miss Tierney’s petulant performance of this vixenish character… about as analytical as a piece of pin-up poster art.”
  16. 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.
  17. 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.”
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.  
  21. Gertrude Lawrence, The Glass Menagerie, 1949.  The first Tennessee Williams play to be filmed.  Bankhead was director Irving Rapper’s original choice tested for Amanda (based on the playwright’s mother) and director Irving Rapper was smitten. “I was absolutely floored by her performance. It’s the greatest test I’ve ever made or seen in my life. I couldn’t believe I was seeing such reality. Bankhead was absolutely natural, so moving, so touching without even trying.” Perhaps she revealed too much of herself because the dahling Tallulah had to be sacked on the second day for being totally sloshed on-set. Rapper suggested Miriam Hopkins (no way, said Jack Warner), rejected Ethel Barrymore (too old) and Ruth Chatterton (too Ruth Chatterton). He said the suits “positively screamed when I mentioned Bette Davis… That left Gertrude Lawrence, who had little camera experience and was so very jittery she’d cry every time a take was spoiled.” Later versions were much better, even those made in Bollywood and Iran.

  22. Bette Davis, All About Eve 1950. 

  23. Ginger Rogers, We’re Not Married! 1951.  In the tale(s) of seven un-married couples (cut to five), Ginger replaced Dahling!!! But the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said the Fed (Allen) and Ginger story was “substantially the skit Mr Allen and Tallulah Bankhead have played on the air as often, almost, as Lionel Barrymore had read A Christmas Carol.”

  24. 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

  25. Joan Fontaine, Serenade, 1956.  The role of Mario Lanza’s high society “protector” was originally written for a man.
  26. Joan Crawford, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962.  Sisters, sisters, such horrendous sisters…  Bette Davis is Baby Jane Hudson, ex-child star, still jealous of her sister Joan Crawford’s better, well longer, career and  deciding to do something diabolical about it.  In case the two bitter enemies couldn’t face working together (Davis even tried to grab the rights in and produce the film sans Crawford!), the hag-horrors might have been Ingrjd Bergman and Tallulah Bankhead or Ginger Rogers and Marlene Dietrich, to name just four earlier possibilities. There are more…  Susan Hayward, Rita Hayworth, Kathrine Hepburn, Jennifer Jones,  Agnes Moorhead for the sadistic Jane and Bankhead, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, Marlene Dietrich and TV actress Jennifer West in the  mix for the masochistic Blanche.  (Exactly, Bette and Joan, in fact!)  Oliva replaced Crawford opposite Davis in the sorta-sequel, Hush…Hush,Sweet Charlotte, 1964.
  27. Lila Kedrova, Zorba The Greek, 1965.




 Birth year: 1902Death year: 1968Other name: Casting Calls:  27