Tallulah Brockman Bankhead (January 31, 1902 – December 12, 1968) was an American actress of the stage and screen. Bankhead was known for her husky voice, outrageous personality, and devastating wit. Originating some of the 20th-century theater’s preeminent roles in comedy and melodrama, she gained acclaim as an actress on both sides of the Atlantic. Bankhead became an icon of the tempestuous, flamboyant actress, and her unique voice and mannerisms are often subject to imitation and parody.
Tallulah hailed from the Brockman Bankheads, a prominent Alabama political family — her grandfather and uncle were U.S. Senators and her father served as an eleven-term member of Congress, the final two as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Tallulah’s support of liberal causes such as civil rights broke with the tendency of the Southern Democrats to support a more typically aligned agenda and she often opposed her own family publicly.
Primarily an actress of the stage, Bankhead did have one hit on film (Alfred Hitchcock‘s Lifeboat), as well as a brief but successful career on radio. She later made appearances on television, some of which have become classics.
In her personal life, Bankhead struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction and was infamous for her uninhibited sex life. Bankhead was capable of great kindness and generosity to those in need, supporting disadvantaged foster children and helping several families escape the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Bankhead was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1972, and the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981. Upon her death, Bankhead was credited with nearly 300 films, stage, television, and radio roles. She is regarded as one of the 20th-century theatre’s great Leading Ladies.