Tallulah Hallelujah!, a new play with music, opens Tuesday, October 10th , at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre on Theater Row, 432 West 42nd Street. The play was written by and stars Tovah Feldshuh as Tallulah Bankhead, with Bob Goldstone and Mark Deklin completing the cast. It's set in February, 1956, at a Benefit concert performance for the USO starring (an absent and never seen) Ella Fitzgerald.
I felt that I needed to say something about this infinitely interesting woman who is the subject of my first play. This is a piece about courage, about the ability at any time in our lives, not just in the vigor of youth - "to get back on the horse", to ride the bull, to live the full life until incandescent, we burn ourselves out.
Tallulah is a creature of remarkable intelligence, voracious appetite, and untrampled emotional freedom. She took chances that were extreme, but necessary to her. She drank too much, took drugs, spoke dirty with celebrated speed and wit and turned cartwheels just to keep our attention. In her career she appeared in over 50 plays and 20 movies, traveled thousands of miles in road companies as well as made hundreds of personal appearances in nightclubs, radio and TV. Year after year how she worked! What killed Judy Garland at 47, sustained Tallulah until she was 68. (Photo: Tovah Feldshuh as Tallulah Bankhead)
Miss Bankhead was blessed with a life force that would rival any of the great cats of Africa. And by trial and error, invented an exceptional self, which she flung with a child's abandon straight into the face of the world. Her obituary in 1968 warranted a two-column story and picture on the front page of the New York Times. In the words of Brendan Gill, "Kings have made do with less."
Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968), was a curious theatrical anomaly. At 15, she won a movie-magazine beauty contest and convinced family to let her move to New York. Living at the Algonquin, she quickly won bit parts, and made her major role debut at 18 in Squab Farm.
In 1923, she made her debut on the London stage, where she was to appear in over a dozen plays in the next eight years. By the end of the decade, she was one of the West End's - and England's - best-known celebrities.
She returned to US in 1931 to be Paramount's "next Marlene Dietrich" but Hollywood success eluded her until 1944 when Alfred Hitchcock cast her as journalist and cynic Constance Porter in "Lifeboat." The performance is widely acknowledged as her best on film, and won her the New York Screen Critics Award.
On Broadway, in 1939, she played Regina in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. Her portrayal gained her the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Performance. More success and the same award followed her 1942 performance in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.
Bankhead continued to perform in the 1950's and 1960's, on Broadway, in the occasional film, as a highly-popular radio show host on NBC's "The Big Show," and in the new medium of television. Her appearance as herself on Lucy is a cult favorite as is her role as the 'Black Widow' on television's "Batman".
Tallulah Bankhead died of pneumonia arising from influenza, complicated further by emphysema, in 1968.
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