Tallulah Bankhead often broke ranks with her staunch Southern political family. Her liberal views and advocacy for civil liberties cause grief for her US Senator grandfather and Congressman father.
But, Tallulah often marched to the beat of her own drummer. She was a successful stage actress, known for her husky voice, unusual good looks and no-nonsense demeanor. Her performances on the stage were critically acclaimed and, although she appeared in a number of films, she only enjoyed one bonafide hit — Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1944 claustrophobic thriller Lifeboat.
Tallulah was a frequent user of drugs — marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and pills — in addition to smoking a reported 120 cigarettes per day. In the latter part of her career, her addictions affected her roles. She skipped rehearsals and flubbed lines, resulting in a decline in interest for her acting services. She took roles that she deemed beneath her, including a low-budget horror film, a two-part arc on the campy TV series Batman and a stint on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour that Bette Davis had opted out of due to a broken leg. Lucille Ball was very apprehensive about working with Tallulah, her reputation preceeding her. However, her performance and comic timing were on point, prompting Lucy to apologize.
In her personal life, Tallulah was “secretively open” about her bisexuality. She had speculated affairs with both famous men and women, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Patsy Kelly, Hattie McDaniel, Rex Whistler and Gian Carlo Menotti. Instead of “bisexual,” she preferred to use the term “ambisextrous.” She was also an avid baseball fan, specifically the New York Giants. She once said: “There have been only two geniuses in the world — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare.”
In December 1968, Tallulah was suffering from double pneumonia, exacerbated by emphysema and malnutrition. Looking much older than her years, she passed away at the age of 66. Her last words were a request for codeine and bourbon.